Fears, Phobias, and Anxieties in Dogs— Pretty Common Phenomenon

Thunderstorms, noises, smells, and separation are some of the triggers for stress—anxiety, phobia or fear—in doggies.  Watching your dog quiver, recoil, or bark uncontrollably is upsetting. Who wants to see a family member, a furry friend, suffer, even if it isn’t of a physical nature?

It turns out that approximately 20% of domesticated doggies have some type of thunderstorm phobia. There are other, wider ranging, phobias associated with noises that likely stress-out pooches, and it only makes sense, then, that a higher percentage of pups experience adverse reactions to loud or disturbing noises.

Thunderstorm phobias in dogs certainly may involve triggers that are auditory in nature—sure, thunder, whipping wind, and pouring rain. But the panic they induce can also or otherwise be brought about by visual stimuli, like lightning and rain; or even physical changes, such as in barometric pressure. And so they may slightly differ or overlap non-storm, noise phobias—intense fears caused by other loud sounds like vacuum cleaners, fireworks, cars backfiring, etc.

Despite the differences—or considering them—what can you do to help your dog if she’s cowering in the closet? Barking like crazy? Shaking or whining when she suffers one or several phobic conditions?

Phobic humans are sometimes relieved by any ‘exposure therapy’ —which is essentially what it sounds like. However, we have to remember that doggies are different. So forcing your pooch to ‘face his fear’ or punishing him is not the answer to quelling these extreme reactions. Those may even be counterproductive.

In fact, phobia / anti-anxiety treatments should be multi-pronged. They may address the owner’s responses to her pooch, the environment, natural calming aides and if all else fails, prescription meds. Studies have shown that some of these in combination is more effective than any one, solo. For example, research has unearthed that anxiety levels in dogs with noise and thunderstorm phobias were significantly diminished with a blend of medication and environmental modification.  Often, dogs are quite in-tune with their owners. They may take cues or imitate behavior—so, while a relaxed owner’s demeanor can make for a calmer pooch, note that the reverse can be just as true. In an ideal world, you could minimize your pup’s exposure by simply removing the stressful event or object, but that isn’t always an option, right? No matter the hindrances, one good idea is to maintain a routine before and in of the face of occasions and items that trigger your dog’s intense fear.

Here are just a few suggestions of methods that may help avoid intense fear, or at least calm your dog, when a phobia-inducing event is imminent:

  1. Close windows and curtains/blinds during a storm, thus reducing the visual triggers.
  2. Play soothing music or even white noise to mask sounds that disturb your dog.
  3. Employ calming rituals (coping mechanisms) along with recordings of offensive sounds, thereby creating some desensitization of the effect.
  4. Use ear muffs or carefully place cotton in your dog’s ears during the causative experience.
  5. Have ready easily accessible, safe hiding spots for your fearful furry friend.
  6. Don your dog with a Thundershirt® and Thundercap® (yet don’t perturb your pup even more if wearing them—the materials or fit—prove discomforting.)
  7. Discuss the use of aromatherapy with your vet—Essential oils, like lavender and chamomile, can be diffused, rubbed on collars.
  8. Similarly speak with your vet about the vast array of natural supplements, from B vitamins, to L-Theanine…to CBD oil for calming your noise-phobic doggie.
  9. If all else fails, consult your vet about the safest and most effective Rx’s (e.g., anti- anxiolytics) she may avail to ease your dog’s suffering.  An educated advocate is always the best resource.

Phobias, fears, and anxieties are complicated matters in both canine and human. They should be addressed as such. With a little legwork and a lotta love, you can take precise measures to comfort your dearest doggie.

Written by Julie L.

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash