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July is a prime month for trouble if you have a canine who is scared of thunderstorms and fireworks. Even if your dog is not scared, it is important to be proactive. My first Golden Retriever, Tawny, did not become scared of thunderstorms until she was 4 years old - she was at a picnic and lightning struck a nearby tree. After that she started reacting to flashes of light, to ozone smell and even to the pressure change before a storm. Her younger full sister Misty also seemed prone to becoming scared of storms, but she never really became scared because, by the time I raised Misty, I had learned to be proactive. When I knew a storm was on its way, I’d play games with her, have “cookie parties” and feed her dinner. So even if your dog is not currently bothered by thunder, make sure that he thinks that storms predict fun and food! Also, please do not bring your dog to firework shows. You will not be able to increase the distance your dog is from the noise should he become scared, and it could affect him for the rest of his life.

If your dog is already scared of storms and/or fireworks there are things you can do to help. First, if you are going to be using fireworks or you have neighbors who do so, please take your dog to a kennel for boarding. Next-door fireworks are just too close for a scared dog to endure.

If your dog seems anxious when a storm is approaching, you can judge how serious his anxiety is by offering him a treat that he normally loves. If he eats the treat, he is not all that anxious and you can proceed to have cookie parties and to play fun games with him during the storm. If your dog refuses the treat, he is very anxious and needs help dealing with his anxiety. The help that you need to provide is NOT holding your dog, or petting him, or telling him that it is okay. Actually it is NOT okay for him to be that anxious. The best thing to do is to totally ignore his anxiety - it you don't, it will become worse. If you are flying in a plane and the plane hits turbulence, you want the pilot to confidently continue flying the plane, not to come back and sit with you and tell you it's okay! So be a good pilot for your dog!

Instead of acknowledging your dog’s fear, prepare a special place for your dog to get away from the scary sounds and other sensations. You may not be able to hide all the aspects of a storm, but do your best to prepare a hideout place for your dog to escape – pick a quiet place that is dark with a minimum of windows and put up light-blocking blinds. Oftentimes a dog will choose his own place; Tawny would actually take cover in the bathtub. Place some old blankets that have your scent on them in the area to comfort your dog and for your dog to burrow in. There is a plug-in product called the Comfort Zone. The Comfort Zone relieves stress in dogs by simulating naturally occurring D.A.P. (dog appeasing pheromones) that calm and reassure in stressful situations. The Comfort Zone mimics a reassuring pheromone produced by female dogs when nursing. Trainers have had success when the Comfort Zone is operated 24 hours a day in the dog’s “hiding place” during the thunderstorm and fireworks season. There is also a dog calming device called "The Anxiety Wrap" that aids a dog’s ability to focus, remain calm, and feel more secure. Other things that can help are homeopathic medications that can help with stress and fear and doggy ear protection.

Article submitted by Martha Windisch

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