At this point, anyone living in New England has just had enough of this rain! Lucky you, being nice and dry in your cubicle…(ok I take that back, I’ll walk in the rain before returning to a cube.)
But not only have we enjoyed weeks on end of constant rain, but our icing on the cake has been some recent thunderstorms. And I know there are some pups who just aren’t too happy about these recent storms…Elsa being one of them! She insisted on cuddling with me in bed the other morning as a severe storm rumbled above us. But she wasn’t always that way, in her early years she didn’t bat an eye as a storm passed us by.
As I walked Sox yesterday afternoon we heard some distant rumbling which caused a temporary pause, but he quickly got back to sniffing. Then as I walked Bailey J. and Bailey O. together we heard some louder thunder. Bailey J. paused at the sound, looked at the sky, and then continued her walk. However Bailey O. got startled and ran to the end of the leash, crying a bit, but soon realized that the storm was not heading our way and got back to enjoying our walk. But not all dogs can tolerate a storm. Upon trying to discover why Wallace, a sweet, hound-mix rescue dog, was being fearful on some of his walks with Lauren and particularly on a rainy day, I learned that he has an over-sensitivity to thunderstorms, which could likely affect his behavior on some days.
But what is it that makes dogs fearful of thunderstorms? The easy answer to that question is that they don’t like the loud sound of thunder. But why, then, would Elsa become increasingly fearful of thunderstorms? There is another theory out there which may better explain our dogs’ fear of storms, called the static-electricity theory.
The static-electricity theory is that dogs become statically charged during a thunderstorm and receive electric shocks, unless they ground themselves.
Hm interesting…so what’s the evidence? Well, first off, a lot of breeds that are more susceptible of a thunderstorm-phobia are herding and retrieving breeds. Many of these breeds carry larger, heavier coats (that favor buildup of an electric charge) such as a Collie. As well, during storms, many dogs can be found hiding in a bathtub, shower stall, or pressed behind the toilet…all excellently grounded due to plumbing. And it’s been found that many dog owners who seek help in relieving their dog’s phobia will say that they’ve received electric shocks from their dogs during a storm.
The theory also explains why dogs like Elsa will progressively gain a fear of t-storms. Dogs learn based on experiences and trial-and-error. Elsa was never extremely fearful of loud sounds, so thunder never effected her. The likelihood that during a chance storm, there was a crack of thunder that was so severe and scary that it has made her fearful of all storms is slim. What’s more likely is that during a particularly severe storm, she gained such a large charge buildup that she received an electric shock that startled her and possibly hurt her (think of when you touch something and receive a shock, ouch!)
So why, then, do dogs react to the actual sound thunder in a fearful manner? It may be a secondary fear that came about as an association to the charge buildup. Some dogs that have a serious phobia may also become fearful of dark skies, wind, and rain…all because they associate them with the static charges.
Of course, this is all just a theory, but it’s supported by more and more evidence. I recently read an article written by Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a behavior veterinarian who heads the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University School of Veterinarian Medicine and author of multiple books on dog behavior. Though he’s found it difficult to completely omit the fear in some dogs, there are a number of preventative measures that have been found to increase the dogs’ comfort during t-storms. He suggests that prior to or at the onset of a t-storm, rubbing your dog with an anti-static laundry pad, misting your dog with water, or putting them onto a nonconducting surface such as a tile or linoleum floor. And most interestingly, he suggests putting your dog into a car (shielding your dog from static buildup!)
So if your dog is fearful of the thunderstorms that we’ve been experiencing recently, you may want to try some of those options to see if they work. Looking out the window, it looks like right now is a perfect time to try it out….WHEN will this rain go away!?