Q: It's thunderstorm season, and my three-year-old Australian shepherd has become so afraid of the noise that he tries to jump out the window. I'm really afraid he's going to hurt himself. What should I do?
A: Many dogs are fearful of the sound of thunder and, possibly, the accompanying lightning flashes, loud wind and changes in ozone levels and barometric pressure.
Research has found that herding breeds like your Aussie seem to be more prone to fear of storms. Signs of fear usually begin with barking, seeking attention (pawing at people, for instance) and pacing. These behaviors can swiftly escalate to trembling, panting, howling, destructiveness and attempts to escape, even if that means jumping through a window.
Those early signs can be subtle. Pet owners might not notice them or they may think their dog will outgrow the fear as it matures. Unfortunately, repeated exposure to the source of the fear simply makes the problem worse.
If you notice that your dog is fearful during storms, talk to your veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. In the early stages of storm fear, medication with drugs that help reduce panic can make the fear easier to manage, but they need to be given before a storm starts. Often, the best solution is medication combined with snug-fitting shirts and capes, which have a soothing effect, and canine ear muffs and eye shades, which help to limit the dog's exposure to the frightening phenomena. It can also be helpful to teach your dog to go to a place where it feels secure. That can be a closet, a crate lined with a towel or blanket (keep the door open), or a bathroom or bathtub.
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