After 11 years of living together and being completely unmoved by loud noises of any sort; my dear Finn started showing signs of anxiousness during storms. The first incident really took me by surprise and was very mild. He danced around a bit and followed me from room to room (which is not common). Once I realized what was going on; we moved to the room with the least amount of windows, turned on the ceiling fan and closed the blinds. I massaged him and gave him a Kong. He settled and remained relaxed even once his Kong was empty. Being a trainer, I immediately started working on a desensitization program where I played thunder and lightning sounds at a VERY low volume and practiced his “go to your bed” command pairing it with hot dog bits.
Unfortunately, the second storm came a few days later and we had barely increased the volume of storms on my phone to level three during our training sessions. His response to this storm was more upsetting; he paced and panted the entire time and only settled when there was food in his Kong. Feeling horrible for my big guy’s stress, I revised my training plan and added TTouch and the Tellington Touch body wrap to our daily training sessions. He absolutely sank in relaxation every time I worked Linda Tellington’s methods on him.
Barely a week into our training program, a third storm bombarded Chicago. Finn frantically paced and panted to the point I worried his old heart would not survive the night. I held him in a bear hug to try to calm him and I convulsed with him without doing much good. Sadly, the wrap I had used all week was a bit too short so the effects were non-existent. A snug t-shirt seemed to offer only an iota of relief. Worried for his health and just grief stricken for my poor old guy, I wondered what caused his anxiety to develop so quickly with such vigor. The puddles of his panic drool were smaller and he shook less if I stayed with him on his dog bed. I knew sifting through graduate school files and seminar information was out of the question as I wanted to stay close to him to minimize the worry that was coursing through his body. So, I did what I normally would not do. I turned to the internet.
Rather than searching for just any article on the topic, I looked up information from renowned Veterinary Behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman and my other trusty resource Whole Dog Journal. After reading this article and desperate (a place I never like to be); I decided to give Finn a small dose of one of the herbs because I had it on hand and could not find any literature citing negative side effects.
After about an hour, I felt his panting to be a bit less pronounced and intervals of full blown panic started to shorten. With guidance from my veterinarian, I have since tried a few different herb combinations. We continue to pair storm sounds with treats during set-up sessions so he develops better associations. It was interesting for me to be caught off guard by my dog’s behavior. Here are a few lessons I would like to pass on:
1. Have more than one option for emergencies. I now have three herbs handy; a plan for when to give each one and how long I can wait until I can safely give the next herb.
2. This is the dog geek in me. Finn’s panic continued the entire night, even when the visual and audible sounds of the storm were not prevalent. I know and speak to dogs’ senses being much more heightened than ours but it truly made me re-think things a bit. I recalled (or remembered upon re-reading in the wee hours of the morning) that it is hypothesized perhaps static causes the horrible responses some dogs have to storms. I am also keeping dryer sheets close by in the event of a storm.
3. Focus on the solution, you may not figure out the cause. We moved into our new neighborhood last Fourth of July weekend and were surprised on our first walk with a huge firework celebration that lasted almost two weeks. Amazing how different life can be just a few miles from your old home. However, there have been many storms since then and Finn has been fine. I keep reminding myself when I wonder “why” that my energy is best focused on helping him.
4. Staying calm helps! I wanted to break down and cry a million times that night. Out of sadness for Finn; worry with hour that passed about what the stress would do to him and too exhausted to think straight. But, I feel he finally calmed for a bit because I was able to breathe deep and keep myself calm as I hugged him tightly. Since then, we have purchased the Thunder Shirt and love the results.