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Thunder can scare house pets

Shauna Farnell

SUMMIT COUNTY ” A crack of thunder to human ears might sound like the arrival of Armageddon to a dog.

During spring and summer mountain storms, some pet owners are brace themselves for the phobic responses their animals have to afternoon thunderstorms.

“My dog goes insane; he’ll crawl under the bed and cry,” said Summit County Animal Control officer Scott Wanke. “When I know a storm is coming in, I’ll try to schedule myself around it. I’ll try to be home with him.



“When he was younger, he used to be a terror and just shred things,” Wanke added. “Now, he just shakes and cowers and tries to find a safe corner. I made the mistake of coddling him when he was younger because he was my little guy and he was afraid. Now that I know better, I think I probably made it worse for him.”

Some dogs have been terrified of thunderstorms their entire lives, and as many dog owners have learned, the conditioning is difficult to undo. However, puppies can be taught to ignore thunderstorms. If owners take care to distract them and avoid displaying fear in their own behavior, their young dogs might follow suit.



“Dogs read their owner’s body language,” said dog trainer Sue Toldo. “For early training with puppies, what you can do is play with them and distract them however you can during a thunderstorm and act like it doesn’t bother you at all. It’s conditioning that helps them ignore it from the start.”

Some dog owners who know their dog will get frightened during a storm try to comfort the animals by leaving the TV on or turning music up. For some dogs though, the storm just has to pass before they settle down. Because flight is a common response to fear, stormy months can be busy ones for animal control.

“We definitely have problems when the thunderstorms come in this time of year,” said Summit Animal Control director Lesley Craig. “The runaways seem to coincide a lot with thunderstorms. There’s dogs that jump the fence or just bolt when you’re hiking.”



Officers and dog-behavior specialists advise owners to keep their dogs indoors during storms, but for especially fearful dogs, this sometimes doesn’t help.

“Some people’s dogs actually hurt themselves they are so afraid when they are left alone and there’s thunder,” Toldo said. “Last year, a golden retriever jumped through a second-story window and ended up dying.

“Being a responsible pet owner means making provisions in advance when a storm might be coming,” Toldo added. “If owners know their dogs are scared to the point they’re phobic, they should also know the dog needs a lot of care and supervision. Dogs have very acute hearing, and can sense barometric pressure very well. They can hear a storm coming before we hear it or see it.”

Veterinarians offer mild tranquilizers for dogs with anxiety during thunderstorms, and local pet stores have herbal calming solutions they say some owners swear by to put their dogs at ease during storms.

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