Easing the Pain of Thunderstorm/Fireworks Phobia
Thunderstorm and fireworks or noise phobia are similar, but slightly different disorders. The treatments, however, are virtually the same.
Can Your Dog Predict the Weather?
If your dog starts worrying and displaying nervousness — panting, shaking, pacing, trying to escape or hide — long before you hear the first rumble of thunder or see a drop of rain, your dog is probably suffering from thunderstorm phobia. If, however, the storm comes and he gets nervous only when the lightning really starts cracking, there's a good chance that he has a fear of loud noises. Some dogs are only afraid of specific noises, while others worry about every noise louder than their comfort level.
Dogs that are noise phobic for only one or two sounds are usually easier to treat than dogs that are thunderstorm phobic or that have generalized noise phobias. It is impossible to control the weather, and it's pretty tough to control everything that makes your dog nervous, if she's afraid of everything, too. True thunderstorm phobia is very dangerous, as dogs can and will injure themselves to horrifying extremes in their frantic attempts to escape. Some dogs are so sensitive to storms that they start to panic when the barometric pressure starts to drop.
Desensitization combined with counterconditioning certainly works to improve noise sensitivity. If noise is the only part of storms that bothers your dog, you can buy noise tapes made specifically for desensitization purposes. It is important to eliminate your dog's exposure to his panic triggers during the behavior-modification process.
Many thunderstorm-phobic dogs attempt to hide behind the toilet, or in the bathtub. One theory is that the tile surfaces are insulation from electrical shock. Whatever the reason, if it makes him feel better and he's not doing damage to himself or the bathroom, let him ride out the storm wherever he feels safe. You can't make him feel better, so let him be.
If your dog is really thunderstorm phobic, you will probably have to use one of the pharmacological or alternative antianxiety treatments available. Melatonin, at a 3 mg dose, is commonly used, as are custom-blended flower essence remedies. You will need to work with your vet to determine the best treatment to try, but if something doesn't work, don't give up; try something else. There is a good deal of anecdotal evidence that body wraps made from athletic bandages, or vests made for this specific purpose, are very beneficial in reducing panic disorders in many dogs. The concept is borrowed from T-Touch, a type of therapeutic touch originally developed for horses, then modified for dogs.