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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Thunderbolt and Lightning: Very, Very Frightening

Summertime is also thunderstorm time, which can mean fear and anxiety for your Boxer. Dogs can develop a thunderstorm phobia at any age, and for several reasons. For most, the noise is the problem; behavior modification often helps these dogs. Other dogs react to the changes in the atmosphere that accompany a storm, either the electrical charge in the air or the barometric pressure. Hands-on therapies may be more helpful for these dogs; pressure wraps, TTouch, and massage can help your Boxer relax during a thunderstorm. Some Boxer owners report success using melatonin, Rescue Remedy, or other flower essences. Quite often a combination of remedies provides the best solution.

I have had one Boxer who was very fearful of storms, which started when he was about four years old. His thyroid levels were normal -- often hypothyroidism can lead to anxiety issues -- and he had no other known health conditions that might have triggered the reaction. We tried melatonin and Rescue Remedy, neither of which really helped. We also went through a behavioral modification program of desensitization and counter-conditioning, with no noticeable results. At that point we surmised that the root of his anxiety was the change in air pressure, not only because the desensitizing didn't work but also because he started to react the same to heavy rainstorms that did not include thunder.

At that point we tried a DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) diffuser. The results were truly amazing. He went from trying to bury himself underneath the couch during a storm to sleeping on a chair - right next to where the diffuser was plugged in. We used a diffuser continuously for one summer, and started using it the next year but found he really didn't have the anxiety any longer. Of course, there's no way to know whether there really had been some underlying imbalance in his body, or whether the diffuser helped erase his association of storms with "bad things" - but the timing certainly points to the diffuser. (On the other hand, we did not have any luck using a diffuser to stop our other dog from barking in her crate, and yet several trials that used the diffuser in boarding kennels showed a significant decrease in barking.)

At any rate -- if your Boxer suffers from a thunderstorm phobia, try some home remedies to see if you can help him manage his anxiety. You may have to try a few before you find the right one(s) for your dog -- but don't give up too soon, as some of them may take a while to work to their full potential. If your dog is so fearful that he's in danger of injuring himself, talk to your vet. When dogs are in an extremely high state of fear, their minds often "disconnect", making any kind of training or behavior modification basically impossible. Anti-anxiety medications can keep your dog from getting to that extreme state, so that you can work on desensitization and counter-conditioning.

Read more about dealing with thunderstorm phobias on Examiner.com


  1. I found a product online that looks like it would be very helpful for dogs with this issue:


  2. I've heard good things about the Thundershirt, KC. I think I'll be buying one for a friend's dog with severe storm anxiety -- if it works on her, it should work on any dog! (I don't have any thunder-phobics at home or I'd try it on them, first.)

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