Grit Blogs > Tackling the Country Life

Big Bad Skydog

By Steve Daut

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ChiliIn the country, we see a lot more open sky, so we experience storms in a much more dramatic way than we ever did in the City. I’m a little tired as I write this, because the other night my dog Chili slept on my chest half the night. She’s an Aussie mix and is deathly afraid of thunderstorms. When this trait began to develop, I thought she was reacting to what she thought were sounds from a big bad skydog whose growling voice fills the heavens and who could only be seen by its bright flashing teeth. It must be intimidating to experience an enemy who surrounds you yet remains unseen.

Then I began to realize that she would often flip out long before either Sue or I had any inclination that a storm was coming. Sometimes, she would go over the top even when no storm occurred, only to find out later that a storm had passed by many miles away. This tends to reinforce the idea that one reason for the fear is the static charge and pressure fluctuation that storms create.

After a little research, I discovered that a lot of dogs develop a fear of storms. Apparently one study has indicated that certain breeds may be more likely to develop such fears, including some working and sporting breeds. Fortunately, Chili seems to only have some of the mildest symptoms: climbing onto Sue or myself, panting, trembling, and pacing. Apparently some dogs hide, defecate, chew, bark, drool, or try to escape through screens, walls, doors, or windows.

There are a lot of cautions on how to handle these fears, because once they develop, they tend to get worse. Our tendency is to provide comfort and reassurance, but it turns out that if you carry that too far it tends to reward the dog for its fearful behavioral and can actually exacerbate the problem. A better approach may be to play with the dog or actually go outside to reinforce the idea that it’s no big deal, or to go to a “safe place” such as a room with no windows, to minimize the stimulation. Eventually, the dog will go there on its own when a storm occurs, and will have a safe place when you’re not around.

A friend of mine told me that her dogs always jump in the bathtub, which supports the idea of static charge, since the porcelain won’t conduct and the piping will ground any static charge that occurs.

The other thing that comes highly recommended is Rescue Remedy, a homeopathic mix of floral essences and melatonin. A couple of sprays on the tongue generally calms Chili down, and if she still insists on climbing on top of me, sometimes I can go to sleep anyway by using it on myself.

I’m curious as to what others have experienced. What kind of behaviors have you seen, under what situations? Have you tried something that works well? Or have you figured out a way to sleep through it? 

I’d love to hear your feedback on this one.