Big Bad Skydog

| 11/5/2008 4:19:11 PM

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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.

Robyn Dolan
11/10/2008 8:26:12 AM

I have to laugh. Several years ago a 3 legged dog adopted me. She was surprisingly strong and could rip field fence open to get where she wanted to go. But every time a storm came through, she would panic and jump in the (fiberglass) bathtub. I even tried closing and locking the bathroom door, but she managed to get it open and I would find her in the bathtub every time. She went on to doggie heaven before we ever found anything to calm her down. Fond memories.

11/8/2008 9:04:55 PM

After reading this story, Sue told me about a dog she used to have, named Robin Goodfellow. The dog survived through a tornado that took out the barn and half the house and was, understandably, deathly afraid of storms after that. During one storm, she began reading the book "Dandelion Wine" by Ray Bradbury to the dog, and it settle right down to sleep. After that, she discvovered the dog would settle down only for that book or any book by Dorothy L. Sayers. Never doubt the power of rhythmic prose.

11/6/2008 6:08:52 AM

Many years ago I had a dog that became our weather barometer after a close encounter with a particularly violent thunder storm. We had always sat out on the porch, enjoying storms until the day lightning hit a house several hundred yards away. The strike took out everything connected to an electrical outlet in that house, traveled through the lines to the next house where there was somewhat less damage, then on to your house. The only damage, physical damage that is, we suffered was to have out telephone connection blown off the house. Weiner must have gotten a real tingle from the air from that strike because from that day forward I knew well in advance if a thunderstorm, and only a thunderstorm, was approaching by her increased restlessness. If no thunder or lightning was involved in the storm, Weiner paid no attention at all but if there was.....The closer the storm came the more she would pace and pant. By the time the storm was close enough for me to hear it coming, poor Weiner was beside herself. I tried everything I could think of to calm her, including music, but nothing worked until I made an accidental discovery. During one storm I had several CD's in my player and was sitting on the couch with Weiner, trying to get her to calm down. One CD finished and the next dropped into place. First cut played then the next. When the third cut started I noticed Weiner was starting to calm down. By the end of the CD she was about to go to sleep. Then the next CD started. Before the end of the first cut, poor Weiner had started to pace again so I stopped that CD and put the previous one back on. Within a couple of cuts Weiner was again starting to calm down. From that day onward if my weather dog started to become really nervous about an approaching storm I played the magic CD. What was it? Willie Nelson. But not just any Willie Nelson. The only CD Weiner responded to was Willie's CD "Healing Hands of Time". Until the day I fin

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