Fraidy Dog

Cassie in her Thundershirt

Cassie in her Thundershirt

Summer is still here and by now you have found out if you have a fraidy dog. You know what I mean. The dogs that shake, whine, paw at you, and make you feel their misery over thunderstorms, fireworks, and loud noises in general – except for their barking.

I’ve always trained my dogs to be used to thunderstorms and fireworks. We’d frequently go camping and get caught in all sorts of bad weather, including hail, strong winds, and of course thunderstorms. I’d even take them to the fireworks celebration. They didn’t love it, but learned to tolerate it. But then there’s Cassie, my current dog, a ten-year-old liver and white springer spaniel. She, like my last few dogs, went camping through thunderstorms and the noise didn’t particularly bother her.

Until, August 2008, in the middle of the night an extremely large thunderbolt exploded directly over our house. Everyone jumped, instantly awake. I thought a tree fell on the house, it was so loud. Cassie stood between me and my husband and shivered violently. Of course we comforted her, which probably was not the right thing to do, but we had to, she was afraid. The storm quickly passed and everything was okay. Until the next major storm – Cassie shook again and paced around on our bed, stepping on our legs, waking us up. It happened once more that summer, and then we forgot about it until the next May, when the windows were open and the thunderstorms started again. This year, even thunder in the distance started bothering her. Then fireworks – mostly the loud M80s. We tried to ignore her, hoping that if we did she would not feel rewarded for her fear. It didn’t help.

The following summer it was worse. We went to a party where my grandkids were throwing the toy poppers (or bang snaps) on the ground. Cassie was terrified. There were other kids at the party and they were all throwing them, not at her, but at the ground. She continued to shake.

Two years ago, while walking her home from work, she’d hear a popper or a small fire cracker several blocks away. Immediately her tail went down between her legs, she stood close to me and shook. What could I do? This fear was getting worse!

During any thunderstorm she would pace on our bed, stepping on me and waking me. Somehow my husband could sleep through all but the worst of it. During one long thunderstorm, I brought her cage up from the basement and put it in my bedroom and locked her in it. At least then she wasn’t walking on me. She scratched at the pad in the cage, trying to relieve her nervousness. I put in ear plugs.

Thundershirt’s – I heard about them, although now they have made it into the pet stores. Ah this would relieve my problems – I ordered one immediately (http://www.thundershirt.com/).

The first time I used it was at the start of a storm, just before going to bed. Cassie lay there panting heavily. She seemed quite hot in the shirt. We had fans on since it was in the upper 80’s – not the air conditioning, which didn’t work too well upstairs in our bedroom. Cassie seemed too hot. I took it off. I waited for another storm and put it on her earlier. The weather was cooler, but she still panted heavily. Again I took it off. Thunderstorms always occur when it’s warm, so when could I use it? I put it in a drawer and never used it again.

I tolerated the sleepless nights during thunderstorms. If things got really bad, I locked her in her cage. But I felt bad doing it. I’d wake up an hour later and let her out.
Last summer one of my Mom’s cocker spaniels, Chipper, got so bad because of the fireworks that she convinced her caregiver that she needed to work overtime to stay late with her until the worst of the fireworks ended. This happened for several days, and when I realized this cost about $500 in overtime pay, I had to do something.

On July 5th I asked my vet what could be done. She recommended Harmonease anti-anxiety tablets (http://www.harmoneasevet.com/Harmonease_30Tab_10-0495.pdf). They take about a week to start working, but many people find that it helps. Of course after I started the pills, it seemed that we had hardly any thunderstorms.

This year, after I inherited Chipper, I started both Cassie and Chipper on Harmonease after the first big thunderstorm in mid-May. It’s not a hundred percent, but both of them have much less anxiety during storms. Now only the loud thunderclaps cause them to be near me. No shaking and no waking me up at night, unless it’s a severe storm. They are no longer afraid of little pops and storms far away.
So I still have a fraidy dog – actually two of the three that I now have, but it’s much more tolerable and I can at least get a good night’s sleep.

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