Saturday, July 17, 2010

Thunderstorms and Pack Life

I love thunderstorms.

My two fur-babies do not.

They seem to know when a thunderstorm is brewing even before the dark clouds roll in and the first rumble trembles the air. Each reacts differently, but they both want the same thing. To be next to me or my dear hubby. Preferably, between us both. They press against our legs, climb onto our laps or hop on the bed, if permitted. Snuggle hounds, you could call them.

I know they are scared of the rumbling noise the thunder makes. And fireworks, too. But why? And what makes them want to be so close to us during those particular instances?

One theory I read tried to explain that an electrical charge builds when a thunderstorm is imminent. And when dogs lie next to you, the body heat insulates them from this charge. Well, okay. I guess that kinda-sorta makes sense. But there’s no mention of the same electrical build up when fireworks are discharged. So, that blows a hole in that logic. At least for me.

Further research led me to understand that dogs have very sensitive hearing. Duh! I should have known that already. Our 90 lb monster puppy, can hear me whisper his name when I’m in the back bedroom and he’s sprawled on the floor in the front room. He’ll come running every time.
Super sensitive hearing equals aversion to loud noises, i.e., thunderstorms AND fireworks. Bingo!

Now, why do the dogs want to practically lie on top of us whenever this happens?

Dogs are pack animals and as such they want to be close to their pack members. I believe they feel comforted when snuggling against us. Allowing them to do this quiets the baritone basset’s whine and the monster puppy’s pacing. Usually, they fall asleep despite the rattling windows and howling wind.

I’ve read that some animal trainers discourage allowing dogs to seek comfort. They suggest that this reinforces their fear of loud noises and that this behavior needs to be modified through behavioral training or desensitization. Recommendations were provided on establishing a “safe den” where the dogs could retreat when afraid.

Personally, I’m not bothered by my dogs’ mild reactions to thunderstorms and fireworks. If they want to snuggle with me, I’m okay with that. They aren’t ripping up the furniture or chewing the baseboards like I’ve seen some frightened animals do. If they were, as their pack leader, I’d definitely address that behavior with redirection and training.

By the same token, I believe my fur-babies expect a measure of comfort from me. They should be able to trust in my ability to keep them safe from the invisible noise maker that periodically threatens their world. What good would I be as pack leader if I couldn’t?

A stable pack life is dependent upon mutual trust and respect. Without it, everything deteriorates, leaving a household in turmoil.

If your dog exhibits destructive behaviors in reaction to thunderstorms or other loud noises, please talk to your local veterinarian about safe ways to effectively reduce your pet’s anxiety.

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Anonymous said...

Dee says:
Very good! At least your two will settle down once they have snuggled in with you guys. All Rusti wants to do is constantly pace or breathe VERY heavily right in my face! She won’t settle for snuggling!

July 17, 2010

Kristal Lee said...

Socs would pace if hubby and I weren’t in the same room, but once we were, Socs would get in my lap and pant in my face. He started doing that the year we had three hurricanes in a row.

July 17, 2010

Anonymous said...

ffsb says:
Aw, my sister Christy is afraid of storms and fireworks the only one in our pack.
The vet just uppped her medications since it wasn’t making a dent.

July 17, 2010

Kristal Lee said...

My sister’s dalmation, Pongo, was on medication too. I don’t remember what it was, but she called it doggie prozac.

July 17, 2010

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