"Brontophobia" is the medical term used to describe an irrational fear of thunder. Equipped with sensitive ears that allow them to detect the faintest rumble and the uncanny ability to sense the static charge buildup preceding an upcoming storm, dogs fearful of thunder seem to predict inclement weather better than the average weatherman or Doppler radar. Luckily, there are some effective products to the rescue.
Several products are on the market nowadays to help Scruffy feel more comfortable. Thundershirt, Anxiety Wrap and Storm Defender are a few examples of "coats" crafted to help dogs feel more relaxed when an upcoming storm is approaching. What these products have in common is the fact that they must be worn for them to be effective. Thundershirt and Anxiety Wrap are made of expandable fabric and Velcro, whereas the Storm Defender cape comes with a special metallic lining.
Thundershirt and Anxiety Wrap were built for the purpose of providing sustained pressure. The gentle, constant pressure derived from such wraps is believed to provide a calming effect on the nervous system, according to Temple Grandin, a doctor of animal science and professor. Storm Defender, on the other hand, is crafted for the purpose of reducing a dog's sensitivity to static charges. Its metallic lining, indeed, shields dogs from the charges associated with upcoming storms.
Studies on Effectiveness
A 2011 survey conducted by Thundershirt revealed that 98% of veterinarians have seen success when Thundershirt was used by their clients. The Anxiety Wrap was shown to cut signs of storm phobia in half, and 80 percent of owners claimed they would use it again according to a clinical study conducted by Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine animal behaviorist, Nicolas Dodman. The Storm Defender cape also has been under study at the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine with favorable results: dog owners reported a 63% decrease in their dogs after wearing the metal-lined cape during a thunderstorm (a significantly higher decrease in anxiety than the placebo cape).
How to Use
For best results, you must use the coat at the first signs of trouble. This means you must catch Scruffy at the first signs of jitters and not when he is having a full blast anxiety attack. If you wait too long, your dog may have reached a level of agitation that makes it quite difficult for him to respond. Then, once the storm is over, the coat can be removed and kept ready for the next storm.
Coats to help dogs overcome their fear of thunder can be effective, but they don't necessarily work for all dogs. In some cases, dogs may not respond well and may need some extra help. In these cases, such coats can be used in conjunction with antianxiety medication, or along with a desensitization and counterconditioning program conducted under the guidance of a board certified applied animal behaviorist or certified applied animal behaviorist.
Smart Dog University: What Do I Do – My Dog is Scared!
Thundershirt: 2011 Thundershirt Dog Anxiety Survey [PDF]
Tufts Magazine: The Shocking Truth -- Calming Fido's Fear of Thunderstorms
DVM 360: Better Behavior with Steve Dale -- Helping Dogs with Storm Anxiety
Pet Place: How Do Dogs Sense Oncoming Storms?
About the Author
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.