Spring Storms and the Dogs Who Fear Them

Author: Alecia Pirulis  

Pinky

We’ve had a thunderous start to spring this year. Tornado warnings, hail, torrential downpours, and lighting and thunder have been all too frequent. A rocky start to the season, to be sure, but the one most affected in my home is my Chihuahua, Pinky.

Pinky is a fearful little dog. She’s afraid of the dark. When she has to go out at night, she runs into the darkness as if something is chasing her. She does her business as fast as possible, then stands at the back door on her hind legs and scratches the glass, trying to dig through to safety. Her ears are back and she glances behind her as if expecting a monster to appear. I put the outside light on, but that doesn’t seem to help much. She’s also afraid of strangers. She’ll act all tough and Chihuahua-like when a stranger is among us, but the minute the stranger addresses her or moves toward her, she runs off and hides under the couch. (A watch-dog she isn’t.) She’s afraid of her tail. (Seriously.) When she catches sight of it, she growls, bares her teeth, and then chases it in an absolute fit of fear.

But the one thing that terrifies this poor dog more than anything is rain – especially if it is accompanied by thunder and lightning. She shakes, she shivers, she tries to hide in a variety of locations, and she pants. I feel bad for her. My vet told me not to console her with “It’ll be okay” or with holding her, because that just reinforces her fear (I’m telling her she really does have something to be afraid of). But then she stares at me with big, round eyes as if to say, “Do something!” And something along the lines of “Pinky, don’t worry!” pop out of my mouth before I even realize it.

Dogs become fearful for many different reasons. I’m not sure where all of Pinky’s anxiety comes from. I do know that she was the runt of the litter and she was picked on by her siblings. When we found her, she was a tiny little dog with no fur on her tail or feet – her brothers and sisters had chewed it all off. She looked like a little rat with a pink tail. That could explain the tail thing, but I’m not sure where the fear of loud noises, the dark, and strangers come from. I took her to an obedience class to try and help her conquer her fears (Cesar Millan says to make a fearful dog feel powerful), and I suppose it helped a little. I even tried de-sensitizing her to loud noises. She isn’t afraid of the vacuum cleaner anymore, but that’s the only fear we’ve managed to eliminate.

If you live in an apartment with a fearful dog, it can get overwhelming. Unfamiliar faces and unexplained noises are common. And, if your dog has separation anxiety, that can make things even worse. If you have a dog that barks when nervous, this can disturb those living in the apartments around you. If you have a dog that chews, you may have even bigger problems. Learn how to tackle your pet’s fears – whether it is a dog or a cat – so a thunderstorm in your world will just be a day to hang out on the couch and listen to the rain against the windows – fear-free.