I had been waiting for this day to come. Ever since I'd read in Patricia McConnell's book For the Love of a Dog that thunder phobia is most likely to start between the ages of 3 and 7, I'd been worrying. Maisy had always slept through storms like they weren't even happening, yet she was so sensitive to nearly inaudible (to me, anyway) noises that I just knew it was coming.
And it did. Of course, there was a special little irony in it happening less than 72 hours after we'd gotten a gold star from the veterinary behaviorist. Maybe that jinxed us, or maybe it was a coincidence, but either way, when the storm started getting noisy, Maisy started getting antsy.
First, she pressed herself up as close to me as she could get. Then, she started to pant slightly, even though the air conditioner had made the house quite cold. Finally, she began to tremble and shake. I gave her a dose of her as-needed anxiety medication, and gradually the shaking and panting stopped, although she stayed curled up next to me.
Suddenly having a dog afraid of storms has been very hard on me. Although Maisy and I have dealt with fear issues for pretty much her entire life, the thunder phobia threw me for a loop. Before, I'd always been able to manage her fear. I could choose to avoid whatever was freaking her out if I wanted. Or I could choose to carefully expose her to it at low levels at times I was prepared to work with her, both physically and mentally.
Now, though? Well, the weather is unpredictable and uncontrollable. We can't avoid it, we can't set up the situation to make her successful, and it happens at times that are highly inconvenient, such as the middle of the night. Worse, it can happen when I'm not even home, leaving Maisy alone with her fear, something that makes me feel terrible.
And it didn't stop there. Although we didn't have any more storms over the next few weeks, we did have the 4th of July, and with it, fireworks. About the only good thing fireworks have going for them is their predictability. Well, and I suppose if we tried really hard, we could avoid them, but given that I live in the middle of a large metro, that would be hard. Still, I can't change the volume nor the timing.
I love my dog dearly, so seeing her so scared is hard on me. Feeling powerless to help her is even harder. Thankfully, I've been lucky enough to learn a bit about behavior modification and we have the support of an excellent veterinary behaviorist. With these two things in our favor, Maisy and I have been able to start dealing with her new noise issues. That doesn't make things any more pleasant, at least not right now, but it does give me hope for the future.
In the next few weeks, I'll discuss what we've done, how it's worked, and where we're at now. In the meantime, feel free to share your experiences. Is your dog afraid of thunder or other loud noises? How old was he when it started? Do you totally share my distress about not being able to protect your dog from everything? I'd love to hear from you!