Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Desensitization therapy for dogs with fear of thunder, lightning and, of course, firecrackers

This is the season for traumatized dogs. We’ve had two husky mixes, the first (Molly Thunderpaws Squirrelbane) ended up needing oral valium during storms. She wanted under our bed but couldn’t quite fit. Which was why the feet of the bed rested on four hockey pucks.

I often wondered what visitors made of the hockey pucks. It probably livened our reputation.

Kateva Rose Cupcake (young kids did naming by then) isn’t so bad, but as she ages she’s more worried. She’s also having more trouble getting under the bed. So, again, hockey pucks.

So a NYT article caught my attention …

Why Thunder and Fireworks Make Dogs Anxious

… at least 40 percent of dogs experience noise anxiety, which is most pronounced in the summer. Animal shelters report that their busiest day for taking in runaway dogs is July 5…

… the first drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration for canine noise aversion (a term encompassing mild discomfort to phobia) came on the market. The drug, Sileo, inhibits norepinephrine, a brain chemical associated with anxiety and fear response…

…  a micro-amount of a medication approved as a sedative for minor veterinary procedures —- a flavorless gel, measured in a syringe, that is squeezed between the dog’s cheek and gum and absorbed within 30 minutes.

Orion, the Finnish company that developed it, tested it on several hundred noise-averse dogs during two years of New Year’s fireworks. Three-quarters of the owners rated the dogs’ response as good to excellent; their pets remained unperturbed. The drug lasts several hours, after which another dose can be administered.

A syringe costs about $30 and holds several weight-dependent doses. Sileo’s main side effect, in 4.5 percent of dogs, is vomiting…

… The optimal solution, vets say, is catching the response early, and desensitizing the dog with calibrated recordings of the offending noise, and positive conditioning…

You know, they could have mentioned the deconditioning part earlier. I found more on that from a reputable source …

Fear of Thunder and Other Loud Noises : The Humane Society of the United States

Begin by exposing your dog to an intensity level of noise that doesn't frighten her and pairing the noise with something pleasant, like a treat or a fun game. Gradually increase the volume as you continue to offer her something pleasant. Through this process, she'll come to associate "good things" with the previously feared sound.


Make a tape with firecracker noises on it.
Play the tape at such a low volume that your dog doesn't respond fearfully. While the tape is playing, feed her dinner, give her a treat, or play her favorite game.
In your next session, play the tape a little louder while you feed her or play her favorite game.
Continue increasing the volume through many sessions over a period of several weeks or months. If she displays fearful behavior at any time while the tape is playing, STOP. Begin your next session at a lower volume, one that doesn't produce anxiety, and proceed more slowly.
For some fears, it can be difficult to recreate the fear stimulus. For example, thunder is accompanied by lightning, rain, and changes in barometric pressure; your dog’s fearful response may be to the combination of these things and not just the thunder….

Sounds like the desensitization routine could be tricky, but I’ll give it a gentle try.

There are web sites that sell recordings, but a search on iTunes found several $1 recording from “Nature Sounds”. I’ll buy one, probably one with rain and thunder. It’s easy then to play it softly over the kitchen speakers while Kateva eats a treat-enhanced dinner.

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