April 25, 2014
Five Things I Learned About My Fearful Dog During a Thunderstorm
I was in the middle of grocery shopping after work Wednesday night when I heard the first ominous rumble of thunder. I hurried as much as possible, knowing poor noise-sensitive Ruby was probably frightened at home, and got absolutely soaked running to my car with my cart. As I unlocked the door I didn't see Ruby in her bed and found that she was hiding under the table. She came right over to me, and practically crawled into my arms. The worst of it was over, but I learned some things as the storm passed us by.
The Thundershirt really does work!
I noticed an almost immediate difference when I swaddled Ruby up in her Kelly green Thundershirt. She stopped trembling and followed me around while I put the groceries away. I've used it a few times to help Ruby's anxiousness in the car, but never during an actual thunderstorm. The day I adopted Ruby we drove home in a a downpour and deafening claps of thunder. She didn't seem to mind it, but as I'll talk about in the next point, she was not quite herself at first. Our thunderstorm season in Colorado is generally in the late summer, so yesterday's weather was unexpected. I'm glad to know the Thundershirt helps and we'll be prepared when the next one rolls in.
I completely misread Ruby when I first adopted her.
I knew this already but the thunderstorm experience only proved to strengthen the realization. Ruby curled up in my lap for close to an hour when I got home, a time she is normally bouncing off the walls bringing me one toy after another and begging for a walk. She didn't whine, but she did press close against me and yawn a lot, a classic sign of stress. What I thought was calm and cuddly when I took her to a sidewalk cafe, farmers market and the Warrior Dash shortly after adopting her was actually intimidated and afraid. I couldn't understand the sudden change when her reactivity began to surface, but now believe she was actually in a defensive, shut-down state those first few weeks. She was so overwhelmed by everything that she couldn't react to any one thing. I have a hard time forgiving myself for this.
There is no such thing as rewarding fear.
As I held Ruby in my lap and spoke softly to her, stroking her ears back against her head to possibly muffle some of the sound, I didn't think for a moment that I was reinforcing her fear. That notion always sounded suspicious to me, and it never stopped me from comforting my dogs when they needed it. The attention in combination with the Thundershirt seemed to relax Ruby, it certainly did not cause her to shake or worry more. As always, Patricia McConnell says it better.
Being afraid is exhausting.
Ruby and I were both ready to go to bed early last night. She finally did eat her dinner and shared some veggies with me while I watched TV, but wasn't up to her usual shenanigans. I could tell that the storm wore her out. Keep this in mind if you have an anxious or fearful dog, and don't ask too much of them after they've had a trying experience. Sometimes those behaviors that happen "out of nowhere" are the trickle-down effect of compounded distress.
I could tell that Ruby was starting to feel better as the loudest part of the storm was over, although it continued pouring all through the night, preventing us from taking our evening walk. She started rolling around on the carpet and so I took her Thundershirt off. Her tail began wagging again and while she was more subdued than normal I could tell that she was feeling better. Fear can paralyze us in the moment and send us running for cover, but I'll take this opportunity to be dangerously corny, give a nod to one of my favorite movies, The Crow, and say "it can't rain all the time."