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Nervous Behavior —

Entries Tagged 'Nervous Behavior' ↓

Fear of Thunderstorms and Other Nervous Behaviors

Fear of thunderstorms


A: Hi,

I live in Louisiana & have been working with a sheltie named Maggie to overcome her severe thunder phobia & anxiety. She has been on Clomicalm, Reconcile, Valium, Xanex & Prozac. Now the latest the vet is trying is Phenobarb.


Maggie is 5 years old & was given to us in July 2007. Her owners (2nd set) said she would bark at thunder & run along their fence. Well, that was really sugarcoating her reaction. She charges towards the sound barking & trying to \”attack\” the noise. She seems to be totally focused on going after it. What we have finally done is conditioned her so when we see a storm coming or hear thunder we quickly try to crate her with the radio on & a chew bone to distract her. This is pretty successful but I worry for the times we aren\’t home. We live in a rural area & she is outside unfenced. It never is a problem until thunder comes. She is not aggressive to people or other animals.


The other issue she has is unexplained nervous behavior. For no reason she will run towards a plant & jumps to tear pieces off it. She also twirls , paces & appears agitated. This isn\’t constant & you never know when it\’ll happen. She has been on the Phenobarb for almost a month now & I do see an improvement in that but I hate to think she\’ll need medication all her life to be semi-normal acting. It does nothing for the thunder.


Do you have any suggestions on how we can help her? We are used to her routine & so are our neighbors. I just feel sorry for Maggie.


Thanks for your help!




A: Hello Diane,


It sounds like you have done a lot to help Maggie already, so that is wonderful you have made that effort, thank you for all your hard work!  It’s great that you have found something that is starting to work for her in terms of crating her with the radio on and a chew bone.  Since the crate has been successful for you, is it an option to crate her with the radio and chew bone when you are away from home and expect a storm?  Or perhaps leave her in a room with no windows and the radio on?  I would highly suggest you don’t leave her outside during the storm if she is so fearful of it.  Also, here is a list of things to try in addition to what you are already doing:  


Your attitude can influence the severity of the fear of the storm.  If you are nervous during storms for example it is more likely to occur in your dog.  Or if you comfort the dog through petting, or saying it’s ok in a soft voice, etc. then the dog interprets that they are correct for having a fear of the storm and it reinforces the negative behavior.  Plus, it is natural as a human to feel sorry for her but try not to display that to her because she interprets that as though you think something is wrong with her and that will only make her feel worse.  You also would not want to punish your dog or this may increase her anxiety.


It is not certain that you can resolve it completely but there are some steps to take to help manage it through behavior modification, changing the environment and possibly medications.


  1. Exercise your dog daily and even more on the days that you think a storm is likely.  The exercise will help tire out your dog and is even thought to increase the seratonin levels, which can have a calming affect on your dog.
  2. Do not comfort or punish your dog during storms.
  3. Provide a safe place for your dog to be.  Some dogs prefer to be in an enclosed space like a bathroom, bathtub, closet or a crate.  If your dog feels comfortable in a crate you can even cover the crate with a blanket.  Be sure to leave the crate door open though. 
  4. You can try to block the noise level of the storm by running a fan, TV or radio.  Sometimes having them be in a room without windows can help too.
  5. Maintain your strong, calm leadership attitude and try not to feel scared or nervous yourself.  Use a happy voice and it would be great if you could get your dog to play during a storm!
  6. Try some behavior modification techniques to help change your dog’s response to the storm.  You can provide the dog with his favorite treat, toy or game just prior to a storm and that is the only time he gets it. 
  7. Or try desensitizing the noise of the storm by using a cd of storm.  You should play the sound at a lower level at first and try gradually increasing the sound until the dog gets used to it. Try some obedience training and reward the dog when it does something well.  Do not reward when the dog is anxious or scared.  If you are successful then the next day increase the volume and try again. If your dog starts to get scared decrease the volume. Try it in different rooms too and if successful play it sometimes when you are not in the room with your dog.  When your dog is successful and not showing signs of fear you can repeat once a week or so.  Then, when there is a real storm you do the same thing with the same obedience or tricks and rewards that you did for the cd noise.  It is usually a good idea to practice the desensitizing when you will not be having a real storm yet, so try to do it before storm season so you have a chance to practice before the live event.
  8. Work with your Veterinarian to talk about medications if needed.


Try different things and see what works for your dog.


In regards to the nervous behavior and attacking the plants…is she getting exercised enough?  Often dogs that display this sort of behavior feel better when they are REALLY tired out more than once a day.  Exercised to the point that she has to lay down to rest she is so tired.  This helps to drain energy that is stored up, release her bodies natural hormone-seretonin to help her relax and generally offers her mind and body what she may need. 


Additionally you might want to try diverting her nervous behavior with some positive obedience.  When you notice signs of nervousness work on some positive obedience so she can be distracted and refocused onto something constructive. 


If you add the intensive exercise routine and positive obedience training program to her daily life there is a good chance you both will feel calmer and happier. 


It’s great to hear updates so let me know how it all goes!




 You are welcome!  Good luck with it!


Hi Julie,
Thanks so much for the fast reply! It’s good to know that what I’m doing is not hurting or making it worse. We are calm around her & have gotten her to the point where she can be outside & if we call & tell her to go to her quiet place she goes inside straight into the crate. She gets lots of exercise since we’re on 5 acres & she has the run of it. We have 6 other shelties & 2 are her play pals that run & chase with her. She is our largest one (38 lbs) but doesn’t seem to realize it. She runs like the smaller guys & it’s so funny to see them. They actually try to herd her when she starts getting distracted by noise!

I’ll try some of the other things you suggested & let you know what happens. I have been amazed to see how many people have similar issues with their dogs & thunder. Most I’ve met have dogs that are fearful & drool, etc. I have suggested they try Melatonin & all have reported excellent results. Too bad Maggie isn’t fearful in that way!

Thanks again-



Hi Diane,

You are welcome!  Good luck with it!