Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Storms, dogs, anxiety and bathrooms: What do they have in common?

How many people have you chatted with that comment that their dogs become afraid during a storm - or even when a storm is expected? Chances are, a lot. I know that I have.

After writing a piece for on helping dogs with noise or storm phobias, there was an interesting dialogue with folks about their dogs' behavior. One thing in particular seemed to be a common theme: Dogs who camp out in the bathroom to cope - either wedged between the toilet and the wall, up against the tub or the sink, or inside the tub/shower.
Flickr photo courtesy of Alicia Nijdam

This might seem like an odd thing, but a theory that Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Professor and Head of Animal Behavior at Tufts University has regarding the behavior is quite interesting.

Dodman writes in his book, "Puppy's First Steps" and "The Dog Who Loved Too Much", that it's common to find a dog pressed against one of the aforementioned surfaces, and for good reason - dogs become statically charged due to the changes in the atmosphere - and Dodman suspects that the pipes/metal act as a way to conduct electricity away.

A 2001 study conducted by Tufts University found that certain breeds have an above average risk of developing noise phobias. These include some of the working and sporting breeds such as Collies, German Shepherds, Beagles, and Bassett Hounds. According to other resources, the issue is common in Labrador Retrievers as well. 

So, if your pooch has some trouble with storms and displays this behavior, here's hoping that this brings some better understanding, and some peace of mind that your dog isn't "weird'.

There is something that can help your pet feel more comfortable, however: The use of anti-static capes, sprays and softener sheets. The premise of using any of these is to to reduce static build up, Dodman has had success instructing owners to spray anti-static spray on their dogs’ paws or swiping them with a softener sheet (I'm not too keen on the latter suggestion, as even the most natural ingredients could be licked off and ingested by your pooch.) Find more about a Tufts University study on a product called Storm Defender here.

Lorrie Shaw is a pet blogger and owner of Professional Pet Sitting in Dexter Twp, Michigan. Follow her daily writing and pet adventures on Twitter.

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