Benji paced the floor, whining ever so slightly at the distant rumbling. The weather report promised an afternoon and evening of storms, and the little dog was gearing up for his panic. He drooled and paced, stopping frequently to press himself against Marsha's legs. When the trembling started, Marsha picked him up and cuddled his shaking body. It would be a long evening.
Lightning crackled and thunder roared as the storm began overhead, and Rover raced down the hallway and scrabbled under the bed. There he would stay till the fury subsided.
Misty followed Robert from room to room, never letting him out of her sight. She didn't whine, shake, or run in terror from the sturm and drang of the storm, but she shadowed Robert whenever he moved. Fear of thunderstorms is quite common in dogs, and the onset of the fear can be obscure. Sometimes a dog is afraid from puppyhood; sometimes a particularly bad storm is connected to another fearful event in the dog's life; and sometimes the origin of the fear cannot be pinpointed.
Puppies may pick up fear or discomfort with storms from their people, so it is important to develop a matter-of-fact attitude when dealing with a frightened youngster. Let the pup stay close, reassure him that he's fine, and coax him to play to divert his attention, but don't hover over him, stroke him incessantly, or cuddle him anxiously.
Storms that develop from rapidly falling barometric pressure can subliminally affect an animal, so the dog may demonstrate anxiety even before the storm can be heard. Again, it is important to reassure the dog that he is fine and to not exaggerate the situation.
Dogs that continue to panic when a storm approaches and dogs that develop such apprehension as adults may have to be reconditioned. Some behaviorists recommend creating an artificial storm with environmental tapes or stereo recordings. The reconditioning procedure is time-consuming but has a high success rate.
Thunderstorms are a constant presence in most area's summers, leaving little time to desensitize a dog in between episodes. If a storm happens between sessions, do what you can to calm the dog without adding to his panic. If he needs a dark room, let him have it. If he wants to lean against your leg, let him do so. If he follows you from room to room, accept his presence without overreacting. If you have successfully been using mild tranquilizers, continue treatment until reconditioning is complete.
For some it's beautiful . . . for others, it's scary . . . for Spanky, it was deadly.
Spanky was a small, energetic, and totally unforgettable mixed breed dog who belonged to Tracie, my next door neighbor and friend. As lovable and unforgettable as she was, she had one bad habit -- an undeniable desire to chase and feast upon our small brood of chickens. More than once, we caught her stalking our flock of feathered egg suppliers.
We tried everything to prevent Spanky from entering the chicken pen. Every attempt ended with this clever little girl managing to gain access to the chickens. In the country, a dog that chases chickens could find himself in big trouble if he goes after the flock of an unfriendly farmer, so we finally decided that we had to put a permanent stop to Spanky's chicken capers.
Tracie's yard was unfenced, and since it was rental property, the cost of fencing was unfeasible. After checking around, she came across an ad for making a safe and secure area for any dog. The only thing needed was a long wire between two sturdy trees. You stretch the wire between the trees, attach a chain to the wire, and clip the dog's collar to the chain.
This was perfect. Spanky would have plenty of room to run and exercise, she could spend her much-loved time outdoors, and she would not be able to terrorize the neighborhood chickens.
The solution worked like a charm. Spanky was now safe and secure -- and without the high cost of fencing. She was even supplied with a small house so she could have some privacy, rest, or just hide. And the best part was that Spanky did not seem to mind that she was "confined" to one area. Many months passed with no further complaints from fowl or dog.
Unfortunately, not all solutions are as perfect as we assume them to be. Who could have imagined that a typical summer storm would end with such a sad and startling realization?
The storm itself -- a little rain and some thunder and lightning, nothing that would make you run for cover -- was of no real concern. Such an innocent summer occurrence; who would suspect it would carry Spanky's death sentence?
After the storm, the evidence was all there and easy to figure out. A single bolt of lightning hit one of the trees that secured Spanky's exercise wire. The bolt of electricity went through the wire, down the chain, and into the collar that circled Spanky's neck.
Who could have known that an attempt to keep Spanky safe and secure would end in such tragedy?
The old saying "lightning doesn't strike twice" may be true, but in this case it doesn't need to. The exercise wire is long gone, but the charred spot in the old locust tree will always be a constant reminder of a totally unforgettable Spanky.
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