Thursday, September 10, 2009

He knows you l♥ve him - but does he think you'll save him?

My golden, Scout, knows sometimes hours before a storm actually hits our area. He can recognize bad weather clouds, sense a change in the barometric pressure and he will definitely act accordingly - shivering and shaking with a worried look on his face. He will become more attentive to me and more clingy. He makes sure that I am never out of his sight, not for an instant. I feel so bad for him because Freyja, my German Shepherd Dog, just acts like she's on her way to a picnic, even with a horrible thunderstorm. Nothing at all flusters her. As long as she knows where I am and that she is safe, she's ready for anything.

I found this study and thought I would share because there are so many retrievers that just don't like a storm! Of course, other dog breeds and mixes have the same affect, sending them into the bathtub or under a bed, but it seems like goldens really have large numbers that react to thunder, heavy rain and wind storms - little ones and big ones.

ScienceDaily — Having a sympathetic owner did not lower the stress reaction of dogs that become anxious or fearful during noisy thunderstorms but living in a multi-dog household did, a Penn State study has found.

The study is among the first to measure, non-invasively, the production of a specific stress hormone produced by both the dog and its owner in response to stress in their home. The technique offers a new tool to assess animal welfare in a wide variety of non-laboratory settings, including high stress environments such as search and rescue and police-related pursuit.

Dr. Nancy Dreschel, a veterinarian who conducted the study as part of her work toward a doctoral degree in biobehavioral health, says, "There were no effects of the owners' behavior or the quality of the dog-owner relationship on the stress hormone response that we measured in the canine. However, the presence of other dogs in the household was linked to less pronounced stress reactivity and more rapid recovery of the thunderstorm-phobic animal."

The study is detailed in the current (December) issue of the journal, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, in a paper, "Physiological and Behavioral Reactivity to Stress in Thunderstorm-phobic Dogs and Their Caregivers." The authors are Dreschel, who is also an instructor in the College of Agricultural Sciences, and Dr. Douglas A. Granger, associate professor of bio-behavioral health.

Thunderstorm-anxious dogs not only suffer classic signs of fear, including pacing whining and hiding, during a storm but also experience a 207 percent spike in the production of cortisol, a hormone also produced by humans during stress, the new study has shown.

Dreschel notes, "Thunderstorm anxiety in dogs is a very common problem with reports of 15 to 30 percent of pet dogs affected. The prevalence likely varies depending on location and the frequency and intensity of storms."

To measure the cortisol response in both the dogs and their caregivers, the researchers asked 19 dog-owner pairs, in which the dog had been diagnosed as storm-phobic, to listen to a 5-minute recording of a thunderstorm in their own home. The dog and its owner were both videotaped during the listening session. The dogs included five purebred golden retrievers, four other purebreds, including a corgi, a keeshond, a border collie and a Labrador retriever, and 10 mixed breed dogs over 15 pounds each.

Immediately prior to the listening session, both the dog and its owner provided a saliva sample in which the cortisol could be measured. The owner put a small cotton plug in his or her mouth to absorb saliva and the dog chewed on a small, absorbent cotton rope, which became saturated with saliva.

Twenty minutes after the 5-minute exposure to the storm recording, saliva samples were collected again from both owner and dog and, then once again, forty minutes after the listening session.

Dreschel says, "On average, the cortisol levels of the caregivers did not increase. The owners probably did not show signs of stress because they knew that the thunderstorm they were hearing was a recording. The dogs probably did not know it was a recording; although, one dog did fall asleep on the couch during the listening session."

Dogs that lived in multi-dog households had significantly less overall change in cortisol compared to dogs that lived in single-dog households. This finding corresponds to a less extreme reaction in dogs from multi-dog households and more rapid and complete return to normal following the listening session. However, dogs in multi-dog households started out with slightly higher cortisol levels, which could indicate that dogs living with other dogs are under more stress.

Dreschel does not recommend that the owners of dogs with thunderstorm anxiety get additional dogs. She notes that there was no difference in the behavioral response of the dogs in multi-dog households vs. dogs in single-dog households. After the study, Dreschel offered behavioral recommendations to the participants. She notes that it is possible to de-sensitize dogs to storms but that it doesn't always work. Efforts to reduce the anxiety should be made, however, because of the toll on the dog and the owner. The behavior of storm-phobic animals can cause owners to experience lack of sleep, destruction of household items and furnishings as well as worry about their dog's physical and mental health.


Khyra The Siberian Husky And Sometimes Her Mom said...

My golden khousin Merdie gets really really upset during storms...

Part of her problem is that she was outside fur most of her furst year...

Tank woo fur sharing this study!


Our Pack said...

Great study. Thanks for sharing this. We don't have thunderstorms here but fireworks and our pit bulls really don't like them. I think this has a very similar effect.

MAX said...

Thanks for a really interesting post!
We live in the lightning capital of the world - even the giraffes are banned from our very local game reserves. The cracks of thunder are very frightening - especially if they are really close.
Once the initial crashes are over, and I have called my pack together, we sit together - on the ground- watching the storm...and cuddling. It is fast becoming a time of togetherness...and 'subtle' reward for my dogs.
So long as we are sheltered - and together - all is fine.
Lovely post!
Thanks and lots of licks

Mango said...

Thanks for sharing. Our old Airedale was terrified of storms and would start to get anxious when the atmosphere changed, long before the storm. We gave him valium. Helped a bit.

Fortunately, Dexter comes from a line of gun dogs and nothing seems to bother him and Mango is just too plain dumb to even realize there is a thunderstorm.

Mango Momma

The 'splorin' Wolfies said...

thanks for sharing this info! your blog is great.

Erin said...

Our Golden Retriever Honee never had a problem with storms or fireworks but she did take off as soon as we start up the vacuum. Buck is a mixed breed & is terrified of storms, he'll sit and cry the entire time keeping me up since these storms come during the middle of the night. Erin our GS was starting to follow Bucks example but seems to have accepted them now & just goes in her kennel when it's bad outside. Interesting Study, Thanks for sharing.

Shawnee the Shepherd said...

Before me there was Bandit, an Australian shepherd mix, who was deathly afraid of thunderstorms. But the last two years of her life she was deaf and senile, which in a way was a blessing because she forgot to be afraid of storms.

Domi said...

Interesting...I'm not scared of storms. I just like to herd them. It's very hard though. That thunder is hard to see and moves quickly. One day I'll get it.


Cocorue said...

your blog is so informative, TQ for sharing.

my three pound chi CoCo is oblivious of lightning and thunderstorms BUT jumps when she hears fireworks....

coco's mumster,

Dory and the Mama said...

Dory and Bilbo don't get upset with thunderstorms, although neither one is very fond of fireworks!

We love your informative posts!!

Dory's Mama

JackDaddy said...

We were just talking about this on jack's blog. Jack doesn't seem to be bothered by thunder.

Brownie said...

thanks for sharing... Brownie has been fine in thunderstorms so far, but she doesn't like fireworks.

Sam said...

VERY funny you posted this, because I literally just read this study in it's research report form two hours ago. LOL. I don't really know what to make of it.. it was an interesting study, seems like it was more concerned with the discovery that cortisol levels jump than it was with actual storm phobia in dogs.

I am a FIRM believer that classical conditioning can help the mildly storm-phobic dog. My Marge has made such amazing progress if I simply feed her small bits of food during storms. It started out that I needed something high-value, like cheese.. now I can use kibble.

I also give her melatonin if I know a storm is coming, or if we're in the midst of one that will be particularly long.

Thankfully T-storms have pretty much ended here for the year but the last few she fared much better through, not even having to hide in her usual spot under the desk.

Unfortunately, these great results haven't transferred over much into her MUCH more severe firework phobia.

Benson and Lily said...

Thanks for that info. We don't like thunder to much or firecrackers. They are to loud
Benny & Lily

Teddy Bear said...

Thank you for the very informative article.

Teddy Bear

Bijou said...

Me and Banjo are not afraid of the thunder boomers but mom once had a Golden that was terrified of them if she was outdoors, but wasn't so scared when in the house. We feel bad for Scout, but we're glad he has his hooman to make him feel safe.

Wags & wiggles,

Sierra Rose said...

Interesting....our Golden Honey was very nervous during avalance bombings at the ski area.....
We will see what little Sierra Rose does!

Great article.
Hugs and snaggle-tooth kisses,
Sierra Rose

Inigo Flufflebum and d'Artangan Rumblepurr said...

Don't be afraid my puppy pal!! The thunder is only the sound of my *RUMBLEPURR* reaching you, and the lightning is to light up how cute you are!!

Kasha said...

Woah that is pretty sweet of him to worry about you like that and that is the most interesting article. Fun to learn. I love to learn about each breed and figure out what is unique about each breed.
Kasha and Africa

Maxx said...

Very informative and educational, thank you for sharing this. Me have furpals who go berzerk and will bark non stop at the sound of thunder. Must get their mommies to read this post! Myself, i just crawl under the table and zzz...!


Jeannie said...

Hello! Jeannie here. I found the study you posted very interesting, although have to admit, Marvin (lab/collie mix) would be the one asleep on the couch! ;0D

Luckily, we do not get very many severe storms here, although once, when he was young a huge storm rolled up just as we were walking back to the house across the fields.

I have never seen a dog turn tail and run so fast for home! So perhaps he is lucky that he hasn't experienced many bad storms!

Thank you for sharing.

Jeannie xxxx

The OP Pack said...

Very interesting report, thanks for sharing. Storms don't bother Thunder at all, but Phantom gets upset BEFORE they come and sometimes during a storm. We have found he is best left to his own way to feel safe. He usually retreats to his crate or the laundry room and just stays quiet. We feel very badly for pups who have such a hard time with storms.

Woos, the OP Pack

Carolyn said...

Another great post with fantastic information!

I found the information about multi-dog households to be particularly interesting. I've caught Cooper, on more than one occasion, looking at Gwennie for "guidance" during potentially stressful events. Thanks goodness she's rock solid!