Ah spring time..the flowers are blooming, the sun is shining and…..thunderstorms and other loud noises pop up. Last summer we started to notice that Tucker was a little nervous over thunder and some other unexplained noises. However, it was very minor and living in the DC area where we heard any number of noises on any given day, he was mostly accustomed to strange noises. Fast forward to late March of this year. We’ve moved to the quiet suburbs of Pennsylvania—and when I say quiet, it’s REALLLY quiet. So any noise is even more magnified in Tucker’s ears. We noticed that Tucker was getting more and more anxious over thunderstorms, loud noises, helicopters, lawn mowers. With thunderstorms, he’d pace and couldn’t settle. He’d want to go down to the basement and scratch at the floor. He couldn’t settle or sleep. It came to a head one evening when my husband was away and I had fallen asleep. A little after midnight, I was woken by Tucker being extremely anxious–while I couldn’t hear anything, he must have heard a noise (you’d be surprised at what a dog can hear!) and it unsettled him. For the next hour, he didn’t sleep. I became concerned that this was getting worse, not better. I’ve had other dogs that were scared of thunderstorms but I was concerned as this was even happening at noises like a helicopter overhead. After speaking with our breeder and my mom’s breeder, we took him to our vet for a checkup to see if he was having any physical issues and to discuss what we could do. I will also note that we did try the thundershirt, rescue remedy and other things before we spoke to the vet.
After a thorough checkup, our vet thought he might benefit from 30 days of Prozac along with some desensitization training. Her reasoning was that you couldn’t fix a scared brain. I was a bit hesitant to give Tucker Prozac, but after talks with my breeder and my mom’s breeder who both agreed with the vet and gave me tips on how to train Tucker, we started giving him one pill a night at dinner beginning on April 3.
So, we’re three weeks in and what have we seen? Well, the first two weeks after giving him the pill, he was rather mellow and sleepy. We’d give it to him at dinner and then he wouldn’t really be playful the rest of the evening…even in the morning he wasn’t as playful. I had heard that this could be a side effect but it was a little hard to see as Tucker’s usually very playful. He still loved his walks and no one else might have even noticed a difference in him, but when he wasn’t really interested in playing rope, it made me sad. I knew from all the reading that this was common as the dog is adjusting to the pill—for some dogs that can take a week or two, for others longer. I consistently checked in with the vet who assured me everything we were experiencing was normal.
In addition to the pills, we have also been trying to desensitize him to noises which can be tricky. I reached out to a trainer who unfortunately hasn’t been able to help us yet, but I’ve been given some tips to help us do it ourselves. The first thing I got was these music CDs called Through a Dog’s Ear that mixes classical music with thunderstorm noises. They start with one track of classical and the tracks after get louder and louder with thunderstorm noises. There are also other CDs for fireworks and city noises. We started on those- playing those in the background while doing something fun with Tucker. I think he’s been pretty much desensitized to the CD as a lot of time it comes on now and he falls asleep! During these training sessions, we either play with Tucker, go over his tricks, or massage him or something that he enjoys while also keeping us calm.
I feel though, that these are just dress rehearsals. The real thing like thunderstorms are hard because you can’t predict when and how often the thunder might occur. Same with noises that pop up out of nowhere. When we first started the meds, Tucker was still nervous which was to be expected as like I said before, it can take a few weeks for the medicine to build up enough in the dog to create positive effects. On Easter night (April 16), we had two tests. The first one was that someone was setting off fireworks (yes, really) while we were on a walk. Tucker had a slight reaction on his leash, probably also reacting to me who jumped but he recovered quickly. Once we got home and were settling in, we had a quick moving storm with lots of wind! He was still unsettled but recovered quicker than before. I was still a bit discouraged but when I talked to the vet, she assured me that was still quite normal. We’ve continued on with our training and pills but haven’t had any storms since. However, with other noises he has gotten better. He’s also back to his playful self–giving me approximately 5 minutes to eat my breakfast before he is ready with his toy and lots of rope play at night. Last night, I thought we were going to have some storms and I saw some lightning and held my breath—how would Tucker react if it thundered? One part of me wanted to see how, the other didn’t. I never heard any thunder but I know there was storms around us…how did Tucker react?
Yep. I’ll take that as a good sign. I think we will continue with the Prozac for the foreseeable future until we can see if it’s really helping when there are real storms but for now, I’m hopeful. However, I cannot stress enough that you cannot just give your dogs Prozac and expect results. You must also work with them and be diligent about it. I actually find myself getting anxious if I haven’t worked with Tucker at all during the day (I also need Prozac but that’s a different story for another blog). And I’m also not a vet so please speak with your vet if you suspect anything with your dog!