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Whether it is my Black Labrador or my parents' American Eskimo, the sounds of thunder, fireworks and sometimes random loud noises can send them into a bit of a panic mode. They shake for an extended period of time, pant, drool, and scratch at the floor. They seem inconsolable and human contact doesn't seem to help them relax.

What is the best way to handle dogs when you cannot control the sounds?

Is there medication I can give them when I know that a thunderstorm is approaching?

Will it help to put on music or other sounds I can broadcast to try to mask the disturbing sounds (barring lightning hitting a tree in the backyard, which would make even me shake and scratch at the carpet for it a bit. :-))?

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One thing to keep in mind is to not try to comfort your pet.

If you secure your pet by using a gentle voice to calm him, it confirms his fear! You are actually telling your dog that it is normal to be scared. The best thing to do is act normal, completely ignore his fear, talk to him normally, play with him as you would normally do and do not allow him to do things you normally don't like sitting on the couch or similar. Your idea of using music to help the dog calm down is good, but do not use it to cover up the sound.

Also, you'd want to give him some help to calm down and you can, but don't do it because he is afraid. Basically, distract him first like stated above, once he "forgot" about the storm you can put him in his basket. He will feel comfortable there, as usual, and hopeful unstress. He will then learn by himself to go there when he is scared, but all this should make him less nervous too.

Ignoring a puppy might be harder than a big dog, but do keep in mind that comforting a puppy will also have a bigger impact.

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I have had great luck with Thundershirts in calming my pets, both cats and dogs.

If that doesn't work, give the dog a safe place to go, like their crate, may provide some relief. Putting the crate in a location away from the external walls may help some as well.

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    +1000 on the Thundershirt. They use these to calm cattle and people with anxiety disorders. It cures my nervous dachshund from shaking all the time. I'd leave it on him perpetually, except that it becomes ineffective over time if given continuous use. You should only use it when he needs it, not a perpetual crutch. – JoshDM Oct 9 '13 at 17:15
  • @JoshDM I'd only heard of them used for pets! Didn't know that about the cattle and humans! – starsplusplus Apr 7 '14 at 16:08
  • I believe the concept is derived from the cattle application. – JoshDM Apr 7 '14 at 17:09
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While both sevargdcg and Salketer provide great advice for how to deal with your dog's anxiety as it occurs, long-term you want to work on lowering your dog's sensitivity to noises.

You can buy CDs online that have fireworks and other noises specifically to help desensitise your dogs, but you'll probably find plenty of the requisite noises on YouTube as well.

The idea is to play the noise at a volume that your dog is comfortable with and then reward him every time the noise is played and he doesn't show signs of fear or distress. When you're confident that your dog is comfortable with the noise at a certain volume and doesn't mind it at all, slowly increase the volume.

Be very careful about going slowly and not increasing the volume too quickly as you dog might regress a lot when you play it too loud and it gets a fright.

Keep repeating until your dog gets thoroughly desensitised to the noise and even starts associating it with good things happening(TM). You'll have to put in quite a bit of time but it'll make you and your dogs life a lot easier in the long run.

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As you specifically asked for possible medications, a possible solution is to use alprazolam, aka. Xanax.

There is a whole appendix dedicated to its use in cases like storm phobias in Karen Overall's book "Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats".

A (partial) quote of interest, from "Generalized Guidelines for Using Alprazolam for Noise and Storm Phobias, Panic and Severe Distress":

There are three ways to use this: [...] preventive for dogs with known triggers for profound distress (eg., storms) [...] situational and interventional medication [...] in a truly panicolytic context (e.g., the storm crept up on you and now your dog is curled in a ball, drooling).

Anxiolytic drugs are meant to be used in combination with behavioural treatments. Anyway, always consult your vet first.

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All previous provide good advice. But if none of those measures work, do not give up trying to help your dog. With mine, I went through all those steps, and nothing had worked. When we got to the medication step, Alprazolam did not reduce his anxiety while made him lose his motor coordination in such a way that he could hurt himself. It was when we tried Tranxene that it worked. He finally could sit through a storm without freaking out and could still play although his eyes seemed like he was definitely under the influence. See this: https://www.petcoach.co/article/clorazepate-dipotassium-tranxene/

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    it is best to talk to a vet about this and not start medicating any pet whitout consulting a vet first. – trond hansen May 14 '18 at 5:46

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