Wind storm

Wind can trigger panic in some dogs, often taking owners by surprise.

I recently had a case of a dog that tried to escape the owners’ house or yard whenever the wind picked up. They live in Marin County, so there are several windy days per year. Any time there was more than a stiff breeze, one of the owners needed to rush home and make sure the dog was safe; usually that meant working from home for the rest of the day. These owners had that luxury – most don’t.

So, how did this happen? As in most cases of phobic responses to the wind, it didn’t start out as a fear of the wind at all. In this case, the dog was afraid of rain/thunderstorms and became very afraid during a recent rain storm. The owners were home and saw him looking for a good place in the house to hide. When he couldn’t find a place that made him feel better, he tried to break out of the house. These fairly savvy owners helped the dog find an interior closet and played white noise for him. Together, they weathered the storm and the dog seemed no worse for the experience… until the next big winds.

The owners were not expecting wind to be a big trigger for their dog, as is never had been before. But, the bad rain storm he experienced had big winds as a component; and the dog had become sensitized to the sounds. And, if you think about it, wind comes with many loud sounds. Beyond the whine and whistle of the wind itself, there are the sounds of garden items falling over, neighbors’ garbage cans rolling down the street, tree branches cracking and falling, and windows shaking during particularly strong gusts.

In this case, the diagnosis was straightforward: Storm phobia with sensitivity to wind. The progression seemed apparent to the owners once it was pointed out: He generalized his fear of thunderstorms to include rain, which always (in California) accompanies thunder. Then, since this rain storm was very windy, he generalized to include wind. Other problems to rule out would be generalized anxiety, noise phobia, and severe attention-seeking behavior. Noise and storm phobia differ from each other in the fact that storms are more than just the sounds that accompany them; some dogs are very sensitive to drops in atmospheric pressure, rapid ionization changes during lightning strikes, and the feel of wind and rain on their bodies. Noise phobic dogs are triggered mainly by the sounds themselves (usually lightning, fireworks, gun shots, and engines).

Treatment for phobia of the wind can vary, depending on other components of the phobia (thunder, etc.). In this case, it consisted mainly of desensitization and counter-conditioning (DS/CC) to the sounds of wind and thunder and medications to aid the process of DS/CC in this scared dog. Other options include relaxation protocols to train a calm response on command, nutraceuticals like l-theanine or a dog appeasing pheromone collar, or a tight wrap made for anxious dogs. The medication selected for this case was fluoxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, to be given every day. For days when wind was expected to be a problem, the dog was also given a benzodiazepine, which is a very potent and fast-acting (but short duration) inhibitor of anxiety; the most common of these in human medicine are Valium and Xanax.

In this case, treatment seems to be going pretty well and the owners are less panicked when they see wind in the weather forecast. If your dog, or one you know, is afraid of wind (or other facets of storms), please seek help from a veterinarian.