The Sound and the Furry

This article appeared in the June 2013 AKC Gazette.

It slammed onto my bed and woke me with a jolt. Instantly awake (a rare state for me), I sat up and snapped on the light. The large framed mirror, which usually sat on the dresser, had crashed over and landed with half still on the dresser and the rest on the bed, only inches from where I had been sleeping. And there perched on the bureau, shivering and shaking, was Kendra. Outside, a thunderstorm reverberated with a vengeance. That explained it. Kendra was terrified of thunderstorms. The first distant rumble would send her into pure panic.

This first became truly apparent one day when I was mowing the grass and Kendra was in a run to keep her out of danger. A gargantuan thunder clap heralded the onslaught of a storm. Kendra scaled the six-foot high, chain link fence as though she had jet-assisted take-off and was a black and white blur as she high-tailed it to the safety of the house. I’d never seen a Beardie move that fast.

If she was in the house when a storm struck, her usual modus operandi was to scramble for the highest spot she could attain, hence her clambering on the bureau the night she knocked over the mirror. Why she believed height provided safety is beyond me. Unless, she was expecting a flood. But there was one memorable stormy night, when I opened the fridge and she immediately jumped in and curled up on the lower shelf. Okay, I admit I grabbed the camera and shot a photo before extracting her. She gave new meaning to the term ‘chill out.’

Kendra was not the only Beardie with a fear of thunderstorms. Bring up the subject of noise sensitivity in a gathering of Beardie owners and the stories will start to flow like spring run-off. Though t-storms seem to be the primary cause of sound sensitivity, some Beardies also react to the roar of motorcycles, mowers and similar rackets. No one seems to have figured out why some Beardies have such severe reactions while others could care less. It’s not a hereditary condition, nor does it necessarily run in families. There are two litter brothers of my breeding who are at opposite ends of the spectrum. When a storm strikes, one sleeps while the other freaks.

Solutions vary. Sometimes just putting the perturbed pup in a covered crate and turning up the tv is enough to alleviate the problem. Others have tried commercial pet calming products or holistic remedies with differing amounts of success. In recent years, Thunder Shirts are reported to have helped a number of quivering canines cope with stressful situations. One owner made a tape of thunder sounds and began by playing it very softly. Over the period of several weeks, she increased the intensity so the dog became accustomed to the rumbling. It helped somewhat. Some learned folks have reflected that dogs may also be reacting to the change in barometric pressure which accompanies a storm. But they don’t make tapes for that.

Ti, one of my earlier Beardies, avoided storms by getting into the deepest closet in the house and hunkering down on the far side, kicking everything out of her way. We could always tell a storm was approaching when shoes came flying out the closet door.

As previously mentioned, it’s not always the sound of thunder which causes a reaction. A few years ago, my gang and I, along with my mother, rode out a hurricane at the home of another Beardie owner. My Beardies settled down in her spacious dog room, with the exception of Crispin. While hurricane force winds flung rain sideways and whipped up whitecaps on the swimming pool, Crispin was relaxing in an outdoor run in the midst of the turmoil, his sopping wet coat swirling about him. My big, brave boy, grinning into the gusting winds, smiling into the storm’s fury. We finally had to block the doorway to keep him inside. When the storm passed and we returned home, my mother decided to do a little cleaning. She switched on the vacuum cleaner. Crispin freaked and dashed for the haven of my bedroom.

alice bixler, Bearded Collie Club of America website: