The Rumbling Cart and My Dog’s Anxiety

My dog had a storm phobia.

He is kind of afraid of some things, like children–because one fell on him. Or horses–which are objectively spooky anyway. He’ll behave defensively, but it never gets beyond a growl and making room. He’s made amazing progress on the child fear, and he even lets kids pet him now. Not happily, but he’ll do it.

By and large, he is laid back to a fault. Masks don’t bother him, emergency vehicles merely annoy him, and he has almost no reaction to fireworks or the vacuum cleaner. He has absolutely no fear of other dogs, and he loves postal workers.

But if he were to hear thunder or heavy rain, he would shake like a leaf and hide under the nearest piece of furniture. We tried deep pressure, Benadryl to make him nap through the storm, improvised doggy panic rooms to muffle the sound and hide the lightning, and politely ignoring his behavior in the hopes that he would stop reacting and learn to cope by chance. (I hated this approach, but we had to rule out unwittingly teaching him to be fearful.) Nothing quite helped, except for maybe music to cover the noise.

My dog’s favorite song is “Never Gonna Give You Up.” I wish that was an elaborate joke, but we all get rickrolled when Thor comes a-calling.

Obviously, because doggy-Xanax is an extreme treatment, and the pre-doggy-Xanax methods were exhausted, I decided to take my chances with less scientific approaches. Specifically, spiritual.

I don’t even know what religion my dog is. He could be Bhuddist for all I know.

Actually, definitely not Bhuddist, with the way he guards bones. Definitely not Jain, either, because he’s way too enthusiastic about carrots. I don’t think he knows what Hellenismos or Religio Romana even are, and he wasn’t thrilled when I tried to include Epona in my practice early on–so Celtic Paganism is right out.

Either way, I usually don’t deliberately include him in my practice. He’s a clever little dude, so I figure he’s smart enough to be spiritually autonomous. Or whatever. Maybe he’s agnostic and stays up late wondering if there really is a dog.

But because of the lack of mundane options, and because dog is man’s best friend and man is Thor’s best friend, I figured I could try and mediate between the noisy joyrides and my very stressed out dog.

I think, partly because our dynamic with the gods is a lot like the one between us and our pets, it is easy for them to empathize with the love and concern we feel for our companion animals. Indeed, Thor himself is fiercely defensive of his goats. It also wasn’t the first time the gods came to my aid in helping my dog.

So I took the Stein I’d bought for Thor years ago and set up a little space on the first clear surface I had. When another loud storm came through, I would pick up my dog, take him over to it, and drop a coin in. I would then point at my dog and say “please drive carefully, you’re scaring my fuzzy child.”

I’m, uh, not eloquent with prayer.

There was no miraculous breakthrough. My dog was not cured overnight. But I did find, little by little, that if we bribed Thor and went back to playing Rick Astley, he did slightly better. The storms seemed quieter. He would even nap through less intense storms, without having to take Benadryl first.

There’s millions of explanations, like desensitization and…yeah, Rick Astley. But my dog eventually calmed down enough that heavy rain didn’t cause him distress. If he hears thunder, he’ll still seek me out to make sure he has protection and 80s pop. But he doesn’t cry and run for cover until the thunder shakes the house.

And by that point, I figure it doesn’t count as anxiety and is just a normal level of fear. Even the humans are bugging out, and this is part of the idea behind praying to Thor in the first place. So I consider that as good as cured.

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