Many, many dogs suffer from noise phobias, and without proper intervention, phobias escalate with repeated exposure to the stimulus. For dogs, phobias often involve loud noises (such as thunderstorms, backfires from cars or skateboard wheels on the pavement) or unusual places (such as basements, stairs and sometimes doors). Dogs have been known to harm themselves physically in an attempt to escape these frightening situations.
The first step in dealing with a fearful or anxious dog is to schedule a complete physical with your regular vet just to rule out any possible underlying medical issues such as hypothryroidism, Cushing's Disease or other underlying problem. Anxiety reducing medications can help some dogs with phobias, but it is also vital to reinforce basic obedience behaviors like 'sit', 'down', and 'stay' and to teach them to focus on a specific activity (ie: bringing you a toy or performing a task such as sitting that results in a treat...so that they associate those noises with something positive) that distracts them from the thing they're afraid of. Be sure to provide your dog with lots of really tasty treats (I tend to favor cooked chicken, or freeze dried beef liver) during these training sessions.
Desensitization is often paired with counter conditioning. This uses baby steps to build your dog's confidence. Enrolling your dog in an obedience class in your area will help her trust you by making you the alpha dog, and it will help build her self confidence, which will ultimately make her more confident when dealing with scary noises or things. Also, whenever she hears the noises she's afraid of, make sure to reward her with both verbal cues and treats.
These techniques require patience and may take quite a bit of time, so don't expect an instant cure. Never punish a fearful pet because such actions can worsen her phobias and anxiety. Instead, touch her gently and speak calmly to reassure her but avoid excessive displays of concern or petting. Speak in an upbeat tone, act happy, and divert your pets attention to a treat or fun activity. your goal is to deliver the message that the noise is no big deal.
There are also a couple over-the-counter options to try that may help decrease her anxiety at the storms:
Melantonin is an over-the-counter drug that can be used to treat some anxiety issues in dogs. The dose you would give would be up to 3 mg given orally whenever necessary up to every 8 hours. More information can be found here: http://www.petplace.com/drug-library/melatonin-melatonex/page1.aspx , which includes risks, warning signs to watch out for and other bits of useful information.
Try a DAP collar. These are collars that are impregnated with a man-made version of the dog appeasing pheromone, which is a pheromone that nursing bitches give off to their pups to help them feel calm and secure. It's something that humans can't smell, but it has an amazing effect on dogs with anxiety and other issues. Although you can find them at your vet's office..you can also find them online at places like Amazon.com and Ebay for much cheaper. Just make sure they're DAP brand, as they seem to work better than some other versions.
Hopefully with some time and patience, she'll learn that the noise and the outside is nothing to be afraid of.
I hope this helps.
Have you discussed the possibility of using some sort of medication with her vet yet?
We have an appointment set with the vet, til then I am continuing everything that has been suggested with no luck of distracting her from her fear.
I can completely understand your frustration, and having the vet get her on a low dose sedative or tranqulizer is probably going to be the best bet to take the edge off of her fear.
Unfortunately, some dogs take a very, very long time to come out of this irrational fear, and having a behaviorist work with you often is the best way to speed things up.
I think that you are absolutely doing everything that you can possibly do with her. I actually wish the clients I worked with were as diligent and invested in changing the behavior of their dogs as you are with her.
Something you may want to consider (if you haven't tried it already) is to have someone else take her out and see if she acts any differently with them. Dogs sometimes act like human children...they act one way with their owners, and then act different with someone else. We see it every day...when someone brings in a dog because they can't cut their nails and as soon as we take the dog, they sit perfectly for us and allow us to do whatever we want. I'm sure that you're doing everything you can, but it might not be a bad idea to just try it and see how she acts.
Your vote of confidence really helps. Thank you!
You're very welcome~
Even after you accept/rate my answer, please come back and let me know how she does...I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for you!!