My dog is scared of thunder. What should I do?
It’s not uncommon seeing your pet dog cower in a corner or seek a hiding place right before the thunderstorms begin. Even generally calm and cheerful dogs may show signs of anxiety such as pacing, panting, hiding, or snuggling really close to you during summer thunderstorms. In some cases, the phobia may manifest in more extreme behaviour, including chewing and clawing on furniture. Some dog owners have even experienced having their dogs run away and go missing during a thunderstorm. Trying to find a lost dog that ran out of fear could be a trying experience. As a pet owner, it definitely helps to know how to calm a dog during thunder.
Dog aren’t likely to grow out of this type of fear. In some cases, the fear could grow worse as the dog grows older. Vets recommend taking some steps to help your pet cope whenever this natural phenomenon strikes. How do you calm a dog down during a thunderstorm? It helps to first try to understand why dogs fear thunderstorms in the first place.
Why Are Dogs Afraid of Thunderstorms?
Animal behaviorists and veterinarians cite various factors as to what triggers dog anxiety where thunderstorms are concerned. Some suggest that dogs behave differently during thunderstorms for a combination of different reasons, including wind, static electricity present in the air, lightning, changes in barometric pressure, and low-frequency rumbles that humans can’t hear, in addition to the loud sound of thunder itself. There have also been theories that dogs may experience painful shocks caused by static buildup in the atmosphere precluding a storm.
Dogs that show fear and anxiety during thunderstorms are also typically averse to loud noises. Fireworks, gunshots, or loud blaring speakers are common anxiety triggers. Being aware of these possibilities, it’s quite clear why leaving the dog alone during a thunderstorm may not be the best idea.
Preparing Your Dog for the Next Storm
If you’re worried about your dog behaving fearfully during thunderstorms, you can make some preparations to help him stay calm when the next one arrives.
1. Create a safe space for your dog.
Your dog needs a warm and comfortable place where he can retreat to when the rumbles start. Is your dog comfortable in his crate? Cover his crate with thick blankets to help muffle the sounds when he retreats inside. Leave the door open so he is free to come and go as he likes. You may also build a safe space for your dog inside the bathroom, which can block out sounds from the outside. Close windows or make sure they’re covered with curtains to block the outside view.
2. Daily behavior training sessions.
Any day when there’s no storm, train your dog to settle on command. Using a leash, have your pet lie at his feet when you give a command and reward if he succeeds. Make this an everyday routine. When there’s a storm, use the “inside leash” and command him to settle. Offer rewards for good behaviour, but remember: never scold or punish your dog if he fails.
3. Consult your veterinarian.
You may ask your vet if he can prescribe some calming treats or medication, if your dog shows extreme symptoms of anxiety during a thunderstorm. Your vet may know about behavior modification techniques and decide if medication is needed. He may also be able to point you to the direction of where to find a good snug dog garment.
4. Try the desensitization technique.
When storm season is near, expose your dog to thunder sounds by playing a recording at low volume. You can make it as a sort of background noise while you play or train him. This helps him make a positive association with the sounds. Gradually turn up the volume in the course of a few weeks. If he shows signs of anxiety, lower the volume again. Experts caution that this technique only prepares your dog for the sounds and not for other factors that come with an actual storm, such as air pressure.
5. Give your dog some exercise.
When you notice dark clouds rolling in, it might be a good idea to take your dog for an extra-long walk or a jog. Exercise should make your dog mentally and physically calm right before the storm starts.
How to Calm Your Dog During a Thunderstorm
Whenever the storm arrives, here are some things you can do to help manage your dog’s anxiety:
6. Make him wear a snug doggie shirt.
There are commercially available dog shirts or wraps designed to provide light pressure to your dog’s body, giving him comfort. Some “storm shirts” even come lined with metal-fabric to protect dogs from static shock. Try snug-fitting dog sweaters or a DIY wrap for your dog and see if it helps calm him down.
7. Apply counter-conditioning.
How to calm a dog in a thunderstorm? Try counter-conditioning your dog’s negative feelings about storms by helping him associate the coming of a thunderstorm as a positive event. You can do this for example, by bringing out a special toy only for the occasion and playing with him to create a distraction. You can also offer him extra-special storm treats, like cheese or bacon. By diverting his focus to a special treat or toy, you might be able to successfully recondition how he responds to a thunderstorm.
8. Play some
Another sound piece of advice on how to calm a dog during thunderstorms is by playing some relaxing or soothing music inside a room with a closed door and windows. This could help drown out loud thunder noises that trigger your canine friend’s storm phobia. This is also a good idea come Fourth of July, if you want to keep your pet safe from fireworks.
A fearful and anxious dog in the house definitely sends everyone worrying. But if you know why dogs sometimes react negatively to thunder and loud sounds, you can apply the basics on how to calm a dog during a thunderstorm. Your dog and your entire household can have peace of mind at home no matter how bad the storm gets. Try these tips and techniques, and find out which one works best for your pet.