Thunderstorms can be scary events, particularly for some of our canine companions. Dog thunderstorm anxiety is not uncommon and shouldn’t be ignored. Over time, a dog’s fear of storms can become progressively worse so intervening early is important. You cannot prevent a thunderstorm from happening but there are lots of things you can do to make the whole experience a lot less terrifying for your pet.
Why is My Dog Scared of Thunderstorms?
The most obvious reason is the loud thunderclap that seemingly comes out of nowhere without any warning. In addition to this, the sudden flashes of light from lightning, the howl of the wind, and the battering of the rain all make for a frightening combination. It is thought that dogs are sensitive to barometric pressure changes and static electricity, which likely means that your pooch can tell that a storm is on the way well before you can. Also bear in mind that your dog’s sense of hearing is much more acute than yours, so those thunderclaps that already sound loud to us will sound much worse to him.
How do I know if my Dog is Scared of Thunderstorms?
The behaviors shown by dogs who are afraid of thunderstorms can vary considerably. The most obvious reaction shown by many dogs is an attempt to escape and hide but some dogs may display more subtle signs. These might include whining, lip licking, pacing, or trembling. Some dogs may start showing these subtler signs several hours before the storm begins and progress to more frantic behaviors, such as trying to escape, once the thunder has started.
What can I do to help?
Keep Him Inside
The first thing to do for any dog with thunderstorm anxiety is to limit his exposure to the storm. This is not always easy but there are several ways in which you can achieve this. The first and most important is to keep your dog inside during a storm. Dogs that react by trying to escape are liable to slip their collar and lead in panic and can easily end up lost. EnMsure that windows and doors are kept closed to prevent escape but also to minimize the sounds of a storm.
Play Some Music
Keeping curtains closed will limit your dog’s exposure to lightning flashes and may also help to reduce sound. Turning on the TV or putting the radio on at a reasonable volume may also help to minimize the impact of the storm noises. Classical music has been shown to help reduce anxiety levels in animals so this could be a good choice of background music.
Create a Safe Hideout
Dogs that are fearful of thunderstorms will naturally try to escape the scary sounds and hide somewhere they feel safe. Trying to prevent this behavior could result in frustration and more extreme attempts to escape. Therefore, by providing a safe hideout for your dog, you can help reduce his anxiety. Creating a “den” is the best way to do this and is easily done by covering a comfy crate with a thick blanket and placing it somewhere away from windows and doors.
For some anxiety behaviors, the processes of desensitization and counterconditioning can work very well. However, they are less effective at helping with dog thunderstorm anxiety because it is impossible to recreate all of the sensations associated with a storm. Instead, a process called classical conditioning is much more effective.
This works by pairing a thunderstorm with something really rewarding, for example, high-value treats or a favorite toy. This is most effective when it is started in early puppyhood before your dog has the chance to develop any negative associations. However, it can still be very effective even with a dog that already has thunderstorm anxiety – it might just take a little longer. The aim is that your dog learns to look forward to a tasty treat or a fun game whenever a storm happens, instead of reacting in fear.
Should I comfort My Dog?
How you respond when a storm comes is very important and can impact heavily on your dog’s anxiety levels. Excessive reassurance or encouraging your dog to stay close to you will likely only reinforce to your dog that there is something to be worried about. On the other hand, ignoring your dog’s behavior or interactions could result in him becoming frustrated, which will only further increase his anxiety.
It is best to react passively to your dog, for example by offering your hand for him to sniff, or allowing him to lie next to you without actively encouraging it. Never tell your dog off or punish him for his behavior, even if he becomes destructive with fear. This will only further increase his anxiety and fear of the situation.
Is There Anything Else I Can Give My Dog?
There are many different calming products available in various forms, from tablets or liquids that are given with food, to pheromone diffusers and impregnated collars. The ThunderShirt is a specially designed jumper for dogs that fits snuggly around the body, providing gentle pressure that has been shown to reduce anxiety levels.
If your dog’s thunderstorm anxiety is severe, then he might need prescription medication to help him cope. Your veterinarian will be able to discuss the best options with you. They will also be able to refer you to a suitably trained behaviorist who can help you to put a behavior modification plan in place.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can I give my dog for anxiety during storms?
There are lots of different calming supplements available for dog thunderstorm anxiety. Your veterinarian will help you choose the best one for your dog.
How do you calm a dog with thunderstorm anxiety?
Remain to calm and do not overly reassure your dog but accept his interactions passively. Provide him with a safe den to escape to should he choose and turn on some classical music as a distraction from the scary sounds. Ask your veterinarian about calming supplements or medications for your dog.