Dogs and Thunder: How to Calm Your Best Friend
Is your dog afraid of thunder? “Thunder Phobia” can develop in dogs between ages two and four. As your dog grows older, storm anxiety can evolve into hiding, whining, scratching, slobbering or sheer panic. No worries. Your dog may be displaying symptoms of dog storm anxiety. Learn how you can help keep your dog calm.
Why are dogs scared of thunder?
Veterinarians and animal behaviorists aren’t exactly sure what part of a storm causes dogs the most stress. Is it the noise? The flashing lights? Or something else?
Some dogs may be worriers in general and panic at any change, while others may be overly sensitive to sound. Dogs may also have special sensitivities that make storms even more terrifying. Dogs can sense the change in air pressure, and may hear low-frequency rumblings that humans can’t detect. Some veterinarians have theorized that some dogs may experience shocks from the build-up of static electricity that comes with thunderstorms.
5 ways to calm dog storm anxiety
The following tips can help your dog cope with storm anxiety:
- Give your dog a safe space. Provide a safe indoor area, like a crate. A plastic crate is preferable – but if you have a wire crate, you can cover it with a sheet to create the feeling of a haven. Leave the door open so your dog doesn’t feel trapped. If your dog is not used to a crate, provide a comfortable, small space like a corner or small bathroom. Be sure to fill it with familiar items such as your dog’s bed, favorite toys and water bowl.
If there are windows in the room, close the blinds or curtains or cover the windows so the dog can’t see outside.
- Distract your dog. If your dog is afraid of thunder, play calming music to drown out the thunder claps. If your dog feels like playing, do so. You can also keep your dog distracted with treats and favorite toys.
- Prepare for the next storm. Is your dog scared of thunder? Maybe you should try desensitization. Download thunderstorm sounds and practice by playing them quietly to your dog, and give the dog treats or play a fun game with him while the sound is on. Gradually, over weeks, increase the volume. Stop the play or treats when the sounds are turned off. The goal is to help your dog relate the sound of thunderstorms with happy times.
- Check out products that may help your dog weather the storm. The right product can help calm dog storm anxiety. Tight jackets such as the Thundershirt provide a sensation of pressure, which can alleviate pets’ anxiety. (Swaddling a baby operates on the same principle.) You can also make a DIY version by buying a small T-shirt and putting the dog’s front legs through the armholes of the shirt. The shirt should fit snugly around your dog’s torso.
- Ask your veterinarian. Your veterinarian is the best person to talk to when it comes to dogs and thunder. He or she knows your dog, and will be best equipped to pinpoint exactly which stimulus is troubling your pet. In severe cases, your veterinarian may recommend a low dose of an anti-anxiety medication.
Most importantly, practice positive reinforcement with your dog. Do not scold or punish him for displays of dog storm anxiety, but remember that his behavior is not about disobedience, but about high levels of fear. Do anything you can to help your dog feel better—teaching him new, pleasant associations is the best way to help anxious behavior.