Thunder and lightning may put a damper on your summer plans, but for some pet parents, the worst part of bad weather is struggling to console a distraught dog.
If a stormy forecast sends your dog into hiding, or brings out obnoxious or destructive behavior, it’s important to lead with empathy. The better you understand what your dog finds upsetting about rumblings in the sky, the simpler it is to find solutions to help you weather the storm with less anxiety.
Like other common causes of anxiety, such as sirens and fireworks, claps of thunder can startle and frighten dogs. Given that a dog’s sense of hearing is roughly four times as sensitive as the average human’s, loud noises alone are an understandable source of fear. Unfortunately, other factors can make your dog’s storm phobia more complex than other scary sounds.
Dogs’ heightened senses may contribute to an overall more intense experience of inclement weather. Scientists believe that the ability to detect dropping barometric pressure can activate your dog’s deeply-rooted instincts to seek shelter. Despite being safely inside, dogs may feel an urgent need to dig or burrow, often at the expense of your carpet or furniture.
Storm anxiety can also be the result of much less abstract fear. Bad weather can cause a buildup of static electricity in dogs’ fur, especially in those with thick or double coats. Much like when we’ve shuffled across carpet while wearing socks, contact with a metal surface can cause a painful zap when the electricity is discharged. Dogs who associate storms with being shocked will understandably learn to dread darkening skies.
Because of their sensitivity to barometric pressure and changing wind directions, dogs with thunder phobia can sometimes begin behaving strangely before their humans are even aware that a storm is approaching.
Classic signs of canine anxiety include:
Summertime means long walks and sunny days at the dog park, but it also comes with a heightened frequency of anxiety-provoking thunderstorms as well as celebratory noises. Here are some strategies for helping your canine companion manage their fears.
Dogs respond well to positive reinforcement — and they tend to take behavioral cues from their humans. If storms in the forecast fill you with dread over anticipated problematic behaviors, you’re likely to help create what you fear.
Look for ways to form more positive associations with bad weather for both you and your dog. Set aside favorite toys and treats and be ready to offer a little extra attention and affection. With patience and persistence, you may be able to establish a link between dark skies and playtime.
At the end of the day, our dogs are den animals. Ensuring that your dog has a place to hide away that feels secure and fully their own will discourage them from trying to create one by destroying your bedding or furniture.
Start early to establish your dog’s personal space, whether it’s a crate or an area of your home, such as a closet. When storms roll in, ensure your dog has easy access to this space to take some quiet time. Playing soft music can also help counter noise phobias in dogs. Calming classical music has been shown to help with thunderphobia, as well as other anxieties.
Some pet parents swear by anxiety vests, like Thunderworks’ ThunderShirt, which fit around dogs’ bodies to apply gentle compression. In the same way that swaddling soothes babies, the feeling of being wrapped can calm pets’ autonomic nervous systems and reduce the “fight or flight” sensation triggered by thunder.
Make your veterinarian your partner in managing distress brought on by storms, sirens, or fireworks.
Take note of your dog’s triggers, how their anxiety typically manifests, and how long it takes for it to resolve. Your vet may recommend medications that can help your canine companion feel more at ease during stormy weather.