Many dogs get anxious before and during thunderstorms. This is sometimes referred to as storm phobia. This anxiety manifests itself in a number of ways—pacing, whining, trembling, or finding places to hide during the storm. Sometimes, the anxiety can become so intense that dogs might cause damage in the house, tearing up furniture or digging at floors, walls, or doors. Storm phobia often worsens over long periods of time when left unaddressed.
The causes of storm phobia are still being studied, but some known causes are falling barometric pressure, darkness that comes with gathering clouds, flashes of lightning, and the noise of thunder and wind. Dogs are also sensitive to static electricity, which can build up in their fur and shock them, adding to their anxiety.
If your dog becomes anxious during thunderstorms, you may be tempted to try to soothe him by petting, cuddling, or giving him treats. This is actually inadvisable because your dog will see these actions as rewards for nervous behavior and that will encourage this behavior to continue. However, you shouldn’t chastise your dog for nervous behavior, either, because that might increase his anxiety further.
The best thing to do, experts say, is to provide your dog with a place he feels safe. It’s likely that your dog will already have a location he goes to for comfort during storms, so, if possible, allow him to go there. Many dogs seek refuge in bathrooms behind toilets or in bathtubs. It’s also recommended that you add a white noise machine to this location to help drown out the sound of the storm.
Another thing you can do is find a snug vest, shirt, or wrap for your dog. This can provide a sense of comfort and may also prevent buildup of static electricity in your dog’s fur. Some suggest rubbing your dog’s coat with dryer sheets to reduce static electricity.
If your dog is prone to intense anxiety or panic during storms, you may want to ask your veterinarian about medication to help calm him down.
There are also things you can do when it’s not stormy outside to encourage calm behavior in your dog when storms do occur. Rewarding calm behavior constantly, especially when it’s not stormy, will encourage this behavior during a storm. When your dog acts calmly during a storm, reward this behavior to encourage your dog to continue to remain calm.
Desensitizing your dog to the sound of thunder by quietly playing recorded sounds of storms at irregular intervals can help. Slowly increase the volume over the span of a couple months, and while playing the noise, give your dog treats or play a game. This will not only get your dog used to the sound of thunder, it will also get him to associate the sound with something positive. This activity only recreates the sound of a storm and can’t simulate dropping barometric pressure or increased static electricity. Therefore, it isn’t always entirely effective, but it can still help prepare your dog for a storm.
You can also consult a veterinarian for further advice on how to help your dog with storm phobia. The main thing to keep in mind is to encourage good behavior rather than discouraging undesirable behavior. That way your dog will learn to associate calm with a reward and that will lead to less anxious behavior during a storm.
Sending love to you and your pets,
The Kennel Link Team
Langley, Liz. “Why Your Dog Freaks Out During Thunderstorms-And What to Do.” National Geographic, National Geographic, 28 Apr. 2018.
Sashin, Daphne. “How to Help Dogs That FearThunder (Storm Phobia).” WebMD, WebMD, 8 June 2012.