One thing many different pets agree on is that like fireworks, thunder and lightning is indeed very, very frightening. No one wants to see their beloved pet upset and terrified, and that fear can also lead to destructive behaviour and accidents in the house. In extreme cases, a dog scared of thunder can even hurt themselves and others if they panic. So when storms are brewing, it makes sense to prepare to help your dog cope too. You’ll need to stock up on more than bread and tea, but your best friend will thank you.
Why are dogs scared of thunder? They have no idea what it is, and their hearing is vastly superior to ours. But it goes beyond that. Dogs can sense the change in barometric pressure. We don’t know exactly how that feels to them, but it could be uncomfortable for some. Dogs can also get a lot of static electricity during thunderstorms, which they don’t understand. They just touch something they touch all the time and unexpectedly get a little shock. Breeds with long or double coats are more prone to static electricity. Some of the strange places where dogs try to hide during storms may be their effort to avoid shocks.
Some individuals are particularly sensitive to storms, and some experts anecdotally report seeing storm phobia more often in Border Collies than other breeds. Dogs who struggle with anxiety in other situations, such as those with separation anxiety, are also more likely to be upset by thunder.
So when the weather report is ominous, how can you help a dog scared of thunder?
Making Home a Calm Place in a Storm
For dogs who are a bit uneasy or nervous but not dramatically affected, you might only need to do a few small things around the house. Mostly, this involves distracting them. Put soothing music on the stereo and fill up a puzzle toy with treats. It also helps some dogs to have their own ‘den’ to hide in. Often animals feel safer in smaller spaces. If you use crate training, make your dog’s crate available. If you have a travel crate for your dog, that can work too. Put a blanket over wire crates. This helps him feel safer and also dulls the noise of the thunder. Alternatively, you can create a soothing space under a table or chair, basically a blanket fort for your dog scared of thunder. Put his bed, food, water and favourite toys there. But let him come and go from the space freely.
While keeping to your normal routine will help to steady your dog’s nerves, an extra-long walk before the storm hits can burn up some nervous energy. If your dog is prone to chewing, a nice new chew toy can give them a good outlet for that.
What Products Can Help a Dog Scared of Thunder?
Some dogs suffer such a severe fear of thunder that simply making the home feel safer to them is not enough. If your dog isn’t helped by those measures, do not despair. You have more options to help your dog when they are scared of thunder. Your vet is your first stop for specific recommendations for your dog, but here are some of the types of products available.
- Pheromones – All animals, including people, produce pheromones naturally in glands on the skin. They are basically chemical messages. When a dog has pups, she produces a pheromone that communicates to them that they are safe. It calms them. Pheromone products have the same effect on dogs of all ages. They are available to apply on the dog or in a diffuser.
- Over-the-Counter Calming Remedies – Pheromones are not the only over-the-counter options for helping anxious dogs. Your local pet store and your vet will have others including Rescue Remedy Pet, Johnson’s Calm-eze tablets and KalmAid. Your vet can help you pick the best one to help your dog when they’re scared of thunder.
- Calming Shirt – Thundershirt is the best known but not the only option. The idea is that being wrapped very snuggly is calming, a bit like swaddling a baby or a weighted blanket for an anxious child or adult. It isn’t entirely clear how it works, but many people swear it does.
- Prescription Sedation – If your dog is so upset they require something stronger, for example if they are panicking and likely to hurt themselves or someone else or do serious damage, your vet can advise about a prescription sedative to help them get through the storm. Sadly, some dogs are so terrified, it’s the only way to keep them calm.
What Not to Do When Your Dog Is Scared of Thunder
A dog who barks, cries, chews things or otherwise becomes destructive during a storm is afraid. Any type of punishment or scolding is likely to increase their anxiety and their problem behaviours. It can be frustrating to see our dogs so worked up so needlessly, but they can’t help it. While exercising your dog before the storm can burn off some nervous energy, rambunctious play during the storm can lead to problems if your dog gets too wound up or forgets normal house rules. Calm, soft music can muffle the sound of thunder, but loud, energetic music can overwhelm your dog.
This is not a situation where it will help to make your dog face their fear. Do not bring them outside to show them thunder is harmless. It’s likely your dog will panic, escape the garden and get lost. If they absolutely have to go outside to toilet, putting them on a lead and either going with them or instructing them to go right outside the door is safest.
Once you know how to help a dog scared of thunder, you won’t dread stormy weather so much yourself. With time, your dog can learn that you will keep them safe. They won’t like thunder, but they can learn to trust you during those scary storms.