Like humans, our pets can have phobias, such a stress-inducing fear of loud noises, fireworks, and thunderstorms. As a pet-owner, you have an awareness of your dog’s mood and her behavior likely alerts you to an approaching thunderstorm, even before you hear the first clap of thunder. She may cry or whimper, tremble, or scurry to her safe place; and while you can try to ignore her whining, it’s not an easy thing to do. The good news is that there are several proven ways to encourage a gradual modification of your dog’s behavior, that will ultimately reduce their stress during inclement weather and make them feel more at ease.
Like humans, our pets can have phobias, such a stress-inducing fear of loud noises, fireworks, and thunderstorms.
Handle Thunderstorm Phobia While Your Pet is Still a Puppy
You’ll get the best results if you deal with this type of issue while your pet is still young. As they grow, there will be fewer habits to break and your dog may ultimately experience less stress if they can overcome their fear early in life. In fact, some veterinarians believe that this is a progressive disorder that will lead to more behavioral issues with each new thunderstorm.
One of the best strategies is to try and associate pleasant experiences with the occurrence of a thunderstorm. Doing so can minimize your pet’s discomfort before fear has a chance to fully develop. Once you notice that your puppy is experiencing anxiety, cuddle him and play with him. You might also want to offer him a few treats whenever he behaves well.
It’s important to remember that puppies and dogs can usually sense that a thunderstorm is approaching before humans even hear it. Therefore, checking the weather during thunderstorm season can help you keep track of your puppy’s behavior ahead of time.
Handling Thunderstorm Phobia in Dogs
If the window of opportunity has already passed and your puppy is now a dog, you’ll have your work cut out for you. Not only will your pet have an established pattern of habits for you to break, but it will take longer for you to do so due to his age.
If your dog likes to hide during a storm, it’s okay to allow him to do so. Your part in this scenario is to make sure that your pet is inside of the home when the storm approaches. You won’t need to worry about your dog running off as he experiences anxiety.
Although you don’t want to reinforce bad behavior, you should attempt to soothe your pet during his period of discomfort. A soft tone should help to calm his fears. If your dog will allow it, you can pet him and cuddle him until the storm passes.
Thunderstorms and dogs do not go well together. For some reason, most dogs simply hate this type of storm, which usually turns them into a mass of quivering nerves. If your puppy or dog doesn’t like it when a thunderstorm is on the way, you should take the time to try and alleviate his discomfort with your presence and loving attention. Being supportive and understanding can help to make your pet feel less agitated.
Lead by Example
Dogs can pick up on how their owners are feeling, which means that they are more likely to be anxious or frightened by a storm if you seem that way too. Act like nothing is wrong, and exhibit positive body language like smiling so that it is clear to your dog that the storm isn’t a threat. While it may be tempting to rush to your dog’s side when they start whimpering, resist the urge; coddling them only reinforces fearful behaviors.
Let Them Inside
Even if your pet spends most of its time outdoors, it’s a good idea to let them in during a storm. Aside from the obvious safety concerns, storms frighten dogs mostly because of the bright lights and loud noises. Being inside puts a barrier between the dog and the storm; this is often all it takes to calm them down.
Set Aside a Safe Space
If just being indoors isn’t enough to ease your pet’s fears, consider setting up a safe, well-insulated space for them in the house. Walk-in closets, laundry rooms, or rooms that don’t have windows are the best options, because the lightning will be invisible and the sound will likely be more muffled. Setting up a cozy kennel and a few favorite toys in the “safe room” can help occupy your dog and make them feel less disoriented during a storm.
Some dogs just need to be distracted for all of their fears to melt away. Try playing a fun game with them, especially if you have any squeaky toys to use. Having other sounds to listen to, such as music, the television, or your own voice, can also distract your pet and take their focus away from the scary sounds outside.
Acclimate Them Slowly
Some people choose to acclimate their dogs to the sound of storms over time, especially if they live in an area where bad weather is a common occurrence. A common method is to find recordings of storms and listen to them with your dog, starting at a low volume and slowly increasing it over periods of days or even weeks. Just a few minutes of listening each day can help your dog become familiar with the sounds of a storm in a less hectic environment, which will help them cope when a real storm comes around. Just remember that the dog’s hearing is more sensitive than yours, so don’t turn the recording up too loud.
Speak with Your Veterinarian
In extreme cases, your dog may not respond well to any of the above methods. This is especially true if the pet was adopted at an older age, since their behaviors are often well established and difficult to change. A veterinarian may recommend using melatonin, which can be purchased over the counter and has been shown to calm some dogs during a storm, without making them sleepy or otherwise changing their behavior. In more serious cases, your dog might even be prescribed mild anti-anxiety medication. Always speak with a veterinarian before giving your pet any kind of medicine, as proper use and dosage must be determined.
If left unaddressed, a dog’s fear of storms can lead to other worrisome behaviors, such as scratching, digging, destroying furniture, or having accidents in the house. By using the tips and strategies above, you can help your dog feel more at ease and teach them that their home is their safe place.