Fear of thunderstorms is common in dogs, and tends to get worse as they age. While some aspects of this problem remain a mystery, we know a lot that can make life easier for thunderstorm fearful dogs and their families.
Prevention and Precautions
Why do dogs fear thunderstorms? Too many dogs are left outdoors during storms, sometimes with no shelter at all. Anyone would be scared with good reason. Keep your dog inside during storms.
If you want to take your dog outdoors during a storm, do it safely. Some dogs do better when protected by raincoats and boots. Make the trip outside a fun adventure or calm occasion rather than a stressful experience. Giving a special reward for going outside in the rain are a good idea.
Dogs feel rewarded for fearful behavior if you pet and praise when the dog is behaving fearfully. Rewarding a behavior increases the likelihood of that behavior occurring more often, even when the individual is not conscious of being rewarded for it. Give rewards when the dog is behaving confidently, calmly, or happily. Work with your dog to develop ways to elicit these behaviors so that you can do so during storms and then reward. This is powerful training that will help you and your dog in all aspects of life.
Be aware that this fear can be contagious from one dog to another. This makes it all the more important to handle both the fearful dog and a new dog carefully, so that you improve how the dogs feel about storms rather than letting the fear get worse, or even feeding it by how you manage the dogs.
Causes and Triggers
Dogs react to a variety of things associated with storms, and it helps to know what these are for your dog. You may never know them all, but at least a general understanding will help you understand the extent of this fear.
The loud noise is scary to some dogs, and the dog can hear it at a much greater distance than humans can. The dog has early audio warning of an approaching storm, and most storm-phobic dogs eventually start reacting long before the sounds are loud.
Electricity in the air may be a major factor in dog storm phobia. Is there something unpleasant about this to the dog’s sensations? Does it perhaps become even scarier to a dog who has been trained with an electronic collar, or frightened by a static shock in everyday life? There are a lot more questions about the effect of electricity on dogs than answers.
The smell of the air changes when a storm approaches, and of course the keen nose of a dog detects this early. The air pressure changes, too, and a dog’s ears are more sensitive to pressure changes than most people. In some cases, it might hurt. The family may change routine when a storm is approaching.
Anything that has become associated in the dog’s experience with thunderstorms can become a trigger for the fear. So, anytime one of these triggers happens is an opportunity for you to help your dog overcome the fear.
For the More Severe Cases
Your dog may find the preferred spot independently, leaving you to simply make sure it stays consistently available to the dog. Chosen places dogs include basements, bathrooms, closets, and crates that are kept in secluded parts of houses.
If your dog becomes frantic and as a result might suffer injury or do damage during a storm, you may need to develop a good means of confining the dog. Sometimes a secluded crate works, if the dog has been conditioned to rest calmly in a crate.
We may decide to medicate your dog with an anti-anxiety drug for the entire storm season or year-round or a sedative during storms. Due to the unpredictability of storms, it may not be possible to administer a sedative when it’s needed.
For some reason, there are dogs who find it comforting to get under a “security blanket” to combat storm fears. Due to the risk of overheating a dog, don’t force this method. You might give it a try, though, monitoring the dog to see if it helps and to find a covering that provides the benefit without excessive heating.
Don’t take thunderstorm phobia lightly, even if the problem seems minor in your dog. Handled badly by humans, it will get worse, and dogs have been known to jump through glass windows during storms. Some dogs will throw up when it storms. Many dogs have fled fenced yards. This is a major problem that calls for intelligent handling at the first sign. Treat storms as a routine part of life, nothing to fear, and even perhaps occasion for some special times. Do these things before your dog ever shows signs of phobia, and perhaps you’ll never experience a serious fear of storms.