Thunderstorms can reduce even the biggest, toughest dogs to shivering wrecks. Due to their wild nature, dogs instinctively get out of sorts by the sound of thunderstorms. Any wild dog that didn’t run from the threat of thunder ran the risk of getting caught in a storm, not to mention that they have very sensitive noses and can smell the change in the air during a thunderstorm.
As a dog owner, you don’t have to resign to watching your canine buddy suffer from thunderstorm phobia. You can do several things to calm their storm anxiety, plus a few things you should avoid doing.
If you know a storm is moving in, find your dog and keep them by your side. They’ll probably be too worked up if you wait until the storm gets rolling before trying to help your dog. If you try to calm and distract them before the storm gets underway, you have a better chance of easing their thunderstorm anxiety.
Your dog’s instincts tell them to hide during the thunderstorm, so get a dog blanket and invite your dog onto your couch or bed with you. Swaddle them in the blanket and sit near them. Being hidden in the blanket will make them feel safer, as will your presence. The weight of the blanket and that of your arm can also be comforting to them.
Speaking of the instinct to hide, you can bring your dog to a closet or a small room without windows. Because there’s no way to see the lightning and the sound of the thunder should be muffled, your dog might be much happier there. A small, closed space is precisely the safe place your dog’s instincts tell them to seek out in a thunderstorm.
You can also create a safe space for your canine companion. That way, they can have the enclosed safe space they crave and still be close to you. To make one, just drape a blanket over a dog crate. Your dog will probably think it looks mighty cozy and safe and jumps right in. If you don’t have a dog crate, you can achieve the same effect with a dog bed and a couple of chairs. Just place the dog bed between the chairs and drape the blanket over, leaving a small opening in the front for your dog to get in. If you don’t have a dog bed, you can make one out of a cardboard box, a couple of blankets or some other soft material to lie on.
Turn on the Television
Turn the television on as loud as you can when a thunderstorm starts. Alternatively, crank up the music. The idea here is to drown out the noise of the thunder so that your dog doesn’t get so triggered by it. After all, they’re probably used to you watching TV or listening to music, so those noises won’t bother them.
Play can also be a great distraction. Get your dog’s favorite toys and have some fun together. Not only will your dog find the playtime distracting, but they’ll also find your behavior very reassuring. After all, if you’re so relaxed that you think it’s playtime, things can’t be that bad, can they?
This is more of a long-term strategy than something to try during a thunderstorm, but you may be able to desensitize your dog to storms. Find a recording of storm noises on YouTube or Spotify (there are many of them) and play it for your dog at various times when there’s no storm brewing. Start with the volume turned down low and slowly turn it up as your dog gets used to it. In time, your dog may learn not to get so worked up by real storms.
Did you know that there are products that your dog can wear that are specifically designed for dogs who are afraid of thunder? The Thundershirt, sometimes referred to as a Thunder Jacket, comes in Classic, Sport, and Polo styles and is designed to mimic the feeling of being hugged or swaddled. A Thundershirt can help soothe your dog when feeling the most anxious by applying constant, gentle pressure. Plus, the Thundershirt contains a ThunderPatch, where you can add your own pheromones or essential oils for an added calming effect.
If nothing you try seems to help your dog during a storm, it may be time to talk to your vet. If your dog’s fear of thunderstorms is a symptom of a more severe anxiety problem, your vet might suggest an anti anxiety medication. Never try to administer your dog any kind of medication, even essential oils or homeopathic treatments, without first consulting a vet. Dogs are not like people, and they react to medications differently than people do.
Never punish an anxious dog for getting scared during a storm. This will just make them more afraid. However, you also shouldn’t fawn over them. It could reinforce the fearful reaction if you make too big a deal out of pampering your dog and showing worry. It also teaches them that the way to get a lot of high-quality attention is to act afraid. Instead, talk to your dog in a playful, happy voice.
You should also avoid showing any fear yourself during the storm. Your dog often takes their cues about how to react to things from you, so if you act upset or afraid when your dog is already inclined to feel such a way, they will naturally conclude that panic is the proper reaction.