Is your dog afraid of thunderstorms? When those dark clouds roll in, does your precious pooch begin to pace, pant or cling to you? Does he hide in the closet or jam himself in any little space he can fit into? Some dogs can even go into a panic and feel like the world is coming in on them. In severe cases, they may chew through drywall, chew up the carpet or even try breaking through a window. Not to worry, this situation can be remedied. Let’s explore the possible causes, and talk about how to keep your dog calm during a thunderstorm.
Possible Causes of Storm Phobia
Although all of the triggers are still unknown, veterinarians suggest several possible causes for a dog developing storm phobia. They suspect that it is a combination of factors that when brought together causes this anxiety. Obvious triggers include wind, thunder and lightning. However, below the surface there is more happening.
Dogs have a sensitive nature that can detect barometric pressure changes, static electricity, and hear low-frequency rumbling that most humans cannot even hear. In fact, WebMD states that dogs may even experience “painful shocks” from the static buildup that occurs before a storm. Barbara L. Sherman, PhD, DVM says, “Dogs often start having storm-related panic attacks seemingly out of nowhere.” She goes on to say that some dogs are only afraid of storms, but other dogs also panic at the sound of other loud noises such as fireworks or gunshots. What is a doggie mom to do?
What Not to Do
You may be tempted to baby your dog when he panics, such as petting and coddling him excessively when he or she climbs on you. However, doing this only encourages them to panic more. However, the dog shouldn’t be scolded for their behavior either.
Creating a Distraction
During a storm, try distracting the dog. You can do this by offering the dog its favorite treats. You can try playing fetch and rewarding with them, only when the dog is in a moment of calm. Shifting his focus to something else may be the key to calming him down.
Provide a Sanctuary of Safety
Ideally, you should find a place where the dog can’t hear or see what is happening outside. For example, put him in an interior room with music playing in the background. The bathroom might be another good choice. Sherman suggests to let your dog decide where he or she feels most comfortable. Notice where your dog wants to go during a storm, and allow the dog to go there. Just keep in mind that you should make sure your dog isn’t in an area where he feels too confined. Imagine feeling like you can’t get out. This may only add to his anxiety. As a result, he may try to scratch or bite his way out.
Keep Him Snug
There is a reason that mothers swaddle their babies. The feeling of being wrapped up makes the baby feel more secure. It can be the same way for dogs. A snug-fitting shirt for dogs known as a Thundershirt may be worth a try. It creates pressure on the dog’s chest, which he may find comforting.
Desensitize Your Dog
Your dog may subconsciously become desensitized to the sounds that once bothered him, if he is exposed to them in a different way. For example, try playing a CD with sounds of a thunderstorm while you are giving him treats or playing a game. Once your dog gets used to the sound of thunder, his mind can be retrained to associate positive things with what he used to consider to only be negative. Mind over matter, as they say.
Consult an Expert
Speaking with a veterinarian about your dog’s anxiety problems is recommended. If your dog’s anxiety becomes severe enough to warrant it, anti-anxiety medication may be prescribed. According to a 2003 study by the University of Georgia, “30 out of 32 dogs with storm phobia showed significant improvement when given medication combined with behavior modification and desensitization.”