What To Do If Your Dog Is Afraid Of Storms

It can be heartbreaking to watch: Even before the first clap of thunder, otherwise well-behaved dogs begin to pace, pant, cling to their owners, hide in the closet, or jam themselves behind the toilet. In severe cases, they’ll claw through drywall, chew carpets, or break through windows in their escalating panic.Thunderstorm phobia in dogs is real, not uncommon, and shouldn’t be ignored, experts say.

Why does storm phobia (Astraphobia) happen, and what can you do if your dog suffers from it?

Storm Phobia Triggers

Dogs can be set off by some combination of wind, thunder, lightning, barometric pressure changes, static electricity, and low-frequency rumbles preceding a storm that humans can’t hear. According to one theory, dogs experience painful shocks from static buildup before the storm.

The anxiety often gets worse throughout the season as storms become more frequent.

Dogs often start having storm-related panic attacks seemingly out of nowhere.

Owners come in and say, He wasn’t like this last year. It’s really heart wrenching to see these dogs that are usually calm companions become severely affected by thunderstorms.

Herding breeds, such as border collies, may be predisposed to the problem.. Dogs with other fearful behaviors, such as separation anxiety, also seem more prone to panic.

Some dogs with storm phobia are also frightened of other loud noises, such as fireworks or gunshots, but others are only afraid of storms.

What to do? There’s no easy fix, and unless your dog is only mildly affected, it can be difficult to treat. But there are lots of tools to reduce your dog’s distress during storm season.

1. Reward calm behavior year-round.

Many owners make the mistake of trying to console and pet a fearful dog that’s whimpering or climbing on them, but that just encourages the panicky behavior.

We absolutely don’t want owners to scold their dog, but we don’t want them to reward the dog for being clingy because that will increase the clingy behavior.

Practice getting your dog to settle on command. Put a special “inside” leash on the dog and practice having the pet lie at your feet while praising the calm behavior.

You should practice when there is no storm, so the dog learns the routine. When the storm comes up, you then put on the leash and say, ‘Come on and lie down here,’ and the dog still knows what to do.

During the storm, you can also try distracting the dog by offering its favorite toy, playing fetch, petting it, and feeding treats as long as the dog remains calm.

What you’re trying to do is get them to forget about the storm and replace [the fear] with something positive.

2. Give the dog a safe place where he can go in a storm.

That might be an open crate, a basement where the dog can’t hear or see what’s happening outside, an interior room with music playing, or a bathroom.

Let your dog decide: Notice where he goes during a storm, and if possible, allow access to it.

Be sure your dog can come and go freely, since some animals become more anxious if confined.

3. Consider a snug garment.

Snug-fitting shirts and wraps especially designed to calm anxious dogs are worth a try.

4. In the winter, desensitize your dog to the sounds of a storm.

Play a CD of thunder recordings at low enough levels that don’t frighten your dog, while giving him treats or playing a game. Gradually increase the volume over the course of several months, stopping if your dog shows any signs of anxiety. The goal is to get your dog used to the sound of thunder, and associate it with good things.

Experts caution that desensitization can have limited success in an actual storm because you can only recreate the noise, and not the other factors that may be bothering the dog, such as the static electricity or changes in barometric pressure.

5. Consider Prescription or Over-the-Counter Anxiety Aids

Call Companion Animal Hospital and and schedule and appointment with Dr. Anderson to discuss the pros and cons of anxiety aids for your pet. The DVM can help you decide if your pet could benefit from an over-the-counter aid. Although, some pets may require something with prescription strength. If you have any questions about making an appointment, call and speak with our reception staff. Stay dry out there folks!