Why Are Some Pets Afraid of Bad Weather?
The short answer: we’re not entirely sure but we think that a combination of thunder, lightning, wind, changes in barometric pressure, static electricity, and low-frequency rumbles that occur before the storm play a big part. And when you live in an area that experiences frequent seasonal storms, the anxiety can become even worse.
Some dogs that are especially prone to this phobia:
- Herding breeds (e.g. border collies, Belgian sheepdogs, Australian shepherds, etc.)
- Dogs with separation anxiety
Your dog may be fearful only during storms or exhibit panicky behavior when exposed to other loud noises, such as fireworks.
But the big question is, what do you do now?
When the Thunder Rolls: Tips for Helping Calm Your Fearful Dog
It’s heartbreaking to watch your dog struggle with fear. To address thunderstorm phobia:
1. Practice Calm All Year
What do you do when your dog is anxious and scared? Calm them! Console them. Hug them and cuddle with them. Wait: while this is a natural response, it can be detrimental and actually reinforce the fear and encourage the behaviors. Don’t scold your dog, but don’t “reward” him for this behavior.
Practice getting your dog to calm himself and settle down on command. How? When there is no storm, try using an inside leash and have your pet lie at your feet. When he’s calm, praise him. This will teach him the calming routine. When bad weather erupts, put on his inside leash and tell him to lie down.
2. Start Working on Acceptable Behaviors in the Winter
Prime storm season is not the best time to work on calm behavior. Start the process earlier. In the winter, for example, you can play a CD of rain and thunder recordings at a very low level. You don’t want to frighten your dog, just expose him to the sounds. Give him treats and play with him as long as he is calm.
Gradually increase the volume over several months. If your dog displays anxiety, back off. If he’s calm, keep going ahead - and keep the treats coming. He’ll learn to associate the sounds with positive things.
3. Distract Your Dog
Your dog may still be afraid, especially if he is sensitive to changes in barometric pressure and/or static electricity. So, during the storm, offer his favorite toy or play a game. As long as he remains calm, praise him and give him treats. Hopefully, he’ll forget about the storm and lap up the attention. Remember, if he reverts back to negative behaviors, stop the praise and treats. These are only for times when he is calm (even if it’s brief - be ready to “catch” him being good!).
Having a safe place can also be helpful. It may be an open crate, an interior room with music or the television on, or a bathroom in which he cannot hear or see the storm. Be sure to leave this open and allow him to come and go as he chooses. Confinement can make the fear even worse.
4. Talk to Your Vet
If your efforts to reduce anxiety and keep your dog calm during thunderstorms are just not working for you, ask your vet for advice. They will have more tips to help, and they can see if your pet might benefit from medications. Some dogs become so anxious that they cannot calm themselves. They may need an anti-anxiety aid before a storm or, in severe cases, during the whole season.
Medication is not a cure-all. Studies show that dogs who suffer severe anxiety and storm phobia benefit most from a combination of medication, behavior modification, and desensitization (i.e. exposing them to storm sounds).
Dealing with storm phobia can be challenging. But remember, your dog is looking to you for help. They take their cues from you, so if you are calm and patient, you have a much better chance of successfully helping them conquer their fear. Start gradually and well before storm season. Hopefully, by the time thunder start rolling in, you’ll both be able to weather the storm together, calmly. Contact Avery Creek Pet Hospital for more information about what you can do to help your pets remain calm during storms.