Is your dog afraid of thunderstorms? He adopts an unusual, even exaggerated behavior every time it rains, every time lightning tears the sky? Or every time he hears thunder rumbling? Don’t worry, your dog is not abnormal. In fact, storm phobia is one of the most common canine behavioral disorders. And the good news is that it’s very treatable.
Why is your dog afraid of thunderstorms? How do you know and how do you react to calm him down? What are the solutions to cure it? Here are all the answers to your questions.
Why is my dog afraid of thunderstorms?
First of all, you must know that dogs are much more sensitive to what surrounds them than we humans are. His senses are indeed more developed so that when changes occur around him, he feels them long before we do. That’s why dogs know long before we do that a storm is coming.
Fear of thunderstorms can also be attributed to his natural survival instinct. It’s normal for your pet to perceive anything foreign or unusual as “danger”. However, thunderstorms make loud and sometimes violent noises, accompanied by sudden and abrupt changes in the weather. This can cause your dog to naturally turn and run away – if he can’t fight it.
According to some specialists, dogs suffering from storm phobia have -for the most part- been victims of trauma before. In other words, if your dog has ever been locked out in rainy weather, it’s normal for him to be afraid of it.
Fear of thunderstorms also affects dogs that have been separated from their mothers too soon. And it can also be associated with a congenital condition.
How do you know if your dog is afraid of thunderstorms? Symptoms…
A dog that is afraid of storms is easy to recognize: when the storm approaches or during the entire duration of the storm, he will panic. So, when a dog is afraid, it will adopt one of the following behaviors: either it will run away, or it will try to defend itself.
In the first case, he will try to hide. He may hide under the bed, under the stairs, or under a piece of furniture. Or he will stick to you for protection and comfort.
In the second case, he will try to fight. And you’ll have to be careful because his reaction can be quite aggressive. In a panic, he may start barking and hopping around the house until the storm is over. He may also start scratching on the door and try to get out until his legs get hurt. Some will even destroy the furniture to try to contain their anxiety, and others have gone so far as to relieve themselves inside the house.
How to react when your dog is afraid of thunderstorms?
Seeing your dog panicking can be quite upsetting. But beware, how you react to his anxiety is crucial. So if you want to help him, be careful not to lose patience and keep your reaction under control.
The most important thing is to make your dog understand that there is nothing to be afraid of, that everything is normal. And unfortunately, you won’t be able to do that if you start yelling at him. Or if you allow yourself to be overwhelmed by stress and anxiety as well. So the best thing to do is to stay calm. Don’t even try to relax him or her with soothing gestures or words. Otherwise, you’ll only make him even more nervous. Instead, show them that everything is fine and that you are in control. Seeing that you’re not afraid at all will help calm them down.
Protect your dog from the noise
Most of the time, it’s the noise made by the storm that disturbs your dog. If you want to minimize the effect, it has on your doggie, a result, make sure he hears it as little as possible. How can you do this? Several solutions are possible: lock your dog in the least soundproofed room possible.
If you have a room without windows, this is ideal, because then he will hear very little of what’s going on outside. You can also try to cover up the sound of the storm with noises your dog is used to. For example, a radio or TV noise. If he’s not yet totally panicked, you can also distract him by playing with him. But beware, this technique only works for a limited time.
Try to reassure him…
Don’t try to calm him down with gentle words or caresses. This will have the opposite effect. If you want to reassure him, use things that will help him relax. You can, for example, place him in his carrier and cover it with a thick blanket so that your dog is isolated from the outside.
You can also get a thunder jacket. For those who don’t know yet, this is a garment designed specifically for dogs who are afraid of thunderstorms. It is very tight fitting and its role is to bring a feeling of comfort and security to the animal wearing it.
How can storm phobia be treated?
There are several ways to treat a dog’s fear of thunderstorms: desensitization, reconditioning, and medication.
Desensitization to treat a dog that is afraid of storms
The first treatment is nicknamed desensitization. As its name suggests, it consists of making the dog no longer sensitive to the noise produced by the storm. To achieve this goal, he is then made to hear a similar noise, but at a low intensity. As the animal becomes accustomed to the noise, the intensity of the noise is increased more and more. This is done until it is similar to the noise generated by bad weather.
Deconditioning against storm phobia
Deconditioning consists of modifying the dog’s perception of the noise of the storm. This is done by associating him with an activity he likes, or with something positive. Your dog is afraid because he thinks the storm is a threat to him. To cure him of this fear, we’ll make him listen to the sound while he does something he likes: play, eat, etc. So once he gets used to it, and a storm bursts, he won’t be afraid anymore.
Therapeutic methods such as desensitization and deconditioning are effective. But they have one major drawback: the process is particularly long. For a quick and equally effective effect, you can turn to medication.
But beware, there are no medications to treat and completely cure the fear of storms. To calm the animal during the storm, veterinarians can prescribe anxiolytics.