A storm approaches. As thunder rolls across the sky and cascades into a boom, the sounds transform your dog into a nervous wreck. Thunderstorms are loud and sudden events that evoke anxiety and fear in canines.
What does storm anxiety look like in dogs? During a thunderstorm, your dog may show mild signs of stress — they’ll pace and pant incessantly. Other dogs have a full-on fear attack and will run for cover, accompanied by trembling, whining and drooling. It’s also common for dogs to self-soothe during thunderstorms with obsessive paw licking or destructive chewing — which means they might take out their fears on your shoes, baseboards or table legs.
Why are dogs scared of thunder?
Thunder can be terrifyingly loud, which is why it can unsettle even the most chill pet. To fully understand why thunderstorms make your dog so nervous, you’ll need to walk a mile in their paws. Dogs perceive the world differently than we do, which can make storms alarming and terrifying.
Canine hearing is keener than a human’s, detecting sounds that are imperceptible to us. You can imagine, then, the overwhelming discomfort of a loud, up-close boom of thunder for some dogs. If your dog shows a distaste for other loud noises, such as plastic bags, loud appliances such as the dishwasher or fan, and the home alarm system, then high-decibel thunder could be the source of their stress.
Loud, sudden noises — where there is no explanation for them — can send a powerful danger signal to the canid brain. Booming thunder gets right to their instincts to make themselves small and scarce to survive the calamity.
It may not be the thunder that terrorizes your dog but the accompanying lightning flashes. It’s sudden and intense, filling a dark room with bright light — which can trigger a fear response in some dogs.
Electric shocks from static electricity accompanying a storm are a less obvious reason behind your dog’s fear of thunder. During a thunderstorm, static electricity fills the air, building in your dog’s coat, delivering a series of electric shocks. Static can be uncomfortable and even mildly painful to dogs. When they hear skies start to rumble, their brain activates a signal — brace for impact.
Why is my dog suddenly terrified of thunder?
It’s not uncommon. After calmly braving the thunderstorm during puppyhood and their early adult years, your dog is now a trembling mass of fur when the storm hits.
Its possible storms were always stressful to your pet.
But one bad experience can set the stage for terror to set in when they detect a change in the weather. Perhaps it was a particularly intense storm — one that delivered an extra loud clap of thunder or generated many, many zaps of static electricity, triggering their instinct to escape.
Perhaps their discomfort with the noise or static electricity has increased over the months and years, culminating in a fear response.
How do I calm my dog during a thunderstorm?
Helping your dog settle during a thunderstorm is easier said than done. Trying a few of these tactics can help.
Watch for anticipatory stress
When storms are in the forecast, watch your dog for early signs of nervousness as the weather system develops. Your dog’s keen senses detect many changes in the environment in a brief window: a drop in the barometer, increasing winds, the smell of rain and darkening skies. Even if there is no thunder rumbling in the distance, signs of a storm can give your dog the cues that trigger stress and fear. As you see these signs of fear in your dog, try the following to help them through it.
Condition against the fear response
As a storm approaches, introduce something fun or delicious, such as a favorite toy or a high-value treat. As the storm gets closer, keep up the playtime and treat supplies. Through conditioning with playtime or food, some dogs can override the fear response and equate storms with fun times with their humans indoors.
Provide a stress release
Chewing and licking are two self-soothing activities for stressed and fearful dogs, so be sure to provide appropriate outlets.
- Serve some peanut butter or wet food on a lick mat or keep a stash of frozen treat puzzle toys. The licking coupled with the enticing scent of food will engage their other senses and provide a reward.
- Keep a special chew treat handy for stormy occasions. Having a new bully stick, a beef cheek roll or a no-hide style chew to chomp on can occupy their minds and calm their anxieties.
Be calm, cool and collected
Stroking your dog’s head and telling them in a soothing voice that everything is OK can backfire. It reinforces the idea that something is wrong and there is a reason to be fearful. Presenting as their calm, confident leader will be far more assuring to your pet.
Allow your dog to take cover
When your dog gets nervous or scared by the sound of thunder, their instinct for denning kicks in. You may find them ducked into their kennel, cowering under the bed or hunkering in a dark corner. Don’t force them to come out. Respect their drive to seek safety in a dark space that’s enclosed and familiar.
Meanwhile, reduce their exposure to the sights and sounds of the storm. Shut the blinds, cover the kennel with a big blanket, and turn on a box fan or a movie.
Tip: Before the storm hits, fasten a collar and leash on your dog. That way, if you need to guide your pet to safety, such as the basement, they’ll be much easier to handle — minus the coaxing and confrontation. And if they make a run for it, you can step on the leash.
Help your dog get through storm stress
It’s never easy to see our best friend quivering and cowering in a loud thunderstorm. But understanding the root of their distress and allowing them to self-soothe will hopefully make future storms less scary!