Do summer storms on the horizon forecast anxious times for your pup? Fear of thunderstorms is common in our canine companions and can manifest in a variety of behaviors that are both frustrating and difficult for pet guardians to manage. From whining and hiding to incessant barking, destruction, and even self-harm, our dogs’ nervous reactions to thunder rolls and lightning strikes are likely rooted in a combination of stimuli. The unpredictable abundance of noise, unexpected flashes of light, shifts in barometric pressure, and increased static electricity are all thought to impact a dog’s mental and physical well-being during a thunderstorm.
Here are eight useful tips to help you and your dog weather the storm.
1. Hang at Home
Things are always scarier when we face them alone, particularly for our four-legged friends. When you know a storm is coming, arrange to be at home or have someone stay with your dog during the worst of the weather.
2. Increase Exercise
Taking your dog for a long walk, run, or hike is a great way to prepare your dog mentally and physically for a forecasted storm. The activity and engagement of outdoor exercise stimulates your dog’s brain, boosts his mood, and provides bonding time between the two of you, all while tiring and relaxing him.
3. Create Calm
Dogs are mirrors of their owners’ behavior and emotions; they take cues from our every action. When a storm rolls in, projecting calm is the easiest way to put your pet at ease. Even as your dog begins to tense, it is essential to keep your cool. Punishing or ignoring a dog will likely intensify his negative association and worsen his anxiety. There is a common misconception that attending to and comforting your pet when scared will reinforce or justify his fear. It is okay to comfort your dog when he is feeling uncertain about his surroundings — fear is an emotion and thus cannot be reinforced. Attentiveness is critical and should come in the form of relaxed play, grooming, or other activities you know your dog enjoys.
4. Deliver Distractions
Positive stimuli and distractions can be your best friends when your buddy struggles. If your dog will engage, a game of fetch, tug, a high-value chew, or an enrichment toy like a puzzle feeder or lick mat can distract him from the commotion outside, simultaneously providing a positive association with the trying time. The television, soft music, or a white noise machine can also help drown out storm sounds.
5. Supply Sanctuary
Provide a safe place for your dog to ride out the storm. Many dogs find their crates comforting; others might choose a bathroom or basement. Notice where your dog heads during a storm; ensure the space is accessible and comfortable. If it is a crate, leave the door open for the storm’s duration and consider covering it with a blanket or sound-deadening cover. It may also help to close any blinds to reduce visual stimulation.
6. Counter Conditioning
Teaching your dog a positive association and desensitizing him to anxiety-inducing stimuli is an excellent tool to lessen or eliminate a dog’s anxious reactions. You can begin your counter-conditioning work months before the stormy season begins. Using an app or CD with thunderstorm sounds, start at low volume and offer plenty of high-value treats and positive interaction. Over several weeks, slowly increase the volume, continuing to reinforce the positive association. When the real thunder starts booming, your dog’s first inclination won’t be to hide under the bed; instead, he’ll seek out two things he loves most: yummy treats and attention from you. Consider keeping one of his favorite toys in reserve and bringing it out only when it’s storming to serve as a distraction and another positive association, further reinforcing and reconditioning his response.
7. Relaxing Remedies
Natural therapies, like a Thunder Jacket or Anxiety Wrap, replicate swaddling by applying gentle, comforting pressure around a dog’s torso. An anti-static jacket or cape is also thought to reduce his discomfort by discharging his fur and shielding him from static charge buildup, reducing his sensitivity to the electrified air. Rubbing your dog down with an anti-static dryer sheet can have a similar effect; make sure to dispose of the sheet after use, as ingesting it could harm your pet.
8. Visit Your Vet
It is important, particularly in extreme cases where a dog is hurting himself or being actively destructive, to work with your vet or a veterinary behaviorist to determine the cause and best course of action for addressing your dog’s anxiety. As each dog is an individual, there is no one guaranteed course of action or therapy. A doctor may have more ideas for behavior modification and can assess whether medication may be a viable remedy.
Your patience and dedication are the greatest gifts you can give your dog when the thunder booms and the lightning cracks. It may take time, but there are sunny days ahead.