Is your dog afraid of thunderstorms?
It is not uncommon for dogs to be afraid of thunderstorms (or any loud noises from above) but their reaction to these noises can range from merely being nervous and shaky to chewing through drywall or breaking through windows. Unfortunately, there is no easy fix but there are some things you can do at home to help.
If your dog has thunderstorm anxiety, first and foremost be sure that he has a place to hide during the storm. Having a safe haven is critical and will help your dog relax, especially if you aren’t home. If they have an area that they prefer to be in, as long as it is safe, let them stay there. If it is near a glass door or window, you may have to find a different spot for them. For example, dark room in the center of the house where the noise is muffled is a good option. If possible, also try to minimize the noise by closing windows and doors and providing background music or white noise. If your dog is willing, try to engage him in an activity like playing catch or using a food puzzle. Some say that consoling a dog during this time will only “reward the behavior”; however, behaviorists feel that, if it makes your dog calmer to pet them and speak quietly to them, you should do so.
Owners have reported some success with using a snug t-shirt or other garment (e.g., Thundershirt®) to soothe anxious dogs during a storm. These are thought to provide comfort similar to swaddling a baby and while it doesn’t always work, it might be worth a try.
In some cases, the anxiety is so extreme that medical management may be necessary. Drugs that reduce anxiety such as valium can be given immediately before the storm. Once your dog is very distressed or agitated however, they may not work. Pheromone sprays can also be used alone or along with a medication right before or during a storm. Be sure to talk to your veterinarian about whether medication may be a good idea for your dog and DO NOT ever give them medication that is not prescribed specifically for them.
The best way to treat a dog that you know has a thunderstorm anxiety problem is to try and modify their behavior over time with counter conditioning. While listening to recordings of thunderstorm sounds, you can direct your dog to their safe spot and practice redirection strategies. Be sure the recording is not too loud so that it doesn’t frighten your dog and gradually increase the volume over several months. Yelling and demonstrating any anxiety during this process will only make them worse so try to maintain a soothing and even tone during these exercises.
If these techniques don’t work and your dog’s anxiety is severe, talk to your veterinarian about other options or possible consultation with a behaviorist.
Thunder phobias can be very difficult to treat and will require a lot of patience on your part. Try to be proactive and pay attention to weather forecasts so you can do as much as you can to keep your dog calm and safe during a storm.