Dogs and Storms

Summer is well and truly on its way and so too is the season for thunderstorms. Many dogs have a significant phobia when it comes to thunder and storms – as many as up to twenty percent of dogs are affected.

Scientifically, it has been shown that dogs who live in households with other dogs deal better with fear of thunderstorms.

Thunderstorms are not just one scary thing; they are an array of frightening things. Humid air, the smell of ozone, a dark sky, wind, rain, lightning, thunder, and barometric pressure changes are all things dogs are sensitive to. It is like the world is coming to an end. And remember that your dog can hear and smell a thunderstorm approaching well before you can…

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Image via unionvet.ca

Why are Dogs so Afraid of Thunderstorms?

It is likely a number of factors contribute to this phobia. These include:

• A previous traumatic experience with loud or sudden noises
• Genetic predisposition to anxiety
• Ageing
• Hearing loss

Some dog breeds are more prone to anxiety. These include the Border Collie, Siberian Husky, Standard Poodle, Great Pyrenees, Bernese Mountain Dog, and the German Shorthaired Pointer.

Symptoms of storm anxiety vary. The milder symptoms include panting, yawning, shaking, licking, barking, and clinginess. Severe cases of anxiety can manifest as running, bolting, pacing, chewing, destructive behaviours, defecating or urinating indoors, seizures, and even dangerous behaviours such as jumping through closed glass windows.

How Can I Help?

• Keep your dog inside during storms, preferably in an internal and relatively sound-proof room.
• Create a safe haven and allow him access to the places he likes to go when afraid of a storm (for example, under your bed).
• Distract your dog during a storm if possible, before the anxiety takes hold. Engage him in an activity he enjoys.
• Be present and calmly reassuring but behaving as normally as possible.
• During calm weather, counter-condition your dog with very mild sounds reminiscent of storms paired with a treat to reward brave behaviour and response.
• Talk to your vet for advice – some dogs may benefit from behaviour modification therapy or even medication in severe cases.

What not to do:

• Never punish a dog for being fearful
• Never force your dog to experience that which makes him afraid
• Never put your dog in a crate during a storm – he will associate the crate with the fear and possibly panic and hurt himself.

Learn the signs in his behaviour and act accordingly. Also be aware that storm anxiety can translate to associated anxiety about loud noises, flashes, and even wind or dark clouds. The most important thing to help alleviate your dog’s anxiety is your presence.

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