A thunderstorm is in the near forecast and your dog is starting to show signs of anxiety: pacing, panting, shaking, whining, and even drooling. Thunderstorm phobia isn’t uncommon in dogs, who are able to smell the impending storm, feel the vibrations of thunder, and possibly sense the changes in barometric pressure, all in addition to experiencing unsettling sights and sounds.
Early intervention tends to yield the best outcomes when you’re hoping to desensitize your dog to thunderstorms. Here are some of the methods that may bring your pooch mental and physical relief.
Dogs look to their owners when assessing how to react to threatening situations. If you’re responding strongly to each thunderclap or flash of lightning or scolding them for experiencing anxiety, you’re confirming to your dog that something is wrong. Instead, use a calm, slow voice to reassure them that they’re safe, redirect their attention with treats and toys, and pet them if they are receptive to touch.
Safe Places to Ride Out the Weather
To dull the stimuli created by the storm, your dog may seek out a small or enclosed space away from exterior walls and windows. She may hightail it into her crate or scramble into a bathroom or closet. While this behavior can indicate a fear response, take solace in the fact that your dog is trying to self-soothe by going somewhere that feels safe, still, and quiet. You can even make these safe places more comfortable by adding cozy blankets, food, water, and your dog’s favorite toys. If you know a storm is coming while you’re away from home, make sure that at least one of these safe places is prepared and accessible.
You may have heard of commercially available body wraps like Thundershirts, but you can also make body wraps at home using an old t-shirt. To do so, put the shirt on your dog with the front side facing up and then secure the excess fabric with a scrunchie to create a snug fit. Firm (but breathable) pressure on your dog’s upper torso may produce a natural relaxation response. Note, however, that you should occasionally apply the body wrap when her stress levels are low to create and maintain a positive association.
Some dogs will need active training and reconditioning to become less reactive to thunderstorms. If your dog’s response to thunderstorms is severe and poses a threat to her safety or the safety of others, it’s best to seek professional help. A professional trainer can teach your dog to stay tuned into your communication and cues in times of stress while teaching you how best to manage her behavior once you have her attention.
If at-home methods aren’t soothing your dog’s thunderstorm phobia, All Dogs Unleashed can help. Our training programs are designed to improve the behavior in dogs of all ages and temperaments and can help to reduce anxiety symptoms in even the most skittish dogs.