Helping your dog overcome storm phobia

We humans are well aware of the havoc that storms can wreak. In this regard, we hold a deep respect for the power of storms. For dogs, however, it's the lightning and the accompanying noise that are particularly frightening. Many of our clients have a dog suffering from thunder phobia. This brief overview may offer some assistance in improving this situation.

Why do dogs fear storms and lightning?

A dog's fear of loud noises is rooted in their natural survival instinct. When confronted with a threatening situation (be it an unfamiliar animal or a new person), fear kicks in as a survival mechanism. This fear signals a dangerous situation, instantly activating the fight or flight response. From that moment, your dog attempts to address the alarming situation, either by facing it (fight) or by retreating (flight).

The issue arises when a dog's reaction to thunder becomes excessive, eventually leading to a phobia. Such a dog may react not only to thunder but also to lightning, changes in barometric pressure, strong wind conditions, and even overcast days. In some instances, the fear escalates to the point where the dog loses control.

What are the signs of a thunder phobia?

Some dogs will seek the immediate comfort of their owner and stick by them throughout the storm. In the owner's absence, some dogs may find solace in a safe spot (under the bed, for instance). Others may spend the storm barking or wreaking havoc on the house and its furnishings. One of our clients discovered their dog had injured its paws from incessantly scratching at the house door. Another came home to find their space littered with urine and feces. A frightened dog can react in a multitude of ways.

How can I help my dog cope better with storms?

  • Create a neutral noise to soothe your dog. This is a familiar sound to your dog that doesn't cause fear. The radio and television can provide such neutral noise.
  • Invest in a 'thunder jacket.' These garments are designed to fit snugly around your pet, offering them a sense of security and comfort.
  • Place your pet in the most sheltered area of your home. A room without windows can help muffle noise and block out the lightning flashes that may terrify your pet. Enhance this space with radio or TV sound and temporarily move your pet's favourite bed, blankets, toys, food, and water here during the storm.
  • Utilize your dog's transport crate if they are fond of it. Simply position it in a quiet area and cover it with a blanket to shield your pet from the storm's sound and light.
  • Distract your dog with games and treats. Embedding treats in their toys can divert their attention during the storm.
  • Desensitize your dog to thunderstorms. Begin by playing recordings of wind and thunderstorms while your dog is relaxed. Start with the volume low and gradually increase it. Repeat this three times a week before the storm season begins. Remember to comfort your pet during these sessions.
  • Consult your veterinarian. If these strategies don't alleviate the problem, other approaches or anti-anxiety medication may be necessary. Many of our clients have diligently worked to help their dogs overcome thunder phobia. Some found success with the first six tips, while others needed to incorporate medication into their treatment plan. Today, they no longer dread the arrival of the warmer months with their pets. By working with your dog and collaborating with your veterinarian, the summer season can become much more enjoyable!