How to Calm a Dog During a Storm

lightning storm

Some of us love to sit down by the fireplace as the storm runs its course outside; with a cup of hot chocolate warming our hands and a blanket to comfort us every time thunder shakes the walls, who could complain? The answer to that question has fur and four legs. Many dogs are terrified of thunder, and it can often cause extreme anxiety that can lead them to hurt themselves or try to run away. It can be hard to watch your best fur friend suffer every time it storms but understanding what causes the fear could help you find a solution that will work for your dog.

Thunderstorms & Dogs

There are many theories out there regarding why dogs seem to find thunderstorms so terrifying, but one of the most logical explanations is their impressive sense of hearing. A human has a hearing range of approximately 20-20,000 Hz (vibrations), while a dog’s hearing ranges from 40-50,000 Hz; the difference is big, so imagine how loud thunder must be for a dog, when even us humans will often flinch at a loud crack coming from outside.

Another fact to consider is that dogs might not know what is happening, and while you can explain thunder and it’s causes to a young child – explain that it isn’t dangerous and that nothing bad will happen, you can’t really do the same for a dog. Canines are highly intelligent, but it is important to consider that their fear may have its roots in uncertainty, and in the inability to comprehend why the sky is lighting up and why the sky is rumbling with loud noise. Unexpected sound and flashing lights are known to be upsetting to dogs – to some more than others – and veterinarians and dog behavior specialists believe that it could be a possible explanation for a fear of storms.

Routine is very important to dogs, and you have probably noticed how they seem to know exactly when it is time for dinner, or time to head out for a walk, and this could potentially explain their unsettlement during a storm. The noise and flashes of light are not part of that daily routine, and you might be surprised by how much that could affect some of our four-legged friends.

Dogs may also be able to sense the build-up of static electricity already before a storm hits, which means they might be capable of predicting thunderstorms, and that static electricity could be what unsettles your fur friend and then gradually builds up tension until it converts into fear and anxiety. Experts might not have been able to pinpoint the reason for why dogs are afraid of storms and thunder just yet, but the fact remains – it scares them, and all we can do is to try and help them through it.

How to Act

The natural instinct when seeing a dog in agony is to want to go in there and comfort the poor pup, but this could potentially do more harm than good. When we use our pity voice and show our dogs that we feel sorry for them, the dogs are likely to pick up on our negative energy, and they will be given the impression that something is seriously wrong. Dogs can sense when something isn’t right with their owners – it worries them, so when you make a big deal of a thunderstorm, you are basically telling your dog that his or her reactions are justified, and that there really is cause for concern and panic.

Instead of feeling sorry for your dog when there is thunder, try to act as normal as you possibly can, and ignore any loud sounds or sudden flashes of light. It might even work to try and engage your pup to play with you, using favorite toys and treats to help your dog associate thunder and storms with something positive. This may not work in more severe cases of anxiety and fear, but if your dog just seems to get a little bit agitated, it could be worth a try. Make it a habit to play and have fun when it is storming outside, preferably with extra delicious treats being used as rewards, and see if you can help remove the negativity associated with a storm.

For those poor pups that crawl into the bathroom to sit and shiver in a corner when there is thunder, you might need to consider using mild sedatives (always consult a veterinarian before giving your dog medication) or other anxiety relieving devices, but putting your dog’s behavior aside – it is crucial for you to stay calm and composed during these episodes.

Calming Supplements

Medicating a frightened dog is a controversial subject, and it is something you need to be careful with. You should always talk to your veterinarian before considering using any type of relaxing medication or sedative, and most professional vets will suggest using a natural relaxer, to avoid exposing your pooch to chemicals and strong substances with potential side effects. An anti-stress and anxiety calming treat like the KarmaPets Calming Treats for dogs can help take the edge off a stressful situation, by restoring normal brain function and mind chemistry.

KarmaPets Calming Treats is just one of many natural relaxants for dogs but is has proven to be effective for many reasons. They are made as small and delicious peanut butter flavored chews, and what is so great about them is that they contain organic ingredients, that work not only to mask fear and negative feelings by making your pooch feel sleepy, but by actually restoring brain chemistry in a safe and natural way.

Calming supplements – above mentioned and other brands – can be a great help for some dogs, as it could make it easier for you to get through to them when the thunder is echoing outside, by making your dog easier to work with. Commercial canine sedatives are just that – sedating, and they work by making your pooch so tired that they forget about any threat or danger, but that isn’t what you want. You want to find a window where you can rewire their doggy brains to think positively of a storm, or at least where you can neutralize the negativity, and it could be a good idea to use a calming treat in combination with training based on positive reinforcement methods and plenty of praise (without expressing pity).

Other Calming Methods

Another way to calm your dog during a bad storm is with products like a thunder shirt, which works by adding gentle pressure to your dog’s body; it is believed to invoke a sense of safety and security – similar to a tight hug, and some dog owners are convinced that they can see a difference in their frightened dog’s behavior when wearing one of these shirts. You can make these yourself by wrapping cloth in a certain way around your dog’s body, but if you are unfamiliar with the concept of thunder jackets – your best bet is probably to purchase a professionally customized and carefully tested product.

Providing a safe space for your dog is also a good idea, and you could use a crate if your pup is crate trained, or a corner of the room, a bathroom or even make a cozy little hut under the table using blankets and tablecloths. Having a “den” to hide away in is possibly beneficial for dogs that feel exposed when it is storming outside, as this is what the canine would have likely done in the wild before the species was domesticated. You can also prepare for a storm by closing the blinds and turning on as any lights as possible, as this will make it less visible when lightning strikes or when there are flashes of light.

Music is a great way to distract a dog, but you might want to be careful with the music you choose for the next storm, as some music genres might cause your pooch more stress than what he or she is already feeling. The internet, and especially YouTube, is full of videos made especially for dogs, with the purpose to calm them down and to keep them relaxed. Many of these videos are based on scientific research, where each track has been carefully chosen to promote a more relaxed and anxiety-free environment for your fur buddy. These videos will usually last for many hours, so that you can leave one on for your dog also if you leave the house.

Since thunder is basically built-up electricity, an unexpected (but reportedly effective) tip is to grab an anti-static dryer sheet, which can be found in many U.S homes and homes around the world where dryers are frequently used, and to use this to gently rub down your dog. This sounds funny, but there is actually some logic to it, as electricity in the air could possibly make your pup prone to small electric shocks when touching certain objects, kind of like when we touch a plastic slide (let’s face it, it has happened to all of us), which could be extremely traumatic for a dog.

Catching Anxiety Early On

Fear of storms and thunder isn’t usually something a dog is born with, but more often than not something they come to develop with time. If you acquire your dog while still a puppy, this gives you the opportunity to prevent anxiety, rather than to have to try and deal with it once it is already there. Apply the methods mentioned in this article even if your dog is not yet displaying signs of distress when it is storming outside, because while it could seem unnecessary, you might be building the foundations for a worry-free life for your pup.

Revoking or reducing anxiety associated with storms is going to be significantly harder, because just like with any bad habits – it takes time, and it requires tremendous effort. The best thing you can do as a dog owner is to learn to recognize the signs of fear – especially the early ones – so that you can make a strategy to stop it from developing into something more serious.

How a Thunderstorm Phobia Presents Itself

All dogs are different, so there is no set standard for how a dog acts when it is feeling scared due to there being thunder and storms raging outside. Astraphobia is the official name used for a fear of lightening and thunder, and it is used to describe the condition both in dogs, humans and other species. A dog may start to whimper, pace around the house or the room or hide away; some dogs express their anxiety by barking, chewing or even demonstrating aggressive behaviors, and thunder could even drive a dog into a state of complete panic.

You can expect to notice signs and symptoms already long before the storm hits, and well before you hear the first crack up in the sky, as canines are very good at sensing changes in temperatures, increased humidity, electric fields and more, often before we notice anything ourselves. If your fur friend starts acting funny one day, and if you know they suffer from Astraphobia, it is likely that a storm is on its way.

Conclusion

Stress is never good for a dog, and it is important that we do our best to make thunderstorms the least threatening as we possibly can. Remain calm yourself to set a good example for your pup, use treats and toys when possible, or consider a thunder jacket or a calming treat like the KarmaPets calming treats or similar. What your dog needs depends entirely on its level of fear, its personality and what you – as your dog’s owner and guardian – believes to be your best option.

A veterinarian can help find a solution that is both safe and effective, and you should avoid making any health-related decisions for your canine family members without consulting a professional first. Thunder and storms do not have to be a nightmare when you have dogs, as long as you are willing to put in the work it takes to show your dog that there is nothing to be afraid of.