Scaredy Pups: Helping Your Dog with their Fear of Thunder Monday 26 February 2018 @ 09:39
Everyone's a little bit scared of something. Some of us are scared of spiders, others of clowns, so it makes sense that our canine companions should have similar issues! Thunder! Vacuum cleaners! Other dogs! All of these can be absolutely terrifying to some dogs.
This month, we helped to reunite Maiden the black and white border collie with her family. According to Maiden’s family, she “[h]as a limp. Friendly but very scared of thunder.” This isn’t uncommon. In fact, astraphobia (fear of thunder) is one of the most common fears for a dog to experience. Other members of the list of common dog fears include…
We’ll cover some of these other fears in time but for now, how can you help your dog’s fear of thunder?
Show your dog that you appreciate their calm behaviour.
Make sure your dog gets plenty of attention and approval when they’re behaving in a calm, happy way. For this to work, it can be a good idea to train your dog to settle down on command. You can do this by keeping a separate leash that’s only used when inside the house and getting your dog to lie down at your feet with the leash on as you praise and reward their behaviour. Don’t wait for the stormy season to begin this training!
If your dog only gets cuddles and attention when they’re clambering all over you and whimpering in fear, this will encourage them to continue their panicky behaviour. It can be a better idea to offer distractions in the form of toys and games. Give them all of the support they need when they’re in distress, yes, but don’t make it seem like a surefire way to get treats and pets!
Practice calm behaviour while there’s no storm to get worked up over, so your dog gets a sense of the new routine. Once the storm arrives, putting the leash on will signal to your dog that it’s time to be calm. This will also give them something else to focus on, distracting them from the thunder. Your goal is to give them something more interesting and positive to think about.
Predict the Future!
Compared to the other fears and phobias your dog might be dealing with, thunder is a whole lot easier to predict:
- Weather forecasts often over-predict thunderstorms, which makes it easier to prepare than if they were to under-predict.
- In most cases, thunderstorms will occur in the afternoons, or to a lesser extent in the evenings and nighttime.
Once you can predict a storm, you’re able to take action before the storm takes place. All you really need to do is pay attention to the weather forecast. The main sources of fear that come with thunderstorms are the loud noises, unusual darkness, specific smell and cold/rain if your dog is made to stand outside in the storm. The best thing you can do is take your dog inside and keep them somewhere safe (even better if it’s sound-proofed).
Get plenty of exercise in before the storm starts.
When a thunderstorm weather warning is released, it can be a good idea to take your dog out for a few extra walks in advance. Things will be a whole lot worse if the storm means your dog doesn’t get an opportunity to exercise properly, and the extra bit of exertion before the storm hits can tire your dog out both physically and mentally, which is good in this scenario.
As with humans, exercise could also boost your dog’s serotonin levels, which will allow them to feel calmer in the long run.
Create calmer noises.
If the thunderstorm begins and you’re unable to calm your dog down, it can be helpful to mask the noise as much as possible. Less “threatening” noises such as those produced by the radio or TV can dilute the sound of thunder. Another idea is to close all the windows and crank up a white noise machine or air conditioner. Don’t turn the volume up too high, though, as a large part of your dog’s fear probably comes from a fear of loud noises. There are a few white noise apps you can find on your smartphone which can come in handy here.
Consider investing in a compression vest
Products such as the ThunderShirt are designed to help anxious animals deal with the things that stress them out, such as thunder and other loud noises. The idea is that these garments will calm your pet by applying pressure in specific areas, causing calming endorphins to be produced. Think of it as being sort of like an artificial hug you can strap onto your dog.
Research appearing in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour (King, C., Buffington, L., Smith, T.J., Grandin, T., The effect of a pressure wrap (ThunderShirt®) on heart rate and behavior in canines diagnosed with anxiety disorder, Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2014), doi: 10.1016/j.jveb.2014.06.007.) concluded that:
Results from this study showed dogs who wore the ThunderShirt® to manufacturer’s specifications had lowered heart rate, decreased visual orientation towards the door (looking for their owner), as well as trending toward reduced yawning and tongue-flicking stress behaviors.
Stop the Static!
This is an idea that may be a little surprising: some studies have suggested that rather than the sound of thunder, it’s actually the sensation of static electricity in your dog’s fur that will make them miserable during a storm. If you manage to block out the noise and your dog is still in panic mode, this may be the problem. Is Rover suddenly cowering in the bathtub or the basement?
Some pet owners have suggested that what your dog is really doing is searching for somewhere grounded where these electric shocks won’t bother them anymore. It seems the best place for your dog to hide in this case is the bathtub, where they can comfortably hide until the storm is over.
For more information about how pets experience storms, try checking out some of our other articles!