Many dogs are frightened by the sights and sounds of thunderstorms. The rain, wind, thunder, lightning, and even pressure changes can all produce anxiety. The degree of that anxiety depends on the individual dog. Some pace and whine, others hide or injure themselves trying to escape confinement. This degree of reaction will determine which interventions are most appropriate for the dog.
How to handle thunderstorm anxiety
- If your dog’s reaction is mild (trembling, snuggling up to owner, hiding, etc.), limit his dog’s exposure to the elements as much as possible. Close curtains and blinds; turn lights on; play a radio, TV or white noise machine to muffle the sounds outside. Allow the dog to hide if the area is safe and it appears to help her relax.
- If you know in advance that a storm is coming, exercise your dog as thoroughly as possible. Strenuous exercise reduces anxiety, and while this won’t prevent storm phobia, it may lower the intensity of your dog’s reaction.
- Stay as calm and relaxed as possible. Comfort your dog if you wish: contrary to popular opinion, doing so will not “reward” the behavior. At best, it will help the dog; at worst, it will do nothing. What will worsen the reaction is stress in you (especially if you hate storms yourself), so take deep breaths and try to engage the dog in something she enjoys. If she will eat a treat, try feeding her as the storm approaches. You could also fill a food stuffed toy to keep the dog busy and make the storm less stressful. If she won’t eat, stop trying to feed.
- If your dog’s reaction is more severe (howling, screaming, destructive behavior, injuring himself in an effort to escape), veterinary assistance will likely be necessary. Contact your vet to find out about behavioral medication. If more help is needed, a veterinary behaviorist can be contacted for expert assistance. Contact the Animal Humane Society Training School for a referral at 763-489-2217 or firstname.lastname@example.org.