Is your dog scared of thunder? Why do certain dogs become fearful of loud noises such as thunder and fireworks, but others remain unruffled? Nobody’s completely sure. In some cases, puppyhood trauma (such as being tied up outside for long intervals) may have something to do with it. Some owners claim that specific breed temperaments may play a role, and in other cases, sensitive hearing or separation anxiety may contribute. What’s certain is that for some canines, a minor case of nerves can escalate into a full-blown phobia — an excessively panicked, irrational, chronic fear response.
What Are Dogs Scared Of? How to Help Dogs Overcome Their Fears
Dealing with a dog scared of thunder — my personal story
My dog Grant is scared of thunder. Like many dogs who struggle with unexplained fear of thunder, Grant seems unusually sensitive to any storm-related occurrence, such as changes in barometric pressure. Once the rumbles begin, his anxiety rapidly escalates into overwhelming terror. So, for us, it’s especially unfortunate that summer’s humid conditions can produce some of the biggest storms of the year.
A dog scared of thunder can result in hiding, urinating, excessive panting, drooling, trembling, whining, eye-rolling and/or frantic efforts to escape. If you’re Grant, they include all of the above … and some of his escape efforts have led to painful injury. The cruel irony is that if we, as owners, fawn over Grant or try to over-comfort him, we’re essentially reinforcing his panic behavior. A dog often interprets this pronounced reassurance as confirmation that the event taking place truly is worthy of panic.
Check out Whole Dog Journal’s tips for soothing a dog who is afraid of thunder >>
There’s no guarantee that you can ever fully resolve your dog’s fear of thunder. Is your dog scared of thunder? There are ways that you can manage it effectively. Here are six strategies — from a Thundershirt for dogs to increasing exercise — that have worked especially well for us:
1. Watch your own behavior during a thunderstorm
If you remember nothing else, remember this: Constant petting or consoling is often interpreted by pets as a reward for the fearful response — or reinforcement that the fearful response is warranted. Conversely, punishment will only increase a panicked pet’s anxiety level. Our solution? Projecting a calm, cool vibe and giving Grant attention in the form of playing, grooming, or other activities he normally enjoys.
2. Use the Thundershirt to lessen your dog’s fear of thunder
Not to state this too strongly, but the Thundershirt is a miracle. This snug garment (available online or at most pet-supply stores) attaches around Grant’s body with Velcro and produces a “swaddling” effect that calms down his panicked panting. It often begins working within minutes, and on a few occasions Grant has actually drifted off to sleep (yes!). Complementary therapies we sometimes use include Rescue Remedy, which is based on calming Bach flower essences, and Ark Naturals Happy Traveler, a botanically based chew that can produce a calming effect. You can also try calming essential oils or pheromones, such as the canine-calming pheromone DAP. This can be found in Comfort Zone products.
3. Switch environments when it starts to thunder
Changing your pet’s location can be surprisingly effective, because it may help reduce the storm’s volume level or make your pet less aware of it. Grant, for instance, likes to hang out on the bathroom rug with the overhead fan droning away whenever it storms outside. This creates a “white noise” that blocks out the sounds that disturb him.
Allowing your pet access to the basement, or a room without windows, may have a similar effect. Some pups find that a closet or the area under the bed feels especially safe and secure. If your pet heads for his crate, try covering it with a blanket to increase feelings of security. However, keep the crate door open so your pet won’t feel confined (which can dramatically increase anxiety).
4. Increase exercise before a thunderstorm starts
When thunderstorms are predicted, we try to take Grant for a few extra walks before the clouds roll in. This helps to tire him both mentally and physically. Many vets claim that it can also boost natural serotonin levels, which then act as a natural calming aid.
5. Use counterconditioning during a thunderstorm
This fancy behavioral term simply means we help Grant to associate something negative (the thunderstorm) with something positive. For example, we keep Grant’s all-time favorite toy hidden away and bring it out to play when he begins to feel nervous about an approaching storm. We’ll sometimes feed him an extra-special treat during these times, as well, such as a small piece of bacon or cheese. This diverts his focus, and enjoying the treat/toy during the storm has gradually helped to recondition his response.
6. Try desensitization if your dog is scared of thunder
We practice this during the off-season for thunderstorms, usually over the winter. To begin, simply play a CD or iPod mix of storm sounds at an extremely soft level. While your dog remains relaxed at this level, say a simple cue word like “chill” and provide a yummy treat every 15 seconds or so. Then, gradually extend the time your pet needs to remain relaxed before earning the treat.
Once your pup can remain relaxed on command, increase the volume a single notch and repeat the process. If at any time your pet shows pronounced fear or panic, go back to the previous volume level, say the cue word, and reward for staying calm. When an actual storm takes place, continue using this same cue/reward system.
Grant exhibits a fairly intense fear response when it comes to thunderstorms. The good news is we’ve managed to help him cope without resorting to the use of pharmaceuticals. If none of these approaches work for you, have a candid conversation with your vet. In extreme cases, there are medications that can help keep your pup comfortable. But take a cue from Grant — a little dedication and ingenuity from you may be all that’s necessary to help your canine cope successfully!
Thumbnail: Photography © garybis | iStock / Getty Images Plus.
This piece was originally published on August 10, 2015.
17 thoughts on “Is Your Dog Scared of Thunder? 6 Tips for Soothing Him”
I’ve tried this method of covering dogs with thunderstorm vest, but it’s not working for me..
As a pet blogger, I’m very much eager to know more methods so that I may educate others
My dog is anxious or unsettled about car rides. He also is very scared of thunderstorms, fireworks, etc. Where to buy the best quality calming CBD treats for my dog?
We suggest asking your vet! These articles might provide some insight, too:
I have an extremely anxious, reactive dog I’m working a lot with. I use CBD calming treats and I’m working with a trainer who is good with reactive, anxious dogs. I’m hoping one day I’ll be able to walk Winston without him barking, lunging and things that frighten him. The only place where I was able to purchase high quality CBD treats https://bit.ly/2Aemdnk They are selling CBD products for humans too, so quality is very high. Great prices on hard to find treats that my dog loves, plus very quick shipping.
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How to sensibly buy best quality cbd products for my dog? I’ve heard how CBD dog treats could benefit your dog; reduce seizures, anxiety, pain etc.
My newly adopted dog (age 7 or 9 to the knowledge of the TN kill shelter she was in with no further info since her owner died). She had a cyst and split tooth and is now wearing a plastic collar. Shes terrified and confused. Can you suggest something I can do to remove the collar and not allow her to take her bandage off? She is whining and bumping into things. Help please! Thanks, Nora
Please contact a vet for help with this particular situation. Here’s more advice on handling a fearful dog:
By accident I discovered my dog was not fearful is allowed to get in the car during storms. As soon as thunder started, he would pace and pant obsessively. One day we were in the car coming home when a thunderstorm started. When we got into the garage, he refused to come out of the car. He then proceeded to sleep peacefully for the rest of the storm. After this event, I would let him go to the car at the first sound and he was always calm and slept the storm away!
At first, I coddled my dog, Cubbie – then learned that I was reinforcing the behavior. He would pant & shake. I now use the thundershirt. I put it on, put him in the bathroom, turn on the radio and walk away. (Back to sleep or back to whatever I was doing). Within minutes, he will come by me. It works for fireworks, too.
Our Cubby (Male Samoyed “herding dog”) was terrified of storms. The only thing that settled him down was to put him in the car, with the windows partially down in the garage.
My 4 year old German Shepherd female Zora was never afraid of thunderstorms until the previous summer when we were in the car at a stop sign and the people at the house to the right of the stop sign shot off a huge firework that even made ME jump! Ever since then, sometimes even at just the sight of lightning,Zora heads for the windowless bathroom no matter how calmly I react. I LOVE storms and I wish THAT vibe would help HER to remain calm also. It may also be worth noting that Zora seems to have some separation anxiety which I have heard is somewhat typical of German Shepherds. She is ALWAYS with me and even goes to work with me. A store manager at PetSmart recommended we try Licks pill-free ZEN calming aid a 100% all natural holistic remedy. They are packets of gel that you can squeeze onto treats or your finger even and Zora loves to lick up every last bit. It’s safe to double or triple the dose in times of extra added stress. After having just recently survived 3 days of continuous storming and not once did Zora retreat to the bathroom I credit this calming gel for helping her to relax and stay that way and even sleep through the storms only now back by my side like usual! I’m hoping that by Zora not going to the bathroom to hide I am ALSO helping to recondition Zora’s fear response. She is an amazingly intelligent dog and definitely takes her cues from my own behavior! Good thing I personally LOVE not only thunderstorms but also any of Mother Nature’s displays!
Kirby never reacted to storms until a few years ago when my MIL dogs became very upset. She is a senior now and I find the combination of melatonin, thunder shirt, rescue remedy, DAP and her new Calming Olaf, filled with herbs seems to work for her. She will lay next to me on the sofa and I also wrap her up in a blanket. I read and do t react, if a loud boom makes me jump I laugh and say wow, that was a loud one and go back to reading. More than snythin* my reaction or lack of makes the biggest difference.
An excellent way to reduce a dog’s anxiety/terror during thunderstorms and/or fireworks .is music tailored to a dog’s ears. A quick search on the internet yields a great deal of information. For my noise-phobic rescued Border Collie, I play “Canine Lullabies Heartbeat Music Therapy for Dogs” (available on Amazon). It’s a miracle. Also on Amazon are many other choices of music designed to soothe dogs. Here is the link to a website of continuous (several hours) of dog-soothing music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CDGNtF0asg
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