There are really no explanations as to why some dogs are terrified of thunder.  Some people say it’s from a traumatic event as a puppy.  Others say certain breeds are prone to this behavior.  Whatever the reason, the fact remains: when it comes to thunder, some dogs panic!
If you’re dog struggles with this phobia, rest assured there are strategies you can use to effectively manage and help their fear.  Here are some simple steps you can use next time those dark thunder clouds roll in.

  1.  Try paying attention to YOUR behavior during the storm
One important item to remember is that constant consoling and petting during the storm is the wrong thing to do.  This is often interpreted by your dog as a reward for the fearful response to the thunder.  By doing this you actually send the opposite signal to what you are trying to achieve.  Through your actions you are providing reinforcement that the fearful response is warranted.
Also remember…
Punishment will also increase your pet’s anxiety and panic. 
The key is to find that perfect middle ground.  Stay calm and relaxed.  Act normal and try to engage your pet as you normally would by playing with them, grooming them, or any other activity you would normally do.

  1. Try changing the environment when a thunderstorm rolls through
This is a simple strategy that can go a long way.  Do you have a basement where your pet can go to avoid hearing the thunder outside?  Maybe you can turn on the bathroom fan or kitchen fan to create background noise that drowns out the storm?  The idea is to find a place where your pet will hear less and feel more comfortable. 

  1. Try using supportive products and therapies
In addition to training, there are actually many products and therapies you can use to calm your dog during the storm. 
Many dog owners swear by Thundershirt.  This is a snug garment that fits snuggly on your pet to give them a swaddling effect, calming the panicked panting and trembling.  To complement the use of calming products, you can try therapies such as Ark Naturals Happy Traveler, a botanically based chew that can produce a calming effect, or other calming essential oils or pheromones, such as the canine-calming pheromone DAP.  Most of these products and therapies can easily be found at your local pet store or online.

  1.  Try a good workout before the storm.
This option isn’t always possible, but when you know a storm is predicted to head your way, try getting out before it hits and getting some exercise.  This will tire your pet both physically and mentally.  Many vets also believe this will also boost natural serotonin levels, which then act as a natural calming aid.  With this technique and the others discussed here combined, chances are a tired and worn out dog will relax and fall asleep easier during the storm.

  1.  Try counterconditioning
This means try to get your dog to associate something negative (the thunderstorm) with something positive (a treat or favorite toy).  So here’s what you do:  When you hear the thunderstorm approaching, try bringing out a special toy to play with, or try giving your dog that special treat they never get.  By offering these positive things, you are first of all, distracting them from the storm, and second, reconditioning them to know, “When a thunderstorm comes, it’s fun time, and I even get treats!”

  1.  Practice makes perfect
Another strategy to desensitize your pet to thunder is practice.   For this training technique begin by playing a mix of storm sounds at an extremely soft level on your IPod or CD player.  While playing this stay close to your pet, remain relaxed and say a simple cue word like “calm” or “It’s OK” and provide their favorite treat every 20 seconds or so.  Try it again a few days later and this time, extend the time your pet needs to remain relaxed before earning the treat.  Continue doing this until you can see your dog remaining calm for long periods of time “during” a thunderstorm. 
Once you feel they’ve mastered that, the next step is to increase the volume a single notch and repeat the process.  If at any time your dog becomes fearful or panicked, go back to the previous volume level, say the cue word, and reward for staying calm.  Then when an actual storm takes place, it’s game time.  But now your dog has practiced what to do.  Simply continue using this same cue word and reward method as when you practiced.
So when it comes to coping with thunder, now you have multiple tools at your disposal…
These six strategies and techniques may very well save your dog much anxiety next time a thunderstorm hits.  And even more importantly, they will save you from having to stay up all night every time a thunderstorm rolls through.  If you give these steps a try and don’t see any results, there are other extreme methods that can be used, based on the recommendation of your vet.  But generally if you follow the steps above, you’ll find they may be all you need conquer your pet’s phobia of thunder.  

Leave a comment

Comments have to be approved before showing up