It can be heartbreaking to watch: even before the first clap of thunder. Otherwise well-behaved dogs begin to pace, pant, cling to their owners, hide in the closet, or jam themselves behind the toilet. In severe cases, they’ll claw through drywall, chew carpets, or break through windows in their escalating panic.
Most of the time they don’t grow out of it on their own, and many will get worse with time if nothing is done.
Some dogs with storm phobia are also frightened of other loud noises, such as fireworks, but others are only afraid of storms.
Storm Phobia Triggers
Veterinarians don’t know all the triggers but suspect the dogs are set off by some combination of wind, thunder, lightning, barometric pressure changes, static electricity, and low-frequency rumbles preceding a storm that humans can’t hear. According to one theory, dogs experience painful shocks from static build-up before the storm.
The anxiety often gets worse throughout the season as storms become more frequent.
If your dog is storm phoebic…
You may not always be at home when a storm is approaching so make sure it has a safe environment to retreat to. A crate, kennel, small room or secure yard. Allow it somewhere it can hide.
Aussie Pooch Mobile Dog Wash says, “It is important that your pets are microchipped and wearing a collar identification tag at all times. Ensure all contact information is current and include an emergency contact that is linked to your pets’ records”.
The National Pet Register provides free identification for cats and dogs. Visit petregister.com.au or call 1300 734 738.
What to do if you have a dog with storm phobia.
There’s no easy fix, and unless your dog is only mildly affected, it can be difficult to treat, vets say. But there are lots of tools to reduce your dog’s distress during storm season:
1. Give the dog a safe place where he can go in a storm.
That might be an open crate, somewhere where the dog can’t hear or see what’s happening outside, an interior room with music playing, or a bathroom.
Let your dog decide: notice where he goes during a storm, and if possible, allow access to it. Remember you may not always be at home when a storm approaches, so make allowances for this.
Be sure your dog can come and go freely, since some animals become more anxious if confined.
2. Consider a snug garment.
Snug-fitting shirts and wraps especially designed to calm anxious dogs are worth a try. similar to swaddling a baby. Visit www.anxietywrap.com for more information.
3. Reward calm behaviour year-round.
Practice getting your dog to settle on command. Try putting a special “inside” leash on the dog and practice having the pet lie at your feet while praising the calm behaviour.
You should practice when there is no storm, so the dog learns the routine. When the storm comes up, then put on the leash and say, ‘Come on and lie down here,’ and the dog still knows what to do.”
During the storm, only reward the dog for calm behaviour. You can also try distracting the dog by offering its favourite toy, playing fetch and feeding treats as long as the dog remains calm.
What you’re trying to do is get them to forget about the storm and replace the fear with something positive.
4. Desensitise your dog to the sounds of a storm.
Play a CD of thunder recordings at low enough levels that don’t frighten your dog, while giving him treats or playing a game. Gradually increase the volume over the course of several months, stopping if your dog shows any signs of anxiety. The goal is to get your dog used to the sound of thunder, and associate it with good things.
5. Ask experts for advice.
Your animal behaviourist specialist may have more ideas for behaviour modification and your Vet can assess whether medication may also be needed.
“Not every dog needs anti-anxiety medication, but dogs that are in a horrible state of high anxiety will really benefit,” Vets say.
Your local Aussie Pooch Mobile Dog Wash operator may be able to offer suggestions on what others have done. By taking some of these steps you can help ensure your dog stays safe during the thunderstorm season.