If you’ve ever been around a thunderstorm, then you know how scary and intense they can be. Thunderstorms are loud, lightning is bright with its flashing lights, and the rain falling amplifies the sounds throughout the house. If wind accompanies the thunderstorm, that can make things that much worse.
For some dogs, it’s a bit more than just the weather that makes them upset: they’re scared of thunderstorms because they’re loud and unexpected. Dogs have been known to get anxious in these situations, with some being more severely affected than others. Here are some tips on how to help canine thunderstorm phobia along with how to calm a dog during a thunderstorm:
Behavior Modification Techniques
Behavior modification techniques for dogs are techniques that can be used to change a dog’s behavior. Behavior modification techniques may be necessary to reduce your dog’s fear of thunderstorms. Desensitization and positive reinforcement are both useful in reducing fearful behavior without causing too much stress on your dog.
Desensitization is a behavior modification process that involves exposing your dog to the sounds of a thunderstorm in a controlled environment. This can help your dog become more accustomed to the sounds and promote calmness during storm season. There are several ways to desensitize your dog, including using a recording of storm sounds or playing storm sounds on your phone or computer. Start with a low volume and gradually increase the volume over time.
This is the same process by which hunting dogs become accustomed to hearing loud gunshots due to repeated exposure to the stimulus. Over time, they will hear the loud noises, but the dog will have become so accustomed to hearing the loud noises that they will no longer experience noise phobias.
Use Positive Reinforcement
When your dog is anxious, you may not be able to calm them down. But you can give them an opportunity to learn how to cope with their fear on their own by giving them with something else to focus on. This helps dogs learn that they can feel safe in the presence of storms.
Use treats and praise for positive reinforcement for dog thunderstorm fears, especially when they do something good like remaining calm during a storm or when they stop barking at noises outside. Reinforce behaviors that you would like to see more often, such as sitting quietly, chewing on a toy instead of barking at noises outside, or curling up on their bed rather than pacing around the house during storms.
If your dog has been afraid of storms since they were young, try using toys and treats while they’re still inside so they don’t associate them with bad weather. Play games with your dog before the storm starts so that she’s distracted from whatever’s going on outside.
This is also a good time to practice your dog’s obedience skills. If your dog is focused on their obedience commands with positive reinforcement, they may be distracted enough not to consciously notice the thunderstorm outside and instead be focused on their reward for knowing the commands sit, stay, or come.
Provide a Safe Space
For a lot of dogs, their safe space whenever they’re feeling anxious is their crate. Their crate is their den of safety. Allow your dog to remain in their crate if that’s what makes them most comfortable during storm season. Offer a blanket or toy with your scent on it to help them remain calm while the storm passes.
You can also try placing a heavy blanket around their crate during the storm. This will reduce the flashing lights and muffle the sound of the thunderstorm. If your dog doesn’t have a crate, offering them a dark closet or a space in a familiar room can be helpful. A room without windows is preferred.
Provide Background Noise
If your dog is scared of thunderstorms, you can help reduce the stress by providing background noise. The best way to provide background noise during a storm is with a radio or TV turned on low. However, if you are worried about your dog becoming distracted by the sound and getting into trouble, try using white noise instead.
White noise is similar to nature sounds, but it’s more consistent and easier to use in the house. White noise machines come in many different sizes and shapes, including desktop models and small ones that attach to your phone or tablet.
If you have an old boom box lying around the house that still works, it will work just as well as a more expensive machine. Simply turn on the radio and set it to static, or scan through all stations until you find one playing static.
Classical Music as an Option
Playing classical music is another option you can consider, especially if white noise isn’t particularly effective. Classical music can help keep your pet calm and relaxed by supporting normal emotional balance. You may elect to play this music on your phone or there are a number of CDs available that have been designed specifically for anxious dogs if you do some digging.
Control Your Own Emotions
Dogs are highly sensitive to their owners’ emotions. If you become anxious or agitated during a thunderstorm, your dog may become even more anxious. It is important to stay calm and act normally during a thunderstorm. Offer your dog comforting words and gentle touches to let them know that everything is okay.
Your dog will look at you. If you are calm and collected, even though they are afraid, they will feel more secure knowing you aren’t worried. For some dogs, this alone could be enough to calm them.
How to Calm a Dog in a Thunderstorm with Natural Remedies
In addition to the recommendations outlined above, there are some natural remedies to help a dog scared of thunder, including:
Thundershirt for Canine Thunderstorm Phobia
A ThunderShirt is a vest-like garment that applies gentle pressure to your dog’s torso. You may also hear these referred to as a wrap. The pressure can promote calm behavior during a thunderstorm. The ThunderShirt is easy to use and can be worn during normal times as well as during a thunderstorm.
Thundershirts can be particularly effective for dogs with noise phobias or during time of separation. Thundershirts are also a drug-free alternative to prescription medications, which makes them a popular choice among dog owners who prefer natural remedies. They’re available in nearly every size and are relatively simple to put on and take off your dog. However, it’s important to note that they may not be effective for every dog.
Alternative Wrap Options
If you don’t have a Thundershirt and you’re wondering how to calm a dog during a thunderstorm without one, you can use a form-fitting t-shirt on your dog’s body. Place the shirt over the dog’s head with the front of the t-shirt on their back. Put their front legs through the armholes and tighten the shirt with a hair-tie. You can substitute this for a sweatshirt if you think your dog would feel better with heavier material. However, in either case, be sure your dog isn’t completely restricted and still has the ability to freely move their legs.
Diffuse Essential Oils
You can diffuse lavender essential oil right into your pet’s environment to help promote calm behavior during a storm. To do this, add a few drops of lavender essential oil to a diffuser filled with water and turn it on. The amount of time you leave the diffuser running will depend on how much time your dog spends in the space where it is located.
If the power has gone out and you are unable to diffuse the essential oil, grab a spray bottle and fill most of it with water. Then, add a few drops of lavender essential oil and spray the oil through the area you are staying with your pup. This may not be as effective as diffusing the essential oil, but you could still see some benefit.
Full Spectrum Hemp Extract for Storm Phobia
Full spectrum hemp extract can be offered in all situations to promote normal emotional behavior, including thunderstorms. Full spectrum hemp extract has a calming effect on nerves and is particularly useful for dogs exhibiting nervousness, hyperactivity, discontentment or responding to environmentally-induced stress, like thunderstorms.
According to Earth Buddy’s research study conducted in July 2022, approximately 92% of pet parents reported that Earth Buddy’s full-spectrum CBD products reduced daily stress levels in their pets, and 72% of pet owners agreed that they were effective at reducing their pet’s stress severity. In regard to thunderstorms, these results show full-spectrum hemp extract can help your dog cope with external stresses.
Full spectrum hemp extract can also help in the following ways:
- Helping curb destructive behavior during times of stress
- Helping keep your dog calm and relaxed
- Helping maintain normal emotional balance
Before The Storm
Dogs can often sense when a thunderstorm is approaching due to barometric pressure changes. The change in barometric pressure is thought to affect a dog’s ears, resulting in your dog knowing when a storm is coming before you do. Dogs can also sense static electricity before a thunderstorm. Static electricity forms when lightning is about to strike.
If your dog begins to pace or whine, take a look at the radar to see if there is a storm getting closer to your location. Before the storm hits, take the necessary measures to help your dog remain calm and reduce their fear response. Watch your dog’s body language to determine if your dog’s fear is subsiding.
Diving into Veterinary Medicine
If your dog is severely affected by the frightening stimuli of a thunderstorm, it may be time to take a look at veterinary medicine. A veterinarian may have additional ideas on how to help a dog scared of thunder. Dogs with severe phobias of loud sounds may need additional help, especially if the recommendations above haven’t been effective in reducing their fear reactions.
Choose What Works
You don’t have to choose just one method to relieve your dog’s fear of thunderstorms. Pet parents can employ all the methods discussed or try each one individually to see what works and what doesn’t. For example, if you give your dog full spectrum hemp extract, they can still be wrapped in a thundershirt and wait out the storm in their kennel. Watch your dog’s body language to determine what works best and you will know how to handle upcoming storms later on.
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