Thunder And Frightening

by Nicola Parry, DVM

Just as people can react with fear to certain situations, so too can dogs. Noise phobia is a common example of this, and thunder in particular can produce an irrational fear response in many affected dogs. Does your dog seem to react fearfully every time a storm hits? Although there are many signs that a frightened dog can exhibit, there are certainly some that are more common than others:

5 Signs Of Thunder Phobia In Dogs

  • Trembling
  • Refusing to leave your side
  • Inappropriate urinating or defecating
  • Excessive vocalization
  • Destroying things

Before The Storm

If your dog is extremely anxious during thunderstorms, there are a couple of ways that you can help try to modify his behavior. These things take time though, so look upon them as a work in progress:

  1. Counter-condition him: Teach him that thunderstorms aren’t all negative. When the thunder begins, bring out some tasty treats so he gets to associate something positive with the storm.
  1. Desensitize him: Introduce a recording of a noisy storm. Start off at a low volume for a few minutes, and gradually increase the volume and duration of noise when he manages to get through a session without fear. During each session, avoid soothing him if he seems scared – instead, distract him with toys or commands, and only praise him if he responds favorably to an instruction. This way he will only be rewarded for positive behavior.

During The Storm

Once the storm hits, you can help him in a couple of ways.

1. Reduce The Noise Level:

Although you can’t physically turn down the storm’s volume, you can help drown it out:

  • Relocate him: Take him to a room where the noise level may be reduced, such as in a basement.
  • Add background noise: Music or a TV provide easy ways to distract him from the noise.
  • Close all windows: A simple, yet effective, way to reduce the noise intensity.

2. Sedation:

Various homeopathic remedies are  available if you prefer a chemical-free approach to therapy. The HappyTails SleepyTime Tonic contains a blend of natural ingredients that will help to relax and calm an anxious dog. It comes with a plastic dropper that makes it easy to pop a few drops of the solution into his mouth when he starts to seem anxious. It works quickly too, with many dogs becoming calmer within about 20 minutes.

Some dogs remain a little edgy despite all efforts to reduce their anxiety. If your dog falls into this category, he may respond well to sedative medications from your veterinarian. For best effects, these usually need to be given in advance of the fear-inducing event. While this is unlikely to be possible for all storms, you may at least be able to take the edge off his anxiety by administering them as soon as you hear a storm brewing in the distance.

Frightened dogs can be dangerous, not only to themselves, but to other pets and people, so it is important to manage their fears. While it’s often impossible to cure this type of phobia, you can definitely take steps to reduce his stress levels in stormy situations.

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