As a pet owner, it’s tough to watch our furry friends get stressed or panicked during situations that we can’t control. Before you even see the first strike of lightning or hear the first clap of thunder, your dog may begin acting agitated and clingy.
If your dog is scared of thunderstorms, be mindful that his phobia is very real, and unfortunately will not go away with time. In fact, his fear of thunderstorms may get worse if no steps are taken to alleviate his anxiety.
Why Do Some Dogs Have Storm Anxiety?
If your dog gets stressed during thunderstorms, it’s not just because he’s scared of thunder. In fact, some dogs who are not fearful of other loud noises such as fireworks may react completely differently during a storm.
Wind, lightning, pressure changes, and even static electricity are all part of the package due to your dog’s powerful sense of smell and hearing. As a result, his panic may ensue before the storm has even begun.
Not all dogs have thunderstorm anxiety. That being said, some dogs can begin experiencing storm anxiety at any time—even if they had remained calm during previous years.
Dogs who have other forms of anxiety (such as separation anxiety) are generally more prone to thunderstorm anxiety than others.
Signs Your Dog is Stressed
If your dog has storm anxiety, he may show signs of stress including:
- Licking paws
- Barking and whining
- Pacing/restlessness in general
- Bathroom accidents
- Destructive behavior such as digging, chewing, or breaking things in the house
Fear-driven bad behavior is done out of panic, not bad intentions. If your dog scratches your walls, chews up your furniture, or acts like he’s not potty trained, don’t punish him—this will only make the situation worse.
Calming Your Dog During a Storm
Once a thunderstorm is underway, settle in with your pooch. Don’t ignore his fear or pretend the storm isn’t happening; if the storm is sticking around for a while, chances are your dog’s stress is, too.
While it may be tempting, try not to react strongly to your canine’s clinginess or panicked behavior. Instead of comforting him, you may inadvertently teach him that this behavior is justified because the thunderstorm really is as scary as he thinks.
Instead, calmly ignore his behavior and distract him with treats or a favorite toy. You can also go through familiar commands together—not only is this a good distraction, the quality time is good for bonding and can provide some predictability in an uncertain situation.
Identify parts of the house that your dog tries to retreat to during times of stress. If it’s feasible, allow access to and from the room or area. Turn it into a comforting spot with blankets, treats, and favorite toys. If possible, stay there with your pup to keep him company as you wait out the storm together.
At the minimum, make sure your dog has a safe space to escape to. This could be his crate, or a quiet room with no windows (or blackout curtains) and ambient noise (as long as it doesn’t add to the stress). This should be a space where your dog feels safe and secure, not trapped and confined. Give him the option to leave the crate or room on his own terms, in case the feeling of confinement adds to his anxiety.
For some dogs, a snug t-shirt or wrap can provide an added sense of security. Ideally, your dog would be able to try it out before a thunderstorm so you can get an idea of how he reacts. If you’re trying it out for the first time during a storm, don’t force it if he’s unwilling to cooperate… he has enough to worry about already!
Preparing for a Thunderstorm
If a thunderstorm is in the forecast—or even better, it’s the off-season—there are steps you can take to prepare both you and your pooch for future storms.
For example, teach your dog calming commands in advance such as “come here” and “lie down.” Not only can the familiarity of the command be calming during a storm, it can also remind him that lying down near you can be a source of relief.
During the calm before the storm, make sure all windows are closed and locked. No matter how well-behaved your dog is, he may attempt to bolt during a stressful situation.
Depending on the severity of your pup’s condition, it may be worth consulting a behavioral specialist about counter-conditioning or desensitization training.
If you experience frequent thunderstorms and/or your dog has lots of anxiety, talk to your vet about medications and treatments. Depending on the medication, it may need to be taken at least an hour before the storm in order to be effective. Give a “test dose” to your dog beforehand to make sure there are no negative side effects—being sick and stressed at the same time isn’t ideal for anyone.
Please note that prescription medications should never be shared with other animals, and should always be taken at the recommended dosage.
For an over-the-counter option, try PetHonesty’s Calming Hemp Chews; for maximum-strength calming support, check out our Premium Hemp Calming Chews. These delicious chews use a combination of natural ingredients to help calm and soothe an anxious dog.