If your dog is scared of thunder or fireworks, you’re not alone.
Unfortunately, many dogs are scared of thunderstorms because of the noise, wind, change in pressure, etc.
If your dog is scared of thunder, she might pace, whine, pant heavily, shake, drool, try to hide, try to “dig” while indoors, paw at you, bark or even act aggressively.
Some dogs could harm themselves or damage property while trying to dig or “escape.”
If your dog is scared of thunderstorms, here are a couple ideas that can help:
If the thunderstorm is happening now:
1. It’s OK to comfort your dog during a storm.
There are mixed opinions on this, but it’s OK to calmly reassure your dog when he’s scared as long as his behavior is appropriate. For example, you should calmly pet and reassure him if he’s lying quietly on his bed but not if he’s running around barking. Encourage a more appropriate behavior first, then reassure him.
I mean, what would make you feel calmer if you were scared? Someone calmly telling you it’s OK or someone running around like a maniac looking out the windows saying “It’s OK! It’s OK! It’s OK!”
Encourage calm behavior and remain calm yourself.
2. Distract your dog with highly valued chew toys or food.
Some dogs will be too scared to care about food, but it’s worth a try to distract your dog with something extremely tempting.
Use what you know your dog loves and something you are comfortable giving her.
- a Kong toy stuffed with peanut butter, cheese, raw hamburger or jerky treats
- a raw knuckle bone
- pigs ears
- bully sticks
- a rawhide bone
These special treats are not meant to “reward” fearful behavior, they’re to distract your dog from the storm. You can ask her to sit or lie down first if you’d like.
3. Provide a safe place to hide.
Allow your dog to crawl under a desk or to curl up in her kennel/crate if she prefers. Be careful about forcing a dog in or out of a small space because a fearful dog is more likely to bite. Don’t try to force your dog out of her crate to take her out to go potty or to feed her. Just wait until the storm ends.
Also, for obvious safety reasons, make sure your dog can’t get out of the house or out of the yard. Keep all doors and gates locked, especially if you have to leave your dog home alone. Consider separating your pets if there is a chance for aggression. On the other hand, some pets will provide comfort to each other.
A Thundershirt is a tight-fitting vest designed to help a dog feel more comfortable in stressful situations. Get one here.
The Thundershirt does make some dogs less fearful, but it is generally not a quick fix. Don’t expect a miracle. Instead, plan on using the Thundershirt in addition to the other ideas in this post. Also see my post on Thundershirt reviews.
In addition to a Thundershirt, try using other tools that naturally make your dog calmer such as a dog coat, vest or sweater, a dog backpack, a harness, a Gentle Leader, etc. Each dog is different, but my own dog becomes noticeably calmer while wearing these items.
5. Create ‘white noise.’
It does help some dogs if you’re able to drown out some of the noise by turning on the TV, music, air conditioning or loud fans. Obviously, if you can close all the windows and blinds and sit in a central area of the house or a basement, that can also help some dogs.
Preparing your dog for future thunderstorms
If you’d like to prepare your dog for future storms, I would think about the following ideas. (And please add additional ideas in the comments!)
1. Desensitizing your dog to storms.
The idea is to slowly get your dog used to the thunderstorm noise so it eventually becomes no big deal. Easier said than done, but we are lucky YouTube has literally hundreds of thunderstorm recordings. I embedded one example below (link) that I thought was pretty good. Of course, if your dog is reacting to the change in pressure vs. the noise, then desensitizing her to the noise will only do so much.
You can try a couple of things:
One option is to randomly play the sounds softly without acknowledging your dog. No reaction whatsoever from you. Ideally, your dog will just learn these sounds are no big deal, even as you gradually increase the volume over several days and weeks.
Another option is to give your dog a highly valued food reward while you play the videos. This can be to distract your dog at first but also to help him associate positive experiences with the storm sounds.
I’m referring to natural products such as Bach’s Rescue Remedy and Canine Calm. These products are marketed as natural products to help dogs remain calm in stressful situations such as when they are fearful of thunder or fireworks. Your dog does not need a prescription for these products.
Like the Thundershirt, natural remedies can be hit or miss and they’re generally not a quick fix. However, it is worth trying them in combination with other products and training methods.
3. Talk to a veterinarian about medications.
There are prescription medications to help dogs with thunderstorms, but I recommend you carefully weigh the pros and cons of a medication before giving it to your dog.
Commonly prescribed drugs for dogs with thunderstorm phobias include Acepromazine and Diazepam (Valium). You can ready more details and the pros and cons of those drugs here.
Make sure to ask the vet detailed questions such as:
– How far in advance do I need to give this drug?
– How does it work?
– Will it actually decrease my dog’s fear or just make him immobile? (How awful!)
4. Provide your dog with lots of exercise.
I know, I make it sound like it’s that easy, but the less pent-up energy your dog has the better. I know so many people who think they can take their dog on a 90-minute hike on a Saturday and expect him to be tired the rest of the week.
If you’re able to provide your dog with adequate exercise every single day of the week, it will help her remain calmer and less anxious in general. If you have an anxious dog, exercise and structure are so important!
Other safety tips for dogs during storms
- Keep your dog indoors, at least during thunderstorm/fireworks season.
- Don’t hesitate to hire a dog trainer or behaviorist.
- Make sure your dog is microchipped. I also recommend ID tags, but if you’re concerned he’ll catch his collar on something you could consider a harness or a breakaway collar.
- Hire a pet sitter to stay with your dog if you have to leave him home alone during a storm.
Do any of your dogs have a fear of storms or fireworks? What do you do to help him?
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