What to do if your dog is scared of thunder

What to Do if Your Dog is Scared of Thunder

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:

What to do if your dog is scared of thunder

*Get my tips on how to help a dog during thunderstorms emailed to you in a pdf. Click Here.

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 during a storm.

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.

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Some examples could be:

  • 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.

*Get my tips on how to help a dog during thunderstorms emailed to you in a pdf. Click Here.

3. Provide a safe place for your dog to hide during thunder.

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.

thundershirt

4. Use a Thundershirt for your dog during storms.

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 for your dog during thunder

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.

How to desensitize a dog to 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 to desensitize your dog to thunderstorms:

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.

Canine Calm

2. Natural calming remedies for dogs during storms.

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 anti-anxiety medication for your dog.

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 anti anxiety medicine to my dog?

– How does the medication work?

– Will it actually decrease my dog’s fear or just make him immobile? (How awful!)

4. Provide your dog with lots of exercise before a storm.

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!

What to do if your dog is scared of thunder

Other safety tips for dogs with a storm phobia:

  • 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.

Why are dogs scared of thunder?

Dogs are likely scared of thunder because they don’t understand what’s causing the loud, rumbling noise. It’s natural for them to want to hide or investigate.

This is why you can help your dog’s storm phobia by providing some background or white noise to block out some of the thunder.

Do your dog have a fear of storms or fireworks?

What did you do to help him? Let us know in the comments!

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

*Get my tips on how to help a dog during thunderstorms emailed to you in a pdf. Click Here.

Related posts:

Can you reward a dog’s fears?
Does the Thundershirt really work?
Medication for dogs during fireworks
My dog is scared of fireworks

12 thoughts on “What to Do if Your Dog is Scared of Thunder”

  1. I like the youtube suggestion! We very rarely, if ever, get thunderstorms here. Luckily my pets don’t care. Same with fireworks. I feel so bad for dogs who have trouble with this. Is there such a thing as doggy earplugs? When I used to show horses we had special earplugs for those that would spook at noises. It worked!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I am sure there are. I know I’ve seen the ear muff type to block out some sound. I saw something about service dogs using them for when they go to loud concerts, sporting events, etc.

  2. My dog was never scared of loud noises but some idiot (me) decided it would be a great idea to take him to the town’s 4th of July celebration. He was so terrified that we had to leave immediately and now he’s scared of loud noises. I feel awful and pretty dumb. We get a lot of thunderstorms in the summer so we’ll have to work on getting him calm around loud noise again.

  3. When Haley was a puppy, I made a point of playing with her during storms while ignoring what was going on outside. I think it desensitized her to loud noises and lightning. For anyone with a dog that’s afraid of storms, you have a lot of great ideas here to help them!

  4. One quick comment about Rescue Remedy: there are two different version. The “human” version contains alcohol, the “pet” one does not.

  5. I have been thinking about this a lot lately because we have to leave Ranger with a sitter 4th of July week this year and he is terrified of fireworks. Luckily he doesn’t act out, just tries to hide in the smallest corner he can find and trembles, which makes me very sad. He is too scared to be distracted by food or play. I am thinking of trying a thundershirt, but it has usually been best to just hang out with him in a small interior room with a loud fan and radio, before the noise even starts. In our house that is the bathroom, so I usually spend new year’s eve and 4th of July reading in my bathroom!

  6. We desensitized our pups Missy & Buzz to the noise of thunder by doing exactly what you suggested: we found thunderstorm sounds online and played them when the pups were busy eating their breakfast and/or dinner after having exercised (i.e. gone for a walk or hike, had playdates with pup friends, went swimming, etc.). The idea behind it was to 1) associate something positive = their food with the noise & 2) introduce the noise when they were tired and less likely to have energy to “care” about the sound.

    I remember exactly how they reacted when they experienced a thunderstorm for the very first time, at just a few months old – they went CRAZY!!! Fast forward to today after having desensitized them, and they couldn’t care less about thunder & lightning these days 🙂

    I recently took a refresher class in Pet First Aid, and the instructor -vet suggested a laundry room with a running washer and/or dryer for comforting white noise if a dog is very sensitive to t-storm sounds. (He also said that the percentage of dogs who truly need meds for t-storm anxiety is incredibly low. Most dogs do fine with exercise, distraction, and desensitization).

  7. Sandy Weinstein

    my oldest was very scared of thunder and storms but now that she is deaf, it does not bother her. i remember one day i could not find her anywhere, then finally i saw this little stub of a tail, under the pilows on my bed. i had been searching for her hrs. my middle child is now scared of thunder and storms, she likes to stay right under my feet. strange she used to not be scared, started abt 2 yrs ago. she is now 7. she will also go hide under the exercise equipment. the youngest, nothing scares her. i tried the thunder jacket but it did not work very well. i will also use rescue remedy and other homeopathic solutions. i have heard that you are not supposed to caudle them when they get scared, but i just let them be. they just want to be near me, they dont get destructive or start crying. they are not scared of fireworks though.

  8. Sandy Weinstein

    my 2 younger girls were never afraid of thunder til this past yr. they are now 8 and 7. strange.

  9. Dogs can become afraid of loud noises because of nerve damage caused by vaccines also. I have had dogs that were fine until they got older and got more vaccines (and yes I know this is a debatable subject but I have done the research and I am just relating my experience) and suddenly they became afraid of loud noises. So I have discontinued doing vaccines (except what is required by law and that is only rabies) and I have seen an improvement in future dogs. In the meantime I use composure by Vetriscience with some dogs, cbd oil with others, lavender essential oil mixed with rescue remedy sprayed on their backs with others, and stress free calmplex by Springtime Inc for others. Sometimes it takes trying several things before I find what fits for each one. I have also used homeopathy to help treat the nerve damage.

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