If you’ve owned several dogs in your lifetime, chances are you’ve seen firsthand dog anxiety during a thunderstorm. It is very common for dogs to experience nervousness with the big noisy thunder and flashes of lightning, it can be scary! But just because it’s fairly common, doesn’t mean your pup has to be scared of thunderstorms anymore!
If your pooch suffers from anxiety during thunderstorms, it’s important to first look at any other issues or anxiety your pup may have. Often times, a small issue like anxiety during thunderstorms, is linked to a much bigger issue. Does your dog get enough exercise during the day? Does he have enough mental stimulation? Do you practise bonding exercises with him? Does he show anxiety during any other times? Does he suffer from separation anxiety? These are just some examples of questions you will need to ask yourself before addressing your dog’s anxiety. If we aren’t asking these questions and only seek out to solve this one problem, your dog may still have issues in other areas in his life that could be linked to the thunderstorm nervousness; and it will be much harder to calm him down during thunderstorms if these other issues aren’t addressed.
The cause of anxiety can be drastically different in every dog. Maybe your dog hasn’t had enough mental stimulation and so he is all ‘pent up’ when the thunderstorm starts, resulting in shaking, barking, hiding, etc. If you are having trouble identifying the underlying cause of your dog’s behaviour, look up a dog behaviourist for advice.
The signs of anxiety in your dog during a thunderstorm can vary, but commonly panting, barking, whining, hiding, drooling, and/or dilated pupils.
With most behavioural issues in dogs, the answer is often ‘desensitization’. Meaning the dog is slowly introduced in a positive manner to the thing, place or person that they have an undesirable reaction to. With lots of time and patience, the dog learns to be calm in the presence of the previously reactive item.
Unfortunately, storms are a special case as it is difficult to truly mimic a thunderstorm in the sense of a dog. Not only are they picking up on the thunder and lighting, they also hear the changes in the wind and changes in the barometric pressure (this is why dogs can often sense when a storm is coming). So it is even more important when it comes to thunderstorm anxiety, to investigate if your dog is fulfilled in other areas of his life (such as physical and mental stimulation, training, bonding with dogs and humans, etc.) With these other areas of his life fulfilled, you will see a dramatic difference in your dog during the storm.
What else can you do to help your dog during the storm? With all of your dogs needs being met, he may still show a few signs of anxiety during the storm. Some quick fixes for this are the ‘thundershirt’, a clothing item for your dog to wear that has antic-static lining and fits snugly on your dog to mimic the feeling of being swaddled. Make sure during the storm that everyone in the house stays calm, don’t over react or anticipate your dog to freak out as he will feed off that and often freak out more. If your dog has extreme anxiety and you’ve consulted a dog behaviourist, you may want to speak with your vet about homeopathic remedies to help calm down your dog. But remember, any quick fixes will not solve any underlying problems or truly help your dog to learn to calm himself down without your help. Your dog depends on you to not only protect him, but also to teach and guide him how to calm down without depending on or waiting for you to be there.