Do you know that old joke about how the weatherman who predicts a 50% chance of rain is also predicting a 50% chance of sun? Using your dog as a storm forecaster is likely to give you a 100% chance of accuracy. Dogs with storm anxieties pace, whine and can cause destruction to your home or themselves. But since humans don’t experience the same thunderstorm pressure as dogs, we can find it difficult to identify with their distress.
How it feels
First, let’s talk about how dogs experience this weather. In addition to the noise of thunder, dogs feel the drop in barometric pressure and static electricity. We’re all familiar with that inner-ear discomfort during a plane’s takeoff and landing, and this is the sensation for our pets.
Veterinarians say it’s important to address storm anxiety early in your pet’s life, just like most other common behavior problems in dogs. The phobia is progressive, meaning their fear worsens as time goes on, so it’s best to work with them as soon as they show signs of suffering. There are options ranging from behavior treatment to medication, but as always, it starts with adjusting the pet owner.
1. Don’t reward your dog for his anxious behavior
When your dog exhibits signs of distress or is having a panic attack, your instinct may be to soothe him – but roll up that newspaper and bop yourself on the nose. Your calming voice and embrace only serve to reinforce that when he whines or stresses, he’s rewarded with your attention. The best way to show your dog love is by reinforcing his calm behavior during stress-free moments.
Some advise having a special indoor leash your dog is hooked to during regular training sessions. You’ll walk him around, have him perform his tricks and then sit with him on the floor, still hooked to the leash. Treats or words of encouragement underline that his cool conduct is correct.
Whatever you decide, it’s vital not to punish your dog for his freak-out. It’s natural and not misbehavior, so better to find an interactive, loving way to quell your dog’s fears-- maybe in the form of some kind of indoor exercise or mental stimulation.
2. Gradually introduce noises
Depending on the severity of your dog’s panic attacks, you may want to make a recording of loud noises, like thunder or fireworks, and play it for him at a low volume as your behavior and attention remain normal. Gradually increase the volume over multiple sessions to get him used to the noise.
The problem with this method is it addresses the noise fear only and doesn’t include barometric pressure or static electricity.
3. Distract and play with him
If you’re able to hold your dog’s attention during a storm, this is the time to practice tricks or play a game. Grab his favorite bone or toy, and have playtime.
4. Finding a port in the storm
Does your dog always go to his crate or beneath your bed as the thunder rolls? If so, this is his safe place, and it’s natural for him to want to hide. Encourage this.
5. Go clothes shopping
Not for you, but for your dog: Snug pressure garments like Thundershirt or Anxiety Wrap make your dog feel swaddled and comforted. A Storm Defender cape helps combat lightning’s electromagnetic radiation. (Heavy-duty aluminum foil can also help with electromagnetism: Try putting a couple layers over his crate or, if he goes under your bed, between your mattress and box springs.)
6. Anti-anxiety medication is a last-resort
If you’ve tried all of the above routes to no avail, talk with your vet about your dog’s anxiety and what hasn’t worked so far to see if she thinks medication is the next step. This might be especially pertinent or helpful if your dog suffers from more general separation anxiety in addition to storm anxiety.
For milder cases of storm anxiety, you might try sprays such as Burt’s Bees Calming Spray (which is pH-balanced and has lavender and green tea) or Sentry Calming Spray (with a neonatal-mimicking pheromone).