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Storm Phobia in Dogs

Symptoms of Storm Phobia

What Can I Do?

1. Be Prepared

2. Make A Safe Space

3. It's Ok to Hug

4. Other Products

5. Behaviour Modification

6. Dog Trainer or Animal Behaviourist

7. Prescription Medication

A Final Word of Encouragement

 

It’s summer again in Australia and storm season has well and truly arrived. For many dogs this might be the first storm season they experience. For many others, although it may have been a while since their last thunderstorm, they are still as terrified as ever.

If you aren’t sure how you can comfort and support your best friend during this time, this article is full of tips and tricks to try.

 

Two dogs are lying on a blanket snuggled together

 

Why Is My Dog Afraid of Storms?

It isn’t known exactly what it is about storms that terrifies some dogs. It may be a combination of the loud noises of thunder, the flashing lightning, wild winds, torrential rain or even the change in barometric pressure that turns a normally happy dog into an anxious mess. It is suspected that some dogs are also affected by the build up of static electricity that accompanies storms and their coat can act like a big furry jumper so when they come into contact with metal surfaces, they sustain a shock, reinforcing their belief that storms are something to be feared.

Dogs that suffer from a noise phobia are also more likely to suffer from a storm phobia as well and herding breeds (e.g. Border Collies, Kelpies, etc) are also thought to be more susceptible to a fear of storms given their high level of intelligence and good memory.

 

A close up photo of a Border Collie

 

Symptoms of Storm Phobia

Symptoms can vary dog to dog. Some dogs might have a reasonably mild reaction to storms, others uncontrollably panic and may try to escape. Some common symptoms can include:

  • Trembling or shaking
  • Restlessness
  • Drooling
  • Dilated pupils
  • Seeking out their humans by sitting close, leaning on or trying to climb on
  • Barking, whining or howling
  • Seeking out and hiding in small spaces such as under tables or beds, behind chairs or in a closet or bathroom
  • Inappropriate urination such as inside the house
  • Destructive behaviour such as chewing, clawing, scratching or “digging”
  • Trying to escape your yard or house by digging under fences or jumping out through windows and running away

 

A dog is curled up in the corner of a room next to some furniture

 

What Can I Do?

Anyone that has owned an anxious dog knows how helpless you feel when they start to show symptoms. A fear of storms is one of the most common phobias that affect dogs so you are most definitely not alone. No doubt you have already spent a lot of time on the internet searching for a solution to comfort your dog. This article has done the leg work for you and has brought together all of the most common suggestions to try for your anxious dog.

 

A close up photo of a Schnauzer

 

1. Be Prepared

Dogs, with their excellent hearing and sense of smell, can often detect an approaching storm long before storm clouds appear on the horizon. As soon as your dog starts to show anxious symptoms that may indicate an approaching storm, put your storm plan into effect.

It isn’t always possible to be there for your dog when there is a storm, but it will help them greatly if you can be. They will look to you to see how you react to the thunder and lightning. Show them they have nothing to fear by remaining calm and avoid making loud exclamations.

 

A small white dog is sitting on a striped lounge chair

 

2. Make A Safe Space

If your dog has a favourite hideout that they tend to gravitate towards when there is a storm, encourage them to enter this safe space and make it more comfortable for them. Add lots of cosy blankets, their favourite toys and if they are crate trained and you think they might feel comfortable in the safety of their crate, you can put that in their space as well, but never close the door. If they start to panic while they are locked in their crate, they may severely injure themselves if they try to escape.

Ideally, you should encourage your dog to seek shelter in a room that has no windows so they aren’t troubled by lightning. If they are in a room with windows, you can cover them up or leave the lights on to reduce the impact of lightning.

To help cover up the noise of thunder, you can play a TV or radio loudly, or run a fan or air conditioner. Some dogs may also be comforted by relaxing music specially made to calm dogs. You can purchase CD’s or find playlists on music streaming sites with calming music just for dogs.

Ensure you remove any breakable items from the room and anything that the dog may injure themselves on if they were to break it.

 

A brown dog with large ears is sitting on a red armchair

 

3. It's Ok to Hug

Some sources will tell you to never to calm your dog when they are showing anxious behaviours as it will only encourage them to react the same way each time there is a storm, but an anxious dog cannot learn. Comfort your dog with long, smooth strokes or try massaging their cheeks, forehead neck or shoulders.

Remember, your dog will look to you to see how you react so be calm but firm. Never punish your dog for showing anxious behaviour. Their response to storms is an emotional one and is out of their control.

Wrapping your dog snuggly with a towel or blanket or using a product like a thundershirt helps to soothe your dog by applying a constant, gentle pressure to their torso.

 

A black and brown Dachshund is lying on a teal coloured couch

 

4. Other Products

Other products that can help your dog with their storm phobia include a pheromone diffuser, spray or collars like Adaptil. Adaptil releases a synthetic version of a hormone that is naturally released by female dogs when they have puppies. This hormone comforts your dog and helps them to feel reassured and relaxed.

Zylkene comes in several strengths and contains casein, a protein in milk that can help pets cope with sudden changes in their environment or unpredictable situations, such as thunderstorms. Zylkene is a natural product and is preservative and lactose free. The capsule can be given whole, or opened and mixed into food.

PAW Complete Calm are a tasty kangaroo-based chew that contain tryptophan, B group vitamins and a blend of multivitamins and other nutrients that can help dogs with anxiety. Dose according to your dog’s weight and check with your veterinarian before giving your dog PAW Complete Calm as it may not be suitable for dogs taking other medications .

Vetalogica Canine Tranquil Formula for dogs are a non-drowsy, delicious tasting treat for dogs that may struggle with thunderstorms, fireworks, car trips and more. Vetalogica Canine Tranquil Formula contains Tryptophan and essential B group vitamins and should be dosed according to weight. Consult with your veterinarian before giving your dog Vetalogica Canine Tranquil Formula as they may interact with some medications.

VitaRapid Dog Tranquil Treats are a fast acting treat that contains tryptophan, chamomile and taurine to help dogs during times of stress. The quick-release blend is non-drowsy and contains a soothing formula with no corn, wheat or rice. Consult with your veterinarian before giving your dog VitaRapid Dog Tranquil Treats as they may interact with some medications.

HomeoPet Storm Stress is a 100% natural, plant-based liquid solution that is fast acting without any side effects. HomeoPet Storm Stress can help to reduce stress in pets that are fearful of thunderstorms, rainstorms, cyclones and howling winds.

 

A small dog with long fur is looking up to the camera with dark brown eyes

 

5. Behaviour Modification

Counter conditioning

Counter conditioning involves changing your dog’s belief that storms are bad and something to be afraid of. Your job is to convince your dog that storms can be fun. During a storm, encourage your dog to play their favourite game with their favourite toy. Maybe your dog has a treat they go crazy for. Use this to your advantage and only give your dog this treat when there is a storm.

Desensitisation

Desensitisation training is a bit like exposure therapy. You slowly introduce your dog to the quiet sounds of thunder, increasing the volume if your dog continues to show calm behaviour, all the while distracting them with toys and treats. Unfortunately, the sounds of a storm is really the only thing you can expose your dog to in training, so sometimes they can still be a little anxious during a storm as the lightning and pressure changes make them feel uncomfortable. You can buy CD's that have thunderstorm noises on them or find storm noises on YouTube.

Relaxation Training

Relaxation training involves training your dog to settle and relax on their bed or blanket so your can direct them there during a storm to keep them calm. This works well with dogs that are already well trained to respond to commands such as sit and stay. Direct your dog to lie down on their bed or blanket and play some storm sounds. You can also distract them with toys or treats and reward a calm and settled response to the storm sounds. During a storm, lead them to this bed or blanket and reward calm behaviour with a treat.

 

A chocolate Labrador is resting on a striped blanket

 

6. Dog Trainer or Animal Behaviourist

Dealing with a dog with a phobia of thunderstorms can be challenging. A qualified dog trainer or animal behaviourist may be able to provide additional tips and tricks to help your dog cope during a thunderstorm.

 

A fawn coloured Pug wearing a purple harness is standing on green grass

 

7. Prescription Medication

For many dog owners, turning to prescription medication for their dog may make them feel as though they have failed. But this is not the case at all. In some cases, particularly severe cases of thunderstorm phobia, medication may be a literal life saver. But as always, your veterinarian is the best person to talk to about medications for your dog.

Shop for prescription pet medication online at PetScripts and save!

 

A Husky is lying on a bed

 

A Final Word of Encouragement

Training your dog to cope with a thunderstorm phobia can be time consuming and requires a lot of patience on the part of the owner. While at times it may feel as though you are taking two steps forward and one step back, keep your eyes on the prize, and know that you are helping to make your dog’s life better.

 

View all training & behaviour products for dogs here

 

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