Storm season can be scary for dogs! It’s at this time of year that we see the greatest number of pooches with storm and noise phobias. Some dogs will hide, tremble and shake. Others will pace excessively while panting and drooling, unable to find a safe place to hide. Here are some common ways that a storm-phobic dog might react:
- Hiding, trembling and shaking
- Excessive pacing, panting and drooling
- Seeking out human company
- Digging, scratching, chewing the house
- Jumping over or digging under fences
- Toileting inside the house
To be able to manage your dog’s phobia, it’s important to know the triggers that frighten them. Most dogs are sensitive to thunder and loud noises, the sound of rain, bright flashes of lighting and changes in barometric pressure (the atmosphere) that indicate a storm is approaching. Remember that dogs’ senses are often more finely tuned than ours, so a dog will often hear a storm or ‘feel’ a change in weather long before a person would.
Treating storm phobias requires a LOT of management and training, and sometimes medication. Try the following:
- Ensure your dog is kept in a safe space that they cannot escape from (remember, lots of dogs that are kept outside are able to escape if they are scared enough in a storm – this is the time when we hear reports of the most lost pets!)
- Try to lessen the triggers that might start the feelings of anxiety. These are most effective if you can start these things before your dog notices any signs of the impending storm.
o Make a safe den for your dog – a safe, quiet and dark place to go (a room without windows is perfect)
o Draw the blinds or curtains to block out flashes of lightning
o Shut windows and doors, and play music (such as classical music or white noise) to drown out the sound of the thunder and rain
o If you have air conditioning, switch it on to disguise changes in atmospheric pressure
- If you can, ignore your dog to avoid reinforcing the behaviour and fear. Looking at a dog or changing your own behaviour can potentially increase anxiety.
- Do not punish your dog for their behaviour, as this can worsen their anxiety.
- Provide other activities for your dog to keep them distracted, if possible. Offer a food-stuffed toy to promote chewing, as chewing may help to reduce stress.
- Some dogs find comfort in body wraps, a Thundercap to decrease visual stimuli, or ear muffs (Mutt Muffs) to lessen noises. For some dogs, pheromone collars such as Adaptil can help a dog to feel more safe.
- In good weather, you may wish to train using desensitisation and classical/operant counter-conditioning. You can use a storm recording.
- Provide plenty of exercise and mental stimulation on a daily basis, as this may reduce anxiety.
In extreme cases, your veterinarian can prescribe medications to reduce anxiety. These medications alone do not fix the problem – they are a single aspect to managing a storm phobia. There are several different types of medication that might be prescribed to you. To be effective, these medications must be given at least 30 minutes before the triggers are first noticed.