Calm Through The Storm: Understanding and Helping your Dog Through Thunder Phobia
It feels like at least once a week that my dog is experiencing thunder anxiety in the summer months. In Colorado we experience a significant number of thunderstorms. The state's location and topography contribute to our relatively high frequency of storms.
So what can a pet parent do when their pup is terrified? Thunderstorm anxiety is a common concern for dogs. So take a deep breath, and read on. We have some tried and true tips to help you help your dog feel safe when the next storm hits.
A Safe Space
When dogs are fearful their instinct to run and hide kicks in. Help your pup by setting up a designated area where your dog can retreat during a thunderstorm. This could be a crate with the door open and a blanket on top, a specific room (bathrooms are great for this), or a cozy corner behind the sofa. The idea here is to make a luxurious cave that your pup trusts will keep them safe. Try adding familiar bedding, blankets, and toys.
We recommend having a safe space set up in each of the main rooms of the house if possible. This will allow your dog to stay near the family and engage as they feel comfortable.
There are many things about thunderstorms that can trigger a dog’s phobia. The loud cracks and booms are a big culprit for most dogs. To help your dog before the next storm, gradually expose them to the sounds of thunderstorms in a controlled manner. Use recordings of thunder at low volumes and pair them with positive experiences like treats, playtime, or gentle massages. The goal is to find a volume level that your dog notices, but doesn’t trigger a fear response. So set your smart speaker to volume two or three, and play a great game of fetch or feed those new treats you picked up. Try this everyday (if possible) for 15 minutes. Over the course of a month, gradually increase the volume to help your dog become less reactive and normalize the thunder sounds.
In my house we have something called ‘thunder snacks.’ We’ve associated the sound of thunderstorms with something positive by offering high-value treats (cut up hotdogs is a favorite) whenever a storm is approaching or occurring. This technique can help your dog form positive associations with thunderstorms. Most dogs when fearful won’t eat, so you may have to try all sorts of high value goodies: whip cream or peanut butter in a kong, string cheese, bully sticks, etc.
If treats aren’t your dog’s jam, you can try giving a special toy or chew.
There’s Always a Product for That
There’s a HUGE market for pet care products and many options to try for thunder phobia. Consider using calming products such as anxiety wraps (thundershirts is a well known brand), plug in pheromone diffusers, or CBD supplements that can help relax your dog during thunderstorms. Consult with your veterinarian for recommendations.
Keep your dog engaged in activities or playtime during a thunderstorm to divert their attention away from the noise. Toys, puzzle feeders, or engaging in obedience training can help keep them focused on something besides how scary it is.
Remember that not all dogs will be willing to engage in an activity during a storm, and that's okay. Fear is powerful and can feel overwhelming.
Stay Calm and Reassure
You are your dog’s emotional rock. They have the same emotional intelligence level as a human toddler, so feel free to respond in a similar manner. Gentle words, soothing touches, and just being there for your fur-baby really helps them feel secure.
Consult a Professional
If your dog's anxiety is severe or persists despite your efforts, consider seeking help from a professional dog trainer or a veterinary behaviorist. They can provide tailored guidance, behavior modification techniques, or recommend medication if necessary.
Remember, every dog is unique, and it may take time to find the most effective strategies for your furry friend. Be patient, consistent, and understanding throughout the process.
With Puppy and Kitty Love,
Lily the Dog Mama