Loud claps of thunder, flashes of light, strong winds, heavy rain and changes in barometric pressure all combine to make storms scary.
Signs of storm phobia
Some dogs will develop a fear for storms as they get older. In others it is just something they are born with and some are fearful of storms due to a previous bad experience. A dog’s fearful behaviour can start out mild and often intensify with age and more storm experiences. Signs that your dog may have a storm phobia include;
- Panting or puffing
- Whining or crying
- Pacing, restless or hyperactive
- Being clingy or seeking attention
- Inappropriate urination or defecation
- Escaping or trying to escape from yard or house
- Injured nails, paws or nose from breaking, chewing or scratching at doors and walls in an attempt to hide or escape.
How to help your dog during storms
It can be incredibly distressing to see a dog with a severe storm phobia and not know how to help. However, there are a few things you can do to help ease your dog’s anxiety during a storm and keep them safe.
If your dog is an outside dog it is important to ensure that your fencing is secure and safe, so if your dog does get scared or frantic they can not escape. Provide them with an area, shelter or kennel, where they can retreat to and protect themselves from the wind, rain and hail.
If you are home during a storm, and if possible, bring your dog inside or into a garage. Talk to them and try to comfort them but do not coddle them as it can often make the situation worse the next time. Offer distractions from the storm by playing with them or offering them a treat.
Never punish your dog for their behaviour during a storm. If you do it can add to the fear around storms often making things worse next time. Instead, make the experience a positive one. Providing them with company, fun play and/or treats can create positive associations with storms. This counter conditioning will mean that instead of seeing a storm as something to be scared of they will relate it to something happy and positive. This technique works well if implemented during less severe storms and during the early signs of storm phobia.
Training your dog to relax and having a space to go to that is a safe happy place can be helpful. This training needs to be undertaken when storms or stress aren’t present and will take time to be effective. It involves training your dog to settle and be calm in their own bed or crate. Have your dog sit and lie down then stay on their bed or in their crate and reward them with praise and treats when they oblige. With repeated training the dog will associate the space as a happy and relaxing place. Learning to be calm and settled in their own safe space can enable them to stay relaxed during stressful situations, like storms.
There are some products available to reduce anxiety and nervousness which in turn help manage storm phobia. A product that has proven to work well to reduce anxiety during storms is the Thundershirt. This is a specially designed vest that applies constant, gentle pressure. It helps to calm the dog when they are anxious or fearful. There are also supplements available for anxiety and nervousness including Zylkene Capsules and Chews or PAW Complete Calm Multivitamin Chews. These supplements can reduce a dog’s overall anxiety and nervousness which then allows them to be less sensitive or stressed during a storm. For more information on available products to help with storm phobia visit our video on the vetnpet YouTube Cannel.
If your pet becomes very distressed during storms and these tips aren’t helping you should speak to your veterinarian. They can prescribe sedatives or calming medications to help your dog or direct you to a behavioural expert.
For more information and help managing storm phobia tune into the myPET Podcast – Storm Phobia In Dogs episode here on YouTube.