If you own or have owned a dog at some point in your life, then it’s a safe assumption that you’ve probably had to help soothe your dog through a thunderstorm. Dogs are scared of thunder. While it’s a common fear amongst dogs – some breeds more frightened of it than others – there is no explanation for what makes them afraid of it. But we all know the common symptoms of this fear which can be anything from hiding, barking, whining, or anxiously pawing and scratching at doors. Depending on how scared they are, some dogs might even tinkle themselves. While we can’t make the thunder stop when it happens, we can help our dogs be less frightened with some simple tips and tricks.
One of the important things we need to remember is not to punish our dogs for being scared. It’s not their fault that thunder makes them anxious. And by getting mad at them or punishing them for acting out, you’d only be adding to their stress and anxiety. Punishing your dog can actually be counterproductive as it might even worsen the symptoms as they’ll then associate thunder (an already scary thing) with punishment (an additionally scary thing). And just like we shouldn’t punish our dogs for being scared, we shouldn’t over-cuddle them either. While we might want to hold them close, talk to them in baby talk, and give them all the treats to make them feel better, these behaviors of ours might actually do more harm than good. What we’re doing is essentially giving them positive reinforcement and telling them that anxious behavior during thunderstorms is making us happy and they should keep doing it.
The best thing that we can do for our dog is to build them a little thunder shelter – somewhere they can do to feel safe and secure when thunderstorms are raging outside. A covered dog crate could work well, or perhaps easy access to a safe space under the bed. Most of our dogs probably already have a space in our homes that they tend to gravitate to when they’re scared, so we can just make it extra comfy for them. Or if they have not yet chosen a location, we can provide them with a safe space. You can even leave them a few treats in their thunder shelter so that they feel emboldened to hide there during a thunderstorm.
While a safe space does help your dog feel better, it is not the solution to the whole problem. If you really want to treat the root of the problem you can try desensitization training. It’s a good idea to consult your vet before trying to desensitize your dog, as it should be done slowly and gradually. Getting your dog used to the sound of thunder isn’t an overnight process. It takes a lot of time of slow exposure to recorded thunder sounds played at a low volume and for very short bursts. As your dog becomes more and more used to it, you can slowly raise the volume and the time played. Again, all this takes time so you need to be very calm and very patient with your dog.