Thunder and Lightning: How can you calm your dog
Imagine if your ears were four times more sensitive. Not only to softer or more distant sounds, but also a greater range of frequencies. What if you could detect the faintest hum and whistle of everyday electronics and appliances or the bark of a dog miles away? You would not only be a lot jumpier at little sounds, you would quite probably also hate loud noise.
That’s why even before the first clap of thunder, otherwise well-behaved dogs in India begin to pace, pant and cling to humans. They may also hide in the closet or a place they feel safest in your house.
Astra-phobia, more commonly known as thunderstorm phobia in dogs is real, not uncommon, and shouldn’t be ignored.
Why are dogs scared of thunderstorms
There is no one correct answer to this question. A thunderstorm carries with it many aspects and what part causes fear or anxiety in a dog can be difficult to predict.
- Some have more sensitive hearing.
- Some can sense the changes in air pressure.
- Some may hear the low frequency rumblings of thunder – even before humans can – causing anxiety even before the storm hits.
Dogs may also experience shocks from the build-up of static electricity that accompanies thunderstorms.
It’s difficult to list down all the triggers but vets say that dogs are set off by a combination of wind, thunder, lighting, barometric pressure changes, static-electricity and even low-frequency rumbles preceding the storm that humans can’t hear. They may also have storm-related panic attacks seemingly out of nowhere.
How to calm your dog during a storm
If you doubt that your dog has astra-phobia, there are several things you can do to help keep dogs calm when a storm is on the horizon. There’s no easy fix, but there are many things you can do to reduce your dog’s distress during storm season.
PLAN FOR A STORM IN ADVANCE
Planning for your dog’s comfort during thunderstorms starts the day you bring them home. It not only helps you understand your dog’s behaviour better, but strengthens your bond with them from day 1.
First, and foremost, talk to your vet:
Your veterinarian is the best person to talk to when it comes to dogs and thunder. They will hand-hold you and your pet so that both of you are ready for the difficult times. If your dog’s storm anxiety is severe, your veterinarian may suggest alternative remedies to counter thunder and help them feel calmer.
Create a calm, comforting and safe space:
This is not just for thunder storms. Your dog needs his own space when they’re upset. During thunder storms, it is best to be indoors where your dog is in clear view to you. If he’s crate-trained, he probably already feels safest there.
If your dog isn’t comfortable in a crate, create a safe place in a corner or small bathroom or a basement. Make it ready and welcome with familiar items like their bed, favorite toys and food/water bowl. Close the blinds or curtains of any windows so he is cut off from what’s happening outside the house. A familiar, enclosed, safe space will help your dog feel safer and more protected when a storm rolls in.
Most importantly, let your dog decide. Even after you create a ‘safe space’, your dog may not find it safe enough. Notice where they go during a storm. Make that space for comforting for the dog. Ensure that your dog can walk-in and out of the space freely – without damaging themselves even with anxiety.
Desensitize your dog to the sounds of a storm
One of the major aspects that impact your dog is the disturbing sound of thunder. So find ways to make your dog feel comfortable by doing ‘practice sessions’. Play those sounds at low volumes in the background as you play games or give bones to them. Over the course of a few weeks, increase the volume during your play sessions gradually. Do this regularly so that he can associate the sounds of thunderstorms with happy times and react less anxiously when actual thunderstorm sets in.
Just remember that you can only recreate the noise of the thunder and lightning and not the many other factors that may be bothering your dog – such as the static electricity or changes in barometric pressure.
DURING A STORM
- Consider a snug garment for your dog
Your vet may recommend a vest, shirt or wrap that are especially designed to calm anxious dogs. They apply light, constant compression and make your dog feel fine. Some dogs also respond well to wearing a metal fabric-lined cape which claims to protect dogs from static shocks. Any such ideas are worth a try, as they help alleviate anxiety similar to calming a baby with swaddling.
- Distract your dog from the storm
If your dog is afraid of thunder, turn the TV on to his favourite shows, or play calming music to drown out the noise. If he’s feeling playful, grab his favourite toys and play. Be sure to reward him with his favourite treats, too.
Respond positively to your dog’s reactions
The best and simplest thing you can do during a thunder storm is to be with your dog. Don’t ignore them or don’t punish them as these fears are real. Offer a positive stimulus, such as gentle petting, to calm your dog. If your dog will still engage, try a game of indoor fetch, tug, or offer a high-value chew.
Whatever you do, make your dog feel cared for – even in the worst of their behavior during thunderstorms.