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Fear of thunder is common for dogs.
A dog who suffers from anxiety during thunderstorms may begin to display anxious behaviour long before the thunder starts. Dogs can hear the thunder coming before we do and may experience shocks from the static electricity that comes with them. Your dog can sense a drop in the barometric pressure and shifts in static electric fields. On top of this, the sky gets dark, and it can get windier and then the thunder itself happens - it is a build-up of events. No wonder with all of these things happening dogs freak out.
Though there is nothing worse than feeling helpless as your dog who you know and love starts shaking uncontrollably, drooling, pacing, panting, clinging to you, and hiding in places you have never seen them hide before. You may hear of dogs escaping during a thunderstorm. It's the whole flight and fright response. This can lead to accidents which no one wants. Always make sure your dog’s identification details are up to date in case this does happen.
Your instinct is to console your dog to calm them down and reassure them, though this can often have the opposite effect as it encourages this behaviour. You don't want to tell them off either, and you don't want to reward them or give them treats to feel better – so what can you do?
There are several options which you can try – none of them are the perfect solution as every dog is different:
Establish a safe place for your dog – One of our trainers recommends crate training your dog, so they know they can always go to the crate as it is their safe place. Some dogs become anxious when confined and may end up harming themselves in an attempt to escape, so leave the door open and put a blanket over the top to increase security.
Thunder coats – or tight-fitting garments – These are designed to act like swaddling a baby, to make your dog feel safe and protected. There are mixed reviews on this method.
Sprays – some people recommend Adaptil, which is designed to help your dog cope with stress and anxiety. Others suggest Rescue Remedy which is based on Bach flower. There are many on the market. One of our Bark Busters team has had no luck with Adaptil while another thinks it is the best thing ever. As we say, every dog is different.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – play thunder noises to your dog regularly, increase the sound, so they get used to it. That may work for the noise but not for the static electricity in the air – this may also be a useful technique if your dog gets stressed during fireworks.
Change rooms – Is there a room in the house which is quieter, a basement, a laundry, a place with no windows?
Play with your dog – Does your dog have a favourite toy a favourite treat? Try and distract them with these during a thunderstorm.
Ask your Vet – Some dogs may need medication as severe anxiety is known to shorten the lifespan of your dog.