Thunderstorms can be very nerve-wracking for dogs. The high winds and loud noises can be very upsetting. Here are some things that you can do to alleviate your dog’s fears.
Always make sure that your dog is inside if inclement weather is imminent. Do not leave dogs outdoors or in doghouses. If bad weather is forecasted for the day, do not risk it staying nice until you get back.
Provide your dog with a safe place to wait out the storm. Many dogs will feel more secure in their kennels than in a big open house, and some dogs will even make a desperate attempt to wedge themselves under furniture or into closets. Some dogs have even been found cowering in the bathtub! Get an appropriately sized cage for your dog.
Make sure that it is comfortable with blankets or bedding and has a water source at all times. If the cage is open, you might consider covering it with a blanket or cloth to make it feel more enclosed. Some dogs will start to make this their “den” and use it on their own. If you have a destructive dog, however, and need to be gone you will want to secure them in the cage.
If you are able to be home during the storm, take some time out to sit with your dog. Remember that dogs are very in tune with their owner’s emotions. If you are calm and relaxed your dog should pick up that things are okay. Conversely though, if you are worked up and nervous, the dog will become more agitated.
Though it may be difficult, try not to console your dog if he is afraid. By getting positive attention from you, you are doing one of two things: encouraging your dog to continue to act this way because he got positive reinforcement, or confirming to your dog that there was danger and he was correct and acting appropriately.
Some dog owners have had success by playing white noise during thunderstorms. This will work best if your dog is more afraid of the noise than anything else. Other dogs, however, pick up on atmospheric changes, and noise therapy may not be very effective.
In severe cases, you might want to talk to your vet about medications to help your dog’s anxieties. A homeopathic remedy or a mild sedative might be prescribed. In order for any medication to have the maximum effect it needs to be given prior to your dog becoming anxious. So it is best to medicate them an hour or so before the storm is supposed to hit. Waiting to administer sedatives until after your pet is worked up can cause them not to work or to even have the opposite effect.
Always remember that a dog’s fear is instinctual and not something that they are doing on purpose to get on your nerves. Never hit or punish a dog for being afraid during a storm, it will only cause him to be more fearful the next time around.
To prevent thunderstorm fears, it is important to get started as soon as you realize that there is a problem. Fear will only increase over time, making them more difficult to manage or eliminate.
One popular way of getting dogs to stop fearing thunderstorms is through desensitization training. For this process, you reward your dog for the behavior that you want, much as you would reward him for learning to sit. Get a CD of thunderstorm noises that you can play at home. While you are there, play the CD on a low volume for a short interval – low and short enough that your dog does not become anxious. Reward him for remaining calm.
Next, gradually increase the volume and length. If you dog remains calm, reward him and continue. If he remains anxious, do not reward him, but calm him down and start over. It is essential that these lessons end with your dog feeling relaxed and happy. Repeat lessons daily, increasing the volume and duration, until you reach your desired results. Then you can continue on to include you leaving the room for 30 seconds, one minute, five minutes or more. While this process is lengthy and time consuming, in the end both you and your dog will be much happier.