If your dog is afraid of thunderstorms, he or she may try to hide, whine, pant, or even attempt to escape the house by chewing or pawing at doors or walls. It can be quite disturbing to see your dog in such obvious discomfort and feel powerless to help.
The good news is that there are several things you can try to help a dog who is afraid of thunderstorms. This article will take a look at what may be causing the problem, as well as a few possible solutions that often work to help dogs cope with Astraphobia, a.k.a. fear of thunderstorms.
What Causes Fear of Thunderstorms in Dogs?
Despite multiple research studies on canine astraphobia, the exact cause of fear of storms in dogs is not entirely understood. Many theories have been developed, and it may be the case that different canines come by their phobia in different ways.
Some of our canine companions may be more susceptible to noise related phobias thanks to their genes. Certain breeds may indeed be more sensitive to loud noises or just have a higher level of vigilance. For example, fear of thunderstorms is a common problem that many people with German Shepherds report. However, this is only anecdotal evidence and has not been confirmed by scientific research.
Another factor that may play a role in the development of this common phobia is how much early socialization and exposure a dog gets as a puppy. Dogs that are given positive reinforcement and praise in many different environments when young may be more confident as adults, and less prone to developing phobias later in life.
Trauma associated with loud noises can also play a role. For example, dogs are very sensitive to the emotions of their people. If they pick up on your nervousness, thunder can be something they learn to fear.
Some dogs seem to be afraid of the loud noise of thunder, while others seem to be picking up on barometric pressure changes that signal an oncoming storm. If your dog seems to get nervous before the storm is even audible, the latter may be the case.
How Can I Calm My Dog’s Fear of Thunderstorms?
There are several things that you can do to support your dog during a thunderstorm to help them cope with their fears. Here are a few great ideas:
Provide a Safe Refuge
One of the easiest things you can do to help your dog during a thunderstorm is to make sure she has a safe and comfortable spot to retreat to. For example, some dogs like to lay under a blanket or hide under a table.
If your dog is already crate trained, her kennel may indeed be the place she already goes to when a storm approaches. If so, allow her to go where she feels comfortable and don’t try to force her to come out and be social during a storm.
Try Not to Over React
Even if your dog is panicking, try to ignore those behaviors and go about your business. Although it may seem cruel, keeping your emotions in check is an important factor in breaking a cycle of associating storms with negative emotions for your dog.
Some reassurance is certainly okay. But if you overdo it or get caught up in your dog’s reaction, you could be reinforcing that panicked state.
Reward Calm Behavior
Look for opportunities to reward your dog with praise, pets, and even small food rewards when she is calm. You can practice this on any given day, when you know bad weather is coming, and during the storms themselves.
You can also try putting a “Settle” cue on command. Practice using the command when your dog is already laying down and relaxing working up to asking her to lay down and rewarding “Settle” when she shows other signs of relaxation such as soft eyes, relaxed legs and ears, or even nappy half closed eyes.
Another way to help your dog is to use sound recordings of thunderstorms when no storm is actually near. By rewarding calm behavior while progressively turning the volume up, you can start to uncouple the association between thunder and fear, building a new emotional response to the sound: relaxation.
Are there Natural Products that Can Help?
While severe cases of Astraphobia in dogs may require prescription sedatives from your veterinarian, there are some natural products that you may want to try first.
This natural extract is made from hemp, a non-psychoactive plant in the cannabis family. In countless scientific studies, CBD has been shown to reduce anxiety. It does this by activating specific receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system which work with the central nervous system to regulate many biological processes, including mood.
In addition to it’s antianxiety properties, recent research has demonstrated that CBD oil is also effective at reducing learned fears (such as many phobias) by operating to help the brain forget the association between a specific trigger and past trauma.
No wonder many professional dog trainers and dog owners have found that a small oral dose of full spectrum CBD Oil, such as that offered here at LolaHemp, is effective at reducing thunderstorm related fear in dogs.
Another natural product that could help your dog with fear of thunder is a compression vest made just for dogs. It seems that some of our furry friends find comfort in these tightly fitting vests. Although it does not work for all sufferers, many people report near instant and complete relief from symptoms of Astraphobia in their pets using these pressure vests.
Although not officially studied relative to thunderstorm phobias, the scent of lavender oil has been shown to reduce anxiety related symptoms in dogs with travel phobias. In addition, it has been shown to reduce stress related behaviors in shelter animals.
While it is not likely to cure your dog of their fear of thunderstorms, spraying some lavender essential oil near their bedding or their kennel may help them stay calm during a storm.