There’s nothing worse than a dog in the grips of thunderstorm anxiety. While the amazing spectacle of loud claps, hail, heavy rain and lightning strikes can be entertaining for people, it can be frightening for our dogs, triggering hours of howling, hiding and destruction. Thankfully, there are a number of things you can do to help.
Dogs are extremely sensitive to changes in sounds, smell and environment. It isn’t surprising, then, that during a storm the loud noises and changes in barometric pressure cause them to become scared and jittery. However, storm phobia is a progressive condition that gets worse if left unaddressed. To prevent your dog developing a full-blown phobia, it is recommended that you act early.
Checking the Bureau of Meteorology's 128km Radar is generally accurate and is a great way to plan ahead. Click here to check it out.
Ensure your pet is microchipped.
It's also important to make sure your address and contact details are kept up to date.
Keep your dog in a confined area
If your dog panics during a storm, he or she may try to escape from the backyard and get lost or injured in the process. To avoid this, take your dog to a room in the house that’s less sensitive to outside noises and keep him or her there until the storm passes.
Compete with the noise
Playing music or putting on the TV can be a great distraction for your dog and also drown out some of the external noises.
Punishing your dog when he or she is scared will only confirm that the situation is dangerous and frightening. Similarly, giving your dog treats or extra affection will reinforce that his or her behaviour deserves reward – this will make the behaviours much more likely to persist in the future.
Ignore the behaviour
The best reassurance for your dog will be to see that you are not afraid. If you fuss over your pet or give them too much attention, you will reinforce the fear behaviours. Although it can be difficult, ignoring your dog’s behaviour will be the most effective short-term solution.
Feed and hydrate your dog before the storm
If possible, distract your dog with a food-dispensing toy or a slow to eat meal. Some dogs may be too anxious to eat during a storm, so if you know one is coming, get your dog to eat before it arrives.
If your dog’s anxiety is only occurring during thunderstorms (and not other parts of daily life), short-term use of mild sedatives may help them to relax or even sleep through the storm. It’s important you only use medication under the direction of your veterinarian.
You can slowly desensitise your dog to the sounds of thunderstorms by recreating the stimuli in a controlled environment. This should only be attempted outside of thunderstorm season under the guidance of your Veterinarian. Typically, long-term anxiety medication and behaviour techniques are used in the desensitisation process, with varying degrees of success.
While sedatives may be useful in the short-term, if you need to more permanently address your dog’s anxiety, your vet may recommend ongoing use of anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication. Always use these medications under the direction of your veterinarian.