While the UK doesn’t have storms all the time, they can still affect how our pets react when a storm does arrive.
If your dog is nervous in a storm with the sounds of thunder, lightning, wind and rain often being louder than usual, you might be wondering how to keep them calm as a storm comes your way.
Carolyn Menteith, Behavourist and Dog Trainer at tails.com, has shared why dogs develop thunderstorm anxiety and what owners can do to keep their furry friends calm when a thunderstorm occurs.
Why do dogs get anxious during a storm?
Carolyn from tails.com said: “A lot of dogs are afraid of loud noises, especially unpredictable ones such as thunder or fireworks, which causes them fear, stress and anxiety, and as a owner, it can be distressing to watch them suffer every time the weather turns stormy.
“Without having been habituated to loud and unpredictable noises during the unique developmental period in their puppyhood when new things are accepted as being ‘a normal part of life’ and nothing to be afraid of or worried by, many dogs can grow up to suffer from noise phobia.
Why your dog shouldn't eat chocolate
“While we know what thunder is, and that it isn’t something dangerous or terrifying, our dogs don’t know that. All they know is that it is loud, unexpected and scary.
“And something that produces a strong emotional response, such as fear, won’t habituate, it will sensitise. In other words, they won’t get used to it, they’ll just get more scared and more worried about it every time it happens.
“It’s not just the noise either. The air pressure changes before a storm, and because our dogs are much more sensitive to these changes than we are, they can detect them early and begin to get stressed as they know what is coming - often long before we do.”
Signs that mean your dog is scared of storms
A dog that is scared of thunderstorms can show a variety of symptoms, including:
Shaking, trembling or panting
Barking or whining
Pacing around your house
Seeking comfort from their owner/becoming clingy
They may also look for a secure place to hide that makes them feel safer such as under a bed or other piece of furniture.
What can you do to keep a dog calm during a storm
Exercise your dog beforehand
Owners should try to exercise their dogs beforehand.
Carolyn said: “If you think that a storm is coming, get your dog’s daily walks in early before any hints of thunder. Exercise might take the edge off any excess canine energy and make them a little more relaxed and even sleep through the quieter rumbles.
“Most importantly give them the chance to get out to the toilet long before the weather takes a turn for the worse. Feeling desperate to go to the toilet is just going to make things worse for your dog.”
Give your dog a space to go when there is a storm
Dog owners should make sure their dog has a safe space to go to when the thunder starts to rumble.
Carolyn added: “For some dogs this might be a crate in a corner covered with a blanket to make a secure den - or it might be under a piece of furniture. Make sure to prepare the spot in advance with their favourite toys, treats, a blanket and a bowl of water. This way, they have somewhere they can retreat to if they feel worried.
“Make sure that this spot is easily accessible and close to you - as they need your comfort as well.
“If they choose to go somewhere else, let them. Don’t try and encourage them out - just make sure they have water, and stay close by them.”
Give your dog the support and comfort they need
Carolyn explained: “When it storms outside, it is natural for your dog to look to you for reassurance - after all, you are the one who provides safety, security and love. Stay calm so you give them confidence, and give them as much - or as little - physical contact as they need.
“Some dogs will get comfort from cuddling up to you while others will be happier just knowing you are nearby.
“If they can be distracted by a game, some training or simply food dispensing toys such as stuffed Kongs, licki mats etc, these can help give them something else to think about - but a really stressed dog can’t eat and so don’t be surprised if they refuse even their favourite morsels.”
Try to minimise the noise of thunder
Carolyn advises making noise to mask the sound of thunder.
She said: “Thunder can be particularly scary to dogs, because they can hear at a much further distance than us humans can, and if everything else is silent, the thunder seems even louder! Try turning on the TV or radio, having a loud conversation (even if only with your dog!) and carry on as normal.”
What different Met Office weather warnings mean
Close your curtains
Flashes of lightning can add to your dog’s anxiety so it’s a good idea to close curtains and blinds to help mask the flashes.
Talk to your vet
Vets can also help dogs who are scared of storms.
Carolyn said: “If your dog is showing excessive fear of thunder, and especially if it is getting worse, you should talk to your vet. Your vet may be able to suggest medication or complementary therapies that might help in severe cases as this is an area where there are several new treatments available.”
Get help for the future
It’s not just thunder and lightning that dogs can get scared of so Carolyn advises being prepared for any future loud noises your dog might be scared of.
She said: “One thing you can be sure of is that thunder happens - as do fireworks and other loud noises. This is a behaviour problem that isn’t going to go away without help.
“It is far better to work to prevent the distress and fear that noise phobia brings than to have to deal with a panicky dog when it does. Find an accredited behaviourist who can help you work on your dog’s noise phobia to help make future storms… less stormy for you both.”