The Wanderer.

Why Are Dogs Afraid of Thunderstorms?

November 30, 2016

Watching your dog suffer through a thunderstorm is almost as terrible for you as it is for them. You want to tell them that everything is ok and that there’s nothing to be afraid of…but how? Understanding our dogs’ fear of thunderstorms is the first step toward comforting them in their time of need.

Does my dog have an anxiety problem?

Not necessarily. This deep-seeded fear is so prevalent in canines, experts estimate that over 40% of all domestic dogs share it. The Merck Veterinary Manual defines a noise phobia as a “Sudden and profound, non-graded, extreme response to noise” which the animal manifests “as intense, active avoidance, escape, or anxiety behaviors.” Destructiveness, excessive salivation, excessive vocalization, hiding, inappropriate elimination, remaining near the owner, pacing, panting, self-trauma, and trembling are all common symptoms of a noise phobia.

But why is my dog so afraid?

There are a few of different factors at play. First, there’s the obvious noise. An incredibly loud, booming sound is as terrifying to dogs as it is to little kids—actually more so, due to their sensitive ears. Secondly, thunder has frequencies above and below our own human hearing. To dogs, the sound signifies an imminent threat of enormous proportions. There’s another theory that suggests the build-up of static electricity and shock is also an additional cause of fear. It is thought that dogs hide in bathtubs and against toilet bowls to sooth the electricity they feel in their bodies using the grounded porcelain fixtures.

What can I do about it?

First, ignore your human instincts. Cuddling and comforting a fearful dog is the same as encouraging the behavior. Dogs may take your actions as a reinforcement of their fears, or learn that giving in to their anxieties earns them a positive reaction from you.  

Below is a list of tried and true methods that may help calm your dog in the moment.

  • Allow them to hide without getting angry or emotional.

  • Give them a safe, comfortable spot to retreat and calm down.

  • Stay calm yourself.

  • Drown out the noise with relaxing classical music.

  • Administer a calming aid such Rescue Remedy.

  • Rub them with dryer sheets to eliminate static electricity.

  • Try using ThunderShirt or tight-fitting dog garment to help them feel safe.

Whatever you do, don’t force it. These techniques are intended to eliminate stress, not add to it. Listen to your dog and take cues from his behavior. Just like humans, sometimes all your dog wants is to be left alone while they ride out the storm.