Storm phobia is common in dogs and can range in severity. Some dogs might be mildly concerned whilst others may experience profound panic. Dogs are very sensitive to changes in air pressure, humidity, lighting, and smells associated with storms and may even start to get nervous before the storm has arrived.
If you have a new puppy who has not shown any fear around storms yet, fantastic! Try taking them out for a walk in the rain, give them a treat every time a thunderclap goes off, or play games while the storm rages on in the background. You can teach your puppy that you don’t care about storms, and neither should they!
Here are some tips for how to help your dog if they struggle with storms:
Model normal, relaxed behaviour.
Encourage your dog to be calm and relaxed by acting normal yourself and not reacting to the storm. Encourage your dog to play with you, chew on a favourite food treat or do a training session with you. You are showing them that storms are nothing to worry about.
Don't reinforce anxious behaviour.
If your dog is showing anxious behaviours such as shaking, pacing, drooling or barking, try not to ‘comfort’ them too much. You should still be there for them as a comforting presence, but ideally not petting and cooing at them too much.
Try sitting near your dog and talking in a normal, happy voice. You can let your dog sit on your lap or lean against you but try not to pat them in any way you wouldn’t normally do.
We want our dogs to learn that we don’t think there is any reason to be scared, so all your body language should be causal and happy, as though you haven’t noticed the storm at all.
Make your dog a ‘den’ they can hide in.
If your dog seems to like hiding during a storm, then let them do this. If they are crate-trained, make their crate nice and cosy on a storm day by covering it with a blanket and leave some treats in there. Only close the door if this doesn’t make them more anxious. If you don’t have a crate, try making your dog a little den under a desk or some propped-up blankets away from the windows.
Block out the sounds from outside.
If your dog reacts to the sounds and lights of a storm, try closing the blinds and playing soft background music to obscure the sound of distant thunder.
The Thunder Shirt is a wrap vest that helps calm some dogs when they are anxious.
You can even try ‘MuttMuffs’ or an eye mask, although dogs often have to be trained to wear these ahead of time.
Make sure your pet is safe in a storm.
It’s a good idea to monitor the weather radar so you can be prepared if a storm is due. Some dogs try to escape when they are fearful, especially if they are outside. It is incredible the kinds of fences dogs with storm phobia will try to jump! Make sure your dog is kept inside in a safe space when a storm is due if you are not home.
Try desensitisation to storm noises.
You can download storm noise training materials online that are designed to be played very softly in the background on a non-storm day, so your dog learns to ignore storm sounds.
You start by playing these sounds so quietly they can hardly be heard, and gradually turn the volume up each session, as long your dog shows no signs of stress about this.
Sound desensitisation tracks must be used very carefully (ideally under the supervision of a qualified dog trainer), so that you don’t risk playing them too loud too quickly and making your dog’s phobia worse.
Talk to your vet.
If your dog’s phobia is getting worse and is starting to impact them, or you, please talk to your vet. Severe storm phobia requires anxiety medications to help your dog improve and your vet can discuss the best options for your dog’s specific needs.