Although thunderstorms and fireworks can instil fear in dogs, they can be trained to manage their reactions and feel calmer throughout all the noise and flashes. Thunderstorms are a common cause of fear in dogs, causing many to panic and run away, become destructive, or even hurt themselves. Dogs can sense a storm's approach by the rapidly falling barometric pressure, and they can begin to show signs of anxiety even before the storm can be heard by human ears.
Follow these tips to help your dog learn to be relaxed during storms, fireworks or other loud disturbances that may be frightening to him.
Dogs can pick up discomfort or fear of storms from their family pack members, so it is important that you develop a calm, matter-of-fact attitude. Let your dog stay close and try to distract him with activities like play or brushing.
DON'T OVER REASSURE YOUR DOG
If your dog seems to feel unsettled just act as normally as possible. By over-reassuring your dog or giving him extra attention, you can inadvertently communicate to him that there must be something to worry about.
CLOSE THE CURTAINS
During a storm, keep windows and curtains closed to reduce noise and bright flashes. Turn on a TV or radio playing soft music at normal volume to distract your dog and help him to relax.
CREATE A SAFE PLACE
Give your dog a safe place to stay during storms. Inside your home, create a quiet den-like area where your dog can feel secure. A properly introduced crate or kennel can be a calming refuge for him. When a storm is brewing, lead your dog to his special place to help him feel calm and protected. Some dogs become destructive when frightened. A crate is always the best way to keep your dog safe and your belongings intact. If you don't use a crate, remove any items in the room your dog could destroy or that could hurt him if he chewed them. NB: Never lock your dog in a crate if he is not properly crate trained. This can create new behaviour problems.
Keep your dog away from doors that lead outside. Your dog may be under significant stress, which could result in unnecessary injury to others entering your home or cause him to dart outside and get lost or injured.
Your dog may become incontinent due to his extreme fear and the rush of adrenaline he experiences during a storm. Be prepared for this and don't react or punish him if it occurs.
CHECK YOUR DOG'S ID TAG
Always keep proper ID tags securely fastened to your dog's collar in case he gets out. Consider talking to your vet about implanting a microchip for lifelong identification (This is now a legal requirement in many parts of the UK). Remember to keep the information updated with your correct contact information.
If your dog lives outside, cover his kennel or dog run with a blanket to shield him from the bursts of lightning and flashes. Outside dogs can get lost or even injured if they escape their fenced area through fear during storms.
Dogs that continue to panic in thunderstorms may have to be reconditioned by creating an artificial storm with environmental recordings. While reconditioning can be a time-consuming procedure, it can have a high success rate. A Bark Busters Dog Behaviour Therapist can help your dog be calmer during thunder storms.
In the most extreme cases, medication in conjunction with training may be the best solution to help your dog cope with his fear of storms. Consult your vet about possible treatments.
Your dog's phobia of thunderstorms and fireworks won't get better on its own. Help him learn that it's just noise and there is nothing for him to worry about. Once he learns to relax and remain calm, you can relax and not worry about him during future storms.