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Understanding the thunderstorm phobia in your dog

There’s nothing we wouldn’t do for our best friends, which is why it can be so hard to watch on while our dogs show signs of anxiety and fear during a thunderstorm. As Melbourne weather can be so volatile, it’s always best to be prepared for the threat of a storm – and what you can do to make it a bit easier for your fury friend. If you want to learn a bit more about your dog’s thunderstorm phobia and how to manage it, you’ve come to the right place.

 

Why your dog gets scared

It’s actually quite normal for your dog to be scared of the thunder, especially if the storm is sudden. Storm anxiety can be seen in a range of behaviours, including: pacing, hiding, escaping, trembling, destructive behaviour, and barking, among other things. Many dogs can sense an approaching storm through a change in barometric pressure, and can even be triggered by the smell of rain or darkening skies.

Currently, the cause of thunderstorm phobia isn’t fully understood, but it is a widely recognised – and very real – fear for many dogs. Not only that, it can appear suddenly at any point in your pet’s life, without any apparent cause. It can be heartbreaking to watch, and even if you don’t quite know why it’s happening, it’s important that you try your best to help your best friend becoming calmer and less anxious during the storm.

 

How to make it easier for them

 
  1. Reward good behaviour
    Your dog can’t help being scared, and if he’s barking it’s only because he’s frightened. Rather than punishing bad behaviour, we recommend rewarding calm behaviour. For instance, consider using a special ‘good boy shirt’ throughout the year, and patting him for behaving well whilst wearing it. When the storm starts, put on his ‘good boy shirt’ – he associates this with a sense of calm, and he may relax as a result.
  2. Create a safe space
    Choose a space in the home – such as the bathroom, their crate, or a special pillow – where your dog can’t see or hear what is happening outside. When there is a storm raging outdoors, help them to that space (and always the same space), and reward good behaviour. However, it’s important not to force them there, as this can worsen their fear.
  3. Speak with your vet
    If these steps aren’t working, we recommend making an appointment with our team at the South Eastern Animal Hospital. Sometimes there can be an unexpected reason why your pet isn’t coping well with thunderstorms, and we can develop a specialised program just for them.

We know your pets are part of the family, which is why it’s important that you try your hardest to ensure they are safe and comfortable during a thunderstorm – after all, they can’t control their fear of storms any more than you can control your fear of spiders and the like. We hope this guide has offered more insight into how your furry friend is feeling and you can use the knowledge you’ve gained to help them through the next big storm.

If you have any questions or you want book an appointment with an experienced practitioner, please call 03 9544 6979. Our experienced veterinarian, Amanda Ling, is nearing the end of her specialist behaviour training, and will be seeking registration as a veterinary behaviour specialist - we’re confident we can offer a level of advice beyond what may be given at most vet hospitals. Open Monday through Saturday, we do everything in our power to ensure your best friend is always feeling their best.