If you’re wondering how to calm a dog during thunder, don’t worry, it’s not rocket science. Well, there is some science involved. During storms, the barometric pressure of the surrounding atmosphere drops. National Geographic says dogs can sense this! Some canines may even feel the air’s static electricity during a lighting storm in their fur. Combined with loud noises, flashes of light and torrential rain, it’s no wonder dogs freak out.
It’ll take practice and patience, but over time, you can use the following tricks to calm your dog during thunder.
1. Be present
Whenever possible, Banfield Pet Hospital vets advise planning to be home with your pet when a thunderstorm strikes. Your presence alone reassures them they don’t have to battle the elements by themselves. This also helps clarify which aspects of the storm really trigger your dog’s anxiety or fear.
2. Be cool
Adopting a matter-of-fact attitude about thunder is crucial. If canines can sense a drop in barometric pressure and sniff out certain diseases, they can tell when you’re anxious. Be cool about the storm and your dog will follow suit.
3. Don’t punish
Never punish your dog for barking at thunder or panicking during storms. This will only increase her anxiety during these events.
4. Don’t coddle
On the other hand, overdoing it with treats, cuddles and constant attention or reassurance may lead your pup to think she’s being rewarded for her erratic behavior. This isn’t a habit you want her to form.
5. Find a safe spot
The instinct here may be to cuddle in bed with your pet, but follow your dog’s lead on this one. Where does she go when she’s afraid? Nicholas Dodman, a veterinary behaviorist at Tufts University and chief scientific officer at the Center for Canine Behavior Studies, told National Geographic many dogs choose to hide in the bathroom during storms. So, if your pup makes a beeline for the bathtub, make sure that spot is accessible to her when the thunder starts.
6. Play white noise
A white noise machine can mask the intense booms of thunder—to a degree. A large fan can also do the trick. Some dogs prefer music or the television. Basically, any noise that can distract your dog from the scary sounds outdoors works.
7. Play a game
Grab your pup’s favorite toy and give your all to a game of tug-of-war! Associating an initially scary event (thunderstorm) with a positive activity (tug-of-war) is a great way to not only take your dog’s mind off the thunder, but teach her to feel positive about future storms.
8. Practice storm routines on calm days
Similar to establishing a plan of action if there’s a fire (aka a fire drill), it’s smart to have a plan of action if there’s a bad storm. On calm, sunny days, work with your pup on storm protocol. This may include having an indoor-only leash that you use to lead your pup to her safe spot. (Reward calm behavior and good storm routine practice with ample treats.) This way, she’ll recognize the routine when a real storm hits and feel less lost in the commotion. Be sure to only reward calm behavior during storms with treats; don’t rely on the treats to calm her down.
9. Practice counterconditioning
Playing a game with your dog is a form of counterconditioning. VCA Ark Animal Hospitals recommends this tactic for animals dealing with everything from separation anxiety to a fear of small children. Basically, the goal is to transform your dog’s negative emotional reaction to stimuli into a positive one.
10. Try desensitization
Desensitization is the art of exposing your pet to a particular stimulus at a level so low, it does not cause a reaction. After your dog gets used to very small amounts of thunder, increase the volume or duration slightly. Combining desensitization and counterconditioning can totally change your pup’s negative reaction to thunder, but it does take time and may require assistance from a professional trainer.
11. Invest in some calming products
From interactive toys to misting sprays, the market is full of products with specific intention of calming an anxious dog. Try a few of them out and see if it sticks.
12. Try medication
If all else fails, discuss the possibility of giving your dog anti-anxiety medication with your vet. There are options available that can help ease your dog’s fears and help you both rest easy when a storm’s brewing.