Why Are Dogs Afraid of Thunder?
It can be rather touching to watch a previously well-behaved pup begin to pant, pace, and cling to its parent even before it hears the first clap of the thunder. Most canines are known to take refuge in the closets, or even jam themselves inside the restroom. In some cases, you may observe them chewing away at the carpets, clawing through the walls, or even go as far as breaking through the windows, which are overt signs of their rising panic.
The phobia for thunder in the canine population is very real and widespread, something that should not be swept under the carpet. Most dogs don’t ever grow out of their ‘thunder phobia’, otherwise known as astrophobia, and there are several cases that have gotten worse with time, as nothing was done about the situation. So, what is the cause of astrophobia in canines? This article is out to address the issues relating to canine thunder phobia, including the possible remedies that can calm the situation.
Why Dogs Fear Thunder
A dog’s natural fear of thunder is believed to emanate from both emotional and physical stressors; being predisposed to anxiety also takes part of the blame. Some of the identified factors that can make your furbaby to shake during thunderstorms include the noisy wind, the physical stress experienced during storms, the sound of the approaching thunder, the tremor, and vibration of the ground when the thunder actually hits. Others include the blazing lightning in the sky and the air pressure.
The advantage that humans have over the canines is that we are exposed to the science of storms through education, but your pup is not expected to understand this, and thus, it may just be running about frantically looking for a hiding place – it may even excrete on your blanket.
Some emotional stressors are known to come from past unpalatable experiences. It may be possible that your pooch was always exposed to storms in the great outdoors, and its anxiety may be an apt reaction to stay safe. It may also be that the pup lived for long in an animal shelter where it had no one to draw comfort from during the storms – the dog’s present panicky behavior can only be attributed to the belief that it would still not get any comfort from anywhere.
What of the canines that often change homes; these dogs are prone to anxiety because of the uncertainty in their world. Not being able to predict the possible reaction of their new owner should be anxiety-provoking enough, but everything will sure get worse when a storm is thrown into the mix. While we have seen several canines that have some bad memories about storms, which gives rise to a conditional fear, many others might just get anxiety for certain reasons like; the introduction of a new person or another pet, losing a human family member or a pet, fear of being caged, separation anxiety, or even food uncertainty.
Breeds That Are Predisposed to Anxiety
According to reports from experts on canine matters, there are some breeds of dogs that are more predisposed to anxiety than others. They include the likes of Australian Shepherd, German Shepherd, Border Collie, and Labrador Retriever. Others include; Shorthaired Pointer, Havanese, Bichon Frise, and Vizsla. We also have smaller or Toy breeds that are prone to anxiety like the Shih-Tzus and the Chihuahuas.
How to Help Your Pup in Dealing with the Thunder
Dog’s always know the storm is looming, and thus, anticipate “impending doom” – this usually makes them nervous and panicky to any sound. Since you are aware of this, it is important to make sure that the anxiety is lessened, otherwise, it can become stronger over time.
There are behaviorists who have proffered some remedies such as a gradual introduction of that feared noise, but at low volume. You will slowly and steadily increase the volume, and remember to praise and reward your furbaby when it behaves well. However, this process calls for a lot of patience and time on the part of the parents. You may not know that it was actually effective until you will someday notice that your pooch has overcome its fear of the rumbling thunder.
Another suggestion is trying to get your pup’s attention distracted from the looming thunder – this can be achieved by playing some fun games with your pooch, and perhaps the bad triggers may well turn into good ones.
Also, there are vets who may prescribe some kind of tranquilizers or even some herbal mixtures – these have worked in some cases and are known to have failed in others. There is still another suggestion that advocates the use of peppermint oil – the oil is to be dropped at the bottom of each of the dog’s foot (one or two drops is enough). This technique has proved to be effective, yet we cannot just say why it works. The only certainty is that you will observe that your pup no longer gives a hoot about the thunder once the oil has stayed on for a bit. Besides, the dog is sure to smell really nice.
Other Solutions and Considerations
When you have tried other methods without success, there are still some tested and trusted ways of keeping astrophobia at bay. Here are some of them;
- As a precautionary measure, it may help to link loud sounds already during the puppy period with positive associations, such as treats.
- It is very important that a caregiver is with the dog. Never leave the dog alone in a thunderstorm at home, if possible and the storm is predicted.
- You should give your dog the opportunity to go to a safe place, or a retreat in the event of a thunderstorm, in which he feels protected. This may be, for example, a transport box or blanket under a table or bed. Here you should let him lie so long until the storm is over.
- Try to ignore the storm itself. This shows the dog that this is a special situation. To mitigate the noise, close the windows anyway – but not in the hustle and bustle.
- Sometimes quiet music can help.
- Do not try to calm your dog with exaggerated caressing, caressing, cuddling and general exaggerated affection or persuasion in a placating voice. On the contrary: this can increase the fear and lead to even worse reactions at the next thunderstorm, as your pup is thereby strengthened in his or her reaction. On the other hand, do not shy away from showing your dog that you are there for him/her. If, for example, your pup lies anxiously in a corner of the room, you are welcome to sit down, but continue following your previous activity (eg reading a book). If it seeks your contact, you can also caress it easily, but not give full attention.
- If you must hug, a suggestion pointed to the use of some well-fitted jackets or shirts referred to as Thundershirt. The shirts are made to be well fitted, so that it applies gentle pressure to the dog’s entire body, reducing anxiety in the process. The workings of the shirt are comparable to receiving continuous hugs. When you are at the receiving end of hugs for some minutes, it tends to mount some pressure on the receiver’s sympathetic nervous system. What the pressure does is to trigger the body to releases some relaxing hormones, which in turn calms you down.
- That same logic is applied in the makings of tightly fitted shirts for the canines. The shirt reduces anxiety by gently compressing the pup’s nervous system. You can still use the shirt in other situations apart from the storms and rumbling thunders. In the absence of the shirt, hugging your furbaby might still another way of allaying its fears. However, it might be difficult in situations where your dog is having panic attacks.
- You can also try to play with your dog to distract him/her from the storm if the dog gets involved. But also pay attention to your behavior as your dog knows how to interpret them quickly.
- Wait for the next walk until the storm has completely disappeared.
In order to reduce the fear of thunderstorms in the long term, so-called desensitization can help. This accustoms your dog by means of recorded storm noise step by step to the thunderstorm. This process can take several weeks or even months and you should proceed in such a way that you play the sounds quietly at naturally irregular intervals and distract your dog with treats, games or whatever else your dog likes. So, your dog can gradually get used to the sound and connects this later even with positive feelings. If you see progress, you can make the sounds louder. However, always pay attention to how your dog behaves during this time, so as not to strain him too much. What’s more, if you have specific questions, it is advisable to consult a veterinarian, dog trainer or a behavioral specialist.
- Why are Dogs Afraid of Thunder? – Petfinder
- Why Dogs Are Afraid Of Thunder – Wag Walking
- Why Your Dog Freaks Out During Thunderstorms—And What to Do – National Geographic