Storm phobias or fear of thunderstorms is very common amongst domestic dogs. Dogs can sense the change in barometric pressure leading up to a storm, which may cause your dog to show signs of anxiety long before you realise that a storm is brewing. These signs can include excessive pacing, excessive licking of the lips, trying to escape or hide, or generally unsettled behaviour.
Your reaction to your dog’s anxiety as a storm approaches can make the difference between a calm dog and a nervous wreck. As a pack animal, dogs look to their pack leader for guidance and assurance, especially in times of uncertainty. If you adopt a calm attitude towards storms your dog will pick up on your energy as the pack leader and therefore feel more settled. Be mindful not to fuss over your dog when they are showing signs of anxiety as this reinforces that there is something to be afraid of.
Adjust the surroundings
Crate training – providing a dark, sheltered environment for your dog – can be beneficial in many ways, particularly in storm phobic dogs. This offers a safe place to see out the storm and helps to block out the thunder and lightning. Sometimes, closing the doors, windows and curtains and turning a radio or TV on at a higher than normal volume can also help to block some of the lightning and thunder. As well as providing a secure place, it may also be beneficial to divert their attention onto fun activities or their favourite treat to take their mind away from the brewing storm.
Get further help if needed
If your dog continues to have problems with storms, they may benefit from a training program designed to desensitize them to the stimuli associated with storms. There are storm desensitisation DVDs available through your vet or dog behavioural therapist that may help. Your vet or behaviourist may also recommend trying a thunder shirt and natural therapies such as Adaptil or Anxiety by HomeoPet. In extreme cases, medication recommended and administered by your vet may be required in conjunction with training over a period of time to help resolve your dog’s phobias.