Thunder & Lightning, Oh So Frightening: Dogs & Thunderstorm Anxiety

Watching your dog freak out can be one of the most distressing things you can feel as a pet owner. With the monsoon season coming up, hearing about thunderstorms, potential festive fireworks and more may strum fear for both you and your beloved pet.

Maybe they start pacing around more, whining and pawing at things, or their tail immediately drops like a weight – if something’s off from their usual behaviour, it might be stress-related. Try to observe the physical (e.g. sound or temperature) triggers behind it to better understand the situation, and to be aware of how you respond to it as well. It’s important to remain calm, and the most frequent advice given is to avoid coddling them immediately when they start showing signs of anxiety. Instead, continue to act normal, but still provide them with comfortable spaces to hide or limit their exposure to the weather!

Not all of us have the freedom to rush home at the inkling of a thunderstorm, so what can we do to give our pets that sense of safety?

1. Create a safe quiet area or crate to hide in

2. Calming scents

Some local shelters make use of lavender essential oils, or Rescue Remedy, as calming remedies. However, of course, we cannot 100% vouch that any of these solutions will be right for your own dog, and do remember to make sure that any scent solutions or oils are dog-safe before allowing your pet near them.

3. Preventative training via positive reinforcement

This is the most long-term strategy to implement, and also possibly the most likely to be effective. Praise, treats, and generally emphasizing happy and positive behaviour when your dog is calm during mild versions of such events is one way to build up a better attitude towards it. Desensitization with replaying softer versions of loud noises/thunderstorms together with positive reinforcement (e.g. treats/praise) in a low-stress environment is a slow but good approach towards improvement.

Remember to watch out for signs of excessive stress before trying to move or trying to touch a dog in the event of a very stressful period – snapping, teeth-baring, or a low growl, is probably a clear sign to back off and give them time to recover.

Please do talk to your vet on your next check-up if your dog does have increasingly worse periods of anxiety. In the event of loud fireworks or other events that can be predicted in advance, hopefully some additional preparation can be put into place first.

However, for all the soundproofing we do, sometimes dogs just have their own internal barometers – mine starts to have a slump in her tail with the mere whiff of rain. Knowing that they feel anxiety just the same as us, sometimes reminds us just how human dogs can can be!

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