7 Ways to Help Your Dog Cope with Storm Anxiety (Video) - Simply For Dogs
Dog Storm Anxiety

7 Ways to Help Your Dog Cope with Storm Anxiety (Video)

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Once upon a time, my sister had a small mixed breed dog named Rocky that she rescued off the side of the highway. He was her loyal companion all the way through her college years, but he wasn’t with her very long. He was an older dog when she found him, and had several health issues. Just a few years after she adopted him, he passed away. We were all very happy that he’d gotten to spend his final years in a home that loved him, but when we think about Rocky, the most common thing we all remember is his intense fear of storms.

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Some dogs simply hide or shiver a bit when thunderstorms roll around. Not Rocky. He would go into a full-out panic, howling and racing through rooms, abandoning one hiding place for another, getting anyone he could to hold him, but then running off again just a few seconds later. It was like he couldn’t figure out what he needed, which is a classic sign of a panic attack in a dog. I’ve never seen another dog that was as afraid of storms as Rocky, but it’s not as uncommon as you may think.

Why Do Dogs Have Storm Anxiety?

Storm anxiety, or even thunderstorm phobia, is a phenomenon that many dogs experience. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to figure out why a dog is afraid of storms. Like people and their fears, it’s likely a mixture of past experiences, learned behavior, and “just because”. For example: most kids don’t start off afraid of clowns until they have a bad experience with one, or learn from pop culture that clowns are scary, or both. Likewise, dogs may have once been caught in a storm that frightened them, or they may have learned from another dog to be anxious during storms, or both.

Whatever the cause, thunderstorm anxiety can be tough on a dog. Not really having a definitive answer for why a dog struggles with this fear means that it’s not easy to just treat the cause. Instead, we have to offer our dogs the comfort that we can to help them cope. So, I’ve put together this post with ways to help your dog get through a storm with minimal anxiety.

(1) Counter conditioning

One of the ways that you can help your dog learn to not be so anxious during a storm is something called counter conditioning. Basically, it means that you teach your dog to associate the approach of a storm with good things, so that they get excited rather than nervous any time a storm approaches. How do you do this? By saving extra special treats, toys, or attention for storm times.

 

Whenever a storm is coming, be sure that you are home with your dog, and offer them their most favorite treat, preferably something that will keep them busy for a while. Something like a peanut-butter filled bone is a great idea because they’ll be distracted by the bone and too busy to pay much attention to the storm. Another option, if your dog is on a diet or you happen to be out of treats, is to use this time to lavish on attention. If a storm is approaching, decide before your dog gets anxious that it’s playtime. Give them plenty of attention and whip out a new toy if you want to get them distracted.

Over time, your dog will become trained to see the approach of a storm as a signal that they are about to get a great treat or some fun playtime. The key with counter conditioning is consistency. You must be with your dog for as many storms as possible to put this into effect, so that they really get the message.

(2) Tried and True Method

For many dog owners, the tried and true method of using a Thundershirt is the best way to combat storm anxiety. These are snug-fitting vests that basically provide sustained pressure to your dog’s torso, which feels like an extended hug. They say wearing these for about half an hour can help calm a dog down, the same way that being wrapped up in a blanket can help a child feel better when they are upset.

Other, similar options include Storm Defender capes, which have an anti-static lining that can help prevent dogs from feeling the build up of static electricity in the air that comes with thunderstorms sometimes. If this sort of thing seems to work for your dog, you may also want to try adding some ear muffs that block noise. These methods give your dog physical comfort when storms make them feel unsafe.

(3) Cover Up the Noise

If your dog seems to be primarily bothered by the sound of the thunder, rather than the presence of rain or the static in the air, try drowning out the thunder. Maybe now is a good time for a bath, with the vent fan in the bathroom running. Or turn on a fan in a small room where it will fill the space with white noise. A good idea is to do this in a room without windows, so that the noise of the storm doesn’t come through the glass. You may find that a basement works well for this if you can’t tie up the bathroom for an entire storm.

If you can, try to do this in a place where your dog feels comfortable. If bath time makes them anxious, that won’t help the situation. Turn on a white noise machine or a fan in the room where their kennel is, for example, and let them hang out in their safe space with the noise. If your dog is the type to watch TV, or you often have the radio on, these things can also be used to create noise to drown out a storm.

(4) Wear Them Out Before

If you know that a storm is coming and you want to counteract the anxiety before it arrives, consider wearing your dog out before the storm. If you give your dog an extra long bout of hard play before, they may be so tired that they either nap through the storm, or are too worn out to get worked up over it. This is a great idea for middle-of-the-night storms, when you don’t want to be woken up by an anxious dog.

Grab your favorite fetch toy or a tug of war rope (or both) and go to an area where there is a lot of room to run. Let your dog play as much as they want, and encourage them to indulge in running, chasing, wrestling. Get them excited and get into it yourself – the more energy you can get them to work out, the less energy they’ll have to put into getting anxious later. Include some mental stimulation in this time as well, to wear out their minds too. Have them work on some training commands, or introduce them to an obstacle course or a puzzle toy. This will help them feel completely worn out by the time the storm arrives.

(5) Pay Attention to Your Behavior

This may seem like the opposite of what your instincts tell you, but getting extra-loving and consoling right before or during a storm can actually hurt your dog more than help. Here’s the thing: Dogs see your attention as a reward. And they directly relate that reward to whatever they are doing at the exact moment that they get it. So, if you give them attention when they are being fearful and anxious, they’ll see that being fearful of a storm is a good thing that gets them rewards. That is not what you want to teach your dog.

That doesn’t mean ignore them! It just means that you need to find more productive ways of distracting them. And of course, I don’t advocate for ignoring a dog that wants to cuddle during a storm. But try to offer other things to do or focus on, instead of clutching your dog close with every clap of thunder and coddling him with attention at the wrong moments.

Another thing to consider is how your behavior during storms may affect your dog. Do you often find yourself filled with anxious energy right before a storm? Do storms give you migraines or pains in your joints? Are you spooked by loud thunder claps? These things can all make your dog more likely to feel more anxiety during storms. Try to calm yourself down as well to help your dog feel safer.

(6) Supplements and Medications

If your dog’s storm anxiety is out of control, there are some things you can do to help control the chemical response of fear in their brain. Many people find that going to the vet about storm anxiety leads to a prescription for a medication that helps calm dogs down. These mild sedatives will often just put your dog into a nice nap during the storm, or at least make them feel drowsy and relaxed. You usually give them to your dog when you notice them start to show anxiety symptoms, and they work very quickly – think of them as doggie Xanax.

However, you don’t have to go the medication route if you don’t want to, or you think it’s more manageable than that. One easy thing to try is a dose of melatonin, which is a natural sleep-aiding supplement that dogs can use. Not all vets think this is an effective method for combating anxiety, but it doesn’t hurt a dog, so it’s not a problem to try it out. Your vet should tell you the appropriate dose of melatonin for your dog before you do this.

Another supplement you can try is a pheromone called Adaptil, which has a wide range of uses. This is a chemical pheromone, usually a spray or a collar that you put on your dog, that makes them feel safe and relaxed. The pheromone released is the same pheromone released naturally by mother dogs when they comfort and care for their babies – so in a way, you’re making your dog feel as though they are safe and sound with their mother. This pheromone is often also used to help calm down newly adopted dogs, or foster dogs, that are struggling to adapt to a new household, and it’s a very effective method for calming anxiety according to a study by the British Veterinary Association.

(7) Careful Desensitization

My last tip for helping a dog through storm anxiety is not something I would recommend for every dog. However, if you think your dog’s storm anxiety is mild and can be conquered, you can try carefully desensitizing them to the sounds of thunderstorms. Try playing a gentle thunderstorm track for just a few minutes at a time to get them used to the sound. Do this on a day when there is nothing going on, so that your dog associates the sound with a calm, natural day in their life. Gradually increase both the length of time you play the sounds, and the volume, so that your dog is slowly desensitized to the notion that thunderstorms are sudden or scary. This can help with dogs that suddenly seem anxious about storms out of nowhere, but have never shown signs of storm anxiety before.

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The Final Word

For most dogs, you’ll likely have to use a combination of all these tips for managing storm anxiety. And that’s ok! Take some time to experiment and see what works best for your dog. You may need to start them with medication for immediate relief and then wean them off with other methods as you go. Or you may find that other methods just aren’t cutting it, and medication is the only reliable way to keep your pet calm during a storm.

Whatever option you choose, you’ll be doing your dog a big favor by helping them cope with storm anxiety.

Sources:

https://figopetinsurance.com/blog/8-tips-calm-your-dog-during-storm

https://www.rover.com/blog/dog-storm-phobias/

http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/6-tips-for-soothing-your-dogs-fear-of-thunder

About the Author Ash

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