Thunderstorms: 5 tips to calm your dog

Scared dog

Does your pet turn into a scaredy dog during thunderstorms? If so, he's certainly not alone. Thunderstorm anxiety affects many dogs and can often increase as they age. With symptoms ranging from barking to chewing to self-injury, it can be a serious problem for both dog and owner.

Not only is the loud noise of thunder scary, dogs can hear it at a much greater distance than humans can. The smell of the air also changes when a storm approaches, and the keen nose of a dog detects this early. The air pressure changes, too, and a dog's ears are more sensitive to pressure changes than most people. In some cases, it might hurt.

5 tips to help your dog weather the storm:

  1. Stay calm. Adopt a neutral, matter-of-fact attitude. Your dog can quickly pick up on any unease or fear on your part.
  2. Don't comfort your dog when he acts afraid. Giving him hugs or special attention can actually reinforce his fearful behaviour. Speak to him in a happy, playful voice to give him confidence. Never punish him for his fearful behaviour. If you can get your dog to play with you during a storm, all the better.
  3. Provide your dog with a safe indoor place during storms. It can be his crate, a bathroom or closet-anyplace as long as he feels comfortable there. Many dogs have been lost when they ran from their fenced yards in terror during storms. If you have a designated "safe indoor space" for your dog, be sure to leave the door open to it so he doesn't feel trapped.
  4. Buy a CD of thunderstorm sounds. Start a thunderstorm "conditioning program" by first playing the CD on extremely low volume while you go about your day-to-day activities. If your dog acts afraid again, don't attend to the fearful behaviour. Redirect him to a pleasant activity, such as playing ball. Gradually increase the volume until your pooch can handle a more realistic sounding storm. This process may take several days to a few weeks.
  5. Give your dog medication. If your dog is extremely agitated during thunderstorms, you may want to consider medication or a natural remedy for pets. Your veterinarian can help with this. Ask him or her for medications that may help.

Above all, be kind and patient with your dog throughout the thunderstorm. Do whatever you can to calm your dog without adding to his panic. If he needs a dark room, let him have it. If he wants to lean against your leg, let him. If he follows you from room to room, just go with it. You'll be providing the comfort he needs to ride out the storm.

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