If you have a dog, you may be all too familiar with this scene: the sky grows dark, rain starts pouring, and a single crack of thunder sends your canine companion off to hide someplace safe, like under a bed or in the far corner of a room. A fear of thunder or other loud noises, like fireworks, is not uncommon among dogs — even those confident canines who don't usually display other signs of fear-based stress.
Because a fear of thunder is a form of anxiety that can sometimes lead to trauma or destructive tendencies, helping your dog through the confusion is a courtesy that will definitely be appreciated in the long run.
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What is thunder fear?
According to WebMD, the fear of thunder is commonly referred to as storm phobia and is a type of anxiety that many dogs experience. While the loud thunderclap is often what seems to set most dogs off, other atmospheric changes can also send some spiraling, including lightning, excessive wind, static electricity, and even a change in barometric pressure that usually goes unnoticed by humans. All dogs are susceptible to a fear of thunder, although some working breeds like Border Collies tend to be more prone to thunder anxiety, as are dogs who already have anxiety over other stimuli. Symptoms of thunder anxiety include pacing, panting, hiding, being especially needy around their owners, and even destruction of property, especially when left alone and out in an open space.
How to help your dog
If your dog does get anxious over the sound of thunder or other loud, unpredictable noises, there are several things you can do to make the situation easier for both of you. The best way to help a dog through her fear of thunder is to develop healthy habits and associations early by rewarding her anytime she exhibits calm behavior. Treats, praise, and other positive affirmations are great ways to reward a dog for remaining calm, so long as you resist doing so amid an anxiety attack, which she can mistake for a behavior you want more of from her, and may build a positive association. This training method should be practiced when there is no storm or stimulus at all and can be paired with a command like "lie down" which can be used during a storm to help her focus on the learned behavior.
Some dogs will still tremble with fear at the sound of thunder, and because you should never punish or scold your dog for being scared, you may want to implement a method of harm reduction by offering her a safe place to go during those frightening times. As Vet Street suggests, if your dog is outdoors most of the time, consider bringing her inside during storms and provide a relaxed, quiet place for her to ride out the weather. To do so, you can draw the curtains closed, play light music at a low volume to drown out the sound of thunder, and offer her toys or other such distractions to help her avoid engaging with the noise altogether.
Additional treatment options
For some dogs, physical comfort in the form of light pressure on their bodies can alleviate anxiety, which is exactly the science behind the Thundershirt. Thundershirts have been known to assist dogs triggered by audible stimuli like fireworks, thunder, and other loud noises, and have resulted in decreased heart rate and overall anxiety score in one 2017 study. If you don't have a Thundershirt available, or if your dog doesn't seem to like it, you can offer bedding with blankets for your dog to borrow or nestle into, which can provide a sense of calm and safety during scary moments like storms.
Dogs with chronic anxiety may benefit from herbal supplements like CBD oil, which has become a common and popular fix many people rely on to help their anxious dogs. A natural compound derived from hemp, CBD is a great alternative to pharmaceutical options like Prozac or other medications, often offers quick relief of anxiety symptoms. Because not every dog will have a positive reaction to CBD, however, it's important to only administer it under the care and guidance of a veterinarian, and discontinue use if you witness adverse effects, like increased anxiety.