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Is Your Dog Afraid of Thunderstorms?

Spring weather brings with it some spectacularly wet weather, and even the occasional thunderstorm.  These electrifying events are not only awesome in their power and beauty but also terrifying to many and a reminder of how vulnerable we are, including to our dogs.

Not all canines suffer from a phobia of astraphobia (fear of thunder and lightning), but those that do can show their discomfort in a variety of ways.  Some dogs may present their fear in a general state of unrest and apprehension through pacing, whining, trembling or hiding while other cases can be much more severe, causing harm to furniture or even themselves while wrought with panic.

Some rescued dogs or certain breeds may show a higher tendency towards this phobia than others, exhibiting an increased anxiety even at the early approach of a storm, but it is not yet clear what part of the storm is most frightful to them. 

It can be terrible to see your beloved pet shaking with fear in their eyes, so how can we help them to overcome their phobia of thunderstorms?

The key is in a behavioural modification regimen known as “systematic desensitization”, which helps you to retrain your pet over time to adjust their response to the frightful stimuli that is causing them grief.  By exposing your dog to storm-like situations such as a recorded sound of rain and thunder or sudden flashes of light, and rewarding only good behaviour and lack of anxiety, you go go a long way towards giving your dog the tools they need to minimise their discomfort.  Be sure to talk to your vet about what type of program would work for you and your pet, if you go too quickly for your pet you could make matters worse.

Important considerations:

  • do not confine your dog to their crate, this can increase their anxiety and encourage harm to themselves or their surroundings
  • ensure they can come and go as they need but have a safe place to retreat to
  • do not encourage the panicked behaviour by cuddling or reassuring them, it is better to give them the tools they need to reduce their own anxiety or eliminate it from getting out of control
  • stay calm yourself, as your dog will also feed off of your emotions
  • talk to your veterinarian about the problem first