A sharp crack of thunder, a blinding flash of lightning, the heavy downpour and strong winds – this can all be too overwhelming for our dogs. When a storm rolls in, our normally content and happy dogs can become extremely distressed.
Unfortunately storm phobic behaviour can be very difficult to overcome. The biggest issue is that you cannot readily replicate the unique storm-like scenario to train the dog out of displaying unwanted behaviours. Storms hit suddenly, and often at times (afternoons) when we are not there to deal with it. All dog training is based on consistency, and unfortunately mother nature does not create an ideal training situation when it comes to storms.
Symptoms of your dog’s distress can include:
- Excessive barking and vocalisation
- Pacing around
- Staying close to owners
- Chewing and/or drooling
- Destroying doors/fences in an attempt to escape or seek shelter inside
What Can You Do to Help Your Dog?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a single ‘magic’ treatment that offers a 100% success rate. However, there are a number of tools that can assist with calming your dog during a storm, and desensitising them to thunderstorms and fireworks in the future.
Create a Safe Place:
As a storm approaches, look for where they naturally go as it may give some idea of where they feel safe. For indoor dogs, giving them a safe, small area that contains some familiar items can help calm your dog (crates are ideal for this if you use one). This space is best located away from external windows – so that they cannot see or hear much of what is going on outside. Leave the door open or have a doggy door so your dog can come and leave as they like. Turn on the radio, as it may help both in settling your dog and drowning out external noises. Also, turn on the lights in the room so that the lightning flashes are less noticeable.
If you have an outside dog, or there are chances a storm may approach while you are away from the property, you may want to consider a secure dog enclosure to ensure your dog is kept safely on your property on days when storms are predicted. Alternatively, please ensure that your dog has somewhere safe to go. It needs to be out of the weather and wind, and preferably in a small, secure space – much the same as described above, like their dog kennel.
During this time, you are best to maintain your routine and act as though nothing is happening. Your dog is very aware of your behaviour and reactions. Remain strong (as a pack leader would!) and under no circumstances comfort or reward storm phobic behaviours. Distract and attempt some of the behaviours below.
Engage Your Dog in Behaviour Modification:
Keep your dog occupied with activities and behavioural training that are stimulating for the dog. By carrying out command-based activities, your dog is distracted from the storm approaching. His focus is now on you and stimulation.
Play with your dog (as opposed to increased pampering and soothing – which as outlined above will only reinforce the fear-based behaviour shown during storms). Give your dog a fetch toy or treat-based toy so they are preoccupied with activity, to help with anxiety.
As we mentioned, storm phobic behaviour can be tough to overcome and depending on the severity what we have outlined above may have no benefit to some. For some dogs the stress can be unbearable.
Medication is a last resort for some, but you need to be there and administer it before the storm or have the dog permanently on anxiety medication, which is not desirable.
Dog containment fences or pet trackers are options to prevent escaping and/or locate your dog once it has escaped. This is where the most damage is done (hit by a car etc) and can be of great assistance to many.
If you have any questions about storm phobias or any products we supply that could assist, please feel free to contact us.