Every time a storm comes through, your dog starts acting strangely. He might be more agitated and aggressive, or he may try to wedge himself into tiny spaces. Why do dogs hate lightning and thunder? Imagine if your ears were four times more sensitive. Not only to softer or more distant sounds, but also a greater range of frequencies, able to detect the faintest hum and whistle of everyday electronics and appliances or the bark of a dog miles away. You would probably be a lot jumpier at little sounds. But you would also probably hate loud noises, too. Is it any wonder that Spot ducks and runs for cover when a storm blows in? What can you do to help?
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The Root of the Behavior
When a lightning bolt strikes, molecules in the air are super-heated and compressed rapidly. Those molecules rise in temperature to almost 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit in about a few thousandths of a second. That compression creates pressure, which then explodes outward in a shock wave. That shock wave is what we hear as thunder. Dogs have around four times more sensitivity in their hearing than humans do. And dogs with erect ears, like German Shepherds, may have even greater hearing. In addition to their ability to hear, they also have 18 muscles in their ears to help them pivot their ears, which enables them to locate a sound and pick it up easier. It is no wonder dogs hate thunder and lightning.
In addition to the loud noises, dogs may also be anxious when the air becomes charged with static electricity. Dogs who go in search of places to hide, such as the basement or bathtub, may be looking for a place that’s grounded, and therefore a refuge against the feeling of static. They may experience mild shocks on their skin as static accumulates in the air and through their fur. You probably wouldn’t enjoy storms either if you were being shocked repeatedly during them. It may also take some time, even after the storm has passed, before the static in the air decreases.
You can try putting your dog in a place that is grounded, electrically speaking, such as in the bathtub or next to the toilet. Since porcelain effectively blocks electrical currents, the bathtub is a great place for your dog to be during a storm. You can also try rubbing your dog with an unscented dryer sheet, as they have been shown to help reduce static. But use lightly and infrequently, as dryer sheets are also full of chemicals you do not want your dog ingesting.
Encouraging the Behavior
Many dogs are afraid of thunder or loud sounds. But there are several things you can do to diminish your dog’s anxiety. First and foremost, keep your dog inside, and sometimes even confined in a crate if they are used to being crated. A familiar, enclosed, safe space will help your dog feel safer and more protected when a storm rolls in. Dogs left outside in a storm may run off in fear. Many dogs go missing after a storm or during holidays with fireworks or gunshots. You can also find other ways to calm your pet, like playing music during the worst of the noise. You can also consult a vet to find out about some over-the-counter medicines like melatonin that can help your dog relax. There are also products like the ThunderShirt that you can purchase that do seem to help reduce anxiety in many dogs. It is not just for thunder, either. You can use it any time your dog is anxious, including during travel or when you go to new places. Remember not to praise your dog when they are feeling anxious, as this can inadvertently teach them that anxiety is acceptable behavior. Instead, try to distract them with playtime or put the TV or radio on, which should help drown out the noise from the storm.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Unfortunately, it is possible for your dog to experience trauma from severe storms. Some dogs have injured themselves during anxiety, even breaking through drywall or charging through a window to try to escape. Storm-related anxiety may get worse if untreated. Dogs may even begin having panic attacks for seemingly no reason.Herding breeds or those dogs already affected by separation anxiety may be more prone than other breeds to developing more severe anxiety from other loud noises, like gunshots or fireworks. There are a number of things you can do to help your dog weather the weather. Consult your vet for advice.
Thunderstorms are a natural phenomenon that, unfortunately, some dogs become terrified of. It may not be just another storm to your dog, and they may feel anxious for a number of reasons beyond the simple noise. Just try to keep your dog calm and comfortable. Try out different things to see what works best for your pet.