Storms can be scary, even for people. Depending on where you live in the world, a storm could mean a bit of rain and a few rumbles of thunder. Alternatively, it could mean gale-force winds, crazy thunder crashes and lightning strikes. Even if you’re in the middle of a less vicious storm, chances are your dog will still be terrified. As dog owners, we can prepare for other noisy affairs like Guy Fawkes Night. Storms, however, are at the discretion of Mother Nature—there’s no planning for it! So, is your dog’s fear of storms simply the noise phobia that our pets are already known for, or are there other reasons why our dogs freak out during stormy weather?
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The Root of the Behavior
First of all, the basics—storms are loud. We know that dogs detest loud noises, especially impulse sounds, and storms are about as noisy and impulsive as it gets. Dogs can also be disturbed by bright lights, so a sound as loud as thunder accompanied by regular flashes of light blasting in through the window will be more than enough to send your dog’s tail into a spin. However, storms also affect our dogs on a much deeper level. Even as humans, we can be aware of the change in pressure that signals a storm is on the way. Not only do dogs feel this pressure differential far greater than humans, it disturbs them more. This disturbance being because they attribute the shift in pressure to an impending storm is unlikely, but it is certainly discomforting to them. The biggest surprise for many dog owners is that, even within the relative safety of a house, dogs experience a build-up of electric static in their coats from overhead lightning that can be enough on its own to cause them a huge amount of distress. And understandably so! Even mild electric shocks are among the most uncomfortable sensations we can experience as humans, so imagine your poor pooch getting constantly shocked by the build-up of electric energy in their fur. Many dogs are smart enough to head towards the most grounded areas in the house, like the bathtub, for instance, or an enclosed space, to help reduce their contact with the static energy. For us humans, the storm is over when it’s over. For our dogs, the effects can be felt for some time after the inclement weather has subsided, so it’s not unusual for dogs to continue to exhibit signs of distress, which confuses many dog owners. The noise has gone—what’s my dog’s problem?
Encouraging the Behavior
A storm is out of our hands. We can’t disguise the sound—any noise you could make that would drown out the sound of a thunderstorm will be far more distressing to your dog, so please don’t attempt it! So, what can we possibly do to help our poor pets through this terrifying experience? Well, your first move should be to draw the curtains. Your dog is already frightened by the sound and uncomfortable from the static in the air; the last thing you need is for them to see super-bright flashes of light outside, or inanimate objects flying past the house in high winds. There are also ways of reducing the static in your dog’s fur. Putting them into the bathtub, if they haven’t made their way there already, can be massively beneficial to your dog’s overall comfort. Once they’re there, many sources believe that rubbing their coat with a dryer sheet can help to reduce the static build-up. Some say that this practice should be avoided, due to chemicals in the sheets, but many experts say it is safe to do infrequently, providing an unscented sheet is used. Reducing the amount of electricity in your pet’s coat can often be enough to settle them but keeping them in a grounded location until the storm has subsided will ensure their comfort throughout the duration of the storm.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Aside from these tips, the way you behave towards your dog during a thunderstorm can be extremely important. As hard as it can be not to smother your pooch and protect them from all the nastiness in the world, it can be incredibly counter-productive. They can also take this soothing as positive reinforcement for their fearful behavior, which is never a good thing. It probably doesn’t need to be said, but getting angry at your dog or telling them off for freaking out during a storm is also an absolute no-no. The best way to work through a storm with your dog is to try and distract them as much as possible. Get their toys out, play with them on the floor (or in the bathtub!), train with them, teach them commands and give them treats when they respond correctly. Above all, try not to show any fear yourself.
We can’t do anything about storms. They’re a fact of life and, while most of us can feel safe in our homes during bad weather, they can be scary. Sadly, for our dogs, this fear factor is infinitely worse, thanks to constant shocks from their own fur coat! Thankfully, there is plenty you can do to help your dog through the experience. A water-less bath can be a fun, new experience for you both—just don’t bother with the rubber duck!