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Can Dogs Sense Storms?
You may have heard the weather report predicting a storm, but your dog has tuned into that information before you notice the coming storm. How do dogs know that a storm is on its way?
Dogs have such superior senses. Their sense of smell tells them rain is on its way. Their sense of hearing picks up the sound of thunder long before you hear that tell-tale sign of a storm. Dogs can sense a drop in the barometer pressure and they are sensitive to the static electricity caused by lightning. All of these natural biological warning signs keep dogs informed of weather changes.
Signs Your Dog is Sensing a Storm
Dogs can sense a storm before it happens, and some dogs take this warning of a storm all in their stride. They may give a twitch of their nose to smell the change in the air, or a pricking up of their ears as they hear thunder in the distance. Perhaps they feel uncomfortable and give a shiver and a shake at the little twinges of static electricity or feel a bit concerned as the pressure drops and the sky clouds over with dark clouds.
You might notice your dog scuttling under the bed or hiding out in the bathroom. Maybe your dog paws you for a bit of extra attention and you wonder why then, suddenly there is a bolt of lightning and crash of thunder and it is time to take cover from a storm.
We all feel a twinge of excitement at the onset of a storm, however, there are some dogs that are petrified of storms and their sense of anxiety is heightened as a storm approaches. The dog that is phobic about storms may really panic and start whining, panting shivering and shaking in fear. These dogs are terrified of the thunder, the loud sound of the wind, and rain, but most of all they fear the shocks they feel from the static lightening caused in an electrical storm.
Dogs have very sensitive ears and the sounds we hear will be much louder and on a higher frequency. A rescue dog may have been abused and left out in a storm. The sound of another storm could trigger anxiety and stress. A dog in this situation could urinate or defecate in their environment out of fear. Other stressed behaviors, like running away or destroying their environment, may be attributed to a dog who fears and senses storms.
The History of Dogs Sensing Storms
Dogs have always been aware of storms. Before they became domesticated, the onset of a storm was a signal to seek shelter and hide in a burrow, cave, or forest. Dogs used their senses to know when a storm was approaching, and early warning gave them time to find a place to be safe until the storm was over.
There is a remarkable story of a hybrid wolf/dog, called Shana. Shana was adopted by an elderly couple, Eve and Norman Ferty, who ran an animal shelter in Alde, NY. Shana, their rescue dog, followed them everywhere. It was no surprise that she was by their side when a snow storm suddenly started, and the couple were trapped when a tree fell and blocked their way.
Shana was there ready to rescue. She knew she had to get the couple out quickly and they could not climb over the tree. Shana dug a tunnel for them, under the tree, and through the snow. She dragged the couple to safety and kept them warm with her own body heat until help arrived. Shana was awarded the Citizens for Humane Animal Treatment, Hero’s Award for Bravery, an award usually given to humans, but in this case, a dog was given the honor.
Did Shana know there was a storm that day? We will never know, but she was there throughout the storm and rescued the two people who had saved her life several years before.
The Science of Dogs Sensing Storms
Scientists and veterinarians are aware of dogs' extra strong senses and their ability to know and feel changes in their environment. The booming sound of the thunder is a small part of the anticipation of a storm. Scientists' studies show that it is the static electricity caused by lightning that is the root of dog’s sensitivity to storms.
Animal behaviorists at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine say animals may experience shocks from the electricity in lightning. This added electrical activity makes them run for shelter in places that may be ‘grounded’ and prevent them from experiencing a shock. This may explain why your dog runs to hide in the bathroom or behind the basin. Porcelain is an effective block against electricity.
Dogs experience changes in the ozone from the lightening and the humidity changes due to the coming storm. Thy also feel the subtle vibrations of the thunder as the storm gets closer.
Training Dogs to Cope Through Storms
Dogs sense storms in different levels of intensity. Your dog may just experience a change in the weather, view the clouds ahead, and come inside for a cuddle. However, if your dog is one of the many dogs that fear storms and can sense them coming long before you do, then you may want to consider the help of a behaviorist and a de-sensitizing approach.
De-sensitizing can range from a CD recording of a storm to safe jackets and shelter rooms. De-sensitizing is a time-consuming process and the therapy would need to begin when there are no storms. A haven can be created in a room where your dog can hide and have their crate and some toys ready for comfort. A light should be kept on, detracting from the flashes of thunder. Spending time in this room with your dog is going to help it become a familiar, comfortable place to be.
It is possible to buy jackets to put on your dog that offer a calming wrap-around and you can try drying sheets that are used in laundering to prevent static electricity for your dog's bedding. Dogs that manifest fear of storms may also have other phobias, like noise or separation anxiety. Checking out all options and dealing with them would be helpful as these fears would trigger anxiety around storms.
Consult your vet if there are radical signs of fear as a storm is approaching. A vet can advise on medication and natural, herbal remedies to keep your dog calm when they have sensed a storm.
By a Rhodesian Ridgeback lover Christina Wither
Published: 07/20/2018, edited: 04/06/2020
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