Is Your Dog Afraid of Thunder? Here Are Some Ways to Help
The arrival of summer means increasing thunderstorms in many places. While many humans enjoy the beauty of an afternoon storm, it can be a nightmare for dog owners.
Storm phobia in dogs is very real and shouldn’t be ignored. A dog afraid of thunder will show its owner that it is scared with clear physical and behavioral signs. As a pet owner, it’s important for you to understand what causes storm phobia in dogs, what signs to look for that indicate your dog is experiencing this fear, and how you can soothe your pet and help them relax when this scary – and unavoidable – event happens.
What Causes Storm Phobia in Dogs
While it seems obvious that dogs are simply afraid of the loud “boom” during a thunderstorm, veterinarians suspect that there are actually a few different factors that work together to cause storm phobia in dogs. These factors include:
- The noise itself
- Barometric pressure changes
- Static electricity in the air
- The additional low-frequency thunder (which humans can’t hear)
The Obvious Reason for Storm Phobia: Thunder Is Loud!
Dogs don’t have the awareness to understand exactly what thunder is and that it can’t hurt them. To them, it’s just a very, very loud, unexpected BOOM. It’s natural that this unpredictable noise would startle a dog and make them feel afraid.
Dogs thrive on predictability and are comforted by knowing exactly what to expect. A sudden loud noise could present a potential threat. This is especially concerning for them if there is nothing to attribute the sound to. For example, if they see something fall off the table and hit the floor, it might startle them, but they can approach it, sniff it, and at least have a crude understanding of what happened. Thunder has no tangible visual component, which makes the loud noise even more frightening for canines.
Changing Pressure Can Make Dogs Uncomfortable
A somewhat less-known cause of storm phobia is the changing barometric pressure – or amount of air pressure in the atmosphere – caused by a storm. Dogs are highly sensitive to this because of their sense of smell. Barometric pressure changes cause odors to move differently in the air. Your dog notices that change and it can make them feel scared because they have learned to associate that sensation with the trauma of a thunderstorm.
Bright Flashes of Lightning Are Startling
Lightning creates bright flashes that are sudden and startling for a dog. Even if we see a lightning storm and don’t hear any thunder, our dog might show signs of stress because they associate lightning with the unpleasant experience of thunder.
This isn’t always a contributing factor to your dog’s thunderstorm fear, as many thunderstorms don’t include lightning. But the strobing flashes, when they are present, can contribute to a sense of disorientation and terror for your pet.
Storms Cause Static Electricity
Your dog might be sensitive to the static electricity in the air, as well. It’s not just their ears and hearing that are special – dogs are sensitive creatures in general. We’ve all done the little experiment where we rub a balloon to create static electricity and our hair stands on end. Well, when the air is infused with additional static electricity from an impending storm, dogs – who are covered in fur! – experience that sensation all over their bodies.
The static electricity in the air before, during, and after a storm can also cause little shocks when your dog touches their nose to surfaces, in the same way we get shocked by this electricity when we wear a wool sweater and touch the car door. This sensory experience can be another reason your dog demonstrates fear during a thunderstorm.
Dogs Hear Low-Frequency Thunder Before the Storm
Have you ever felt like your dog can predict a storm before it starts? Those pesky fear behaviors (outlined below) might start to show up even before the storm clouds appear in the sky. This is because of your dog’s remarkable hearing. They can likely hear the storm approaching long before you can.
These low-frequency rumbles are very hard to quiet or reduce with soundproofing in your home. We won’t get into the sound-wave science, but when you’re trying to soothe a dog afraid of thunder, you can better empathize with them if you understand that they are likely hearing louder and different sounds.
Signs Your Dog Is Afraid of Thunder
Dogs have a lot of ways of showing their fear and communicating with their owners when they are afraid of thunderstorms. Here are some signs to look for in your pet’s behavior during bad weather to determine if you have a dog afraid of thunder:
- Ears pinned back
- Tail down between legs
- Panting, lip-licking, and yawning
- Pacing and shaking
A Dog Afraid of Thunder Will Have Their Ears Pinned Back
Your dog’s ears might be pinned back if they feel threatened or afraid. This is a common sign in a dog scared of thunder. This is a defensive position for dogs that can communicate both fear and submissiveness. If the thunder is in fact a threat, your dog realizes it’s much larger than he is – which means he’d probably be better off playing beta than trying to fight the thunderstorm.
Pinning their ears back against their head is a sign of fear when accompanied by the other signs on this list. Ear pinning can also be a sign of aggression if your dog is growling and snarling. Sometimes, a dog that feels afraid is prone to more aggression, so monitor your dog’s body language carefully before choosing how to comfort or communicate with them.
Tail Down or Pulled Between Legs
Cowering is another behavior you can expect from your dog during a storm. It is common for canines to pull their tail between their legs when they are feeling nervous or submissive. Dogs do this in part to protect a sensitive part of their body when they feel vulnerable and threatened.
Panting, Lip-Licking, or Yawning
Mouth and muzzle action is another sign of a fear to look for. If your pet is yawning, licking their lips, or panting more than usual, that’s often a sign they are feeling nervous or fearful. If there’s bad weather afoot, that’s likely the cause.
Yawning is actually a complex behavior known as an appeasement gesture. Dogs of course will also yawn when tired, the way humans do, but yawning in the face of a threat communicates a very specific message: I am nervous or concerned, but I am not going to attack or be aggressive. The same is true of lip-licking.
Whining or Barking
Of course, just like humans, dogs will communicate their fear with sound. Whining and barking are common behaviors in a dog scared of thunder. Your dog is also trying to communicate the threat to you to keep you all safe. He or she may not realize that you can hear the thunder, too, so they are trying to rouse you into action and help you understand why they are nervous.
Pacing and Shaking During Thunderstorm
A scared dog often has a hard time sitting still or relaxing. You might find that, during a thunderstorm, your dog paces back and forth and won’t sit or lie down. Or they may repeatedly stand up from their position and try to readjust. You might also notice your dog shaking during thunderstorms and trembling. Restless behavior is a common sign of storm phobia in dogs.
This is also part of the reason that, if you have a dog afraid of thunder, you need to be sure he or she is completely secured during a storm. Dogs that are left in backyards or otherwise unsecured often escape and become lost in their effort to “run away” from a storm.
How to Soothe Your Dog’s Fear of Thunder
Ignoring your dog’s behavior during a thunderstorm is not recommended. Your pet’s fear is warranted and real, and they need help and support from you as their most trusted companion.
Furthermore, some of your dog’s signs of fear might, in other settings, be considered “bad behavior,” but it’s important not to punish or get angry with your dog when they are afraid of storms. That will simply take a traumatic experience and make it more traumatic. Instead, you need to approach your dog with compassion and love, and do your best to reduce their fear.
Some ways to soothe your dog during a thunderstorm include:
- Creating a safe place where they can retreat
- Remaining calm yourself
- Providing sound distractions
- Using additional resources like thundershirts and calming formulas with CBD
Create a Safe, Quiet Place
You can soothe your dog’s fear of thunderstorms by creating a safe, quiet, cozy place for them to retreat to during the storm. A doggie safe space with their bed and toys that belongs only to them can be very soothing for your pet. Ensure that other family members, including other pets and children, avoid this space so it is exclusively for your pet. A closet or bathroom makes a great option for your pet’s thunderstorm haven.
Creating a safe, comforting environment for your dog is really important during thunderstorms because they are highly likely to try and escape even if they are inside. Never leave your dog outdoors during a thunderstorm, even if your yard is very secure. Let your dog communicate their needs. If they want to be with you and have some company during the storm, allow them to do so, but also give them the opportunity to retreat to their “den.” Environmental changes are the best way to support your dog who is afraid of thunderstorms.
Model Calm During a Storm
Your pet is very attuned to your behavior and if you are stressed out about their fear, that will exacerbate the problem. Speak to your pet in calm tones and don’t be overly attentive. Too much petting and cooing can indicate to your pet that there is something wrong. Instead, try to behave as normally and consistently as possible during a thunderstorm.
If you comfort your pet too excessively, they will assume something is actually unsafe or wrong. Your additional attention will communicate concern. You are obviously concerned because they are uncomfortable, but they might assume your concern is because the storm actually poses a threat to their health and safety. This can’t be explained to a dog, so it’s best to just model calm and relaxed behavior to encourage their security.
Provide Distracting Sounds
Thunder will sound louder and more significant to your pet if the house is silent. Turn on the television, radio, or even a white noise machine to diffuse the sounds of the storm. Classical music, especially, can be very calming for them.
The sounds themselves should be soothing background noise – don’t turn the music or television on too loud, as this might further increase your pet’s stress. Simply provide a gentle buffer to the thunder to distract your animal’s ears.
Consider Extra Support Tools
Thundershirts and similar calming garments are another tool that many pet owners have found helpful for a dog afraid of thunder. These heavy dog jackets and vests apply gentle and constant pressure to soothe your pet during a scary moment.
Even with all of the above tools for helping your pet cope with storm phobia, your pooch might need a little more support to ensure they can maintain their calm demeanor even in the face of a scary storm. Help your pet relax during storms with calming formulas that use CBD, like our CBD Calming Oil for Dogs, which includes melatonin. Our CBD Calming Chews for Dogs, which feature L-tryptophan and chamomile, are another great option to help your pet maintain their relaxation during stressful situations.
Your veterinarian can provide additional support and recommendations for your dog afraid of thunder.
Help Your Dog Cope with Fear of Thunderstorms
It’s hard for both pet and human when you have a dog afraid of thunderstorms. The cause of storm phobia might be different for different dogs – some might be afraid of the thunder itself while others are more disturbed by the static electricity in the air or changing barometric pressure. Whatever bothers your dog most, they will communicate with some common signs like whining, pacing, and panting. If you pay attention to your dog’s behavior, you can soothe them with techniques like your own calm demeanor, distracting sounds, and calming formulas with CBD. And if none of those strategies work, it’s time to consult your veterinarian about your dog afraid of thunder.