If your dog gets scared or anxious every time lightning strikes in the sky, your dog may have a fear of storms and loud noises. In fact, some dogs start getting anxious before a storm hits because they know it’s coming – they can feel the static electricity in the air, the changes in air pressure, and might even be able to hear thunder far away that you can’t hear yet.
Each dog reacts differently when they’re scared, but knowing why your dog is scared of storms, what signs to look for to tell if your dog is fearful, and then taking steps to help calm your dog during a storm will go a long way in making your dog’s life easier and happier.
Let’s start by understanding why dogs are scared of storms.
Why are dogs scared of thunder and lightning?
There are several reasons why a dog might be scared of a thunder storm:
They learned to be scared
A dog takes many signals from its owner on how to interpret the world. If a storm starts and you speak differently, move around much quicker than usual, lose your temper, panic, or look and act scared, then your dog will learn that storms are scary things.
And if your dog gets scared and you console it because the storm is so scary and terrible, then you are reinforcing the perception and communicating to your dog that fear is the correct response to a storm.
A dog that’s stressed or anxious, may develop pica, a lifelong eating disorder.
They don’t know what thunder and lightning are
Dogs use their senses to make sense of the world and to tell when something might be dangerous. This is part of a dog’s natural instinct to survive in the wild.
When loud thunder strikes, it sounds like trouble and time to take cover. There may also be bright flashes of lightning in the sky, heavy rain, hail, or howling winds.
In the wild, dogs run to their den and huddle together for protection during a storm. Your dog still has its natural instinct to stay away from the danger it hears and find somewhere safe to hide.
They are scared of noises
Some dogs are more sensitive to noise than others. A dog might be scared of a vacuum cleaner, trucks, fireworks, alarms, or thunder. Or perhaps the dog is scared of most of these things.
Once a dog is fearful of a noise or loud noises in general, it’s very unlikely that it will ever get over its noise phobia.
They had a bad experience in the past
If you have a rescue dog or your dog has been left alone during a storm in the past, it may have had a bad experience and will associate this unhappy experience with storms forever.
Every time a storm starts, the dog will remember this and get scared and anxious all over again.
They don’t like the static electricity in the air
Have you ever touched a door handle only to get a small shock on your finger? I tend to get a fright when this happens.
A dog’s coat can pick up static in the air, especially if the dog has a double coat. This static builds up in the dog’s fur, and when the dog touches a metal object with its nose, it gets a shock.
They don’t understand the change in their routine
When it starts raining hard and there’s hail, wind, or lightning, things tend to change around the house: You are running in and out of the house with umbrellas and raincoats, you might have to skip the daily dog walk, or all the doors and windows stay shut much longer than usual.
A dog may notice all these sudden changes and start feeling stressed or anxious that things are ‘different’. Dogs don’t understand different and changing routines can make a nervous dog very anxious.
How to calm down a dog during a storm
There are many things that you can try and do to calm down a dog during a storm, such as:
Exercise your dog
It’s a good idea to know when a storm is approaching. If you want alerts for severe weather, download this Storm Shield app to your phone.
When a storm has been predicted, take your dog for a long walk, to the beach, or to the dog park for a good run round before it starts. Let your dog have fun and get some energy out.
Get your dog into a calm and happy state so that it is in a better position emotionally to handle the storm when it starts.
Because a dog looks for clues from you on how to approach things, it’s important for you to show your dog that everything is fine during a storm.
When a storm starts, stay calm, move at the same pace, and don’t act any differently. Talk in a cheerful tone and keep smiling. Try to keep your regular routine as much as possible.
If you show your dog that storms aren’t something to fear, your dog your dog will probably realize that a storm is no big deal and life carries on.
Don’t make a big fuss about the storm or your dog, don’t show your own fear of storms, and don’t give your dog any reason to think that what is happening is dangerous.
This needs to be done with every storm, from the time you get your dog.
Stay with your dog
If possible, be home with your dog during storms or try to get someone to pop in to stay with your dog. Storms can be a scary time for any dog to be on its own, especially one that’s already nervous or scared of storms.
Whoever stays with the dog should act cheerful and stay very calm while they are with the dog.
Provide a safe hiding place
Let your dog find a ‘safe’ place to hide. This could be under a bed, in a corner, or in a quiet room in the house.
If your dog is happy in its crate during a storm, then this is a perfectly good hiding spot.
Try to make the room where the crate is as dark and quiet as possible.
Put your dog’s favorite toys or a piece of your clothing in the crate for comfort, and check on your dog every now and then to make sure all is well.
Try a pressure wrap
When we are upset or sad, we hug each other. But why do hugs make us feel better?
Because the gentle pressure around our body releases feel-good hormones that relax us and make us feel happier.
Hugs work the same way for dogs, but we can’t hug a dog through an entire storm and we don’t want to reinforce the fear that storms are scary.
A pressure wrap is a jacket that sits around a dog’s chest area.
These jackets sit snug, to create the feeling of a ‘hug’. This hug calms a dog down and helps to regulate the breathing. These wraps can also help to reduce or prevent static in your dog’s fur.
Don’t put the pressure wrap on for the first time when a storm hits and your dog is nervous. Get your dog used to the wrap when there’s no storm, and make it a fun experience to wear the wrap. When a storm starts, you can get out the wrap and your dog will be happy to put it on and wear it.
Here are two brands of pressure wraps that are popular on Amazon:
If you don’t have a pressure wrap, you can try putting on your dog’s harness for the full duration of the storm – some owners report that this helps to calm down their dog.
Play white noise
Some experts say that playing loud noise in the house will distract your dog from the storm outside. Others say that too many sounds at once can make a dog feel stressed.
If your dog is having a difficult time during a storm, try some white noise in the background to see if this helps. If it doesn’t, switch it off.
It’s better to use sounds that your dog is already familiar with, such as its favorite fan that it uses to keep cool in summer, the TV, or the radio.
If you want to play music, play music that has been made to calm down dogs, such as this:
Use calming products for dogs
There are many products on the market that are designed to calm a dog down during a storm. Many of these products contain pheromones or herbs and herbal oils that have been shown to calm down anxious dogs.
Pheremones are chemicals that dogs release to communicate with each other. Nursing mothers release pheromones to calm their pups, and these pheromones have the same calming effect on adult dogs.
Here are some of the calming products that are available on Amazon:
Dog calming diffuser – a pheromone solution that you simply plug into the wall
Dog calming spray – aromatherapy-based spray for the home or body
Calming treats – natural ingredients that relive anxiety
Calming collar – a pheromone collar that your dog wears around the neck
One of the reasons why dogs may get nervous during a storm is because of the static electricity. This static electricity builds up in the dog’s coat and can give the dog shocks when its nose touches metal objects.
If you think this is a problem or see your dog get a fright when it touches an object, you can help to remove the static by taking an anti-static sheet and using it to rub down our dog.
You could also let your dog sleep in the bathroom or bathtub, without any blankets or material, to get away from the static.
Distract your dog with treats
The aim of the game is to give your dog something fun during a storm so your dog associates storms with fun time.
Keep some of your dog’s favorite treats ready for a storm. When the storm hits give it to your dog as a fun distraction. Make sure that the treat will take a long time to chew and finish, so it will keep your dog busy for a while.
If your dog doesn’t want a treat, try playing his/her favorite games.
Close the curtains
If the skies are dark and the flashes of lightning are scaring your dog, close the curtains or blinds. Keep them closed until the usual time when you would open them so things feel like they are going back to the normal routine.
Massage or brush your dog
Massage is a wonderful way to calm down a dog. Be sure to use slow movements and rub the areas that your dog likes rubbed, such as the ears and shoulders. Avoid areas where your dog doesn’t like being touched, such as the paws, face, and tail.
Here’s a video with Linda Tellington Jones, who created TTouch. TTouch is a massage method that calms dogs down, helps them focus, and helps with behavioral issues such as a fear of storms.
Feed calming foods
If you have a nervous dog, you can try feeding foods that are known to have a calming effect on dogs, such as turkey, eggs, grass-fed beef liver, rice (here’s how to make rice for dogs and how much to feed), sweet potatoes, fish, and blueberries.
If it’s difficult or too expensive to make your own dog food, try this calming dog food that is approved by veterinarians.
Just note that it’s not a good idea to change your dog’s diet suddenly as your dog could get diarrhea and an upset stomach.
Use the following 7-day plan to move your dog from its regular food to calming dog food:
If all else fails
If none of these methods work and your dog is very distressed every time there is a storm, it’s time to speak to your veterinarian for advice.
Before doing this, keep a storm journal and take notes on how your dog acts when there is a storm so you can give your veterinarian an accurate rundown on your dog’s behavior.
How to tell if your dog is anxious during a storm
Dogs show stress and anxiety in different ways, which come out in their body language as coping mechanisms. Your dog might show two or three signs of anxiety when a storm hits, while other dogs may show several signs.
One sign is simply not enough to tell if your dog is truly stressed.
For example, a dog that is shaking might simply be cold and need a blanket. But a dog that’s shaking, hiding in a corner, and has its tail between its legs is showing multiple signs of anxiety and fear.
If you want to know if your dog needs help to calm down during a storm, look for the following signs of stress:
- Body shaking
- Stiff body posture
- Keeping the body close to the ground
- Tail tucked in between the legs
- Refusing to move
- Following you closely
- Cowering in a corner
- Pacing up and down
- Lips pressed together in a tight mouth
- Licking the lips
- Self-harm, such as biting or licking an area of the body
- Wide eyed, perhaps even showing the whites of the eyes
- Avoids eye contact with you
- Ears pinned back
- Nuzzling or rubbing you with the nose
- Pawing or lifting one paw to give to you
- Strange behaviors, like urinating or destroying things
- Running away
- Trying to escape the yard
Dogs have many ways of asking for help as they try to communicate with us. Here’s a list of how dogs ask for help and what they’re probably asking for.
Why dogs pant during a storm
Panting during a storm is a normal reaction and shows that the dog is anxious. When a dog gets anxious its heartrate goes up. The heart starts pumping faster and pushes blood through the body quicker than normal. Because the blood is pumping faster, the dog needs to breathe heavier than usual to get more oxygen for all the blood that’s flowing.
Dog breeds that are scared of loud noises
Some dog breeds are more prone to be scared of storms and loud noises. Dogs that are scared of loud noises in general are called ‘noise sensitive’.
The following breeds are more likely to be scared of storms and loud noises:
- Cairn Terriers
- German shepherds
- Golden Retrievers
- Irish Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier
- Lagotto Romagnolo
- Norwegian Buhunds
- Pembroke Welsh Corgis
- Rough Collies
A study was done in Norway in which researchers tested the noise sensitivity of dogs. It was found that nearly one-quarter of dogs (23%) are sensitive to loud noises like storms, fireworks, and heavy traffic.
Older dogs and female dogs were also found to be more likely to be noise sensitive, needing a long time to calm down after being scared by such a noise.