“Thunderstorm Anxiety” can manifest into a variety of stressful behaviours such as: Hiding in dark places, whining/ howling, seeking reassurance from owner, slobbering, trembling, shaking or in a state of panic ripping or tearing at door frames or windows And often they will try to escape from the yard or pacing the fence.
What’s important to remember is that dogs displaying these types of behaviours are not misbehaving. They are simply showing symptoms of anxiety and if left untreated it can get worse with age.
Vets and Animal Behaviourists aren’t exactly certain what part of a storm causes dogs the most discomfort – it may be the noise, the flashing lights, or something else entirely. Dogs can sense the change in air pressure, and may hear low-frequency rumblings that humans can’t detect. Some vets also believe dogs experience shocks from the build up of static electricity that accompanies thunderstorms.
Here are some tips to help your dog cope with stormy weather:
• If there are windows in the room, close the blinds or curtains, or cover the windows so the dog can’t see outside.
• Give your dog an appropriate hiding spot, preferably as far away from the sounds as possible. Dogs are den dwelling creatures, so make the hiding spot enclosed and as secure as possible.
• Leave a door open, so the dog does not feel trapped.
• Play calming music to drown out the thunder claps and if you are going out and leaving your dog at home, leave your lights on and a radio on in the background. This will make the bangs less noticeable for your dog.
• Get your dog used to the noise by de-sensitising them to the sound. You can play CDs – there is one specifically created to help with noise phobias called “Sounds Scary”, available from vets. Start at a low volume and gradually increase it until you see a reaction (you may not, if it is a visual reaction).
• Do not reassure your dog too much. Act as if everything is normal instead of patting your dog and he will be reassured that he is safe.
• Tight jackets such as the Thundershirt provide a sensation of pressure, which can alleviate pets’ anxiety. (Swaddling a baby operates on the same principle.) You can also make a DIY version by buying a small T-shirt and putting the dog’s front legs through the armholes of the shirt. The shirt should fit snugly around your dog’s torso.
Your veterinarian or Animal Behaviouralist are the best people to talk to when it comes to helping your dog cope with storms, as they are best equipped to pinpoint exactly which stimulus is troubling your pet.
Most importantly, practice positive reinforcement with your dog. Do not scold or punish them for displaying any form of anxiety, and remember that their behaviour is not about disobedience, but about high levels of fear.