Storms can be scary for our furry friends. If you have a dog who shakes and shudders at the sight of rain clouds, you might wonder how you can help ease their fear.
In this article, we’ll share some to-do’s and not-to-do’s for doggos with a fear of storms. In time, you might find that your pup not only overcomes their fear of storms, but is willing to settle in for some of your favourite rainy day activities!
Do: Give your dog a neutral place to ride out storms
You may find that your pupper does this on their own. Many dogs will opt to climb into the bathtub or a closet where they feel safe and secure.
You can make this place even more calming with the use of a white noise machine, fan, or radio, and by closing the blinds or curtains. This will help muffle the sounds of the storm.
Make sure that your pup can enter and leave this neutral area on their own. It will be important for them to feel in control, especially as you work on some of the other ways to help them conquer their fear of storms.
Don’t: Leave your fearful dog alone during upcoming storms
It’s fine to leave your dog in their hiding spot while you go on about your normal business (more on that in the next section.) But, you won’t want to leave your dog home alone completely.
When dogs are alone in a stressed state, it’s not uncommon for them to do some damage around the house. In their attempts to self-soothe, your pupper might end up chewing on the furniture, scratching at the doors, or any number of other destructive habits.
If you’re not going to be home during an upcoming storm, you can help your dog feel more comfortable by arranging for a Pet Sitter. They’ll know just what to do to keep your pup calm when the downpour starts.
Do: Set the tone for your dog
So, one of the best things that we can do for our dogs when they’re stressed is to remain calm and even a bit cheerful. It won’t make their fear disappear, of course, but it can go a long way in making them feel more relaxed themselves.
Now, there is a risk of going overboard here. You can check in on your fur baby every once in a while with a reassuring pat on the head, but the goal is to show them that the storm is nothing to fear. So, you’ll want to go about your life as normal. If you spend too much time comforting them or hunkering down alongside them in their safe space, you could risk validating their distrust of storms. This could make overcoming their fear of thunder and wind more difficult in the long run.
Don’t: Punish your pup for not reacting how you want them to
As we mentioned earlier, some puppers can become quite destructive when they’re anxious or afraid. But it’s important to remember that your dog is experiencing a natural fear reaction. By punishing them during this episode, you risk strengthening their association between storms and negative feelings. In other words, your pup could double-down on the destruction.
Instead, it will be much more useful to remain calm and help your pup overcome their fear, thus lowering the risk that they’ll rely on self-soothing techniques.
Do: Offer some distractions and incentives
Some puppers will completely forget about the scary storm outside when you bring out their favourite chew toy or puzzle game. If you’re able to coax your pup out of their safe space with treats, you might even be able to spend this time learning new tricks or playing some fun indoor games.
Even if your doggo is too frightened to come out of their hiding spot, having something to chew on can help them relax.
Don’t: Force your dog to face their fear before they’re ready
It can be tempting to try to get your dog to leave their hiding spot before they’re ready, but again, this could do more harm than good. Even if your pup tends to hide out in the bathtub or other inconvenient spot, it’s important to allow them to choose when they venture out.
Again, it’s all about association. If they feel that you might drag or carry them out of their preferred hiding spot, they will feel even more negative about storms in the future. So, rely on treats, positive praise, and other incentives to try coaxing your pup out before resorting to moving them physically.
Do: Exercise your dog before storms start, or during a lull
If the weather forecast calls for a thunderstorm, you might be able to manage your dog’s fear with some exercise. Take them for a long walk or jog, or give them some extra time at the dog park or at their favourite swimming spot.
The benefit of exercising your dog before storms is twofold. On the one hand, they’ll be calmer and happier as the storm rolls in.
The second benefit, again, goes back to association. If your pup remembers that they were feeling happy as the thunder started, it might soften the negative feelings they have towards storms. Instead, they might remember that every time it rains, it means extra time running around at the dog park.
The timing here is important. You don’t want to take your dog outside too late and risk them running away as the thunder starts. So, if you won’t be home during the calm before the storm, a friendly Dog Walker is always happy to help.
Don’t: Take your dog out when the storm is at its worst
Taking your pup outside in the middle of a storm is a recipe for disaster. In the worst-case scenario, your frightened doggo will try to break loose and find cover. This could result in them getting lost or hiding in an area that is unreachable or dangerous.
And, in a more long-term sense, the negative experience will make it even more difficult for them to overcome their fear of storms.
If at all possible, wait until the storm has died down before trying to take your fearful dog outside. And, remember everything we’ve covered so far: have a cheerful attitude, provide them with plenty of treats and praise, and don’t force them to stay outside any longer than they’re comfortable with.
Although not ideal, some Owners choose to install some puppy pads for dogs who are in the process of overcoming their fear of storms. This is intended as a temporary solution for dogs who are too afraid to go outside for a potty break.
Do: Think about how to get ready for future storms
When the clouds have cleared and your dog is back to normal, you can start preparing for future storms. One of the most effective methods is desensitisation.
This process will involve exposing your pup to storm sounds at a low enough volume not to frighten them. For instance, you can play these sounds for a few minutes when you’re cuddled up on the couch or when they’re enjoying a tasty meal. This will allow them to grow accustomed to the sounds of storms while creating new positive associations.
Of course, a recorded storm will never have the full effect of a real one. So, you’ll still want to work on the other “do’s” that we’ve covered on this list.
Don’t: Hesitate to talk to your vet
If your pup’s fear of storms is severe, your vet might be able to help. They may prescribe a medical treatment plan that can lower your dog’s anxiety, or recommend personalised tips to deal with your unique dog’s storm phobia.
Overall, helping your dog let go of their fear can be a long process with a lot of trial and error. But, if you’re able to try different things and stay positive yourself, your doggo can overcome their fear of storms!