Does your dog get scared when a big storm rolls in? Perhaps they hide under the table and shake when the thunder crashes, or they pant while sitting in the corner as the wind howls.
It’s sadly a common issue for dogs to show fearful behavior when it gets stormy. And it can be so hard to see your beloved dog in such distress.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- Why dogs are scared of storms
- What symptoms your dog might show if they’re afraid of storms
- Why your dog might suddenly develop a fear of storms
- What you can do to help lower their stress during a storm
- What not to do for dogs that show anxiety during storms
We will also share some really good news: you actually CAN comfort your dog when they’re scared. This won’t backfire and create a more anxious dog. In fact, comforting your dog is part of the protocol for helping them be less scared of storms!
Why Are Some Dogs Afraid of Storms?
Your dog’s fearful behavior in response to storms might seem confusing or over the top. There’s no real threat, as they’re safe and warm inside the house, so why are they so freaked out? Let’s look at a few reasons why storms can trigger such a fearful reaction in dogs.
Many dogs are sensitive to certain noises, such as the beeping of a smoke alarm, a gunshot, or even the clanking of metal pots and pans. These sounds can create a “fight or flight” response where the dog feels in danger and tries to seek safety. Even if the object or event that is producing the sound is of no real threat to the dog, they can still become quite panicked.
With storms comes the loud crash of thunder and sometimes the sound of high winds, which can trigger a fearful reaction for some dogs. Thunder is a very loud, sudden sound that can seemingly come out of nowhere, and the howl of wind might also be disturbing for some dogs. Storms can also shake and rattle your house, which can honestly be a little freaky even for us humans.
Your dog doesn’t understand where these sounds are coming from or what it means, and so it makes sense that they might be afraid. Loud, strange sounds often predict danger and fear is a survival response that can help dogs stay safe. Even though they are safe inside the house, the sounds can still spark a fearful response.
Some dogs might be sensitive to a variety of noises, and others will only show fearful behavior around sounds associated with storms. Dogs with extreme fearfulness of certain noises can have what is known as sound phobia.
In addition to noises, storms also bring a drop in barometric pressure in the atmosphere, darkening skies, and static electricity. These changes in the environment may also weird some dogs out. Again, this is a survival response, as being suspicious of things that are out of the ordinary keeps animals safe in the wild.
Dogs can also learn that these environmental factors predict the sound of thunder and then get anxious when they sense that a storm is on the way, even before it’s started.
Some evidence suggests that sound sensitivity and noise phobia have a genetic component. Certain breeds, such as Border Collies and Golden Retrievers, are more likely than others to exhibit sound sensitivity, which suggests a genetic factor to this issue.
There is still a lot to learn about the heritability of qualities like sound sensitivity, but your dog’s fearfulness of storms might stem from genetic traits.
Dog Storm Anxiety Symptoms
Here is a list of common behaviors you might observe if your dog is scared of storms:
- Inability to eat or drink
- Tucked Tail
- Dilated pupils
- Ears pinned back
- Sweaty paws
- Whining or howling
- Destructive behavior or self-harm (such as digging under a fence if they’re in a yard, or trying to break out of a crate)
- Seeking you out for comfort
- Involuntary urination or defecation
Depending on the severity of your dog’s storm fear, their behavior can vary. You might notice that they occasionally pant and pace around a bit, but can chew their bully stick and are otherwise fairly normal.
Or you might observe that they frantically run from hiding spot to hiding spot, leaving behind sweaty paw prints on your floors, with their tail tucked as they tremble uncontrollably. Some dogs show symptoms when they hear the thunder crash, and then their anxiety dies down a bit until the next one.
My Dog Was Never Scared of Storms Until Now
Sometimes dogs will have gone years and years with no issues, and then suddenly a storm rolls in and they’re scared. As an owner, this can be very confusing and concerning. They’ve always been fine during storms and now they’re not.
The truth is that dogs can develop sound sensitivities at any time throughout their life.
Maybe your dog did not even bat an eye at storms when they were a puppy, but now they’re three years old and pretty freaked out.
Sometimes elderly dogs can develop a fear of storms, perhaps because their sight and hearing are not as good as they used to be and the storm makes them feel more disoriented than before.
If your dog develops a sudden fear of storms, it’s always a good idea to have them checked out by your veterinarian to make sure there isn’t any medical cause for the behavior change. Sometimes, storm anxiety can pop up overnight, but sometimes pain or illness can spark the sudden change, so that should be ruled out.
How to Help a Dog Who is Scared of Storms
Life with a dog who is afraid of storms can be hard. No one likes seeing their dog distressed and panicked. And if you live in an area where storms are common, storm anxiety can really take a toll on your dog’s quality of life.
The good news is that there are things you can do to lower their anxiety and make them more comfortable during storms.
Consult Your Vet for Medication
If your dog shows signs of storm anxiety, talk to your vet. Even if you don’t think it’s that bad, it’s still a good idea to let them know that your dog does experience fear of storms.
Some supplements and medications can help lower your dog’s stress during storms. For dogs who show intense fear of storms, medication can make a huge difference and significantly reduce their anxiety. And even for dogs who have more mild fear, a supplement or medication can help them ride out the storm more comfortably.
Helping your dog feel better during storms might be as simple as giving them a pill wrapped in cheese, so definitely consult your vet to see what option might be best for your dog.
Even though your dog may be panicking, it’s important for you to stay calm as their owner. Dogs are highly social animals who are experts at picking up on human emotions and so you’ll want to remain calm, even though your anxiety might be triggered by seeing your sweet pup so stressed out.
Treats and Chews
For dogs who experience mild to moderate fear of storms, sometimes offering a delicious chew item can help alleviate some of the stress. Chewing and licking are naturally calming behaviors for dogs, so something like a bully stick or stuffed frozen kong can help distract them from the storm and de-stress them a bit.
You can also follow up the loud sound of thunder with some yummy treats. Each time you hear thunder, even distant thunder, scatter some high-value treats on the ground and let your dog eat them up. The key is to let the sound of the thunder predict the food, so wait until you hear the sound, and then toss the treats. This pattern can help change your dog’s feelings about thunder from “the world is ending!” to “oooh cheese!”
If your dog is intensely distressed by storms, they likely will not be able to chew or eat at all, and you’ll definitely want to get some medication on board to help them out.
Create a Cozy Safe Zone
Some dogs feel better if they have a nice, cozy place to hide during the storm. This could be in their crate, under the table, in the closet, or even in a bathtub. If you have a basement, setting up this space down there can also be helpful, as the sounds aren’t as intense underground. Every dog is different, but a nice comfy bed, and perhaps some blankets to nest in can help them settle a bit.
Try a Dog Anxiety Vest
For some dogs, a special vest can help reduce their anxiety during storms. Vests such as the ThunderShirt have a compressive fit that can help them feel safe through the sensation of gentle pressure on their body.
While it may not completely resolve their fear, it can help lower their stress to a more manageable level.
Play Some Calming Sounds
Classical music, white noise, or even the TV can help counter the scary storm sounds for some dogs. Playing the sounds near your dog’s safe zone can help calm them down. Keep the volume at a normal level, as you don’t want to blast your dog’s ears in an attempt to drown out the thunder. They will probably still hear the thunder over the other sounds, but the goal is to help reduce their overall stress.
Offer Some Support
There is a common idea that you shouldn’t comfort a fearful dog because you might reinforce their fear and make it even worse. The reality is that it’s okay to comfort your dog when they’re afraid of a storm.
If a child was scared of a loud sound and wanted to be hugged, would you turn away and ignore them and tell them they’re fine and to get a grip? Would you think that hugging them would reinforce their fear and make it worse? No way! In the same way that it’s a normal, positive thing to offer comfort to a scared child, it’s okay to comfort your pup when they’re fearful. It will help them feel better.
Some dogs benefit from gentle petting or massage during a storm, or just sticking nearby you for some support.
You don’t need to go overboard and start acting weird in an attempt to comfort them. Stay calm and lowkey, but it’s okay to help them out.
What Not To Do For Dogs Who are Scared of Storms
Now that we’ve covered ways you can help your dog feel better during storms, it’s important to address a few things to avoid doing, as they can make the situation worse for your dog.
Leaving Your Dog Outside
Dogs who are afraid of storms will often try to escape to try to seek safety. If they’re outside in a yard, or on a tie-out, and successfully dig, chew or jump their way free, they may become lost. It’s best to keep your dog safely contained inside the house so they don’t escape.
Leaving Your Dog Locked in a Crate
Similarly, some dogs can become panicked if confined in a crate during a storm. Being locked inside a kennel while experiencing storm anxiety can cause a dog to try to escape the crate, resulting in self-injury. Some dogs may seek out their crate during a storm, but it should always be their choice. Let your dog decide where they feel safest during a storm.
Leaving Your Dog Home Alone
This can be hard because sometimes storms are unpredictable, but if you can, avoid leaving your pup home alone if they struggle with storms. Having you present to help lower their stress is much preferable to letting them ride out the storm alone. If you know a storm is coming and can’t be home, consider asking a friend or neighbor to hang out at your house (if your dog is friendly with other people) so that they have some support during the storm.
Punishing Your Dog
When you want your dog to stop doing something, it can be tempting to try to yell at them or punish them. Remember that your dog isn’t trying to stress you out or annoy you with their fearful behavior, but that they are genuinely having a really hard time. Scolding or punishing them will only add more stress to the situation. Stay calm and focus on what you can do to help them feel better during the storm.
Prepare for Future Storms
If your dog is scared of storms, it’s a good idea to get prepared now! Call your vet today and make an appointment to see what medications might be helpful for your dog, so you’ll be ready when the next storm rolls in. Have some yummy chews and treats on hand. Purchase a ThunderShirt and try it on your dog so they are familiar with it beforehand. A little preparation now will make the next storm a much lower stress experience for both your dog and you.
Alisa lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and two dogs, Ruby and Lazlo. She loves exploring local nature preserves, creating new vegetarian dishes, and reading a good novel. Alisa is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, and has a wide range of training experience from shelters, to youth programs to dog sports. She’s very passionate about agility, and uses her blog, The Kindred Canine, as an outlet for this obsession.