Is your dog afraid of thunder, lightning, and rain? Mine is. We had a huge storm last night. Some tornadoes formed down south of us, but we had a lot of wind and rain. At one point (around two in the morning), the rain was coming down almost horizontally. It was a fun night.
Belle has always had a fear of storms. She trembles a bit and slinks under a table, but it has progressed significantly further than that. We had a series of hurricanes come through our state several years ago. Though it seemed like they were one after another, I think there were several months in between. Then, two years ago, we had a series of tornado scares.Sirens went off in what seemed like two hour intervals, both day and night.It was very nerve-wracking – both for me and for Belle.
I don’t doubt that the frequency of storms we have had in the last several years have impacted Belle in a negative way, but I think that I contributed to it as well. Not only with my body language, which, as you dog owners know, dogs can read with ease, but also with my response to her fear.
What Not to Do When Your Dog is Afraid
What you think comforts your dog during a storm can actually reinforce their anxious behavior. Like any new dog owner, I wanted to comfort my dog in her time of stress, so I would pet her, and talk to her and try to comfort her. I thought this would help.
After listening to one of the master of dog training’s shows, Cesar Milan, I found out that this actually encourages the neurosis in the dog. By providing positive reinforcement to her behavior, I was encouraging her to become more and more fearful and act out.
She became a drooler during storms, pacing back and forth incessantly. Then one time she was so upset, she hopped into the tub! This was unbelievable to me, because this is where she gets her baths — and she HATES baths.
Finally, during one storm, she was trying to find a place to hide and escape, and she was banging in to things and I was afraid that she would hurt herself. When she acts like this, it upsets me as well. She even crawled underneath a bed one time, that is only about 9 inches from the floor. I thought for sure she was stuck, but a few hours later, she eventually got out.
What to Do To Manage Storm Fear in Your Dog
I did some online research and then talked to some friends of mine who have had multiple dogs and are good at solving dog problems.
Find a safe place
We came up with a solution to keep Belle from hurting herself during storms and to help calm her. As soon as she shows signs of fear – the pacing and drooling, I send her to her crate and cover the crate up with a sheet or towel.
I can not tell you how much this has helped. At first I felt like I was punishing her and I felt bad for keeping her locked up when we had long storms, but whenever my guilt overcame me and I let her out, she would start her destructive behavior again. She is much calmer, safer, and I am much happier with her in her crate during storms. She feels safer and I don’t have to worry about her getting injured.
I don’t know if this will help other dogs, but it was a great solution to my dog’s problem. I don’t know if her her fear of storms will ever decrease, but at least this is a way to manage the results.
Owners that have dogs that are not crate trained or those that are extremely anxious may want to try out a thundershirt. These shirts put a gentle pressure on your dog’s body with an ensuing calming effect.
Insulated crate covers
If your dog requires more soundproofing on his crate than a towel or sheet can supply, there are some insulated crate covers that reduce noise considerably. I tried one of these once and it was just too bulky for our crates. I would also caution owners about using these in warm temperatures. The insulation keeps heat in the crate.
If your dog becomes a danger to himself or your family during storms, it’s definitely time to talk to your vet about options. Some vets may prescribe medication that helps to calm the dog during storms or seasonal loud noises (think fireworks).
Desensitizing the dog to storms
Another option is to train the dog not to fear the sound of a storm. There are recordings that you can utilize to desensitize your dog to certain sounds. This will take longer to implement, but it may be a long-term solution for some dog owners.