Not a nice thing when you see it in your pet, thunderstorm phobia that is. Lamentably, it’s often linked to other anxieties in your dog’s life -noises of a passing car or truck, even a pan dropped in the kitchen. Some dogs can discriminate between different sounds, while others can’t. And what some people don’t realize is that they can often end up reinforcing their dog’s level of anxiety and make it worse.
So what to do, you ask. Okay, reasonable question.
First of all, be sure you don’t make a big deal out of your dog’s reaction, i.e. cringing, shaking, hiding, salivating, even barking. This is sometimes more easily said than done for us humans. Most of us want to run over and cuddle our dog to reassure him or her that all is well, that what it's hearing is just a big noise and it won’t hurt it. From your dog's point of view that's just a lot of babble. Which means you are paying attention to his stress.
Unfortunately, the more you do that, the more you are reinforcing it.
However, if my nervous dog wants to sit by me because of his fear of a storm, that’s okay . . . for now. I will “be there” for him, if possible, but rather than make a fuss, I’ll read a book, check my emails on my phone, or just watch a show. What I’m not going to do is talk to him, pet him, tell him the thunder doesn’t mean the end of the world.
Like l said, it’s hard to keep yourself from not doing just that. If you do, all your dog hears is blah, blah, blah, and you end up paying attention to him in that state which tells him that is what he’s supposed to be doing - be fearful. Stressed. NOT GOOD.
You need to be doing something QUIET. And most importantly, don’t watch a war movie or video with loud noises, or anything that has explosions and loud noises. Period!
For myself, if I can plan ahead, I’ll check the weather, and if a storm is headed our way, or might even skirt our place, I’ll often STUFF a KONG with something gooey, like peanut butter (low fat) or cream cheese, maybe even throw in some kibble pieces or bits of treats in the mix to make it all the more enticing, and more VALUABLE in his eyes. This I’ll give to my dog BEFORE the first booms start, if at all possible. Sometimes I’ll use a raw beef marrow bone instead (at least 4” long for a border collie sized dog), preferably frozen, but these bones, I’ve found, are not always easy to find these days of shortages. (Kongs and marrow bones are addressed in another blog.)
And yes, your dog will probably want to bring that nice messy bit over by you. Don’t go “ewww” and send the dog packing. Be prepared and get out an old sheet or blanket and put it on the floor or couch . . . wherever. What you’re doing is about your dog and helping him through his anxiety, not your fancy decor. Clearly, dogs aren't into fashion. Work around it!
Also, if your dog is game or play driven, you can try doing that IN THE HOUSE.
And be careful you aren’t reacting to the storm, because you dog is going to read that in you and react on it.
Lastly, consider a Thundershirt. Yes, there is such a thing. It’s a dog shirt with Velcro sections that help the material remain snug around your dog’s chest and abdomen, similar to the idea used in children with stress anxiety. But timing is important here. If you put the Thundershirt on during a storm, it might help, but the time to do it is BEFORE the booming starts. (More on the do’s and don’t’s of "Thundershirting" in another post.)
Regrettably, we humans sometimes don’t realize we create these noise issues, but in some dog’s it just seems to happen. However, the object here is first and foremost to NOT MAKE IT WORSE. Secondly, with effort on YOUR part, you can help ease your dog’s anxiety.
Most importantly, know that “fixing” the problem takes TIME. There are no shortcuts. Only consistent proper effort and TIMING on your part can help you give your dog some relief, if not fix the problem.