Are you trying to figure out what to do when your dog is scared of thunder? Not sure how to comfort a dog during a storm?
Also, did any of you grow up hating thunderstorms?
I did, and I hated them with a passion.
Yes, I realize that “hate” is a strong word, yet it totally fits what I remember. Cowering under the covers, hands covering ears and wishing for it to be over already.
For dogs scared of thunder, those feelings translate into shaking, trembling, hiding, and possibly even acting out by destroying your furniture.
Fast forward a few decades and I am no longer afraid of t-storms. On the contrary, I actually enjoy experiencing them now.
So what happened?
I started to realize that thunderstorms were so much more than just loud noise and black skies and focused more on their cool features.
Like the fact that they turn the horizon into a free light show!
That’s exactly what we can teach our dogs as well, at least to a certain degree.
That said, here’s what I’ll cover in this blog post:
- Why do dogs get scared of thunder in the first place?
- Managing your dog’s fear of thunder: how to calm down dogs
- Ideas for food-motivated dogs
- What works for dogs who don’t care about food?
- How to desensitize your dog to thunder
What to Do If Your Dog is Scared of Thunder
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Why Do Dogs Get Scared of Thunder in The First Place?
But why does thunder bother dogs so much?
First, the obvious: Thunder is loud business.
If dogs aren’t properly socialized to loud sounds when they’re impressionable puppies, they tend to shy away from anything loud.
Not just thunder, but also sounds like your garbage disposal, loud airplanes, motorcycles, construction noises, the vacuum, etc.
But thunder is not just loud.
It also comes with spin-offs such as changes in air pressure and static electricity that dogs may be much more sensitive to than we are.
As briefly mentioned before, obvious signs that dogs are uncomfortable during thunderstorms are:
- Trembling and shaking
- Trying to be close to their human
- Excessive panting
- Licking their paws
- Hiding under furniture
- Destroying your furniture (eating couch cushions, table legs, etc.)
So, how can we help our pups be more comfortable during t-storms?
Managing Your Dog’s Fear of Thunder: What Calms Dogs Down?
To help crate-trained dogs feel safe and calm them down, their dog crate is a great starting point. It’s their safe space, sort of like their very own den.
Try covering their crate with towels or blankets to increase this feeling.
Additionally, you can try putting a stuffed toy with a “heartbeat” next to them. For example, the Calmeroos Puppy Heartbeat Toy with Heatpacks. It can help offer relief from anxiety and calm your pup.
Wally also likes to lounge on his Calmeroos puppy on the couch.
Check out my review of the Calmeroos puppy in my Amazon store to find out more! And yep, it includes an unboxing video.
For dogs who aren’t crate-trained, you can try setting them up in a room without windows, ideally with white background noise and a Dog Thundershirt.
This could be your laundry room with the washer and/or dryer going, or a closet with calming music.
Thundershirts are dog anxiety jackets that apply constant, gentle pressure to your dog’s body, sort of like reassuring pets.
Another idea are calming supplements for dogs scared of thunder, for example:
Ideas for Food-Motivated Dogs
Besides being relaxed when storm clouds roll in, I pull out the one card that’s going to trump the vast majority of noises – yummy dog treats.
Missy has always been a greedy pup and will do anything for a treat.
Ever since I started feeding raw dog food and introduced less processed dog treats, even Buzz will drop his beloved chuck-it ball for a yummy snack.
That said, I do like to pull out the big guns during t-storms (and fireworks!): filled KONG dog toys.
Stuffable Nylabone chew toys work too.
You can fill them with ground raw dog food, canned dog food or homemade dog food.
If you feed kibble, you can mix some with pumpkin purée, plain yogurt or sugarless peanut butter.
Here’s the important part: whatever you fill it with, make sure that you pop it into the freezer.
That makes it last that much longer, which is exactly what you want during an extended thunderstorm!
Ideally, you’ll want to always keep one or two in the freezer. That way, you’re prepared for thunderstorms.
You can also offer long lasting dog chews like:
How Do You Calm Down Dogs Who Don’t Care About Food?
I always challenge people who tell me that their dogs don’t care for food.
I say that because my boy Buzz used to not care for this kibble and wet dog food diet one bit(e, pun intended!).
Bonus: they’re great for digestive and coat health!
So for anyone who tells me that their pups don’t care for food, I suggest to try stinky, smelly food.
I don’t know any dog who doesn’t go for that, including many of my kibble-fed client dogs!
However, I do have another suggestion to help you calm down your dog if you’re not quite ready to give truly stinky foods a try:
They’re fun to play with and can distract your pup enough to where they may stop shaking and trembling uncontrollably.
Overcoming Your Dog’s Fear of Thunder: How to Desensitize Your Dog to Thunder
Ideally, your pups wouldn’t be scared of thunder at all, right?
The way I desensitized Missy & Buzz to thunder was to treat them every single time thunder rolls.
It translates into making a positive association (the treats) with the noise (thunder).
It’s that simple. Check out this video of Missy below where we hang out on our covered patio during a t-storm:
Use Thunder to Your Advantage
Now obviously it’s great to practice calm behavior whenever an actual thunderstorm happens to be rolling in.
But I found another way to prep the pups for the real thing back when they were only a few months old – YouTube!
I’d simply look up videos of thunderstorms, play them, and every time there was the sound of thunder, the pups got distracted with treats!
Work(ed)s like a charm, y’all.
What to Do When Your Dog is Scared of Thunder: Bottom Line
So, let’s recap – my dogs pick up on my attitude towards things.
Since I’m relaxed around thunder, so are they.
I underline that behavior by handing out their favorite treats whenever thunder rolls. Understanding that lightning is followed by thunder makes the timing of pulling out treats easy.
We’ve also practiced with videos of t-storms on YouTube.
Ideas for long-lasting chews to entertain your dog who is scared of thunder and calm them down:
- Yak Chews
- Bully Sticks
- Cow Hooves
- Filled KONGs or Nylabones
It’s all about shifting a dog’s focus from a negative perception over to a positive one, similar to the transformation I underwent, except that my motivation weren’t edible treats but the beauty of nature!
Have you tried desensitizing your dog(s) to the sound of thunder? Do you have an additional tip for the K9sOverCoffee audience? As always, we’d love to hear from you in our comment section!
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