With the first distant rumbles of thunder, your dog begins to pant, tremble, pace and whine as it contemplates an escape route from the impending storm. Why are dogs afraid of thunder? There are a number of potential factors that can contribute to a dog scared of thunder, fireworks and other loud noises.
Not all dogs are afraid of thunder and other noises. Some dogs afraid of thunder are actually exhibiting fear of the environmental changes that they experience prior to a storm’s arrival. Animals are sensitive to changes in barometric pressure and electrostatic fluctuations. Dogs that find these changes particularly disturbing may associate the unsettling sensations with the thunder that is sure to follow. Such fears tend to escalate over time, leading a dog to eventually become fearful of anything associated with a thunderstorm, including the sound of raindrops that may or may not be accompanied by thunder. As the fear becomes more intense, the dog’s reaction also intensifies.
Specific Dogs Afraid of Thunder
Whether the sound in question is thunder, fireworks, gunshots or backfiring vehicles, some specific dogs afraid of thunder include those that suffer from separation anxiety. Some breeds, including Beagles and German shepherds, also have a higher incidence for this fear. Any dog scared of thunder may at one time have experienced a negative and frightening occurrence that accompanied thunder.
Owners often contribute to making a dog’s fear of thunder and other loud noises more severe. If an owner typically becomes nervous when a thunderstorm approaches, the dog will pick up on these feelings and take on the understanding that something dreadful is coming. Even a calm and well-intentioned owner can intensify their dog’s fear of thunder by being overly comforting during a storm. If the owner tries too hard to lavish attention on the dog and to convince the dog that all is well, he or she is reinforcing the fearful behavior.
Recognize the Signs
Learn the signs that will enable you to recognize when your dog is experiencing fear of thunder or other loud noises. By doing so, you can discuss your dog’s fear and symptoms with your veterinarian and obtain some helpful treatment ideas. Each dog will exhibit its own combination of signs of fear. Some early signs that may be exhibited before the first claps of thunder include:
- Seeking out the owner
- Refusal to eat
- Attempts to hide or escape
Some additional signs that may present during the height of a noisy storm or during a Fourth of July fireworks show may include:
- Inappropriate or uncontrolled elimination
- Increased frantic attempts to escape
- Anal gland expression
- Dilated pupils
- Inability to focus on commands or other communications made by the owner
There are a number of sedative medications that veterinarians prescribe for dogs that suffer from fears of loud noises. While these are effective options when you know that the noise source is inevitably going to occur, such as fireworks going off on the Fourth of July, they are not always helpful for thunderstorms. The fireworks display can be predicted, and you know when it is going to occur. Thunderstorms, however, are not always predictable. Since many of these medications do not take effect until 30 minutes to two hours after administration, that surprise thunderstorm will have passed by the time your dog is sufficiently relaxed.
There are a few simple things that you can try at home to reduce the intensity of your dog’s fear responses. First and foremost, be sure to maintain an attitude that is at once calm and upbeat. Additionally, consider the following tips:
- Enclose the dog in a confined area where the dog normally feels secure, such as its crate. If you are using a crate, be sure to leave the door of the crate open so that the dog does not feel cornered or trapped.
- Place the dog in an interior room of the home that does not have windows or outside walls. This will help to muffle the sound.
- Provide white noise, such as from an air conditioner, or play a radio or the television to provide a buffer against the outside noises.
If these attempts are ineffective, your veterinarian may recommend a regimen of behavior modification training techniques to try to desensitize your furry friend to thunder and loud noises.