why are some dogs afraid of thunder and others, like these, not?

Why Are Dogs Afraid of Thunder (and How to Help)?


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How do you calm a dog down during a thunderstorm? And why are some dogs scared of thunder and others not? Some kids and adults don’t particularly like the electric boom surging from the sky either yet others find it mesmerizing. Could it be dogs are just the same as people and it’s simply a matter of taste?

Either way, a dog that’s afraid of thunder usually can’t be reasoned with during a thunderstorm. They may attempt to dig and bury themselves back to safety, even break down doors and squeeze through impossibly narrow spaces. As if the distress isn’t bad enough they could get injured or bolt and get lost.

So, in the face of thunderstorms how can we keep furkids safe, both in mind and body? Find the answers here.

How a dog shows their fear of thunder

Unlike dog allergies, they often don’t grow out of their fear of thunder. On the contrary many dogs get more afraid of thunderstorms over time.

Dogs can be so afraid of thunder they’re sometimes willing to do just about anything to get away. Picture barking, whining and panting but also potentially breaking through glass windows and chewing and clawing at barriers. Read ‘is my dog scared‘ for common signs of fear like this.

A dog that’s afraid is really hard to calm down. It’s simply a matter of prevention being a heck of a lot better than cure. For you and your dog.

dog is afraid of thunder and needs to be calmed down

But why are dogs afraid of thunder?

Dogs are afraid of thunder for a myriad of reasons. Often it depends on the dog because, like people, individual dogs can have different phobias and triggers that affect them.

One reason dogs are afraid of thunder is of course the loud rumbling noise it makes. I mean seriously, why would the sky all of a sudden emit monstrous gurgling sounds?

A dog’s keen sense of hearing

Dogs have incredibly sensitive hearing and some more so than others, which explains the different reactions. But it’s not just sound that can be a factor because many a pup will pace and pant even when rainstorms aren’t accompanied by thunder. Or perhaps dogs can hear distant rumblings that we can’t…?

Atmospheric pressure changes

Besides the audio factor, dogs are also keenly aware of the barometric pressure changes when a storm is building. Perhaps this is enough to cause a sensory overload, plus there’s the special lighting effects (lightning) and gusting winds too.

Essentially there’s no one answer that dogs are afraid of thunder and whatever you attribute your dog’s reaction to is probably correct. Thankfully there’s also not just one remedy to help them cope.

one possible reason why dogs are afraid of thunder is their amazing hearing

How do you calm a dog down during thunder? 

There are several options to try out. You might decide to pick the one you think suits your pooch or try them all. Some remedies are more DIY and may be partially helpful while others rely on professional help.

As a side note, you never ever need think of professional help as a shortcoming on your part. Providing your dog with the support of a professional will achieve positive outcomes faster. It means you’re doing the best you can for your dog because the longer they feel fear the longer it will take them to unlearn it.

In some cases you might need the help of a behaviourist or a vet to manage the behaviour of dogs who are scared of thunder. More on that later.

Medication or supplements

A simple approach is to use calming medication to help limit how much stress your dog feels. You can choose between over-the-counter or prescription options and either way getting your vet’s input and guidance is the way to go first.

Not every medication will work for every dog, and your vet knows your dog and its history. For example, pheromone sprays do wonders for most pets because they mimic a mum dog’s natural pheromones. Even the biggest dog in the world will likely feel calmer from mummy dog pheromones.

But not every dog reacts that way to pheromone sprays so you might need something like dog CBD oil or rescue remedy. A vet may also prescribe something like a mild sedative to dogs with chronic fear or anxiety.

owner keeps her dog company during a thunderstorm

Thunder jackets for dogs in NZ 

Thunder jackets for dogs are another DIY option to calm your dog during thunder. As the name implies, the thunder jacket or shirt is all about soothing a dog that’s afraid of thunder.

Thunder shirts do wonders for dogs in all sorts of fear-inducing situations like vet visits and achieving pet safety during holiday fireworks. The jacket applies a constant and gentle pressure on your dog’s core body area – kind of like a mum dog might do when she rests her muzzle on her puppy.

The bonus of a dog thunder shirt is that you don’t have to administer any sort of medication and your dog doesn’t need to take any.

Thunder wrap for dogs DIY

Make this your own thunder jackets for dogs in NZ using the method in this video (just be sure to avoid making it too tight or getting your pup tangled):

Thunder socks

Besides thunder jackets (and while we’re on the DIY bandwagon), a thunder sock is a simple but often effective homemade earmuff using an old sock. Your dog loves eating socks, so this is a bonus; they get to wear them on their head over their ears instead.

To make a thunder sock, cut off the tip of an old stretchy sock and pull it over your pup’s head so it covers the top and back of its head and ears. This creation to help dogs that are afraid of thunder was a pet parent invention.  

It kind of looks like a dog snood or scarf and, if it doesn’t help calm your dog during thunder, at the very least it’ll be useful for doing some pet photography with your extra cute pet.

A den is another option

Changing up the home environment with a few tweaks may help reduce your dog’s fear of thunder by averting its attention. If you’ve done puppy crate training, then cover your dog’s crate with a thick blanket to absorb the sound.

If you’re a pet parent that lets your dog sleep in bed with you, maybe undercovers are best. Read about the health benefit of sleeping with your dog in your bed. Also try having your dog be in the quietest room with the windows closed, curtains drawn and lots of blankets, pillows, toys (and maybe a worn shirt of yours) for comfort.

To add to the ambience, and to take away from the booming thunder, keep the TV on or play soothing music.

dog in a den with soft music playing to drown out thunder

Desensitising dogs to thunder with professional help

Dogs who are afraid of thunder can sometimes be taught coping mechanisms or be desensitised to thunder. This is relatively tricky and it’s worth calling in a professional behaviourist. A behaviourist is a bit like an occupational therapist and will work with your dog’s existing behaviours to find ways to help.

Read our pet behaviourist article for a fuller picture of how this works.

A dog may never totally lose its fear of thunder, but at least helping it to cope and have fewer destructive behaviours will help. Desensitising dogs to thunder is often paired with any of the above methods we’ve worked through.

But how do you desensitise a dog to thunder?

In theory desensitising your dog to thunder is all about introducing them to low-level stimuli and graaadually increasing said stimuli. But the weather of course, isn’t exactly the type of thing you or I can control, so….

One option is to play thunderstorms (softly) via YouTube while helping your dog form positive associations. You could have it on in the background as you play your dog’s favourite game with them or give them a treat to reward them.

Read more about how effective positive reinforcement in dog training can be. Over time you can start desensitising dogs to thunder by increasing the volume of the streamed video. When you’re doing this and your dog stays calm, reward them with a treat or a pat on the head.

A helping paw with dog insurance

It’s natural for many dogs to feel afraid of thunder and lightning. They’ve strong senses and reacting is simply part of being them. Although you’ll want to comfort them, try not to react strongly because it can reinforce to your dog that there’s something worth being nervous about.

One thing you can do towards their overall safety is have a good dog insurance plan. If your dog gets hurt because of an accident trying to escape thunder your plan will help pay for treatment.

The same applies when your dog accidentally damages the neighbour’s property when it manages to bolt and unintentionally breaks down their fence. Your PD Insurance pet plan helps cover third party liability and health care costs. And with us you’ll get one or more months free when you first sign up.

Click below to find out more.

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