How To Calm Your Dog During Thunderstorms Or Fireworks
It’s not uncommon for a dog to be scared of thunder or fireworks.
Both thunderstorms and fireworks are similar in that they both have unexpected flashes of bright light, combined with an extremely loud noise.
The unpredictable nature of thunderstorms, in particular, can make management difficult, hence why it’s important to train your dog to ignore these sounds and remain calm and relaxed.
During a storm, some dogs only show mild signs of distress such as licking their paws or yawning frequently, while other dogs become highly aroused and destructive.
In this article, we explain the techniques you can use to help your dog stay calm and relaxed in the presence of loud sounds and bright light flashes.
My dog is freaking out every time there is a storm, especially when there is thunder and lightning. I am at my wits end. I have tried a Thunder shirt and I turn on music. But I just can’t be with my dog all day. I want to know how do you calm your dog during a thunder storm?
I’ve followed my trainers tips on noise phobia, I give her hugs and cuddles. She is so frightened of loud noises, what else can I do?
Dr Leigh’s Reply
I’m so glad you are giving hugs and cuddles! That’s a great start.
The most important thing you can do for your dog is to predict that a storm is coming and to prepare.
Watch weather reports and have alerts set up on your phone.
Try and be home when a storm is coming.
If this is impossible, at least ensure your dog is brought inside.
Make sure you download this free PDF “Storm Fear & Phobia Survival Kit” so that you can work through the techniques we describe below.
What To Do When A Storm Is Brewing
There are a number of things you can do to help your dog when you know that a storm is coming, or there is going to be an evening of fireworks.
Provide A Safe Environment
Bring your dog inside into the most soundproof area of the house.
This can be tough if you are at work. Maybe you need to get a dog sitter?
Put your dog in a dark room, large walk-in wardrobe or bathroom. Preferably in the centre of the house with no windows. This is like being in a cave “den”.
Build your dog a safe kennel or a place where they can hide. You can use blankets to make a makeshift cave or use special Noise Proof Acoustic Foam so that the kennel is soundproof. A door flap can be made with thick hessian or blanket to block light.
When you are present, play with your dog.
It has been proven that the more you play and exercise your dog, the fewer phobias they will have.
Do things so that they are distracted and the fear response isn’t alerted.
Food is a great way to distract them. Especially if combined with a puzzle type toy.
You might work out that their absolute favourite distraction is a marrow bone or a Kong filled with peanut butter.
These favourite treats are not ‘everyday’ treats but used for special occasions.
Control Your Behaviour
You need to stay calm even when your dog is displaying signs of fear and might be making you stressed.
Carry on as usual.
Avoid pretending as dogs can ‘see’ right through you.
Don’t act excited and hyped up as this too can make the situation worse and your dog might think you are fearful too.
Avoid the high pitched squeaky voice!
Studies have shown that you WILL NOT make the fear worse if you console your dog.
Unfortunately, the internet hasn’t caught up with this and you will find lots of information to the contrary.
Sitting quietly watching tv or reading a book and firmly stroking your dog can help. The idea is not to make a fuss.
Pheromones & Essential Oils
The first thing you can try if your dog has a fear of thunder or loud noises is an Adaptil Collar or Spray.
Adaptil is a pheromone that has been shown to reduce anxiety in dogs.
You can spray this on clothing, use it in a diffuser, or as a collar.
Adaptil can be purchased at veterinary clinics and in pet stores.
It is one of those products that works very well for many dogs, however, if the fear is abnormal or the dog is phobic then further intervention and medications will be required.
Some essential oils such as chamomile and lavender have been shown to calm animals. You might like to try this as an adjunctive therapy. (Please be careful if you have cats as some essential oils are poisonous to them.)
Try Pressure Clothing, Goggles and Earmuffs
Some anxious pups respond well to wearing a Thunder Shirt. You might be wondering how a Thunder Shirt works? Basically, it provides a firm, but gentle, constant pressure over your dog or cat’s torso. This helps the dog or cat feel safe and less anxious.
A ThunderCap Calming Cap is another way of helping your dog to feel more comfortable.
You might also like to try sunglasses or ‘Doggles’ that either block or diffuse light. These can be very handy if lightning is a feature in many of your storms.
There are a number of options for blocking the intensity of sound that your pet hears.
Some dogs respond well to Mutt Muffs while others are happy to listen to white noise such as the tv, washing machine, or drier.
You can also put a clump of cotton wool in your dog’s ears to block the sound.
Other options are to use calming music such as the one in the video below:
Medication Is Always An Option
For many dogs you can try all you might to do everything right to allay your dog’s fear of thunder and still, they are extremely anxious.
In these situations, it is likely that your dog requires medication.
Your veterinarian or the vets at Your Vet Online are able to assess your dog’s needs and provide medication to help them during this time.
You MUST test the dose of the drug before there is a storm. What this means is that on a day when there is no storm you give the medication at the rate your vet advises.
You assess whether the dose is effective – does your dog seem calm? Or are they even more worked up or anxious?
Time how long it takes to work.
Look at how long the effects last.
If the drug works, has no adverse side effects and seems to last for a few hours then you are good to try this when a storm is brewing.
Be sure to follow exact guidelines for when you need to give it.
PLEASE do not allow a veterinarian to dispense ACP or Acepromazine for a noise or thunder phobia. This is an old-fashioned drug and provides no anxiolytic effects.
If you require more help with your dog, book a consult with one of our vets today. We can start you and your dog off on the right track.
What tools have worked for you and your dog? Tell us in the comments below. Be sure to share this article with friends and give us a like on Facebook!
You can listen to Dr Leigh discuss thunder phobia in this video.