How To Calm Your Dog During a Thunderstorm
I hate to start off any article so negatively… but I need you to understand that there is little to nothing that you can do to calm your dog DURING a thunderstorm.
If your dog has thunderstorm phobia and a storm hits, you have lost the battle.
The good news is that you don’t have to lose the war.
How to Calm Your Dog During a Thunderstorm
Don’t get me wrong, this is one of the most difficult behaviors to affect, and the war will be long with many battles, but there are several things that you can do
to help your dog with his fear of thunderstorms!
I remember decades ago, just putting a service dog harness on our dogs seemed to help with their calm and focus.
I think it is because it gives the dog’s brain something else to think about.
Like a gentle leader or a basket muzzle can calm a dog.
Having something else on your mind fills space.
Space that would be used to dwell on and panic about something.
This is why I think sometimes these tools work in the beginning but then seem to lose their efficacy.
It is best to use these as rarely as possibly so that the dog doesn’t desensitize to their effect.
Adaptil is a pheromone that can be used to help reduce anxiety.
And, unlike the former example, you would want to use this constantly in the environment.
The pheromone is taken from the hormones of a pregnant dog and from her mammary area. This hormone helps to calm the puppies.
And, as you could imagine, some dogs recognize this scent and are better able to calm themselves when they smell it.
Adaptil comes in diffusers you can plug in, collars, and sprays you can use before a thunderstorm on the dog’s bedding and in his environment.
Natural Chews and Supplements
In the last several years, many companies have come up with natural chews and treats that are made with the intent of relaxing and calming dogs.
Some people swear by them.
Others swear they don’t work.
I think one thing to be sure of, is that in order to see any kind of healthful change you have to be willing to stick with one or more of these for several months before it is likely you will see any change.
After all, you can’t take “St. Johns Wort” and expect to see a change in your mood in 2 days.
Many of these kinds of chews and supplements need to build up in the system in order to be effective! So if you try it, stick with it for at least 3 months!
Don’t discount drugs just because they are “drugs”.
If you had horrible anxiety attacks and could barely function, you, too, would probably prefer to use drug therapy to help you overcome them.
With behavior modification, drugs are quite effective at treating even severe thunderstorm phobia.
I hate to name names, and no I don’t get a percentage or any perks from mentioning them, but as a vet tech I have seen the science that has gone into Solliquin.
Their science is very well documented and their product testing is done on many more dogs than is required (which is a good thing).
Not everything that is absorbed by humans is absorbed and used in the same way in the body of a dog.
So, I would definitely research their product and talk to your vet.
You can also try Composure, which I have also heard has been shown to have some success.
Be weary of the ones that are extremely cheap with no scientific background, these will likely be a waste of your money.
Clomicalm was the first drug in it’s category to try and treat thunderstorm phobias and separation anxiety.
Clomicalm can be quite effective when used every day during thunderstorm season.
Sileo is a prescription product but uses a sedative to help alleviate the anxiety right before or shortly after the storm begins.
It comes in a easy to use gel that you simply dial the dose and apply to your dogs gums to help calm him.
This can be a lifesaver for people who have dogs that self injure or completely panic during a storm.
Alprazolam is another drug that can be used just prior to or at the beginning of the storm.
This drug is a sedative that should simply take the edge off your dog’s fear.
Help Before The Thunderstorm Hits
Although all of these resources are important when dealing with such severe fears, I think behavior modification and training is the MOST important thing your dog is missing.
Don’t just wait until your dog is terrified!
Give him coping mechanisms PRIOR to a storm.
Give him a safe place!
I have a dog that hates storms, but he LOVES his crate!
So we condition him to go into his crate at the drop of a hat.
Provided your dog is safe with bedding (and won’t eat it) line his crate with them so that he is comfortable.
One crate maker even makes a crate that helps to reduce the noise of the storm and therefore decrease anxiety. Check out Zen Crates.
Having a safe place to go, that your dog loves, is critical.
Otherwise he is nervous about being in his crate or room AND scared of the storm.
Ever crawl into bed after a long or bad day, and just feel the stress melt away and into your sheets before you drift away?
That is how your dog should feel about his safe place.
One of my dogs had his crate in the closet in my bedroom. That was his favorite spot because he couldn’t see the flash of the lightning strike and so that is what we built for him!
He felt more comfortable in his space.
Train for the Big Event
Several times a week I would work with my dog to go to his “safe place” and I would watch TV and spend time in that area.
In preparation for thunderstorms, I would pull the blinds (which I usually left down) and I would turn the TV up LOUD.
In the event of a storm, I would grab my things and go watch a movie as he chilled in his safe place.
Sometimes, I would know a storm was coming because he would head to his safe place on his own! That is how I knew our training program was successful.
And, sometimes, we would share Cheetos on the bed. ;-D
The key is to not WAIT until the storm hits each time; otherwise, the dog associates going to the bedroom (or wherever) with a scary storm and he will begin to panic when you head in that direction with him.
Instead, condition the spot with good food and good times so that he can begin to calm himself while he is in there!
And then, perhaps, you CAN actually calm your dog DURING a thunderstorm!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.