As people, some of us enjoy the booming sounds of thunder, while others pay it no mind, and others still experience some level of fear. Dogs are similar to people in this sense. Some dogs will be seemingly unbothered by loud and overpowering thunderstorms, while others will feel a great deal of stress as a result.
If your dog experiences some panic while there is thunder and lightning outside, you might be wondering why that is. More importantly, you are likely trying to decide how you can best help your dog feel comfortable during these times.
What Causes a Dog To Fear Thunder?
There are a lot of reasons that a dog might be afraid of thunder. It can be helpful to know which of them applies to your dog, as that could inform the measures you take to help them feel better.
They Are Afraid of Loud Noises
Remember that dogs have a much more attuned sense of hearing than people, so they are especially sensitive to sounds. In all likelihood, you occasionally find yourself jarred or startled after a particularly loud bout of thunder.
If you are afraid and you know what is happening while having average hearing, just imagine how your furry friend must feel. Not only is the sound so much louder to them, but they also do not know the origin of the thunder in the first place.
Your Dog Fears the Bright Flashes of Lightning
During a thunderstorm, it is likely that your dog is incredibly overstimulated. Due to this overstimulation, there is simply too much happening at once for them to fully perceive it all. With this comes a feeling of being overwhelmed and a feeling of fear. This fear is exacerbated because your dog does not know what is happening, as well as when and if it will stop.
Brief and bright flashes of lightning just add more stimulus to your already overwhelmed dog, so they can create even more of a feeling of fear.
Certain Breeds Are More Likely To Experience This Kind of Anxiety
Some kinds of dogs were specifically bred over generations to be even more attuned to sounds than others. For instance, many herding dogs are a part of this phenomenon. This makes sense when you consider that they would need to be able to hear even the quietest sounds to be helpful partners to their humans. However, this incredibly fine hearing is somewhat less beneficial when they are faced with overly loud noises.
Uncomfortable Static Has Built Up in Their Fur
When a thunderstorm is happening or one is about to occur, there is a large build-up of static electricity in the air. While this electricity might be largely imperceptible to humans, this is typically not the case for dogs. They will feel shocks throughout their fur, especially if they are a larger dog or have long hair. As you can imagine, these shocks are far from comfortable and can put even the calmest of dogs on edge.
Your Dog Has Built Up a Fear of Thunderstorms Over Time
You might expect puppies to have more anxiety related to thunder and thunderstorms than adult or senior dogs, but this is actually not the case. In reality, dogs seem to become more afraid of thunder as time goes on. This is why you might see progressively more anxiety in your dog toward the end of a thunderstorm season as opposed to toward the beginning.
This principle can apply just over the course of a season, or it can occur over the course of a dog’s entire life. Since it seems that dogs’ tolerance of thunderstorms can often go down over time, many senior dogs experience more fear from these loud sounds than younger dogs. It is also possible that older dogs are experiencing more sound aversion than younger ones because they have a condition (arthritis, sensory perception, cognitive dysfunction syndrome, etc.) that makes jarringly loud noises especially unpleasant.
How Do You Know Your Dog Is Afraid of Thunder?
Sometimes, it might be readily apparent that your dog is experiencing a noise phobia or aversion. However, there are also situations and behaviors that might be a bit harder for pet parents to decode.
Your Dog Shakes, Whines, or Has Accidents
This is one of the easier-to-identify signs of fear in a dog. When dogs are fearful, it is not at all uncommon for them to begin to shake (especially in smaller dogs). Similarly, whining is a sound typically made by dogs who are currently experiencing some level of distress. If your dog is incredibly scared, they might have some kind of bathroom accident by urinating or defecating outside of where they should.
They Become More Clingy Than Usual
This will likely look different for certain dogs. Some dogs are already quite clingy to begin with and regularly lean on their pet parents (perhaps literally) for comfort. If your dog typically engages in this behavior, it is reasonable to assume that they will also do it in times of fear or stress.
If your dog goes to you for reassurance, it is because they trust you, and they see you as a source of validation. Other than feeling bad that your dog is scared, you should go ahead and take this as a compliment. You have managed to facilitate such a close bond with your furry friend that they trust you in a time of stress and discomfort. Be there for them during this time. Offer them support, and do not leave them alone if they want to remain by your side.
This behavior will be especially noticeable in dogs with separation anxiety. When they are already in a fearful state, they may also worry that you will leave. In order to make sure you do not, they will stay glued to your side.
Your Dog Attempts To Hide
Regardless of the species, when a perceived threat is experienced, there are two natural reactions: fight or flight. We will delve a bit more into the possible fight instinct in a little while, but many dogs will turn to flight. It is perfectly reasonable and expectable that your dog will want to run away from the perceived threat (the thunder). This will cause them to try to find a hiding space, wherever possible.
They partake in this behavior, often frantically, because they are trying to find a place where the noise is quieter. At the same time, they want a spot where they feel safe, and like the noise can’t and won’t hurt them.
They Engage in Destructive Behavior
Even though your dog’s constant scratching at the walls or trying to chew at furniture might just seem like an annoying habit, the behavior can have a much deeper meaning than that. In reality, when these rituals occur during a thunderstorm, this likely goes back to your pet’s instinct to hide. They are attempting to create or find a safe space for themselves where the sounds will be less intense.
Remember when we mentioned the possibility for your dog to engage in a fight or flight response? Well, just like we said, we have returned to talk about the “fight” option. Some dogs will unfortunately take all of the anxious energy that they are feeling and channel it into aggression. This is different from when a dog engages in destructive behavior to try and find an adequately safe space to hide.
Instead, your dog might snap at you, other people, and any dogs that are around them. They are especially likely to have a negative response to another dog if that dog is acting frightened, which has the potential to set off an aggressive instinct.
How Can You Help Your Dog Feel More Comfortable During a Thunderstorm?
Now that you know several of the many reasons why your dog might be feeling especially nervous over the course of a thunderstorm, you are probably itching to know how you can help them. The good news is that there are a wide variety of ways that you can assist them in feeling more comfortable during this stressful time.
Give Your Dog a Designated Safe Space of Their Own
You may have noticed that many of the behaviors associated with noise phobias in dogs have to do with hiding and seeking shelter. This behavior is likely even more disorienting for your dog at a time when they are already overwhelmed.
If they do not know where to go, it can also result in damage to your home and furniture. Instead of having your dog frantically try to hide, you can alleviate much of their stress by giving them a safe space in a crate.
Crates help dogs to feel secure and at home, which are two feelings that they are severely in need of while experiencing distress as a result of a thunderstorm. The Diggs Revol Dog Crate provides the perfect home inside a home for your dog. Make sure to set up this crate at a time when your dog is calm and curious. Then, they can explore the space at their leisure. You can include soft or even memory foam pads, blankets, and their favorite toys to make it even more inviting.
This way, your dog will get used to seeing their crate as a sanctuary. When a storm inevitably does occur, they will know exactly where to go. They will not harm any furniture and will feel immediately safer and more secure in their crate.
Distract Your Dog With Their Favorite Toys and Treats
Before your dog completely panics, you may be able to calm them down by distracting them with some of their favorite items. Take out a toy that never ceases to make them happy, and offer it to them. You can also give them treats while they are calm, helping to encourage that behavior.
Make Sure That You Remain Relaxed
We all know that dogs are incredibly attuned to reading our body language, listening to our tone of voice, and reacting to the energy of a room. Because of this, it is critical to keep yourself as calm as possible. If your dog perceives you as being stressed, irritated, or fearful, they are likely to mimic those same feelings right back at you. Instead, take a deep breath, and know that you both will get through this likely unpleasant time.
Pay Close Attention to Your Dog’s Body Language
Your dog may begin to show anxiety by trembling, whining, panting, and other self-soothing mechanisms. It is important to be aware of your dog’s body language, as well as how they express concern and fear. If you take the time to know your dog and be aware of their signs, it will be much easier to avoid them panicking before it actually happens.
Ask Your Dog’s Veterinarian for Their Advice
If you are at somewhat of a loss at how to help your dog feel better when it comes to noise aversion, or if you have seemingly tried everything and they are still distinctly fearful, you still have options. At this point, do not hesitate to ask your dog’s qualified vet for their advice. They have certainly seen this same issue before in many other dogs, so they will be able to give you helpful suggestions.
If your dog is especially fearful, the vet will also be able to recommend and prescribe anti-anxiety medication for your pet. This could help both you and your dog to feel much calmer throughout storms.
Cool, Calm, and Collected
If you have seen your dog become spooked by thunder, it is completely natural to be concerned. Thankfully, once you identify the cause of the fear and their behaviors, there are many ways that you can help them feel better.
The Diggs Team
We believe our dogs deserve safer, better designed pet products.
In Your Diggs
Share your photos with #DiggsPet and tag us @DiggsPet on IG and TikTok.