Tips to Help Your Dog Cope with the Fear of Thunder

May 29, 2015

If the crash of thunder and lightning sends your dog running for cover, he’s not alone. Common reactions range from dogs seeking shelter under the bed to pups jumping into the bathtub.

Like any behavior, the best time to treat it is during the puppy stage, when reactions are less severe and better able to respond to treatment. If the fear is already established in your pet, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association recommends two techniques:

Systematic Desensitization:

  1. Play a recording of thunderstorms to your dog, beginning at a low level.
  2. Gradually increase the volume over time, until the point where he shows a fear reaction.
  3. Lower the volume to where your dog becomes calm again.
  4. More slowly, increase this volume over time, usually weeks.
  5. Eventually his fears should subside – this technique works for some, but:

An additional exercise may be necessary:

Counterconditioning:

  1. During the steps above, distract your dog during the recordings.
  2. Simple training exercises, such as “sit” and “stay” followed by treats, distract his mind and help him associate a storm’s noise with pleasing you and a delicious reward.
  3. Playtime and cuddling can be additional “happy time” during this exercise.

If these fail to soothe your furry friend, you can try these other tips:

  • If you see your pet reacting with fear, be gentle and comforting – he won’t understand punishment or anger.
  • If you’re still working together when the next storm comes, provide a safe place for her to hide, such as a crate. Even better if she’s had her own crate since puppyhood, serving as her “bedroom” and safe refuge.
  • Music or white noise can drown out the sound of thunder; combine this with her cozy crate to help create a soothing oasis.
  • If your dog hasn’t responded to the exercises above, your vet may recommend medication, or natural or behavioural therapies to ease his suffering.

Depending on the severity of your pet’s anxiety, your commitment may be time consuming. But really, no one ever wants to see a loved one suffer. Patience, treats and love will go a long way toward easing his mind.

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