Does your dog crouch, cower, tremble and wrap himself around your legs during a thunderstorm? Does he crawl under your bed and into the furthest corner when he hears rain on the roof? If so, your dog suffers from storm phobias. Other clues are barking, howling, drooling, pacing and whining. He may go a little berserk and tear down your curtains, destroy furniture, break windows or participate in other destructive behavior. No matter which of these signs are present, your dog is deathly afraid and needs help learning to cope.
Causes of Storm Phobias
Many dogs suffer from storm phobia, and it is not entirely clear as to why this happens. Canine behavior specialists are not sure if dogs react more to lightning, thunder, blowing wind or rain pounding on the roof. Some dogs suffer from storm phobia as much as an hour before a storm hits. They could be reacting to an electrical charge in the air, or possibly to a sudden drop in barometric pressure. Whatever the reason, dogs can always sense when a storm is blowing in.
Breeds Susceptible to Storm Phobia
An Internet survey shows that some dog breeds are more susceptible to storm phobias than others. They include border, English and Scottish collies, German shepherds, beagles, bassets and other hounds and sporting and working breeds. It is likely that these dogs react negatively to storms because of genetics. All of these dogs are bred to react to stimuli quickly. It only makes sense that they would react to a change in the atmosphere.
Dogs that have been adopted from shelters are also susceptible to storm phobia. They may not have been properly trained as puppies or it's possible they have been abused. Mistreatment often causes dogs to have a wide variety of phobias that influences them throughout their entire lives.
Helping Your Phobic Dog Cope
- Expose your dog to a soft tape recording of a thunderstorm and flashes of light.
- Speak to him in a soft, soothing voice to reassure him.
- Give lots of positive reinforcement if the stays calm, such as bits of cheese, a slice of apple or something else that he particularly enjoys.
- Over a period of time, increase the volume of the thunderstorm recording. If he reacts calmly, reward his positive behavior.
- Do not yell or get angry with your dog if he reacts negatively to the thunderstorm recording or the flashes of light. If you work with him, he will eventually overcome his fears. If you react negatively, his phobia will worsen.
- Do not introduce the storm stimuli too quickly, or you will defeat your purpose and the dog's phobia will worsen.
- Be sure your dog has a crate in which he feels safe and secure. This will ease the anxiety level for some dogs. Line your dog's crate with soft blankets or allow him to crawl under a bed. Anywhere he feels safe is fine, as long as it meets your approval.
- Never confine a dog that has a storm phobia to a crate. He can damage the crate and inflect severe injury upon himself. Leave the door of his crate open so he can come and go as he sees fit.
- Be kind to your dog when he reacts negatively to storms, but do not coddle him or give him excessive attention. This will make the phobia worse.
If these tips do not ease your dog's storm phobia, consult his veterinarian. He may have to prescribe a mild sedative to keep your dog calm during storms. You can also consult with a professional trainer that specializes in puppy behavior. These highly trained people can often pinpoint the problem and help you and your puppy to cope with storm phobia in a positive way.