Humans call it “astraphobia.” It’s the abnormal fear of thunderstorms. Dogs can suffer from storm phobia too. Even well-behaved dogs will display symptoms, many times before the first thunder clap. They start to pace through the house, or find a place to hide, or cling to your side. They have even been known to claw their way through drywall or break through windows out of sheer panic.
It breaks our heart to watch our normally amiable pet become so stricken with fear. But there are ways to minimize their anxiety. It starts when the skies are clear. Reward them for calm behavior all year, teaching them to settle down on command. If you try to console, to pet, or to feed treats to a dog that is already panicky, those actions will likely encourage the phobic behavior. During a storm, you can also give your dog free access to a place he or she feels safe, like a basement or closet. Try to keep them occupied and distracted.
There are two other strategies that have had success. One is snug-fitting shirts, which can have a calming effect on dogs much like swaddling clothes have on a human baby. Another strategy is to periodically play recordings of thunder during the winter season. Start the playback on low volume and gradually increase it through the season, which will allow the dog to get used to the noise. Keep in mind, though, that recordings won’t desensitize dogs to other features of a thunderstorm, such as static electricity and changes in air pressure, which may be triggers of the phobia in dogs.
Storm phobia in dogs is very common. If these strategies fail to control your pet’s fears, please ask your veterinarian for some advice.