Coping with Thunderstorms

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A thunderstorm is rolling through. Your dog is terrified and seeking a safe place to hide, whining, shaking, or any number of other responses. Well, it might be more than just the noise that’s causing this.

We know that all animals are highly sensitive to atmospheric and barometric changes. For example, think about all the stories of dogs “predicting” tsunamis and earthquakes. But, according to Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Director of Animal Behavior at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, dogs may be more than just sensitive to these changes; they may actually experience shocks from static electricity during thunderstorms. Changes in the atmosphere can create an uncomfortable build-up of static electricity in a dogā€™s coat, which can produce painful shocks. This could explain why dogs tend to seek out rooms and places that are grounded, such as bathtubs, basements, or enclosed areas.

With this in mind, here are some ideas that may help your dog cope with thunderstorms more easily:

Unscented dryer sheet: Lightly petting your dog with an unscented dryer sheet can counter the effects of the static. PLEASE NOTE: While many veterinarians consider unscented sheets to be safe, they also recommend only occasional use to ensure no chemical residue gets left behind that the dog will lick at. They also recommended not using this method if your dog is normally a habitual groomer. In other words, if your dog normally grooms themselves a lot, don’t use a dryer sheet to counter storm static.

Conditioning/Counter-conditioning: If you have a new puppy, you can make storm recordings and play them at a very low volume during non-stormy days to help condition them to the sound. Over many sessions, gradually increase the volume, rewarding them with their favorite toys or treats for every minute they remain calm. Keep doing this until you can play the recording at full volume, making sure you continue to reward your dog. Practicing this frequently may help your dog cope better with real storms. If your dog is older and already has a fear of thunderstorms, you can counter their responses the same way. Just remember to reward them for being calm. In this way, you’ll help your puppy or your already fearful dog to make a positive association with the sound.

Create a safe zone: Underground, soundproof, warm, and bright is ideal, but since most of us only have a crate or kennel, you can use that. Be sure to leave the kennel door open, however, as closing it during a storm can make a dog’s fear or anxiety worse. Also, check out YouTube for DIY soundproofing ideas; adding some kind of sound dampening material to your dog’s crate or kennel can help them immensely. This is especially important if you can’t physically be with your dog during a thunderstorm.

Get physical: If your dog allows it, don’t be afraid to cuddle them. You’re not rewarding them for being afraid. What you’re actually doing is breaking the effects of the static buildup ā€“ which in turn gives them relief from the static shocks ā€“ and you’re earning their trust. They associate you with relief from the pain or discomfort, and you make them feel safe. If they don’t allow cuddling, you could try a thunder shirt or something similar. Most pet stores carry them, and many have reported great results. Your dog may still be afraid of thunderstorms, but maybe these methods will make it less intense for them.

Counter sound with sound: If you can’t physically be with your dog during a thunderstorm, turning on the radio or TV before you leave the house may help offset the noise of the thunder. This has also been shown to help dogs with generalized mild to medium separation anxiety.

Have you tried any of these suggestions yourself? Did they help your dog? did they make things worse? What other things have you tried to help your dog cope with thunderstorms? Share in the comments ā€“ and remember to stay calm and lead on. šŸ™‚

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