6 Tips to Help Calm your Thunder-Phobic Dog

It’s thunderstorm season. While I’ve read that 20 percent of dogs are thunder-phobic, the number may actually be higher, as it doesn’t include people who have never sought treatment for their thunder-phobic dogs. People with thunder-phobic dogs know that it is no small problem. It doesn’t go away by itself, and left untreated, it only seems to get worse with age.

Symptoms of canine thunder-phobia include destruction, anxiousness, pacing and panting, hyperactivity, and crawling into a confined space, such as a bathtub or under the bed. The fear is often completely irrational. In most cases, nothing “bad” has ever happened to the dog during a thunderstorm. It’s more about a fear of what could happen. A dog with a severe thunderstorm phobia appears to think the world is coming to an end. Some people worry that their panic-stricken dogs are going to have a heart attack. To make matters worse, people often feel helpless and panic-stricken themselves when they don’t know how to help their dogs.

Six Holistic Ways to Calm your Thunder-Phobic Dog:

1) Confined Spaces: Allow them to go into a confined space, if they desire. If they are most comfortable in the bathtub, their crate, under the bed, or in a closet, allow them to be in that space. The space they retreat to may also be a quieter space that helps them minimize the sounds of the thunderstorm.

2) Counter Classical Conditioning: The idea is to pair something that your dog absolutely loves with the thing that they are afraid of. Timing is of great importance, because it’s important to start this before your dog’s anxiety is built up too much. When he is just sensing a storm approaching and starts to show mild signs of anxiety, make chicken fall from the sky, or take out his favorite toy for a fun game of play. If your dog is food motivated, this is a good time to have some very high value reward that he goes bonkers over. If you wait until your dog is already extremely panic-stricken, this probably won’t work. But, if you can keep his focus on the treats or toys, when the sounds get louder, rewarding just after a loud thunder boom with the high value reward could be very beneficial. Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., CAAB, has more detailed information on counter classical conditioning here.

Next: Using Sensory Integration to Calm Canines

Normally panic-stricken during thunderstorms, Bean now snoozes to Through a Dog's Ear

3) Sound Therapy has been very effective in helping dogs with mild to severe thunder phobia issues. Play Music to Calm your Canine Companion by Through a Dog’s Ear . It includes classical selections with psychoacoustically designed changes that are clinically demonstrated to relieve canine anxiety issues. It is usually most effective when you first play the music well before the thunderstorm starts, at a time the dog is already feeling peaceful and relaxed. He will begin to associate the music with being calm and content. The music doesn’t need to be loud to be effective as it has been clinically demonstrated to calm the canine nervous system. Here’s a great story from Mel about her dog Bean, a formerly panic-stricken thunder-phobic dog. Though skeptical, she had tried everything else and introduced Bean to Through a Dog’s Ear music right when the storm started. Bean not only snoozed through that storm, but has since slept comfortably through every subsequent storm. Listen to free sound samples.

4) Desensitization and Habituation: Canine Noise Phobia is an innovative desensitization training tool that combines three distinctive elements for the treatment and prevention ofsound-sensitivities and noise-phobias: progressive sound effects, specially-designed psychoacoustic music, and reward-based reinforcement protocols. Thunderstorms CD includes training protocol written by Victoria Stilwell, the famed dog trainer on Animal Planet’s It’s Me or the Dog.

5) Wraps: There are two canine wraps on the market that reportedly help sound-phobic dogs. The original Anxiety Wrap was invented by professional dog trainer Susan Sharpe, CPDT-KA. The patented design uses acupressure and maintained pressure to reduce stress and the stretchable, lightweight fabric breathes and allows your dog to wear it in hotter temperatures. The thundershirt is also a wrap for your dog that provides gentle, constant pressure (although made of a much heavier material). Their website reports that over 85 percent of Thundershirt users see significant improvement in noise anxiety symptoms. Most dogs respond with the very first usage; others need 2-3 usages before showing significant improvement.

6) Pheromone Therapy: According to the Dog Appeasing Pheromone website, pheromone therapy has been very effective and successful in treating phobias and stress experienced by dogs. Pheromones are natural chemicals within animals and are said to be the chemical that affects animal behavior. For dog appeasing pheromone therapy, pheromones are taken in through the nasal passage of the dog to produce a calming effect on one part of the brain that is connected to the dog’s behavior and emotion. DAP is supplied to dogs as a plug-in diffuser, a spray (which has been scientifically tested and has been shown to be effective on decreasing stress driven behaviors by more than 85 percent), and a DAP collar.

Does your dog exhibit symptoms of thunder-phobia? What has helped during storms? Thanks for posting your comments below.

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Have you tried Sound Therapy for your dogs? Through a Dogs Ear is the first music clinically demonstrated to calm the canine nervous system.

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Darla G.
Darla G.3 years ago

I’ve yet to try the free sample from Through a Dog’s Ear on my elderly Yellow Lab. He doesn’t like any loud noises because he associates those with the pain of getting two toes blown off at some point in his life. We assume it was a hunting accident as he still has buckshot in the remaining two toes and pad (we had it x-rayed when he started limping about 2 years after we adopted him). He’s slightly less anxious since we adopted a second Yellow Lab who has ZERO concerns about loud noises. Most of the time he just wants to be near someone but we’ve found him in my husband’s bedroom where an oxygen concentrator runs 24/7. It makes enough noise to mask some of the sounds that frighten my boy.

Lynn D.
Lynn D.3 years ago

Great ideas! Mine used to just love to sit in my lap and be held!

Sheri P.
Sheri P.3 years ago

i have a very thunder-phobic cat...wonder if these things will work on cats as well.

Carrie Anne Brown

interesting article, thanks for sharing :)

Abbe A.
Azaima A.3 years ago

thank you

Pat W.
Pat W.3 years ago

If I am home during a storm I make an extra point to have soft music on and reassure him by
brushing him or just petting him and speak extra softly.. sounds corny but works for my dog
and cats

Karen Rosenfeld
Rosenfeld3 years ago

Here are two articles that cover the methodology behind naturalizing solving thunder anxiety in more depth...

Thunder Anxiety - Part 2

Thunder Anxiety - Part 1

Cheers, Karen

Deborah F.
Deborah F.3 years ago

I knew a dog that was terrified of thunder. She was a good early warning system, but I did feel bad for her. These might have helped if I'd known then. Thanks for the tips.

Magdalen B.
Magdalen B.3 years ago

My aunt used to hide in the bathroom during thunderstorms.

Carolanne Powell
Carolanne Powell3 years ago

Some good tips there...thankyou