When you’re a dog lover, it can be tough to watch your normally calm pup get stressed out during a thunderstorm. While some dogs show mild signs of stress, like licking their paws, other dogs can get so worked up during storms they may get destructive.
To better understand why some dogs hate thunderstorms, we talked to Trista Miller, a CPDT certified trainer, and an AKC CGC and Trick Dog Evaluator. Here’s what we learned.
Why Do Dogs Hate Thunderstorms?
Trainers and experts might not know every reason why dogs hate thunderstorms, but Miller believes it has a lot to do with the loud sounds. “Of course, dogs are so much more sensitive to sounds, their hearing is so much more powerful than ours, so they can often detect thunder way before we can,” she explains.
She also believes it’s instinctual. “It’s a survival thing to be afraid of loud noises, to want to find shelter,” she says. “Thunder is a big part of it. But, I think dogs are also sensitive to changes in air pressure and potentially static electricity. So, I think there could also be some unheard, unseen things that dogs can catch that we do not.”
Tips for Soothing Your Dog During a Thunderstorm
When there’s a thunderstorm and your dog starts to get nervous, here are some tips and tricks for calming them down.
1. Give Them a Safe Space
The best thing you can do for your dog is to let them go to their safe space, and not punish them for any behavior during thunderstorms including destruction and whining. Miller explains that dogs like going to a space like their crate or a dark closet during a thunderstorm because it’s familiar and soothing.
“Dogs descended from wolves and were in dens, and so they still like den-like environments,” she says. “So giving them that smaller space eliminates anything sneaking up on them. If they’re in an enclosed space where they are comfortable and familiar, that’s going to be more soothing to them.”
2. Provide Background Noise
If your dog can’t hear the thunder or see the lighting, they’ll be less stressed. In addition to providing a safe space that’s dark and covered, provide background noise to reduce stimulation. Like humans, dogs feel uneasy when they unexpectedly hear a loud sound, and having background noise helps.
“You can play white noise — or classical music is especially calming to dogs,” Miller says. “Talking in a soothing manner, and, if your dog likes it, pet them in long, calming strokes.”
3. Soothe Your Dog with Toys and Puzzles
Chewing and puzzle toys can also help your dog during a thunderstorm.
“If your dog gets destructive, chewing and licking are self-soothing behaviors,” Miller says. “If your dog naturally tends to do those things when they’re upset, giving them positive outlets for that can be really helpful.”
She suggests buying toys that help with chewing or licking like the Lickimat. You can smear the mat with peanut butter, cream cheese, soft bananas, etc. and dogs have to work to get the food off it.
In addition, puzzle toys, kongs filled with peanut butter or kibbles, or anxiety vests are helpful. “Any of those would be super good for dogs,” Miller says. “If they like their crate, give them those fun things in there.”
Learn Your Dog’s Body Language
While it can be easy to get angry at your dog for being destructive or whining during a storm, it’s important to take the time to understand why your dog is acting this way and learning how to help. The best way to soothe your dog is by knowing their body language.
Dogs are really good at communicating with their body language. “They can read other dogs’ body language really well, they can read our body language really well, but we’re usually oblivious to theirs,” Miller says. “A lot of people misunderstand what their dog is trying to communicate.”
For example, when a dog yawns, it’s because they’re likely stressed out. And if you can start identifying these behaviors before a thunderstorm, you can have a plan in place before it escalates and your dog is out of control.
Learn more about reading your dog’s body language.