Fear of Thunder in Dogs
Astraphobia or „thunder phobia“ is, as its name suggests, an abnormal fear of thunder and lightning that is common in dogs.
Although veterinarians aren't certain about what triggers this fear, many of them suspect that dogs are set off by some combination of loud sounds, wind, thunder, lightning, shaking of the ground as the thunder hits, static electricity, and barometric pressure changes that are happening in the air before and during the storm.
According to one study, about one third of all dog population is scared of thunderstorm that can upset a lot of them to the point of panic. Certain experts believe that some breeds are predisposed to have this phobia (Australian Shepherd, German Shepherd, Vizsla, Border Collies, Labrador Retriever, Havanese, Bichon Frise, etc.). The fact that the fear of thunder really is more common in some breeds than others supports their belief.
Astraphobia usually causes dogs to shake, whine, bark, hide, urinate inside the house, and sometimes even run away while searching for a safe place. Scared dog may also experience panting, yawning, licking, and clinging to its human.
Dealing with scared and anxious dog is not easy. Understanding, patience and persistence are important. You should never yell at anxious dog because that will only elevate its anxiety. Talk to the dog calmly. Let him know you are near and you will protect him, but don’t cuddle the dog too much because that can also exacerbate the problem. Cuddling an anxious dog too much teaches the dog that his anxious behavior is acceptable. The best thing you can do for you anxious dog is to provide him a safe place to go during the storm. Somewhere more quiet and hidden, where the dog will feel protected. Most of anxious dogs pick bathroom (usually inside of a bathtub or behind a toilet) as their safe place when there is storm outside. Fill their safe place with familiar things like their beds, favorite toys, etc. Also, make sure to close curtains on windows so the dog cannot see outside. You can help your dog during storms by distracting him. Turn on the TV, put on some music or simply play with him (if he is up for that). All this will drown out the noise from outside and while he is playing, he will not be thinking about a storm happening outside.
Another thing you can do to minimize astraphobia is to prepare your dog to the sounds of thunder. For example, you can play thunder sounds quietly in the house, while there is no storm outside, and give the dog treats so he can associate the sounds of the storm with yummy treats. With time, you can gradually increase the volume of thunder sounds in the background so when a real storm hits, it won’t be too loud for the dog.
If your dog is panicking hard when there is storm outside and nothing described in this text helps, you should talk to your veterinarian. In such difficult cases of astraphobia veterinarians usually prescribe some mild (often herbal) sedative that helps a dog feel calmer.
Also, according to some veterinarians, dogs are sometimes afraid of the thunder because they may experience shocks from the build-up of static electricity that accompanies thunderstorms. This is why lately snug-fitting shirts and wraps are extremely popular. These shirts are designed with one goal – to calm an anxious dog. They apply gentle pressure on a dog’s body which helps them to reduce the anxiety (similar to a hug – hugging puts pressure on sympathetic nervous system causing hugged person’s body to release relaxing hormones and calm down).