Why Are Dogs Afraid of Thunderstorms?

Often, dogs act as our protectors. They alert us to strange noises or people walking near our homes. They will defend us if someone threatens us. That’s part of the reason why it seems odd to us that our pups will cower in fear when a thunderstorm gets underway.

It’s especially noticeable during the first one of the season. We—and perhaps our pets, too—associate the colder months of the year with silence. When spring comes in like a roaring lion, it takes all of us off guard. It’s no wonder that your pup feels the same way.

Your pet’s fear stems from several reasons. Some are evident. Others may surprise you. It’s helpful to understand what’s going on so that you can provide the best support for your pouch. After all, no one likes to see a pup in distress.

Your Pup Is Responding to You

We have to start with the elephant in the room—you! You are the sun in your pet’s universe. You are its food source, companionship, and shelter. Is it any wonder that your pup is so in tune with your emotions? You set the pace and mood with your response to thunderstorms.

If you are afraid of them, your dog will pick up on your feelings. After all, your pet spends so much time with you. It knows your emotions. If you’re acting anxious, guess what? Your pup is going to feel the same thing if you suffer from astraphobia or the fear of lightning and thunder. While it’s essential to respect storms, your chances of being struck by lightning are only one out of 1,222,000.

dog hiding under the sofa
Image Credit: Aleksey Boyko, Shutterstock

Static Charge Is at Work

Thunderstorms generate a lot of energy with the lightning and volatile weather. Your dog senses it by the static electricity that results. The strange sensations can frighten your pup. It doesn’t take much for it to form a negative association with the sounds it’s hearing and the way it makes it feel.

It’s easy to understand why it would happen. While it doesn’t hurt per se, getting a shock from touching something metal isn’t pleasant. Neither is it for your pet.

Strange and Loud Noises Are Sparking the Fear

Dogs, like people, get used to a routine. They learn to expect their feeding times and walks. They also pick up the normal sounds and creaks of your house. So, when a thunderstorm occurs, it upsets the proverbial apple cart with strange noises. It undoubtedly doesn’t help if the claps are so loud that you can feel them.

You’ll likely find that your pup will mirror your reaction. Of course, you know things that your pet doesn’t, such as weather alerts and perhaps past experiences that have left a mark on you.

white puppy hiding in the curtain
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Genetics Stacks the Cards

Genetics also plays a role in why some dogs fear storms more than others. Some breeds tend to be more fearful of thunder. Interestingly, the ones most likely to react this way are the same ones that usually spend the most time outside, such as herding, working, and sporting dogs. That factor may result from our following reason why dogs are afraid of thunderstorms.

Past Experience Has Set the Stage

A dog’s past and its associations with frightening events leave an impression on it. Hearing the thunder again can trigger those feelings, cementing your pup’s reaction to storms. Of course, there are many variables that can affect this reaction, such as the severity of the storm, your pet’s age, and the circumstances. This phobia often occurs in rescue dogs, supporting this assertion.

dog hiding
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Your Dog Doesn’t Understand What’s Happening

You get it when you see that first flash of lightning. A dog doesn’t. If your pet acts afraid, it could just be that it doesn’t understand what’s going on outside. Remember that animals—including humans—are often cautious about new things in their environments. Something odd could be something dangerous.

Think of it this way. If you see what you guess is a rock around the corner, it’s okay if it is. On the other hand, if it’s a crouching tiger ready to pounce, then not so much. Therefore, it pays to err on the side of caution because you might not get another chance to react. Evolution hardwired these instincts into all of us.

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How to Comfort Your Pet

Seeing your pet shaking in fear is heartbreaking to witness, especially when you can’t control it. Sometimes the best thing to do is just let your dog find its safe place, whether it’s under the bed or behind the couch. It’s instinctive for an animal to seek shelter when it’s afraid. You can try playing ambient music to create a calming atmosphere.

Hugs and soothing talk can also help. However, things such as a weighted blanket can help your dog feel less frightened and more secure on its terms. Another option is to use a calming pheromone spray or diffuser. While you won’t detect the scent, your pup will. It’s another example of letting Nature provide the cure.

golden retriever under blanket
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Behavioral Management

An effective way to treat people with phobias is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). A patient will use a calming word or phrase to say when they feel anxious. For dogs, you can offer praise or treats when a storm begins. Similarly, as a person learns to control their reactions, a pup can make the same positive associations. Psychologists call this counter-conditioning.

Another thing you can try is a technique called desensitization. It involves using a recording a thunderstorm during a quiet time during the winter months. Start by playing it low, perhaps in conjunction with a treat. Gradually turn up the volume to what may sound like a storm during the summer. Eventually, your pet will learn not to fear thunder as much.

If it becomes a more serious issue, talk to your vet about other medications that can help relax your pup before the next thunderstorm hits. Anti-anxiety drugs are quite effective at calming your pet and helping it get through the storm.

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Final Thoughts

It’s not unusual to fear thunderstorms, no matter if you are the owner or the pet. Storms can and do cause injuries and deaths. A dog that fears them is missing out on the good quality of life that your canine friend deserves. Fortunately, there are several ways to manage your pup’s reaction to these weather events. Doing so can give you both welcome peace of mind.

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Featured Image Credit: Irina Kozorog, Shutterstock