Thanks to modern meteorology, we can easily forecast the approach of thunderstorms and other weather systems. But have you ever noticed that some dogs—perhaps yours—seem to know when a storm is approaching? Does your dog seem to get nervous?
But first, how in the heck are dogs able to sense an approaching storm?
There are a number of ways dogs can sense the approach of storms. For one, dogs are sensitive to drops in barometric pressure, which is affected by approaching storms. What’s more, dogs can smell impending rain. We can too; but dogs have an average of 300 million olfactory receptors in their nose, whereas we have six million. They can smell incoming rain way before you do. Oh, and did you hear the rumble of thunder in the distance? Your dog certainly did, because his hearing is four times stronger than yours. While we struggle to hear anything above 23,000 Hertz., dogs can hear noises up to 45,000 Hertz.
Although dogs are one of nature’s four-legged meteorologists, that doesn’t mean they love a rainy night in the way we do, a feeling best captured by Eddie Rabbit’s famous hit song, “I Love a Rainy Night.” For many dogs, thunderstorms are terrifying; and it’s downright heartbreaking to witness a dog shaking and whimpering in abject fear before and during a storm.
Why do many dogs fear thunderstorms?
There are many reasons. Most people think it’s because of the loud thunderclaps. After all, many dogs are afraid of firecrackers and fireworks. But research indicates it might also be a result of a tingling feeling through their fur, which is a result of static electricity created by storms.
Dr. Nicholas Dodman, director of the Animal Behavior Department at the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University, says the tingling might also be felt as shocks from the static electricity. That might be one reason why some dogs run around the house in search of a place to hide.
Be that as it may, what can you do to reduce your dog’s anxiety? A good start is to follow these 11 tips.
How to calm your dog before/during thunderstorms
- Prepare for the storm by paying close attention to weather reports.
- Put a dog jacket on your dog. Dr. Dodman published studies showing that dog jackets can calm panicky dogs during storms There are two possible reasons for this. For one, the garment might interrupt the static-electricity that creates the shocks. Or, the light compression of the garment relaxes dogs. You can also wrap a blanket or towel around your dog. If you go this route, put the garment on your dog during nice weather so he won’t associate it only with stressful storms.
- Another way to reduce the electric shocks is by placing your dog in a grounded area, like a bathtub or basement.
- Do not leave your dog outside. Not only will it exponentially add to his fear, he also might accidentally harm himself while panicking. Try to be at home when a storm approaches.
- Mask the noise of the storm by turning up the TV or radio. NOTE: Some people say this technique can make things worse. See what works best for your dog.
- Use a diffuser that emits calming pheromones into the air.
- Make sure you’re calm, because your dog can sense your emotions. Create a calming atmosphere in your home.
- Clothes the drapes or curtains so your dog doesn’t see the flashes of lightening.
- Massage your dog’s major muscle groups. Touch his cheeks and forehead. Cradle him so he’s looking you in the face. Try blinking your eyes as though you’re falling asleep. Also, talk gently to him. However, do not over-cuddle your dog; it might actually alarm him. The key is to be calm.
- Distract your dog. Try playing his favorite game. Reward him with treats. If you can associate play and treats with thunder and lightning, you’ve scored a huge victory.
- If all else fails, there are always natural remedies, like kava kava, St. John’s Wart and valerian. Even pharmaceuticals can help. Talk to your veterinarian.
Is your dog afraid of thunderstorms? What techniques do you use to help your dog feel calm?