How to Help Calm Your Dog During a Storm

by | May 4, 2011 05:49 PM ET

Sadie on a non-stormy day

The wind's been picking up to a moderate howl, lightning is beginning to flash and you know that thunder is just around the corner. And you also know this means one of your best friends (of the four-legged furry variety) will soon be cowering in the bathtub or under the guest bed. But what you really want to know is how to keep your dog from clamoring for cover and how to calm him (or her) during a storm.

As a pup, my dog could get pretty frantic during a storm. In fact, she was quite the little weathergirl. If something more than a routine rain shower was brewing, you'd know because Sadie would start to shiver and she'd be stuck to me or my husband like glue. Often, since she was a pretty small puppy, I'd just throw on a hoodie and zip her up in there with me. And I'd either play some music or read to her and she'd eventually calm down. As she got bigger, the hoodie solution wasn't quite as practical, but she'd still curl up in one of our laps and we'd play music or read aloud.

Last night, we had a pretty huge storm come through. It woke Sadie (and me) up. Now a mature dog of 11, she doesn't get quite as freaked out as she used to and as long as she can sit on or very nearby me or my husband, she's OK. But it made me wonder what about other dogs? And did what we do when she was a pup help?

Turns out, some of what we did was in line with what some pros recommend but some of it wasn't.

According to veterinary behaviorist Dr. Gary Landsberg, there are short-term and long-term issues to address when dealing with a dog suffering from a storm phobia. In the moment, you want to be able to calm the dog down. But in the long run, you want to help the dog learn how to handle storms in general, either by developing a less frantic response or devising a routine for how to handle the anxiety. Specifically, Landsberg suggests a form of behavior modification by mimicking a storm using a CD of thunderstorm sounds played at a soft level to acclimate the dog to the noise while helping him or her find a comfortable and comforting place to settle down. Incorporating distractions like toys into that safe zone can help. You'd continue to do this over a span of time, and during each session, you'd gradually turn up the volume of the storm sounds until, eventually, your dog would become desensitized to the sound.

Another thing that Landsberg points out is that you have to be careful not to reward certain behaviors when trying to calm your dog. I suppose some might say that my playing Mama kangaroo to a joey Sadie via my hoodie was overdoing it, but for us, it worked. And it might just be that doing that was successful for us because it achieved a similar effect to many products that are on the market for storm-phobic dogs, such as:

  • Ear protection, which is used to muffle sounds
  • Goggles and blindfolds, which are used to block out lightning flashes
  • Stress wraps like the thundershirt, which are used to provide constant pressure in the same way swaddling a newborn (human) baby works

Is your pup petrified during storms? If so, what do you do to keep him or her calm? Share your favorite methods for keeping your dog distracted 'till the thunder passes. Oh, and don't forget to follow How-to Stuff on Facebook and Twitter, and download the new HowStuffWorks Android app from the Android Marketplace!

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