Does Your Dog Have Storm Phobia?
Can Your Dog Smell Lightning?
Does your dog show one or more of these symptoms when a thunderstorm is approaching?
- Clinging to you
- Hiding in a closet or jamming themselves in some tiny spot like behind a toilet
- Running through your electric fence
- Excessive shaking
- Unusual whining
- Frantically destroying rugs and furniture
Likely your dog is experiencing thunderstorm phobia which is not uncommon, and shouldn't be ignored, experts say. According to pets.webmd “Veterinarians don't know all the triggers but suspect the dogs are set off by some combination of wind, thunder, lightning, barometric pressure changes, static electricity, and low-frequency rumbles preceding a storm that humans can't hear.”
Long before a severe storm approaches, dogs can be seen pacing, panting and acting in an agitated way—even though skies are perfectly sunny. Is it possible that he has a sixth sense when it comes to predicting storms? Or is there a scientific explanation? While no one can be 100% certain, it's likely that some dogs know a storm is brewing because they hear it, smell it, even feel it, long before we do.
With their keen ears, canines can hear at much higher and lower frequencies than we do. A dog can hear a faraway rumble of thunder that you might miss. In addition, a dog's nose is so sensitive, it can detect odors a billion times better than humans. Since lightning ionizes air with the formation of ozone—which has a characteristic metallic smell—it's possible that dogs detect this odor, or some other odor, associated with the storm.
Dogs are also more attuned to changes in barometric pressure than humans. A drop in pressure signals that conditions may be right for a storm to develop. So a dog may learn to associate the feeling of a pressure drop with the arrival of a storm.
"What’s important to remember is that dogs suffering from thunderstorm fear are not misbehaving," comments animal behaviorist Lindsay Wood of the BoulderValley Humane Society. "They’re displaying symptoms of anxiety.The anxiety often gets worse throughout the season as storms become more frequent."
Your dog may also begin to associate a particular startling noise with other things in her environment, and she may grow afraid of these other things because she associates them with the loud noise that frightens her. For example, dogs who are afraid of thunder may later become afraid of the wind, dark clouds, and flashes of light that often precede the sound of thunder.
Working and sporting breeds (e.g. Collies, German Shepherds, Beagles, and Basset Hounds) are particularly prone to storm phobia and breeds that tend to show separation anxiety are often more prone to storm phobia.
Vets, dog trainers and experts in the field are consistent in their approach to helping dogs with a fear of thunder.
1. Distract your dog and try to get him to play with his favorite toy or play with a family member. The key is finding an activity that he likes to do from the moment he shows any signs of anxiety even if you can’t see the storm outside yet.
2. Give the dog a safe place where s/he can go in a storm. – a basement, a bathroom, an interior room without windows, a room with music. "White noise," such as running a fan or air conditioner may aid in reducing anxiety.
3. Many experts encourage desensitization and behavior modification. Begin by exposing your dog to an intensity level of noise that doesn't frighten her and pairing the noise with something pleasant, like a treat or a fun game. Gradually increase the volume as you continue to offer her something pleasant. Through this process, she'll come to associate "good things" with the previously feared sound.
What NOT to do:
While the extra sensitivity of an animal’s five senses can sometimes be a challenge in situations like thunderstorms, that extra sensitivity when compared to humans, can be a life safer. In a recent tidal wave more than 200,000 people died, yet almost no wild animals perished except those in cages which they could not escape. Observers report that the animals seemed to have some warning, whether by several hours or just seconds, that allowed them, and the people who heeded those warnings, the chance to find safety.
- This may only reinforce her fearful behavior and she may interpret this as a reward for her fearful behavior.
- to prevent her from being destructive during a thunderstorm. This can lead to severe injury.
- Punishment will only make her more fearful.