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The Ruff Report: Help your pet cope with thunderstorm phobia

Many pet parents underestimate the danger of this common seasonal occurrence, but it puts many dogs at a much higher risk of serious injury and can even cause your dog to run away from home.

This act of Mother Nature that occurs during warm weather is particularly insidious because your dog usually knows when it is going to occur long before you do, which causes great anxiety for your companion that will soon turn into full-blown fear and panic.

The warm-weather phenomenon that many dogs fear so much is called the thunderstorm, and pet parents need to take precautions to help their companions cope, a leading animal behaviorist says.

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Dogs can sense that a storm is on the way, and they often begin to show signs of anxiety even before the storm can be heard,” Liam Crowe, CEO and dog behavioral therapist at Bark Busters USA, states in a media release.

And those loud booms and bright flashes can create a safety hazard for many dogs who become out of control with fear, causing some pets to panic and run away, become destructive or even hurt themselves, Mr. Crowe warns.

A survey done by the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association found that any dog can develop thunderstorm phobia, but herding dogs - such as collies and German shepherds - and hounds - such as beagles and bassets - seem to be more likely to develop them. Thunderstorm phobia is also common in sporting and working breeds. This tendency may have a genetic link. For example, herding dogs have been bred to react quickly but to not respond to their strong predatory drive. This means they have to suppress their natural tendencies which can lead to high levels of anxiety. It is speculated that herding dogs have a strong reaction to the startling noises and flashes of a storm, but they repress any aggressive response to it, causing anxiety.

The Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association study also found that dogs adopted from shelters and rescue organizations seem to be more likely to develop storm phobias. Many of these dogs have had less socialization or unpleasant, scary experiences prior to being adopted. They may have been abused or abandoned by a former owner or they may not have been exposed to a wide variety of sights and sounds. These early-life experiences can make dogs more anxious and prone to phobias.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, age is another risk factor as dogs who are afraid of thunderstorms can become more distressed with each successive season. The ASPCA advises those who have an adult dog who has suddenly become afraid of storms to have the pet checked by a veterinarian. A sick dog may become more sensitive to sounds, and the fear may be medically based.

But dogs can be trained to manage thunderstorm phobia, Mr Crowe states. He offers these tips to help keep your dog calm - and safe - when thunderstorms erupt:
  • Keep proper identification fastened to your dog’s collar in case he gets out. Consider talking to your veterinarian about implanting a universal microchip in your pet for lifelong identification.
  • Provide your dog with a safe place to stay during storms. Inside your home, offer a quiet den-like area - such as a crate or kennel - where your dog can feel secure. When a storm hits, lead your dog to this special place.
  • Cover your pet's doghouse or run, if he lives outside, with a blanket to shield him from the bursts of lightning. Outside dogs can get lost or even injured if they escape their fenced yards in fear during storms.
  • Develop a calm, matter-of-fact attitude about the thunderstorm. Dogs can pick up fear or discomfort from family members. Let your dog stay close and try to distract him with activities like play or brushing. Do not try to reassure him in a sympathetic voice-this will sound like praise and may increase his nervousness and confusion.
  • Use a crate if your dog has a tendency to become destructive when frightened. If you do not use a crate, remove any items in the room that your dog could destroy or could hurt him if he chewed them.
  • Keep windows and curtains closed to reduce noise and bright flashes. Turn on a TV or radio playing soft music at normal volume to distract your dog and help him to relax.
  • Keep your dog away from doors that lead outside. A stressed dog could injury others entering your home or dart outside and get lost.
  • Understand that your dog may become incontinent from fear and the rush of adrenaline. Do not react if it occurs.
  • Consider having a train therapist work to recondition your dog by creating an artificial storm with environmental recordings.
  • Consult with your veterinarian about possible medication treatments in extreme cases.

A pet parent needs to help their dog learn that a thunderstorm is just noise and is nothing to worry about, Mr. Crowe added.


The Ruff Report is a column that appears on, a blog written by Joseph A. Reppucci, a retired editor from The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Massachusetts. Mr. Reppucci worked as a reporter and editor on major daily newspapers in the Boston area for more than 30 years. He is the author of the book, The Hunt of Her Life, a heartwarming story about his once-in-a-lifetime rescue dog. Find it on


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