Thunder Phobias – How to Calm a Nervous Pet

Wondering when the next summer thunderstorm is going to hit? For many pet owners, you can just look to your dog for the answer. Our pets can sense the drop in barometric pressure that accompanies a storm. Unfortunately, for many pets this is just the beginning of a deadly fear of thunder.

Between the pressure, noise and vibrations, as your pet sees it, there are plenty of things to be afraid of when it comes to thunderstorms. Whether your pet cowers in the bathroom or shivers, cries and won’t leave your side, there are ways you can help comfort them before and during Mother Nature’s next electrical storm.
I’m Safe, You’re Safe. One of the most important parts of comforting your pet during a storm is assuring them of their safety. Your pet trusts you. If you are relaxed and comfortable during a thunder storm, they will pick up on your emotions. Dog Trainer and Blogger Patricia McConnell assures on her blog, The Other End of the Leash, that rewarding your dog with treats and praise while they are nervous does notreinforce fear. Fear is an emotion, not a behavior, she says, and therefore cannot be reinforced. Just as humans want to be comforted when feeling negative emotions, your pup will appreciate the attention.
Counter Classical Conditioning. Beyond reassurance, you can take steps to prevent your dog’s fear by training away thunder phobia. Also on her blog, McConnell explains the step-by-step process of teaching your dog to associate the thing they fear, thunder, with something they love, like treats or a toy. Start by playing a recording of thunder sounds very quietly, and follow it with treats or playtime. By gradually linking food or play with increasingly loud “thunder”, you can condition your pet to associate the negative noise with a positive reward. When a real storm rolls around, begin positive reinforcement with the first distant rumble of thunder. This takes practice, but has an ultimately high success rate of helping remove thunder phobia.
Thundershirts. As a kid, who didn’t crawl under their blankets in bed to hide from the “monsters in the closet”? There’s something to be said for the cozy security of being wrapped in warmth and blankets, which is where Thundershirts come in for dogs. A Thundershirt is a fitted garment for pets that is designed to press on certain pressure points to help increase security and relaxation. We have personally tested the Thundershirt here at Morris Animal Inn and found that the garment does help calm nervous pets! Stop by our lobby to try one on your dog. 
From creating a “Safe House” to administering sound therapy, there are many other methods for increasing your pet’s security during thunderstorms. Some people have even seen an improvement after running a dryer-sheet over their pet’s fur to reduce static electricity! Try out a few different methods to see what works best for your pet. For serious cases or pets that show no improvement, you can also speak with your veterinarian for further suggestions.

What have YOU tried to treat thunder phobia with your pet?