At our house, it’s easy to tell when a thunderstorm is approaching because Leto the large hairy white dog starts panting. At our house, 1 in 4 dogs has issues with thunderstorms. Leto gets very upset; the other canines just look at him like he’s nuts.
Leto’s fear of thunderstorms is actually not uncommon. Many dogs go into hiding, pant, drool, whine, pace or even start to shake during storms. Some dogs actually will start getting nervous before the storm truly arrives. Leto, for example, starts looking distressed long before the first clap of thunder.
Fortunately, Leto’s storm phobia isn’t severe. He looks upset, pants, and tries to stay as close to me as possible. (Okay, you could make the argument that he says close to me all the time, but during storms he definitely is distressed.)
However, some dogs go way beyond a little distress. During storms, some terrified canines react by going into a panic and may destroy your house in the process. Dogs have been known to eat furniture, break windows, and tear apart sky kennels in their effort to get away.
Experts don’t seem to agree on which aspect of storms frightens phobic dogs: the flashes of light, the noise of thunder, or even the barometric pressure or electromagnetic changes that accompany a storm. Some studies have suggested that certain breeds of dog and rescued dogs may be more likely to have storm phobias. Leto was rescued from a shelter in Los Angeles and was extremely malnourished when I got him, so it is possible that he had scary things happen before I knew him. (Parts of LA are definitely scary.)
If your dog is afraid of storms, the best thing you can do may be nothing. Dogs pick up on our emotions, so if you act like something terrible is happening, a dog that has a tendency to be afraid will figure you’re on to something. Similarly, you should not cuddle or try to console the dog when he’s afraid. You then essentially reward him for his fear.
When a storm arrives, act like nothing is going on. Be happy, laugh and go about your normal routines. If you dog retreats under the bed, or to another place he feels safe, don’t worry about him. The storm will pass and he’ll come back out.
In severe cases of storm phobia, you should consult your veterinarian. Various medications are available that can help calm your dog’s fear. For milder cases, some people also have good luck with herbal, homeopathic, or other alternative treatments, so you can ask your vet about those options as well.