Many dogs are scared of thunder, as well as other loud sounds, such as fireworks and cars backfiring. Individual dogs cope differently with these noises. For example, some try to run away from them, some become destructive, and some attempt to hide.
It can take a scared dog several hours or more to recover from the experience of hearing a loud noise. So regardless of how your dog displays fear and anxiety, make sure you give them time to decompress afterward.
Here are some tips to help a dog with a fear of thunderstorms and other loud noises.
How to calm a dog scared of thunder
If you know a storm is coming, turn on some music or your TV to muffle the sound of the thunder. Create a safe place in your home for the dog. Let your dog show you where: If they go to a favorite spot, make a nice bed there. Encourage your dog to rest there with you, and if they do relax offer them a food-filled Kong or bone. Allow them to leave that spot and return to it if they want to.
Do not put a frightened dog in a crate and leave. Though the dog's crate may normally be a safe place for them, they might feel trapped in there when frightened during a storm. And they might suffer an injury trying to get out of the crate. If your dog does find the crate to be a safe place, leave the door open so they can go in and out as desired.
As the thunder gets louder, your dog might not be able to stay relaxed. You can try to play a favorite game with them or hand-feed them a special treat. If they don't calm down, just be with them and try to be reassuring. However, do not force affection on your dog if they're stressed, anxious, or uncomfortable. Respect your dog's boundaries, and allow them to hide somewhere if they wish.
If your dog’s fear is not extreme, you might want to try behavior modification. Here’s how it works: Get a recording of storm sounds (or whatever the offending noise is), and play it at very low volume while you engage your dog in activities they like. You can play games, groom your dog, hand-feed them, or practice cues they know in return for treats.
If your dog is fine with that volume, practice the next day with the volume turned up a bit. Continue raising the volume a little each day as you involve your dog in fun activities.
This method gradually desensitizes the dog, and over time they will find the noise less fearful. If your dog becomes fearful at any point, lower the volume to a level at which they're comfortable and proceed more slowly.
If your dog’s fear of thunder is severe, you might need help from your veterinarian or a behavior specialist. Some dogs need medical intervention to cope with storms, fireworks, or other loud noises.