Thunder Phobia in Dogs

I promised I’d write more about treating thunder phobia in dogs, beyond the earlier posting that it won’t make things worse if you try to comfort them. It’s such a serious problem for some dogs (and their humans), and everyone who has a dog who suffers from it deserves some help (or just support!).

All I can do here is to summarize some of the treatments I have known to work.. a thorough discussion of treatments requires a booklet unto itself . I encourage you to send in comments to let others know what has worked for you, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there is no one treatment that works for all dogs.

Counter Classical Conditioning: This is the first treatment I recommend, and it is especially effective in mild or moderate cases. I’m doing it now to prevent thunder phobia in Will, who is one of the most sound sensitive dogs I know, but so far has not reacted with any anxiety to thunder. In this paradigm (described in a a general sense in The Cautious Canine), you pair something the dog adores (food or play best) with a damped down version of what scares him. Your goal is to condition your dog to associate thunder with something he loves, so that his emotional response to the loud noise is “Oh boy!” rather than “Oh No!” To get this to work:

~ You need to start at whatever stimulus first elicits any sign of fear in the dog. Dogs backward chain storms so well that you can use them as meteorologists… beginning to pace and whine when the wind comes up, and in extreme cases, when the barometer drops long before the storm rolls in.

~ The thunder or other stimulus has to be mild enough to prevent eliciting extreme fear (you can also use CDs or tapes of thunder, but need to have speakers distributed around the room, overhead being best).

~ The “treat” (food or play) has to be highly desirable so that the emotional response it elicits is more powerful than any fear elicited by the thunder.

~ The thunder/noise has to come first… so that it becomes a predictor of something good.

~ You need to proceed in a step-by-step manner, gradually linking louder and louder thunder with the food or play.

In other words, you hear thunder in the far distance, you say “Oh boy! Thunder Treats!” and give your dog a piece of chicken, or throw the ball if they are more motivated by play. Your goal is for your dog to emotionally respond to thunder as a predictor of something good, just like a clicker in clicker training.

Yeah, I know. Believe me, I’ve been through it myself with several dogs. You see the problem here…. how, exactly, does one make arrangements for thunder storms to begin in May with tiny, little quiet thunderettes and then gradually work their way up into glass-rattling boomers once your dog is ready for it? Well, you can’t (if you can, please write soon), but you can give your dog the ‘treat’ (I used food for Pip and play for Luke & Willie) whenever the thunder is relatively quiet, and then just stop once it becomes loud. I’d run outside with Luke and play ball when the barometer dropped and the wind came up, continue playing until the thunder started far away, and then come inside when the thunder began to get so loud that it would overwhelm Luke’s love of ball play. Then we’d go inside, I’d let him hunker beside me, rub his belly, sing and laugh. He got through it in two seasons (I’d call his case a moderate one, not at all severe, while Pip was severe for a few years but came through it fine after two summers of thunder = chicken.).

Pheromone Therapy: I’ve had several clients who had good success with Dog Appeasing Pheromone, or DAP, which is an artificial replicate of the pheromone produced between the mammary glands of a lactating bitch. It is species-specific and has no detectable odor and has the huge advantage of requiring you to buy it and plug it in. Period. Perhaps the easiest behavioral treatment known to science. It has some good research behind it and I’ve recommended it to clients for several anxiety-related problems in dogs and cats (Feliway is the brand name of one of the feline versions) and I’d estimate that it appeared to be helpful in at least half of them.

Acupuncture/Acupressure: I’ve never used this specifically for thunder phobia, but as I’ve said earlier, have used it for a variety of problems with good success.

Wraps: I’d be curious about reader comments on their success with wraps (originally developed by Linda Tellington of Tellington Touch). The theory is that in a general sense, swaddling provides a sense of comfort and safety. More specifically, the speculation is that the continuous neuronal stimulation of the wrap on the dog’s body at minimum distracts him from his fear (a process often called “overshadowing,” in which one stimulus modality dominates an animal’s nervous system) or at best, creates the production of endorphins that de-activate the amygdala and create a sense of calm.

I tried a wrap on Pip and she certainly appeared to be “calm,” but then, that was because she pretty much stopped moving altogether. I wasn’t sure if she was relaxed or in what’s called “tonic immobility,” (or frozen with fear) but after about 10 minutes she lay down and went to sleep, so I relaxed myself and tried it the next time a storm came up. (Use it first before a storm.) It seemed to work miracles at first… she slept right through the next two storms. But wouldn’t you know, the next storm was a barn burner, and it never worked after that. Have you ever tried wraps? (I should add that Pippy looked adorable in an old pink T-shirt! It made me smile anyway!) There are many commercial products available now, but I’ve never seen any research that they would be more effective than wrapping a la Tellington Touch or using an snugly-fitting T-shirt.

A Safe Place: I wrote in For the Love of a Dog about a dog whose job was to protect acres of vegetables from deer, and who became so afraid of thunder he’d run through the electric fence and risk his life on the county highway. I designed, and the owners built, a ‘safe house’ for him, and his dedicated human, Barb, spent many a wild night hunkering in his straw covered cave giving him chicken in storms. It worked incredibly well, but it took one amazing woman about two months of dashing 200 yards across the lettuce and beans to get to the safe house before the thunder started!

Safe houses can be created inside houses too… I’ve had several clients who did the counter conditioning in a roomy closet or sound-insulated dog house, and ended up with a dog who was still a bit nervous about thunder, but simply went to her safe house and curled up and slept through the storm.

Sound Therapy: I’ve talked before about the interesting work of Leeds and Wagner in developing music specifically designed to calm dogs. Their work is based on solid biological principles, and I’ve seen many cases in which anxious dogs appeared to be calmed by playing their music. You can read more about it, and get a CD of the music by checking out their book, Through a Dog’s Ear.

Eliminating Static Electricity: Nicolas Dodman suggested a few years ago that part of a dog’s fear of thunder storms could be due to static electricity. One of the blog readers commented that she, in desperation, wiped her dog’s coat with an anti-static dryer sheet, and that it seemed to help. Interesting… I know that Tufts was doing a study of Storm Defender (a wrap that is designed to dispel static electricity), but I haven’t seen the results yet. Any one seen any studies on this yet?

The list goes on.... there are so many things that people have tried. Claudeen McAulifee has a good booklet on treatments from homeopathy to flower essences to melatonin, etc. It’s called the Big Bang! and it’s the only booklet I know of exclusively on the topic of noise phobias. She doesn’t talk about counter conditioning, but goes through many different kinds of non-intrusive treatments (including the use of pink light…… interesting!).

And last, but not at all least, Medication: Serious cases of thunder phobia can be life threatening. I’ve had clients whose dogs ran away, and weren’t found for days, and clients whose dogs jumped out of second story windows, mutilating their bodies in the process. I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest that someone talk to their veterinarian about using medication as a supplement to counter conditioning or other methods if their dog has a serious case of noise phobia. In the most serious cases the veterinarians I’ve worked with have prescribed both a tricyclic antidepressant (like clomicalm) and a fast-acting tranquilizer (like diazepam). In many serious cases, I’ve found over the years that a combination of meds, counter conditioning and a ‘safe house’ led to a successful resolution, but I would now add in music from a Dog’s Ear without a doubt.

That said, again, every dog is different, and not all dogs can be cured. As John Paul Scott said to me once, (of Scott and Fuller, and yes, I’m dropping names, I was thrilled to meet him!) not long before he died “Of course dogs are afraid of thunder, to them it sounds like GOD IS GROWLING.”

Meanwhile, back at the farm: Spring is glorious, gorgeous, wonderful and exquisite. it’s amazing how few days like today one needs to make an entire 5 months of winter worth it! There is also so much to do (besides grading 300 pages of essay exams and supevising the grading of another 900) it is overwhelming, but I”m going to focus on the good part!

Here are Tulip’s tulips from the window in the living room, showing the view she had as she overlooked the farm:

I fear you will all get tired of yet another photo of Mr. Will’s bright, expectant face, but it does remind me of spring! (This was taken a week ago, and wow is it different now. The leaves are coming out, the size of a squirrel’s ear, and right on schedule, or a little late, the warblers have arrived this morning. As colorful as any tulip (but too hard to get good photos of for me!). I’ll post more photos of spring at the farm as soon as I can get outside again….


  1. Mikey says

    The safe house is always a great idea for noise sensitive dogs. Back in the 60’s we had a collie-mix that was afraid of thunder and fireworks. She picked the shower stall in my parent’s bath as her safe spot. Everyone in the family knew to leave the door open for her, just in case!

  2. says

    Awesome, awesome post Trish. I forwarded a link to my aunt, who has a very thunder-sensitive PBGV. Hopefully she gets something out of your post, as I know they get a lot of thunder storms where she lives, and her dog spends most of the summer cowering and shaking.

    We shall never tire of seeing Willie’s happy, cheerful face!

  3. Mary Beth says

    With a dog that was moderately noise phobic..guns, fireworks, storms all the same to him, I used a gentle leader. Its supposed to work on acupressure to instill confidence and calmness, right? One day I decided to put my money where my mouth is and try it on my dog in a storm. Turned out to be three horrible days of thunderstorms all day then fireworks all night. This dog was so calm and happy with his gentle leader on that we could actually go outside and be calm and happy!! I was shocked, but pleased. I really like homeopet’s anxiety drops too. I think alot of other people prefer rescue remedy. Thanks for all the tips. You ought to write a small book on it to join the rest of your library!

  4. Linda2 says

    I’m reading The Other End of the Leash, right now, and have For the Love of a Dog to begin soon, they’re just fascinating books, I’ve also scheduled some time with a local behavorist for my dog & me, largely based on the information from your books, and links. Thank You soooo much.

    Does early development play a part in fear of natural phenomena, curious because I’ve only owned three dogs, all from different places, and luckily have not encountered the Thunder-fear syndrome, and we have some lulus around here, at times. Has anyone ever looked into geography & or frequency of events?

  5. Sara Reusche says

    Layla had severe storm phobias when she came to me at 16 weeks. During the first thunderstorm with me, she began screaming and throwing herself and doors and windows. I rode that storm out by literally holding her down, because I didn’t know what else to do to keep her from hurting herself.

    After that first storm, I began giving Layla 3mg melatonin before storms and using counterconditioning with treats and play. This worked somewhat. She was still subdued and “slinky” during storms but was able to cope. She also developed several coping strategies of her own, which I encouraged. Her favorite coping method for loud noises to this day is to crawl under the covers on my bed or bury herself under a blanket in her kennel.

    After a consult with Dr. Karen Overall for this and many other anxiety issues, Layla was prescribed alprazolam (Xanax), which is a medication in the same class as Valium. Unlike valium, it is not sedating but it is an anxiolytic. Xanax has been a miracle drug for Layla. At this point (one year after beginning treatment with Xanax), Layla no longer needs any medication for 95% of storms. Sometimes for really strong storms or if I come home and she has been alone during a strong storm, she will need 1mg of melatonin. That’s it now. Layla is now 3 and a half years old. Other methods (Bach remedies, body wrap, very diluted essential oils, massage) didn’t work for her.

  6. says

    Devlin, a rat terrier, shivers and pants in thunderstorms. Compounds containing tryptophan or the herb valerian seem to help (as measured by his being willing to lie down and stop panting).

  7. says

    The storm defender research has just been released for publication. Here’s the citation:

    Comparison of the effectiveness of a purported anti-static cape (the Storm Defender

  8. says

    I’ve been reaching for my BC puppy’s ball during thunderstorms in the hopes to build a positive association. He hasn’t showed any concern about them yet, but he’s pretty sound sensitive, so I’m trying to do everything I can to prevent a problem later.

    The last senior dog that I adopted came with serious storm phobia. He shut down and started shaking and pacing long before the thunder ever came. I don’t know if it was the change of smell in the air that triggered him, or the change in pressure, but he knew long before the noise started. He couldn’t take treats, he couldn’t respond to me, couldn’t make eye contact, nothing. Melatonin did nothing. Eventually a combination of Clomicalm twice daily during tstorm season and Xanax before storms made the difference. He was never happy or comfortable, but I’d sit upstairs in the dark hallway with him and he could respond to me. He could only take treats during the most minor of storms, but he didn’t shut down completely anymore. I was so grateful for those drugs because they made thunderstorms so much more tolerable for my old guy.

  9. Phil says

    I can attest to the efficacy of counter conditioning, at least in a case of only moderate fear. My girl would get restless during thunderstorms — not too bad, but enough that I could tell that she was uncomfortable. One summer I decided that it was time to help her out. When the lightning started start in the distance or the first rumbles of thunder came, I got out her favorite toy, and we’d play and play and play. Her fear was mild enough that she could be distracted by the games. The night that she brought me the toy at the first roll of thunder, I knew we had won over the storms.

  10. Paul Hicks says

    My female miniture schnauzer goes bonkers with both thunder storms and fireworks. Wraps seem to work well if I am here during the event or I have a prescription from a vet that I use on real bad episodes (5mg Diazepam) I just discovered this web site and am now using it for my home page.

  11. Judi says

    I had some success calming a dog during a thunderstorm using peppermint essential oil on her footpads. I put a drop or two on my finger and wiped her footpads with the finger. Repeated in about 15 minutes. This also worked well with firework sensitivity until after the time I had to leave the house without her during fireworks. She got herself all worked up after I left and the peppermint essential oil didn’t do much for her after that.

  12. Sara says

    Do you have any cures for cats that have that problem? Not only do I have one cat that hates thunder, but I have clients whose cats survived the 2008 Wheatland tornado (F3). Half the house was blown away …they were in the path of the tornado. So now, for any storm…they are terrified and hide. And really, who could blame them?

    Should I follow the ideas here or is there another way to help them?
    Thanks for writing the blog!

  13. says

    Thank you so much for de-bunking the myth about ignoring a dog during stressful times. I can’t describe how how MY stress level was because I couldn’t comfort the one I loved! Thanks again for that.

    One question. I’m a canine massage therapist by trade and your post got me thinking about what I do and how it could help. Some of the canine massage strokes activate the sympathetic nervous system (that controls fight-or-flight). There are also stokes that compress at calming acupressure points. Perhaps a massage in the safe haven could be calming? Any thoughts on that?

  14. Trisha says

    Kate: I am a loyal fan of the benefits of massage, both because of the biology behind it and because I personally benefit from it so much myself. Tell us more about which strokes/points you think are especially calming…?

  15. says

    Quick nervous system background: The overall functioning of the nervous system is done by the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which ensures internal stability. The ANS has two divisions, both that start in the brain: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic monitors fight or flight decisions and readies the body to spring into action. Massage focusing on this part of the ANS prepares dogs for sporting events like agility, flyball, etc.

    The parasympathetic monitors functions during still times: rest, sickness, sleep, digestion, elimination, etc. — when the body is not ready for fight or flight. By activating this portion of the nervous system you promote relaxation and still-body functions like circulation, digestion, reproduction and immune response.

    A Calming Routine consists of primarily of flushing and fingertip work on areas such as the crest of the head, the neck, gently pulling or stroking ears, rocking the neck. Use gentle squeezing on the upper neck and raking down the back. Move to the legs and gently stroke down the leg, using your full hand. (Most Calming Routines include tail and feet/digit work, but I’d avoid these areas, especially if your dog resists digit work when he isn’t scared out of his wits!) A full Calming Routine is usually about 15-20 minutes long, but you can circle back from the legs to the head and start again if necessary.

    A few things to keep in mind. When you do a massage, you are transferring energy — good or bad — to your dog. This isn’t the time to feel anxiety or pity for your dog. A confident, comforting leadership is best here. And because you’re transferring energy, don’t lose contact with your dog, mentally or physically. When you move from one area to the next, transition using smooth effleurage strokes. The best strokes for calming are effleurage (long, full hand strokes), stroking (image you are raking with your fingertips), and gentle kneading or squeezing (like with bread, but very gentle).

    As for calming points, I use GV20 (Hundred Meetings – clears the mind and calms the spirit) and BL15 (Heart’s Hallow – supports the heart and brings calming/cooling). GV20 is a notch above and between the eyes along that boney ridge. BL15 is behind the shoulders, on either side of the spine when the 5th rib meets vertebrae. Gentle stroking or rocking over these areas is relaxing.

    Hope that helps!

  16. says

    Good suggestions but I didn’t see you mention a blood panel to check for thyroid or adrenal issues.

    I have found that underlying many difficult noise phobic behaviors is an imbalance that can be detected by a veterinary medical professional through a blood test.

  17. Anna says

    I had a thunder phobic Pembroke Welsh Corgi, he would pant rapidly, shake hard, and try to climb inside of me. I was not one to ever want to dress my dog but several people told me about using a t-shirt and I finally broke down and bought a dog t-shirt for him… it helped out a lot. Henry had stopped his panting and shaking… while he was still not too happy about the storm and needed to be near me at least he could ride it out without my worrying that he would have a heart attack. Unfortunately he passed away quite suddenly in January this year, the first storm of spring found me going for his shirt only to remember he didn’t need it. It may not be scienficly proven but the t-shirt helped us.

  18. Ana lei says

    Hi Everyone..

    I was blessed with a great friend, companion and son when my golden retriever Mickey came into my life.

    He has had a very sad and fearful life before I found and rescued him. The story is quite touching but I will save that for another day :)

    Needless to say, Mickey has a sevre phobia of thunderstorms. He senses it before it even reaches us, and begins shaking, whining, panting, and looking for a place to hide ( usually he tries to climb under the bed, a funny site considering he’s 130 lbs).

    I found that most people say petting them doesnt help and I agree. Just petting him doesnt work, but I have found that holding him does. I will either lay on his bed with him or have him lay on mine. I wrap him tightly in my arms and whisper ” its okay, I won’t let it hurt you” in his ears over and over again. Soon, his shaking subsides, he pants less and is able to relax. However, move away from him and the it starts all over again. Maybe Im just a big softy and smothering him with love makes him calm because he senses I am.
    This can be time consuming when u have 2 kids, but He’s my kid 2 and worth every minute of it.

  19. says

    I have a new foster dog who paces, pants, and gets “wild eyed” during storms and gets anxious even beforehand. I’ve read where you aren’t supposed to pet the dog during this time so I was wondering how that would be different from doing massage as that is like petting but doing certain strokes, etc.? Thanks for any clarification anyone can give.

  20. says

    I read the study regarding the comparison between the Storm Defender cape and a placebo cape in April. I found it interesting that it seemed there was no difference between the type of cape a dog was wearing – both seemed to lessen anxiety.

    The researchers did mention the possibility of the “deep pressure touch” as mentioned in Dr. Grandin’s book and other papers with her “squeeze machine” that is used in the treatment of autism and anxiety could be a reason why both capes showed improvement.

  21. Tammie says

    My 11-year old shih-tzu is on Clomicalm daily from May-September, with diazaepam (1/2 a 2mg tablet as needed up to twice a day)for storms. It doesn’t work, and he’s a neurotic mess. There were a few rumbles of thunder and a few flashes of lightning tonight, nothing heavy, but he’s absolutely frantic. He’s had all the drugs I can give him. Sitting downstairs in the most interior hall where it’s quiet doesn’t help, he runs upstairs to where he can hear it all better. I’m at my wits end. His fear escalates every year, and I’m going to lose my job if I can’t get some sleep. Worst of all, he’s absolutely miserable and willing to harm himself in his frantic state.

  22. Nicole says

    I hear you Tammie! My golden is exactly the same…we’ve tried pretty much everything and nothing worse. Except in my case he’s 110 pounds so not only is he crazy with fear but he’s also destructive.

    I too fear losing my job (or my sanity) if I can’t figure out a solution! The only thing that works is putting him in the car and driving during the storm. He lays in the back seat and while he still pants, at least he doesn’t go through the walls!

    Driving around from 1 am to 4 am doesn’t make me a very productive person the next day!

  23. says

    I live in NC where there are regular thunderstorms and hunters all around us, randomly firing off loud guns. I’ve now had 3 thunder-phobic dogs. The first dog (a BC/Golden mix) was mild, and responded to counter-conditioning. The second (an Aussie) was violent, and chewed through crates and through wall-board and attacked other dogs with re-directed aggression. I tried counter-conditioning and all the natural remedies, but was finally forced to get his behavior under control. I tried Prozac (every day) and clorazepate (as needed). The interesting thing is that not only did the Prozac not change his personality or energy level, but his dog-dog reactivity went away. He would hear a noise and just snort. I was thrilled. We monitored liver and kidney enzymes to be sure he was processing it alright, but he got to the point where he only needed the Prozac to cope. It changed his life, for sure.
    The story I want to share is that with my 3rd dog (BC), after trying counter-conditioning, massage, lavendar, St. John’s Wort, Camomile, and DAP, I tried Prozac with him. It was a disaster. He was very “doped” up and almost “depressed”. He almost completly stopped wagging his tail. I took him off it and those side effects went away. However, this dog still won’t go outside to go to the bathroom without lots of coaxing and being led outside, and he’s toast at an agility trial if there is any loud noise…so I’m going to try Xanax as needed.

    My understanding is that Xanax increase the level of GABA, versus fluoxetine, which increases serotonin. Do you think its possible that some dogs are deficient in one and not the other?

    This particular BC was the only dog in his litter when I temperament tested them that was *not* sound-sensitive. I know at least one littermate that is much worse than he is. I suspect that there is a genetic component – that maybe is as simple as a deficiency of GABA or serotonin? Is there research out there I can read?

    Thanks for any input.

  24. Judy says

    Tammie: I have a Shih Tzu who will be 9 next month. I have had her since she was 8 weeks old, and everything was fine until 3 years ago when we had hurricane force winds and branches hit the house and things were flying everywhere outside. Now when the wind blows, she thinks this is going to happen again.

    She has been on every medication and dose thereof and nothing has really worked. She is only 15lbs, and at one point they had her up to 20 mgs of Prozac a day. She was practically catotonic, wasn’t eating and had a seizure. The Vet pretty much told me she gave up.

    That’s when I took over. She is now on 5 mgs of Prozac a day and 5mgs of Diazepam as needed. The Diazepam is effective only when given well in advance of them freaking out, and only lasts a couple of hours. So if you have a rip-roaring storm…..good luck with that.

    If it weren’t for her companion who is so attached to her, I have thought of putting her out of her misery, and I love this dog dearly. After going 7 days straight without any sleep, you start getting desperate.

  25. says

    My very first dog, a St Bernard we adopted when he was 8 years old, was extremely afraid of thunder. Hours before the thunder would even start (he was a great thunderstorm forcaster), he would get into a bath tub, close the shower curtain, and stay there until the storm ended — even if it lasted many hours. During the actual storm, he would be catotonic. Nothing I did to him would generate a response. I tried everything. I sat next to him outside the tub on the floor and talked to him, petted him, tried to give him treats, etc. Nothing worked. He never moved a muscle in his entire body. His eyes were unfocused and seemed to just stare straight ahead.

    Then I found that he REALLY loved liver sausage. So, the next time it stormed, I put some in front of his nose in the tub. It took a few minutes for a response, but then his nose actually twiched. That was the first movement I had ever seen from him during a storm. I put more in front of his nose, an his eyes focused and he looked at the liver sausage and ate it. Over the next few months, with lots of patience, I was able to get him to lift his head, and then finally leave the tub and stay downstairs during the storm — just by giving him lots of what he loved — liver sausage.

    Years later, I had a newfie who was afraid of thunder, and who ran in panicked circles throughout the house. I was able to calm him down by making the storm a fun play time. I talked to hom with a happy voice, fed him hot dogs (he didn’t care that much for liver sausage) and played fetch and tug enthusiastically, and gave him lots of love and petting. After a while, storms became a time to cuddle and play, and he showed no anxiety.

    I don’t know if any of this will help Judy, but if you are so desperate, you may want to try giving her some really, really tasty food — not normal treats, but some special people food she really loves, and see of that helps. It worked for me, and it’s sure worth a try. Also, if you are so desperate to help her, are you also worried and afraid before each storm? Is she picking up on your fear and getting even more afraid? Try not to worry and be happy and use a bright happy voice during the storm and show her that she can have fun with great treats and playtime during the storm.

  26. Becky Kaufman says

    I met real thunder phobia last night in our newly adopted 4 1/2 year old Golden Retriever. We had had Goldens who developed what I would call noise sensitivity — one after going through two hurricanes, and the other just as he aged. but I had never seen anything like Champ last night. I was warned that he was thunder phobic, and had ordered aThundershirt, and had started him on Springtime’s Stress-free Calm Plex as soon as we brought him home last week (that had done wonders for the old dog). But the poor thing went berserk — trying to hide under end tables, toppling lamps; he would have used the fireplace as a cave if we hadn’t had a good screen; he pushed books off the bottom shelf of a bookcase (i guess to him it looked like it could be a cave). what finally calmed him was me sitting on the floor, holding him on his back like a baby but tightly, and singing lullabies to him. He soon went limp and then moved to my side and lay down and went to sleep. Good for him, but not so great for old lady bones.

  27. Tammie says

    Thank you Nicole and Judy. My shih-tzu’s phobia continues to worsen. He no longer needs a storm to become stressed. For example, he got his clomicalm and diazepam at 10:30pm tonight, but is awake four hours later barking. He has been barking for an hour straight and is becoming increasingly agitated. The nearest rain is 170 miles away, and is not headed here. From what I can determine, humidity in the air alone is now enough to trigger a storm response in him. He has herniated a disc in his back twice during rain/storms, the second time two nights ago. We are seing his doctor again tomorrow, and I will be asking to try xanax, provided he can take that with his prednisone for his back injury. He is prescribed crate rest, but his level of agitation seems more heightened in the crate than before. He’s worth the effort to try and find what combination works. I just wish I could find it faster for him, and before he completely does in his back. The news isn’t all bad: winter was a huge relief this year, and Mushu had many restful, snuggly nights.

  28. Jeanne-Marie Maiale says

    My 9-year old border/fox hound mix has always panicked during fireworks, and before and through storms, and each year it gets worse and worse. Other than during the cold of winter her refuses to go for nighttime walks, and now associates any rain with impending storm. Like others mentioned, the car is the one place that he feels safe – even just sitting in it in the closed garage. Unfortunately he wants me alongside him, but very often that’s enough to get through a storm. My husband and I celebrate 4th of July each year by driving around for hours and hours, sometimes even enjoying the fireworks displays in the distance!

    We’ve used Rescue Remedy with reasonable success for many years. It takes the edge off and settles him a bit, to the point where he’ll just pace and pant in the basement (of course I have to go down there with him). But I never know how much or many times I can repeat the RR – I give him 6 drops on a piece of bread with peanut butter, that kicks in in about 15 minutes, but wears off about 1/2 hour later. Any advice?

    There is one very strange behavior that I’m curious if anyone else has experienced with their dog during bad storms: when Caleb’s shaking, panting and pacing is most severe, and I am lying nearby on the floor or on a futon, he jumps back and forth over top of me, over and over, sometimes stopping for a few minutes to lie directly on me, his face on top of mine. Is he trying to protect me from the storm?

    I just ordered Pet Naturals Calming Chews and Homeopet Anxiety drops (both herbal) to be ready for the storm season. Anyone had any luck with these?

  29. Darlene DeVore says

    My Mom got her first miniture poodle (Fifi) in 1963. She was an awesome dog who gave us 18 years of slendid companionship and 2 litters of puppies. We kept a puppy from the first litter and from birth seemed to vibrate during thunderstorms. We lived in Orlando Florida and thunderstorms are ever present. It took about 3 years for me to figure out that Prince was actually thunder-phobic
    as he never did anything except a slight vibration almost like a cat’s purr. We moved into a smaller house in a different area of Orlando. About a week later we had our first BIG T-storm. OH MY WORD! Poor Prince went insane. My parents weren’t home and I tried everything to calm him, but it just wasn’t happening. I took a blanket and went into each room and the hall trying to calm him. finally Prince ran to the closet in my parents room and barked frantically till I opened the door. He went inside pulling at the corner of the blanket. We had a few boxes that hadn’t been unpacked yet so I sat on them holding Prince in my lap. I cuddled him and sang him songs (I was 16 so it was rock n roll) he calmed down with the blanket, and when the storm was over, he was ready to play as though
    he had just awakened from a good nap. I left the blanket on the box and later
    that night when I got home from a date, my parents were frantically searching for their Prince. We were in a full blown T-storm. I thought about earlier that morning and went to the closet. Sure enough, there cuddled in the blanket was Prince purring like a cat, cuddled in his new blanket.

  30. Trina says

    Please help!
    We have a 10 yr old female pit mix named Tippi who has been with me since she was 7 wks old. About 3 yrs ago, she suddenly developed storm phobia. By suddenly, I mean one stormy day she was fine & the next she was terrorized. There was no warning, and we were unable to pinpoint any changes in our household, our routines, food, environment, other pets, etc. at all.
    We are on a farm with multiple other dogs and cats, inside & out (Tippi is an inside dog). At the time, none of the other dogs were effected. Over time, her terrors began “infecting” our other adult housedog, and we eventually needed to establish him in an outside safehouse to keep him from harming himself during storms (he seems to sense Tippi’s manic episodes, even when he is outside, & responds accordingly, though has never seriously injured himself).
    Tippi, on the other hand, is largely unmanagable during an episode. I’m a vet tech and took her in for a full blood panel & all is normal. She has never exhibited separation anxiety in any form, and gets as much daily play and exercise as her arthritis allows. We tried to establish interior safe zones to move her into just before a strom starts, ie closet, bathtub, under a desk, which calms her somewhat, but she usually runs from zone to zone with each rumble. We tried the t-shirt wrap a few times last year, but it sent her into a frenzy with her trying to rip it off with her teeth during heavy thunder.
    We are careful to withhold affection during her episodes & we begin to replace the tv noise with white noise when we know a storm is impending, because as soon as the satellite service starts to glitch, nothing works until the storm is over.
    We thought the combination of efforts and some behavior modification with food treats prior to the thunder starting was working- the past few months, her mania has been reduced and she’s been easier to distract.
    However, today I had to run errands in town for about an hour and a small storm rolled in before I could get home.
    I got out of the car hearing a horrible screeching noise (it was Tippi screaming even while trying to tear thru the door) & found the metal storm door bent and mangled with gaping, bloody rips in the metal panel. Tippi had ripped the inside wooden door partially off its hinges and tore a hole through the metal storm door with her teeth and paws in the short time I was gone. She shredded the pads of her front paws, ripped open her gums along her front bottom teeth, broke off several teeth, and tore several gashes and punctures inside her mouth and all over her face.
    She’s fine now, she began to calm down as soon as I started cleaning her up and checking the extent of her injuries. She even took an exam, antibiotics and meds without any trouble. The storm is over now and she is our normal, affectionate Tippi, right now taking a nap with 2 cats.
    But this could have been really, really bad; the facial wounds bled so heavily, I at first thought she had cut her neck.
    Does anyone have any suggestions? She’s a sweet old girl and we are running out of ideas- we can’t be with her 24/7, and this latest episode was horrible.
    Please help!

  31. says

    Trina, please see your vet about medication. If your vet is not comfortable prescribing meds, ask for a referral to a veterinary behaviorist. Poor Tippi!

  32. Trudy says

    I had read about the Thunder Shirt and was contemplating purchasing one for my VERY noise phobia Lab. After reading about the “science” behind the Thunder Shirt, I found a back support belt that I had used on myself after back surgery. It can be fitted very tightly around your body to keep your back stable. Last night we had a real doozy of a storm. At first, the distant rumbles didn’t seem to bother him, but when lightening struck close to the house and the windows rattled, he went crazy. I grabbed the back belt and put it on him just behind his front legs. It is made of a thick, stretchy material so I tightened it so it fit very snug. AMAZING!!! He walked around the room for a few minutes, sniffy the floor, then he curled up on my feet and slept through the rest of the storm. When the really loud thunder hit, he didn’t even flinch. I’m sold! I just ordered Thunder Shirts for both my dogs and three for my sister’s dogs. I’m sure they will fit better than the back support belt.

  33. Sue says

    I’ve read that the CDs of recorded thunder aren’t very helpful because the fear isn’t necessarily just triggered by the booming thunder, but maybe changes in air pressure, wind, darkening skies. Any thoughts on that?

    That being said, I’ve done CC with my thunderphobic BC, we do it during storms. We play ball, tugs, andy games she loves. I also let her cuddle with me (it’s her choice) and just sit with her pressed against me, rubbing her chest and ears. And for awhile we gave her (vet prescribed) Xanax after she had several episodes of panting, pacing, and was unable to calm down even an hour after the storm. Compared to last year’s storm season, she’s done so much better this year. Last night we had a really horrible storm and while not super relaxed, there as no pacing, drooling, or trembling.

  34. Louise says

    My Golden gets very agitated during thunder storms. I tried lots of things, but lately I have given her 1/2 tab of benadryl and it has helped. She is 11 years old and weighs about 70 pounds.

  35. Austin says

    I have a Royal Toy Shih-Tzu named Cookie and he has had a terrible phobia of thunder storms and anything that beeps or has any noise in common to thunder or beeping and I try to calm him down when he starts shaking and tensing up but nothing seems to be working.

    I tried the play technique on him but the only thing that happens is that he stops shaking. Cookie tenses up still after I try and calm him but he won’t stop at all. Please help!

  36. Linda says

    We have a 60 lb border mix, 9 yrs old. We’ve had her 7 years and she has always had an overwhelming fear of fireworks (most severe) and thunderstorms. Her primary reaction is to paw at my husband and I repeatedly and constantly. Even through jeans it really hurts. We use acepromazine and it does help but takes 2 hours to kick in. With fireworks almost every night from mid June to mid July we hate to give her medication every night. Any insight would be most appreciated.

  37. Zlata says

    Hi, we have a female rhodesian ridgeback/akita cross who is terrified of thunderstorms & fireworks. She is a big girl & has already chewed through the wood frame of our back doors trying to get into the house. We cannot always be home with her when these events occur & took her to a vet dog behaviorist who only recommended medication. My husband & I are not fans of this method after having a bad experience with her & sedative previously. I have order a thundershirt & really hope this will help her. She is very destructive & will bite through wood, door handles etc trying to get inside the house. Even letting her into the laundry didnt work last time, as she still ran outside & started biting the wooden frame of the back door trying to get into the house. We are considering getting a cd of tunderstorm noise as well to see if this will help her.
    I would appreciate any feedback from anyone who has tried any other methods.

  38. Gloria says

    Daisy, my female boxer, has severe fear when there is a Thunderstorm…of course, the “boom” of the thunder is what sends her into uncontrollable shaking, her hard panting sometimes makes her gag, and her eyes open so wide, full of fear, as she cowers while following me from room to room. I’m concerned about her fear, but more concerned about her health as she appears to be in such a state of fear that I fear her having a stroke or heart issues. I have tried several things, but one thing I have done several times proves to be the the most beneficial and that is to have her lay next to me. I wrap her in a thin blanket and hold her near me with both arms, close and snug. I will talk to her or sing while holding her close. I turn the TV on low to a music channel or something mellow to help disguise the noise. I found that when I told her “its okay” or “don’t be afraid”, etc. that it agitated her more. So I tried talking to her about anything else besides the storm ( for example “I made Daddy a bologna sandwich for lunch instead of tuna and I hope he enjoys it as it is not as healthy as the tuna…. blah blah blah”) and believe it or not – it worked much better than trying to tell her to not be afraid. It’s almost as if she was thinking “Okay-yeah-sure I’m not going to be afraid (yup) cuz you’re telling me there is nothing to fear (ah huh)……ARE YOU FRIGGIN CRAZY? I AM AFRAID and IT”S NOT OKAY – I THINK I AM GOING TO DIE (so shut the F—— up). Respectfully.

    This is the only thing that I know offered Daisy at least a partial remedy – full remedy comes with the storm ending. Whatever it takes — be sure to give your dog a sense of security showing you are in control of the situation, you are unafraid and you are there to give unconditional comfort. If you are closely connected with your dog, he/she already knows that you will keep him/her safe and protected.

  39. Rose says

    I just lost my dear GSD to thunderstorm phobia. Eva was 6 years old, healthy and in her prime. Eva had been exhibiting signs of fear in the house for over 5 years and I tried some Rescue Remedy, wrapping her body like the thundershirt. Finally I just thought she
    was handling it OK on her own–I never dreamed it would escalate to the level it did.

    We live in Florida. We have a 10×10 kennel with 2 sides sheltered and the other sides open for air circulation.
    It has a shingled roof for shade and keeps the dogs dry.

    The day I found her dead it the kennel was like most summers for the last 5 years. In the 90’s with storms in the afternoon. I came home from work as usual. When I approached the kennel she was on the ground, her head by a half empty water bowl. The dog houses were turned upside down and the fencing had a big hole in it where she must have tirelessly tried to escape but to no avail. By the look of her gums and tongue it was apparent that she had worked herself into a frenzy over a bad, loud, thunderstorm and overheated and died.

    A shady kennel may be OK in the heat of a Florida summer, if your dog just lays there—but the possibility of her getting excited to the point of overheating did not occur to me. My poor Eva paid with her life for my stupid thinking AND my neglect in not pursuing a much more aggressive approach in treating her thunderstorm phobia. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE take this type phobia seriously and take every precaution you can to protect your dog.

  40. Nick says

    Canine response to thunder: not a phobia?

    Dear Dr. McConnell:

    Many veterinary articles approach canine response to thunderstorms as a phobia or anxiety. I have read many tips for pet behaviors that are fear-based. Although after decades of my observing numerous canine pets in thunderstorms, I question that broad-brush label of phobia and anxiety.

    My dog’s response to fireworks has been to run away from the sound, shun being outdoors, to withdraw and seek a comfort place within the house. That canine response to fireworks appears to be fear-based or anxious.

    In contrast, when responding to thunder, my dog displays the same “chase” behavior as when hearing motorcycles. Motorcycles have a loud sound with vibrations approximating thunder. If my dog is inside or without visual reference, my dog can distinguish whether the motorcycles are at the front yard or back yard. With motorcycles, my dog runs towards the sound. And inside the fence line, he runs parallel with the riders. He can distinguish sound location and direction e.g., right vs. left, and front vs. back.

    For thunder, my dog displays that same “chase” behavior with one exception. It appears that he is unable to determine its source and direction of the thunder. The thunder seems to originate from 360 degrees as it envelops the region. Thus, whether inside or outside, my canine runs frantically and erratically to find the source but without course direction and without success.

    Could it be that this thunder “chase” behavior is not a phobia but a response to auditory puzzlement? What are your comments about this observation and possibility? Do you know of any research on canine response to thunder as an auditory processing issue / inability to detect a sound’s source and direction?
    Thank you.


  41. Trisha says

    Nick: I too have seen dogs who bark and chase at thunder. I would absolutely not classify that as a phobia, but simply a reaction to a perceived threat. I don’t know of any research, but can say that as a “noisy, broad band” type of sound, thunder is inherently harder to localize than other types of sounds. That’s part of why it sounds like it comes from “all over” (and part of why I think it scares so many dogs… ‘where is it coming from?’) Interesting though that your dog can localize cycles but not thunder… I suspect there are several reasons for that (motorcycles move in a linear direction, thunder not) but also find it fascinating!

  42. G says

    My 6 year old Shih Tzu is driving me mad. The slightest wind and she’s up all night, restless and constantly panting. I can’t take it, I need sleep!

  43. Abby says

    Your dogs (and your farm) are so beautiful! Mr. Will looks so much like my own six year old BC mix. I can’t thank you enough for this comprehensive and enlightening article and comments. I was considering a move to Florida, but have now decided against it after reading of the effect of frequent thunderstorms — it would be a selfish choice, not right for him to be stressed daily if I can avoid it.

    We have had a chaotic life since I adopted him five years ago from his foster mom in rural SC. When he arrived here in RI after seven hours in a transport van with a dozen other dogs, he was scared of every noise and movement in the big, windy (it was March) city. He acclimated well once we found parks and socialized with other dogs. A year later we moved to LA where, other than firework occasions, he was fine, loved our occasional hikes in the hills. We moved back to RI last summer, and all was well until this Spring, though he has been stressed by noisy restoration work in this big old house. My own stress over this mistake — I’ve been trying to sell the money pit now — may have rubbed off too.

    All winter, the backyard was snowed in with only a small area for him to have a quick pee on leash just outside the door, but he enjoyed our daily walks as usual around the area and park visits. Then the snow melted and Spring sprung, and suddenly he’s developed an aversion to a quickie in the yard, and even to walks at times, though not to the car or the park.

    He now has this anxiety to the extent of refusing to leave the house for a walk or even a quick visit to the yard on some evenings, even some mornings, or making it halfway down the block on leash only to suddenly panic and drag me back intensely. Ears back and listening in every direction after sniffing the air, then tail under and adamantly bent on bolting into the house — perhaps humidity change, or distant sounds, but no storm.

    There are often loud noises outside at any time of day, and occasionally the sound of motorcycles in the distance, church bells, etc. but no clear trigger on these occasions. He has always become nervous with thunder or fireworks, but this fear of outdoors reaction is new. I suspect some sound in the distance too faint for me to hear.

    He chews off harnesses if left on accidentally, but I’ll be putting a harness on him for our walks from now on and remove it immediately afterwards. I’m hoping this will help.

    Thank you again for the wealth of very helpful information here, and good luck to all!

  44. casidee says

    I have found my dog suffering from thunder phobia dead this afternoon. He had blood from his nose and mouth and all I can think of is that somehow it must be connected to the severe thunder storm we had this afternoon. Could fear have killed my boy??

    Please advise. …

    he has a decent kennel under the carport and when home we let him in during thunderstorms but this one was during work hours thus no one home :(

  45. Barbara says

    We have a 4 year old Aussie who never batted an eye at thunder until our house was struck by lightning two years ago–a big, scary event for all concerned. Now he gets very upset when he hears the rumble, running in the direction of the storm and barking furiously. I believe he is trying to protect us from the storms. He is finally mellowing a bit, but it does make for some sleepless nights.

  46. Christina says

    Has anyone heard of using Essential oils for thunderphobic dogs?
    I have a thunderphobic golden retriever and I’ve heard that doTERRA essential oils (Balance or Serenity) can help calm a dog.

  47. Sandy says

    My dog a 3yrs old shih zu he was not scared of thunder until there was a big thunder even i was scared, then 2 weeks later there was another thunder not big, but my dog was pretty shaken up, since then he does not want to sleep in my room, every time he look in the room toward the blinds he gets really scared starts to shiver, I tried to calm him down but he does not want to be in the room, is this normal?

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