Many dogs are afraid of lightning and thunder; they go crazy or freak out when they hear thunders or see the flashes of lightning. This is known as Storm Phobia. Sometimes the dogs can even physically hurt themselves when they go out of control and land up with fractured claws, lacerations, broken teeth and bruises.
The most pitiful ones are the street dogs because they have nowhere to hide from the harsh weather. You see the heartbreaking sight of them running away in speed when they hear the loud scary thunders, along with their helpless squeaky whines. But there is safer place for them to run to basically; they have no homes or shelters or even sheds. When you finally find them hiding underneath some construction crates flooded with waters, they are shivering wet and quivering in fear. It is impossible to coax them to eat no matter how hungry they are in the cold.
Why are they afraid? We don’t know. It is probably instinct.
We used to hear our grandparents and parents explain it this way: “The dogs are naturally afraid of thunders because they sound like gun shots which are the means by which the authority got rid of them in the past.”
Although this reasoning does make sense, it is no longer a strong one now because the killing of street dogs by guns is no longer legal in Singapore ever since a man was accidentally shot dead few years back. Let’s pray and hope that such cruel practice will never be reinstated.
So how do we handle this phobia for our pet dogs? Below are some suggestions.
Fixing this problem early in the dog’s life is important, because this is considered a progressive behavioral disease. It should be dealt with when your dog is still young.
Some owners think it is good to let their dog be so that it will toughen up itself. This is totally wrong because the dog will never understand thunderstorm. So ignoring its problem will only make the anxiety worse overtime.
Offer treats before the phobia set in. Think about it. Associating loud bangs with treats isn’t such a bad idea, isn’t it?
Observe where your dog usually goes to hide when thunderstorms come. Let the dog have access to that place. Keep in mind that this hiding place must be a safe location from the dog’s perspective, not yours. What you can do is just to make that place more comfortable for it and remove any dangerous household items close to that area.
Encourage the dog to engage in its favorite activity that captures its attention and distracts it from behaving fearfully or anxiously. Then reward it with praise and treats for paying attention to the game.
Massage or brush your dog with long even strokes to calm it down and switch on some soothing music. But do not console the dog by saying “It is ok, it is ok, good boy or girl” because you are rewarding it with praise wrongly for a fear reaction.
After a while, you have to leave your dog and carry on doing your usual things acting as if there is nothing going on. This will convey the message to your dog that the storm is no big deal and act likewise eventually.
For extreme cases, there are drugs that can be prescribed by the vet.