HomeNewsDec 10, Fear of Thunderstorms (Storm Phobia): Guide to Helping Your Dog

    Dec 10, Fear of Thunderstorms (Storm Phobia): Guide to Helping Your Dog

    By Janice Jones     |Last Updated 12-10-2021

    Bean, my 12-year-old Shih Tzu has a fear of
    thunderstorms.  To the casual observer,
    he maintains his calm, stoic demeanor, but a closer look reveals the puppy in
    him that is shaking and panting, heart racing, and pupils dilated. 

    He is visibly disturbed even before I am
    aware that a storm is approaching.  He
    has a thunderstorm phobia (or storm phobia) and he is not alone. 

    Fear of Thunderstorms; Storm PhobiaFear of Thunderstorms: Helping Your Dog Overcome his Fear

    What causes a dog to have a fear of thunderstorms?

    A fear becomes a phobia when it is out of proportion to the
    danger of actual threat.  A phobia is an
    exaggerated or irrational fear of something that causes a reaction in an
    individual—physically or emotionally. 

    might not be at all apparent what creates the fear in the first place.  Sometimes two or more events happen
    simultaneous that creates a fear that has no rational understanding. 

    This happens in people too.

    For example,

    Fire Alarm Sign in Fear of Thunderstorms

    Years ago we were conducting a fire drill at a preschool I owned.  One little 3 year old happened to be standing in the gymnasium near the alarm bell when it went off.  After that, he was terrified to enter the gym and refused to go near the room. 

    He associated the loud alarm with the room that resulted in his fear.  Several years later, his mom reported that he still had apprehensions when he entered anything that resembled a gymnasium. 

    Fear of Thunderstorms; Storm Phobia

    Your dog may have had a negative experience, which triggered his fears and anxiety just like the little boy in the daycare center. 

    A close lightning strike, a severe storm that your dog experienced while home alone or even being caught outside when a storm struck could cause issues in some dogs. 

    If the owner or another dog in the household is terrified of, storms that negative energy can be passed onto the dog.

    Thunderstorms may be a little different in that there is a
    natural reason to have some healthy fear of them.  Lightning can strike, winds can bring trees
    down, and heavy rains can cause flash floods. 
    Unless the dog had an adverse experience associated with a storm, they
    are unlikely to understand what a storm is capable of doing.

    There is likely a genetic component causing phobias to
    storms.  This is true for people and
    evidence for this is done through twin studies where two twins have the same
    phobia even though they were raised separately. 
    In the dog world, the herding breeds are more likely to show some signs
    of storm phobia.  In addition, dogs prone
    to separation anxiety also seem prone to storm phobias.  Sadly, phobias only seem to get worse rather
    than better over time. 

    According to Dr. Nicholas Dodman, professor at Cummings School of
    Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and founder and director of Tufts’
    Animal Behavior Clinic, storm phobias are not a simple fear of loud

    For example, a mounting storm
    also involves skies darkening, rain, and wind, changes in barometric pressure
    and static electric fields as well as different odors produced by
    Dodman thinks that the dog receives a static electric shock during the storm
    that might be the trigger that causes the phobia. We know that static
    electricity fields do build up during storms. 
    Dodson thinks some animals especially long haired breeds could become
    statically charged. 

    So, to say that your dog is afraid of
    thunder may be missing some of the components of the phobia.

    How do you know your dog has a fear of thunderstorms?

    Dogs show a wide range of reactions when they are fearful of
    storms.  These reactions can be physical,
    psychological, or physiological.

    A Dog’s Physical Reactions to Fear of Thunderstorms

    • Shaking
    • Trembling
    • Looking for a Place to Hide
    • Hiding under the bed or another dark place
    • Following or staying close to their owner
    • Wanting to be held
    • Pacing
    • Whining
    • Barking
    • Panting
    • Sweaty paw pads
    • Destructive behaviors including destroying
      property or trying to harm themselves
    • Aggression

    A Dog’s Psychological Response to fear of thunderstorms

    People talk and can tell you they are
    afraid.  Dogs cannot, so one can only
    infer what is going through a dog’s head.

    A Dog’s Physiological Reaction to fear of thunderstorms

    • Increased heart rate,
    • Pupils dilated
    • Salivation/Drooling
    • Defecating or urinating in the house

    Help Your Dog Overcome his Fear of Thunderstorms

    Luckily, there are ways you can do to help your dog overcome
    or at least tolerate storms, but as of this writing, there does not seem to be
    a complete cure for Storm Phobias. 
    Here are the more common treatments that can help. All dogs respond differently, so if one method does not work, don’t give up, just try another approach.

    Behavioral Therapies

    There are two
    techniques used to treat dogs with noise phobias:  Desensitization and counter-conditioning. Both have also been used to treat dogs with a fear of thunderstorms.

    methods involve reducing fears over a period of several weeks.  Similar to methods used in human therapies, a
    mild form of the feared object is paired with something positive; say a treat,
    petting, hugging, and attention.  In this
    case, a recording of thunderstorm sounds is played first at a low volume and
    then gradually increasing the volume until the dog becomes “desensitized” to
    the noise.

    In counterconditioning, the dog is taught (conditioned) to show appropriate behavior in response to a specific stimulus or cue.  In the case of thunderstorms, the dog is given a special treat, a favorite toy, engaged in a prefered behavior, only during and before a storm.  The idea behind this therapy is that the dog associates the storm with something good.

    Unfortunately, these behavioral techniques do not always work with all

    Desensitization, for example assumes that the dog
    is reacting to the loud sound of thunder and it is those piercing claps of
    thunder is what is causing the phobia. 

    Storms are far more complex than that which we have already

    You will never be able to
    mimic all the effects of an actual storm to present it to the dog in gradual
    increments of severity. 

    If you want to
    try it, you can purchase a CD with storm sounds directly from this page.  Click on the link to the left.

    Music Therapy

    Calming music has been shown to reduce stress in dogs.  Playing music during the storm might be
    helpful to reduce stress and even drown out some of the sound of thunder. 

    I personally love the classical selections
    performed by Concert Pianist, Lisa Spector, and Joshua Leeds, sound
    researcher, music producer, and educator.  

    Through a Dog’s Ear is a series of CDs
    that have psychoacoustically designed changes that have been clinically confirmed
    to relieve canine anxiety issues.  The
    music is good for any anxious dog and has calmed my dogs (and myself) during
    rain or shine.

    Safe Place Therapy

    Encourage your dog to go to a place where she feels
    safe.  For example, some dogs hide under
    the bed
    or in the bathtub. 

    A covered crate
    with a fluffy bed often helps a frightened dog, especially if this is the place
    she feels most secure.  If you use a
    crate, leave the door open she has free access in and out.

    You will want to
    observe her behavior and allow her access to the place she feels safe.  Confining her may cause the anxiety to

    Sometimes finding a place that blocks out the storm
    helps.  A room without windows, the
    basement, or even a room where you can lower the blinds to block out lighting
    will calm a stressed dog.  Do not
    turn off the lights.  Better still; turn
    all the lights on
    so it is more difficult to see any light coming through the
    shades from flashes of lightning. 

    may also want to add some environmental sounds to block out the sound of
    thunder.  Calming music or even the
    humming sound of a fan will work with some dogs.

    Clothing Therapy

    Tight fitting garments help some dogs who have a fear of thunderstorms, and are worth a
    try.  Pressure garments, as they are
    sometimes called have the same calming effect that parents observe when they
    swaddle their infant. 

    ThunderShirt SPORT Dog Anxiety Jacket, Fuchsia, Small

    The benefits of these garments have not been proven scientifically, but there is evidence that some may work better than a placebo according to Nicole Cottam, MS, behavior service coordinator at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. 

    There are several products on the market that work similarly.

    Play Therapy

    Not in the traditional sense, but a good old fashion play session can
    distract your dog especially when the storm is just beginning before your dog
    is showing an all-out fear reaction. 
    Play fetch or other favorite game. 

    Work on a little training with plenty of treats. Practice basic commands or if you have taught your dog to do a trick or two, such as “Shake” or “High Five” work on these.  This would not be the best time to introduce a new command though, so keep it simple.

    If your dog loves grooming, this might be a
    good time for a gentle brushing and massage to get her in a more relaxed
    state.  Ttouch is a type of massage
    treatment and has been shown to work with dogs that are fearful, stressed, or
    anxious.  Ttouch at

    As the storm progresses, it may not be possible to ward off
    all the fear reaction, but it is worth a try.

    Natural Remedies To Calm and Help Reduce the Fear of Thunderstorms

    Pheromone Therapy:
    Some people have had success with using Dog Appeasing Pheromone or DAP, an
    artificial replicate of the pheromone produced between the mammary glands of a
    lactating bitch.

    You can purchase it for dogs or cats and it comes in either a
    diffuser or spray.  The diffuser is good
    if you work and know that a storm is approaching. 

    Plug it in and it works immediately.  It is undetectable to humans.

    Herbal Medicines

    According to Gregory Tilford from Whole Dog Journal, “valerian root, passion flower, skullcap, chamomile, and other herbs that have been widely used in animals for many years with few, if any, adverse effects.”


    According to CJ Puotinen, author of Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care, Skullcap
    is a sedative, tonic herb with antispasmodic properties, which are used to
    control epilepsy in dogs, but for dogs with sensitivities to static
    electricity, it might help. 

    Valerian Root

    This is an herb that calms and soothes the nerves, reduces tension and anxiety, restlessness and difficulty sleeping.  Some have used it for their dogs heading to the show ring or a training class.  You can add valerian tea to your dog’s food or drinking water or add a bit of powdered root to the food.


    Most of us know the calming effects of a warm cup of chamomile tea.  Chamomile can calm nerves, relieve pain, promote deep sleep and lift the spirits.  A final rinse of Chamomile tea after a shampoo smells great and reduces dander too.

    Flower essences:  Back’s Rescue Remedy:

    Edward Back was an English Physician
    and homeopath.  His most famous recipes
    work especially well in pets that are anxious or fearful and are now
    manufactured by different companies.  Three
    products include  Rescue Remedy Calming
    Essence, and Five Flower Formula. Any of these can be used to calm an anxious

    It is fairly inexpensive
    and easy to give:  just squirt a few
    drops onto the dog’s tongue or gums. 

    Conventional Medication Therapy

    If behavioral or homeopathic remedies do not work, consult
    your veterinarian.  There are medications
    that can be prescribed to reduce the anxiety and calm the dog during severe

    Current medications that can be
    used include tricyclic antidepressants (ex. Elavil), anti-anxiety medications
    (ex. Xanax), sedatives, (ex. Valium) selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors,
    (ex. Prozac), Beta Blocker (ex. Inderal), and tranquilizers
    (acepromazine).  Some drugs that
    are currently being prescribed to dogs with a fear of thunderstorms include

    • Alprazolam (Xanax)
    • Amitriptyline (Elavil)
    • Buspirone (Buspar)
    • Clomipramine (Clomicalm)
    • Clorazepate (Tranxene)
    • Diazepam (Valium)
    • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
    • Inderal
    • Paroxetine (Paxil)
    • Acepromazine (Promace)
    • Diazepam (Valium)
    • Klonopin (clonazepam)

    Consult your veterinarian for advice

    Your Take Away

    • Your dog is not bad or disobedient during a storm, he has a fear of thunderstorms, stressed and in a high state of panic. Do not take his fear of thunderstorms lightly.  He is truly afraid.
    • Not all of these techniques help all dogs, but with
      patience, you are likely to find one that will help your small dog. Helping a dog who has a fear of thunderstorms may require more than one approach or a combination of several.
    • The best thing you can do for your dog is to be calm,
      gentle, and patient.
        You are the best
      person to get your dog through the storm so quiet petting will help both of you
      weather the storm.  When your dog
      realizes that storms mean a little extra TLC, his anxiety may be less during
      the next storm.

    Fear of Thunderstorms:  Further Reading Recommendations

    Dodman, Dr. Nicholas. The Dog Who Loved Too Much: Tales, Treatments and the Psychology of Dogs New York: Bantam, 1996. Dodman, Dr. Nicholas. Dogs Behaving Badly: An A-Z Guide to Understanding and Curing Behavorial Problems in Dogs New York: Bantam, 1999. Tellington-Jones, Linda Getting in TTouch with Your Dog: A Gentle Approach to Influencing Behavior, Health, and Performance Revised in 2012.

    Fear of Thunderstorms: Help Your Dog Deal with his FearsFear of Thunderstorms: Help Your Dog Deal with his Fears

    Your Turn…

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    feedback from my site’s visitors—everything helps make this site even
    better.  Why not join in and share your
    thoughts about what you just read. Does your dog have a fear of thunderstorms?  Have you a good treatment that you’d like to share?   If you need to contact me personally, use our Contact Me form.

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