How to help your dog through a storm
Last weekend the UK was battered by two huge storms that caused chaos and brought parts of the country to a standstill. Trees fell, power lines were severed, there were high winds, flooding and icy cold temperatures – but how did your dog cope with it all?
Many dogs in the UK are negatively affected by storms, typically it is the noise of thunder and lightning that distresses them the most, in the same way that fireworks or other sudden loud noises might. However any disruption to their routine or something different at home – such as a power cut - could also cause them to become anxious or unsettled too.
If your dog is sensitive to high pitched noises or loud bangs then it is highly likely that they will struggle to cope in a storm – but there are some things you can do to help them cope.
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Spotting storm stress in dogs
First of all, you need to figure out if the storm is affecting you dog and if so, how badly. If you’re not sure whether your dog will be stressed or not, the important thing is to stay calm, so that your behaviour does not impact or initiate theirs. Dogs exhibit stress in lots of different ways, they may pant more than usual, yawn, shake, drool or put their tail between their legs. They could also be pacing around, whining, barking and drinking more water.
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Keeping your dog safe in a storm
Always make sure that your dog is indoors during a storm. Nowadays you should have plenty of notice that a storm is coming in so make sure that your dog has had some exercise and they've done everything they need to do outside before you start making them comfortable indoors. If they are drinking a lot of water due to stress you might need to pop some newspaper down for them to wee on if it is too stormy to go outside. If you are heading out to exercise your dog before a storm, make sure they are microchipped (it's actually a legal requirement in the UK) and that the details on the chip are up to date in case something happens and they run off.
Once the storm has started, try distracting your dog from the noise outside by turning on the TV or radio. Close the curtains and put your lights on indoors to make any lightning flashes outside less obvious.
If you’re concerned about your dog’s behaviour, try to stay calm and don’t pass any of your worry onto your dog. Act normally and use positive reinforcement to give them lots of praise when they are calm, although be careful not to fuss over them too much if they are not behaving calmly as this may make them worse. Let them pace up and down and hide if they want to, if they find a safe space and appear to be calmer there, then let them settle and don’t cuddle them unless they obviously want you to. You could even make them a den with some clothes or things that smell of you to help them relax.
If you have to go out during a storm and find that your pup has been destructive or dirty in your absence don’t shout at them when you get back. This won’t train them to behave any differently, in fact it won't help the situation at all and will only make them feel worse.
If your dog is extremely storm-phobic then it might be worth talking to your vet about getting some calming medication for them if you know a big storm is coming in. A lot of dog owners do this for fireworks night and it really can help. If you’re looking for a long-term solution then they might suggest using sound therapy to desensitise you dog to the sound of fireworks or thunder. Your vet or a pet behavioural specialist will be able to help with this.
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