Lulu was my yellow lab that I adopted at the age of two from the Humane Society in late spring of 1996.  She was one of those dogs who was afraid of thunder, which is putting it mildly.  It wasn’t long after bringing Lulu home that her fears really started to surface.  These fears would manifest into an uncontrollable anxiety that would change our lives for the next fourteen years.

We quickly learned that we couldn’t leave her alone during a storm and this would prove to be pretty difficult when you both work.  Luckily when I worked full time, her thunder phobia wasn’t too bad at that point.

However, with each passing year, her fear escalated.  During storm season, our lives centered around Lulu and the weather. She taught me a great deal about how scary this can be for dogs like her.

As trying as it was for me and my husband at times, I would do it all again for my old girl.

We love you Lulu.

Behavior

Everything about Lulu changed during these times. With every storm, her eyes became very large and she would pant excessively.  She would shake and tremble uncontrollably. It was as if she wanted to crawl into my skin.

Some dogs will simply go off on their own to a place that they have established as a safe place (eg: under a bed, behind a chair in a corner, etc). Others will bark endlessly for hours on end before and during thunder and lightning storms. For other dogs and owners, things are much worse.

Hysterical with fear and anxiety, an anxious dog will:

  • demolish furniture and anything else around
  • dig through walls
  • jump through windows
  • chew through anything
  • try to get outside of their home to run free

It is believed that barometric pressure and static electric change in the environment trigger a dog’s reaction that a storm is approaching.

Lulu had dug through our game room walls on more than one occasion and we generally would watch the weather so that we were always home with her whenever possible.  Once when we were hit with a surprise summer storm and we couldn’t make it home in time; she had completely trashed the walls in the game room. We literally had to pull splinters from between her teeth using tweezers. Her paws were bleeding. This was one one of those times when we were hit with a surprise storm and we weren’t home.

What Worked For Us and What Didn’t

We tried everything with Lulu but she was beyond the typical dog who was slightly scared, she was petrified. She would tell us when a storm was coming long before we heard the weather. She was ALWAYS right!

Here’s some of the things that we tried outside of medication. Understand that when you have a dog with such a severe state of thunder phobia, it boils down to what works (if anything) for your particular dog:

  • Consoling and not consoling – Behaviorists say not to console, but I’ve read stories where dog owners said that it helped. Does it help or hinder? I don’t really know because I tried both with my dog and neither helped during a thunder storm.
  • Playing her favorite games with her favorite toys during a storm could help, but if the storm lasted all night, it was impossible for us to do. I would typically go into a room and close the door behind us remaining close to her while talking softly. I had to constantly stop her from getting up and digging at the walls no matter where we were. It was a terrible situation because she didn’t want to be held. She wanted to escape.
  • Lulu taught me that she reacted to my reactions. I would often get jumpy when the first rumble of thunder would hit, because I knew what was coming. This only fueled Lulu’s fear. She taught me that it was important for me to remain calm if I wanted her to remain calm. You see, dogs are very in-tune with their owner’s emotions and feelings. Don’t believe otherwise, they are.
  • I tried putting a t-shirt on her and I do think it calmed her a little, but again, you have to understand that she was one of the worst cases our veterinarian had ever seen.
  • We purchased a crate and she wanted no parts of it. I would highly recommend purchasing more of an igloo type doggy house vs a standard wire crate. Maybe place a piece of cloth over the entrance to provide a cave for your dog with a fear of thunder.  DO NOT lock these dog’s in a crate!
  • Classical music CD’s for dogs did help to relax her a little.
  • Because she would dig at the walls during storms, we would place little dog boots or dog socks on her which at least helped with the problem of digging at the walls.
  • Prescription sedative helped a lot. However, you have to give the pill a half an hour before the storm hits. It doesn’t work if you try giving it and the dog is already worked up.

Our girl was an extreme case and the only thing that we could do to calm her was to sedate her. This wasn’t something that we liked to do and we tried very hard not to, but it was often the only thing we could. Remember, these dogs only know one thing – I Need To Get Away!  Dog owners must remain calm and patient – no matter what.

Dogs who are afraid of thunder and lightening storms can’t help themselves…

Conclusion and Other Helpful Links

I regret never trying the Thunder Shirt on Lulu.  Apparently, it works a lot like holding an autistic child when they get upset. That tight squeeze to the body is believed to calm them. Similar to the t-shirt home remedy technique, but much more sophisticated.

Please read the incredible story about Max. Max’ fear of thunder was even worse than Lulu’s.  His family endured many struggles due to his anxiety which would tragically end his life.

Please read my review here on the Thundershirt for dogs that I had one of my readers test on her own dog. Also, here’s a great report written by the DVGRR (Deleware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue, Inc.) with a lot of helpful tips for dogs who are afraid of thunder and lightening storms.

Of all the articles that I write – this is a topic that holds a special place in my heart.  It was a big part of my life for 14 years.  I hope to help others out there who are in the same situation. Please share your stories of success and otherwise, so that we can possibly make a difference for someone else.

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Showing 64 comments
  • Jono

    And medication form the vet behaviourist (not any old vet but one with behavioural understanding) for the really bad cases (the ones that rip the door and carpet off)

  • Jono

    I personally think if a thunder shirt and crate didn’t work I’d consider some sound proofing aucuoustic bats in a designated area
    and a radio to lessen the sound.

  • Jono

    I hope you and your readers understand that the crate did not work because your dog wasn’t crate trained. For a crate to be effective during a stressful episode the dog needs to be crate trained before the stressful episode, ideally in puppyhood because to many adult dogs a new experience (ie; the crate) is a stressful episode. So tip for everybody – crate train dogs during puppyhood! It’s much easier to do the training then.

    You can crate train most adult dogs but it much harder and more time consuming. Crate training a pup is a blessing because if they ever develop an issue later then being crate trained can be a help. It’s not a cert in every situation, but why risk not having a crate trained puppy when you can have a crate trained puppy.. I realize not all people get their dog when it’s a puppy and many of the other tips have been Helpful.

    Just wanted to clarify one of the reasons crating might not work.

    • janie knetzer

      Thanks for sharing Jono. I’ve seen dogs who have a slight fear of thunder and I’ve seen dogs who will literally dig through the wall until their nails bleed. Personally, I believe that certain dogs, just like certain people (myself included) are affected more by the pressure in the atmosphere. I get severe headaches when it rains, and I believe that certain dogs are affected by the pressure as well and the reaction to thunder is secondary to a problem in the ears, etc. Just my own opinion — not based on facts.

      Janie

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