I’ve always enjoyed the majesty of thunderstorms. When I was growing up, if a loud and windy thunderstorm rolled in, we’d all go out on the covered porch, sit, and watch the storm.
I think it’s because of that that I’ve always enjoyed the smell of rain in the air, the feel of moisture building, and the cloud cover that dims the world in advance of a good storm.
While we may enjoy it when the weather cools off and it starts raining and lightning outside, your dog may be of a different opinion. If your dog tries to burrow or exhibits odd circling behavior then he may be frightened.
Awareness of why thunderstorms may cause your dog to panic may help you know what actions to take to alleviate some of their stress. Here are some causal factors as to why thunderstorms are a stressful event for dogs.
THUNDERSTORMS ARE NOISY
The noise a storm makes is a large factor in your dog’s response. While puppies are born deaf and are unable to hear until about their third week of life, they are eventually able to hear four times the distance of humans.
Think about that! If you can hear something over a thousand feet away, your dog can hear it a mile away. That’s pretty incredible. So basically, any sound you hear, your dog hears it four times louder. That can make thunderstorms pretty intense.
Dogs are also able to hear higher sounds than we can. You’re probably familiar with the concept of a dog whistle—a whistle that’s silent to humans, but uncomfortable for dogs to hear.
A typical person can hear sounds up to about 20 kilohertz. Dogs can generally hear sounds up to 60 kilohertz (it depends on the breed, your dog’s age, and other factors). But there are probably a lot of sounds we don’t even hear during a thunderstorm that are uncomfortable or maybe even painful for our pet to hear.
An interesting note is that dog have 18 muscles in their ears which is what permits them to move their ears around to better capture sound.
While noise is definitely a factor in your dog’s distaste for storms, a surprising larger cause is static electricity. Studies have been conducted showing that it’s actually the sensation of static in your pet’s fur that causes them to become frantic and seek out hidey-holes.
What they’re actually doing is trying to find a place that is grounded—that isn’t conducting the static electricity. Places in your home that are grounded include enclosed spaces (hence the burrowing), basement, and (oddly) bathtubs.
So you can help your pet by encouraging them into a safe space where they can hunker down and wait out the storm. Be aware that while you may think the storm has passed, your dog may still be feeling its effects due to their heightened senses.
A controversial aid is rubbing your pet down with dryer sheets. They actually help, but they’re full of toxic chemicals. So if your dog licks himself frequently, you don’t want to do this. The other solution is to bathe him immediately after the storm.
But it’s definitely not something you want to do frequently, and always use an unscented dryer sheet if you take this approach.
It’s good to be aware of how dogs are different than we are so we can be more helpful owners. It’s probably a good idea not to take your dog outside in these conditions. So if you know a storm is coming, consider taking your dog out for a pre-storm potty break. You can also help alleviate anxiety with a dog anxiety jacket.