Many dogs are absolutely terrified of thunderstorms. Know that you are NOT alone in this! Thunderstorm season is upon us, so we thought it was time to share some content on this one. 

Here are some signs that your dog is afraid of storms:

Panting, pacing, whining, crying, shaking, vomiting, scratching, pinned ears, hiding, drooling, and destructive behaviors. 

Many dogs that are reactive to storms are also very sensitive to the pressure changes that precede them, and may begin pacing, panting or whining before the storm really gets close. 

If you have a dog that is terrified of thunderstorms, read on! 

WHY IS MY GREAT DANE AFRAID OF THUNDER?

There are many reasons your dog is afraid of thunder, lightening and rain storms! For a number of reasons, some dogs are more sensitive than others. 

  • Thunder and lightening are loud and scary. 
  • They usually come with a change in routine, which is alarming to many dogs. 
  • Some dogs are incredibly sensitive to changes in barometric pressure. 
  • The wind that typically accompanies storms can be unsettling and result in bangs, noises and howling as it seeps through cracks.
  • It is believed that some dogs experience electrostatic shock during lightning. 

Some dogs seem to have no trouble with storms, and then one day develop a fear that never goes away. Others are fearful and timid from the onset, and may even escalate to destruction and attempts to escape your home or yard. 

If you have a dog that often tries to escape during thunder and lightning, we highly recommend that you regularly check and update their microchip.

Be aware that a collar can be a choking hazard if you are not home (especially if your panicked dog gets trapped), but a microchip poses no threat and will likely be checked when animal control or a good Samaritan finds your pet. 

BE SUPPORTIVE BUT DON’T FREAK OUT OR CODDLE

You don’t want to encourage your dog to freak out by being anxious, frustrated or fearful yourself.

Remind yourself to be calm and indifferent about the storm. Don’t coddle your dog by acknowledging the thunder. Present to your dog that it’s no big deal by not making a big deal of it.

It is a good idea, however to be supportive. Allow your dog to snuggle with you if that’s what they need. There is nothing wrong with your dog using you for emotional and physical support! 

Behaviorists agree you cannot reinforce fear by being supportive. So be a good friend here. There is no need to turn a cold shoulder in the name of ‘not coddling’. 

Once a behavior pattern of thunder fear has become established, it can be tough to break. As frustrating as it is, dogs are incredibly perceptive and WILL pick up on your attitude about an impending storm. 

Be positive and indifferent. Make the experience of being in a thunderstorm comfortable and even FUN if possible! 

SURPRISE YOUR DOG

Grab a few Kong (or similar XXL rubber stuffable toys) and fill them up with something healthy and enticing, then freeze them.

When the weather starts up, make one of these magically appear for your dog. Don’t let them see you leave it out, and make sure to bring it out and place it on the floor before your dog loses it.

Timing is everything here. Your dog should be aware of the incoming storm (possibly perking the ears up or pinning them and showing concern, pacing a bit) but still able to function (eat, do tricks, focus on you).

The goal here is that your dog comes to associate the pressure change and early warning of a storm coming with a special treat that they receive no other time. Ideally, it will also occupy your dog and keep them calm and engaged in a more appropriate activity.

This can be a helpful technique for dogs that aren’t red-level freaked out and just need a little incentive to feel positive about the experience.

Some Kong Stuffing ideas for Great Danes include: broth soaked kibble, broth hydrated Honest Kitchen, peanut butter, yogurt or goat’s milk in moderation, and chunks of frozen raw blend held together by broth (plug the bottom of the Kong first with peanut butter, then pour the broth on top of the food).

CALMING MEASURES

Some dogs are not easily distracted by a bonus treat. For those dogs, we recommend supplements, medications and Thunder shirts.

CHEWS – ThunderWunders Calming chews contain hemp and a blend of calming herbal remedies such as ginger and thiamine.

HEMP OIL – Charlie & Buddy Hemp Oil is as close as you can get to the real deal on Amazon. For a more potent version, visit your local med/rec shop or natural pet store (if available in your area).

OTC MEDS – Benadryl, dosed at 1mg per pound can provide mild relief. Tablets are typically 25mg each, so a 125 lb dog would need 5 tablets. 

BACH RESCUE REMEDY Make sure to get the pet version, not the human version (all titles in this post are clickable to the product on Amazon, for your convenience). The human version may contain Xylitol, which is TOXIC to dogs, so please be diligent here and check the label. 

ADAPTIL PLUG IN – This harmless, odorless plugin emits pheromones that have proven to help calm dogs. Put the refills on autoship and replace them when they arrive, so you never run out or forget and let the plug in go dry. 

THUNDERSHIRT We recommend the original version of this, which is essentially a snug fitting garment that makes many dogs feel secure. Check measurements! The XXL size may work or may be too small, depending on your Dane. Remember, these are supposed to fit snug but not cut off circulation. Wear only with supervision. 

PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS – Some dogs require heavier sedation to stay safe during a thunderstorm. Work with a veterinarian or board-certified veterinary behaviorist. Some dogs may need year-round anxiety relief, others may need medications on hand for storms only.

Be prepared, but don’t over do it.  

Do not over do it with the medications and supplements. We recommend choosing one brand and sticking with it. You may need to experiment with what your dog best responds to (hence the reason we’ve offered tons of options above!), but don’t do ALL of it or mix and match oral remedies. 

You do, however want to be prepared. If you wait until your dog is freaked out to start dosing calming meds and supplements, you’ve waited too long. Consider a dose in the morning when storms are expected, then another dose (at an appropriate interval later, it will depend on the brand) closer to the storm. 

 

COUNTER-CONDITIONING & DESENSITIZATION

CCD is the process of changing the way your dog thinks about storms and the sounds associated with it. 

For dogs that are averse to storms, we recommend the following (best done with the guidance of a qualified professional trainer). 

COUNTER-CONDITION – Change your dogs emotional response from fear and anxiety to indifference or even excitement & happiness. 

DESENSITIZATION – Remove the fear by making thunder and storms ‘no big deal’ through the process of positive exposure. 

Essentially, this process involves gentle exposure from afar paired with positive things.

Fill your pocket with a crazy high-value treat. We recommend SOJO’s. 

Have a friend or family member use their phone to play the sound of thunder, QUIETLY from a device in another part of the room.

Act indifferent, drop a few treats on the ground near your dog and walk away. Don’t acknowledge the sound, don’t fuss or make a deal of this, don’t ask your dog to do any tricks or obedience.

Thunder sound = free treats. COMPLETELY FREE. 

Rinse and repeat at random throughout the day. If this exercise causes your dog fear, you aren’t doing it correctly. Turn the volume down, make the treats better, change your attitude, etc.

NOTE: This exercise does NOT actually reward or reinforce fear with treats! We are sorry for all of the lies you’ve been told by ‘backyard’ and reality TV dog trainers on that one. 

After 5-10 repetitions, most dogs will hear the thunder sound and get excited for the magic treats to appear!

When you accomplish this, you’ve successfully begun the process of CHANGING the emotional response that your dog has to the sound of thunder. 

With continued practice, you will be able to choose different thunder sounds, increase the volume and reduce the amount or value of the treats. 

Put yourself in their shoes:

Imagine you are afraid of spiders.

I put you in a room FULL of them, then I either coddle or punish you in response to your reaction of fear…does your emotional response change? Do you have positive feelings about the spiders after that experience? 

Now imagine instead that I show you a single spider from afar and calmly hand you $20, just because the spider is there. Then I make a habit of this, always handing you cash with no strings attached when you see a spider. 

Does your emotional response to the spider change then? Over time, with repeated exposure and free cash money, are you willing to be closer to multiple spiders at once? Have I rewarded your fear, or helped you create a positive association between the presence of spiders and receiving free cash? 

Food for thought. Actual behavior science is REALLY, really cool stuff folks. 

STORM ANXIETY PREVENTION

While some dogs are going to be storm averse no matter what you do, there are many things you can do with your puppies to help prevent this behavior from developing!

If you are not adopting, choose only highly ethical breeders. Puppies from thoughtful breeders are less likely to develop unstable temperaments and anxious, fearful or aggressive behaviors. 

Use the form below to download our free Great Dane socialization guide, to help your dog build confidence in the environment! 

While your puppy is young, make sure to play the sounds of storms, howling wind and thunder from a device so that these noises are nothing more than background sounds (early desensitization). 

If a storm comes, make it a POSITIVE experience for your puppy! Play games together, offer high-value treats, work on positive training (this is NOT the time to use punishment or corrective tools or techniques such as alpha rolls, squirt bottles and shock, which can create a negative association, especially for puppies that may be sensitive to rain or to the electrostatic shock in the air during a thunderstorm). 

Build your puppies confidence with tricks, training and exploration of varied terrain and obstacles. 

 

Do you have a Great Dane that is afraid of thunderstorms? 

Share your experience, tips and stories below, we’d love to hear from you! 

The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only. We do our best to present the most up-to-date research, however it is up to the reader to make decisions regarding the health and well-being of their dog. We make no claims here to prevent or treat bloat or any other condition related to Great Danes. Find a veterinarian with GIANT breed experience, and chat with them. 

Some of the products we list on our website contain affiliate links. If you choose to make a purchase, we may receive a small commission for referring you. We only recommend products that we truly believe in. This commission does not affect the price of the product and is used to fund our content and expenses related to operating this website. 

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