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Why are Dogs Scared of Thunder?

Dogs are often afraid of thunder simply because they don’t know what it is. Like fireworks, thunder is loud, unpredictable and often brings unexpected flashes of light. There are many reasons dogs may have astraphobia, or “thunder phobia,” though.

Astraphobia can affect both humans and animals. See why dogs are scared of thunder and what you can do to ease your dog’s storm anxiety below.

Why are Dogs Scared of Thunderstorms?

According to Dr. Ragen T.S. McGowan, Behavior Research Scientist at Purina, “depending on a dog’s personality and past experiences, different parts of a thunderstorm can cause fear or anxiety.” As with fireworks, it could be the noise or the flashes of lights.

“There’s usually more buildup before a thunderstorm than with fireworks (e.g., changes in the barometric pressure, high winds, rain, hail and/or lightning), thus dogs might learn to expect thunder,” she adds. This can cause anxiety before the storm even hits.

Some are triggered by a change in their daily routine. Others have more sensitive hearing.

Many dogs can sense the changes in air pressure or may hear the low-frequency rumblings of thunder long before humans can.

According to some veterinarians, dogs may also experience shocks from the build-up of static electricity that accompanies thunderstorms.*

How to Calm Your Dog During a Storm

If your dog has astraphobia, or storm anxiety, there are several things you can do to help keep him calm when a storm is on the horizon.

Remember to practice positive reinforcement with your dog. Don’t scold or punish him for his thunder phobia—his behavior is the result of fear, not disobedience. Teaching your dog new and pleasant associations is the best way to ease his storm anxiety.

See our Pet Expertise page for more expert tips on dog behavior, caring for your pet and more.

*N. Cottam, N. Dodman, 2009, Comparison of the effectiveness of a purported anti-static cape (the Storm Defender®) vs. a placebo cape in the treatment of canine thunderstorm phobia as assessed by owners’ reports, Applied Animal Behaviour Science 119 78 to 84