Why are dogs afraid of Storms?

Today’s installment is the first of three stories about thunderstorms. We hope to share information about why we believe them to be so upsetting for some dogs and then to share some tips on helping them cope.

One of the things I love so much about my Golden Retriever  is his easy going nature. For the most part, Goldens are such relaxed dogs, and with a few exceptions, they can readily adapt to most any circumstance. They are calm, that is, until a thunderstorm is on the way. This is not an issue for all dogs, but for many. And for the dogs that find it upsetting, it can be quite frightening for them.

Why are dogs afraid of thunderstorms? Well, there is much debate about that one! Search it online and you will find a number of answers. Some even say it is merely a learned behavior where the dog receives reinforcement by having their fear comforted by the people that care for them. Some explanations get into complicated issues of a breed’s specific traits and how those traits can become out of balance in a storm. For example, a herding dog who’s an indoor dog has no sheep to tend, and becomes frustrated when a storm is on the way.  The bottom line is that a lot of what I’ve read about it is simply conjecture on the matter. Nobody really knows for sure.

So, I’m going to share my personal opinion on the situation. I have arrived at this idea by carefully watching my dog’s response to storms. I have also done some reading and have watched a number of science shows on storms. Putting those pieces together is how I’ve drawn my personal conclusion. Please, keep in mind this is simply my personal opinion and what applies specifically to my dog. My hope is something will ring true for you as well, and that it is in some way helpful for your dog.

I first discovered Willie’s fear of thunderstorms, because he jumped into the bed with me and was panting heavily in my face! He was shivering uncontrollably. It was just terrible. I felt so bad for him and had no idea what to do. When a 75 pound dog jumps in your bed in the middle of the night, it’s pretty difficult to ignore! I adopted Willie as an older dog, so we have no idea about his former life. Maybe something happened during that time that caused him to be afraid of storms. There is no way to know for sure.

For a time, the storms were coming in every night either at bedtime or in the middle of the night. So, Willie would do the same thing. Jump into bed and wake me up. He would also paw at the carpet, he would muss up the mats on the tile floors in the bathrooms and would want to go to the basement level. He didn’t want to be there alone, however, so he would go up and down the stairs, jump in the bed, muss up the rugs some more, and just repeat the process. Poor Willie!!!!! It was terrible to see him suffering so much. Mom and I would comfort him all that we could, but he was largely inconsolable.

I started to pay closer attention to when he was most upset by a storm, and what kind of storm bothered him. I noticed very low pressure was quite upsetting to him. We were in Virginia Beach the day before Hurricane Irene came in. The barometric pressure

PKM 9693asm 199x300 Why are dogs afraid of Storms?

Willie, outside with us as a storm approaches

was so low even I was bothered by it. I could feel a heavy pressure on my sinuses and in my lungs. Low pressure is a sure fire indicator of a huge storm on the way. At the time, we were staying at a friend’s house. Typically, Willie would sleep downstairs by the front door.  The night before we left to come home, he was in my room. It was very unusual. He looked so worried and wouldn’t leave my side. In the morning, he didn’t care about taking his walk, he only wanted in the van so we could come home.  So that’s when I decided that low barometric pressure was something he easily picked up and it definitely had an effect on him.

Tune in for our next installment on May 9th. In the meantime, tune into your dog’s behavior and see if you notice if pressure changes have an impact your dog’s sense of security.

Patty McGuire resides just outside Chalottesville, VA with her best buddy, Willie. Willie has his own blog at www.everybodyloveswillie.tumblr.com. An etsy store specializing in custom knits for bigger dogs is coming Fall 2013.


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