Fear of thunder is a common phobia in dogs. It is usually marked by hiding, whining, barking, pawing or even urination. No one is exactly sure what makes dogs afraid of thunder. It does seem to be more common in some breeds than others.
Anxiety about thunder is difficult to treat but it is important to try because the anxiety usually gets progressively more pronounced with age.
A dog who suffers from a fear of thunderstorms may begin to display anxious behaviour long before the thunder begins. Rain on the roof of the house, bright flashes of light or even the drop in air pressure before a storm may be enough to trigger an anxious response. A fear of fireworks is also common in dogs that are afraid of thunder.
Don't punish or cuddle
When dealing with this phobia it is important not to punish your dog for being anxious nor cuddle him too much as this can exacerbate the problem. Punishing the dog will only make him more afraid and anxious, since he will associate thunder not just with fear but punishment as well.
Cuddling or comforting your dog too much is also inadvisable because it teaches your dog that his anxious behaviour is appropriate and pleasing to you.
Safe and sound
One of the first things to do for a dog that is afraid of thunder is provide him with a safe place to go during the storm. Dog crates (used for transporting dogs), under a bed or a chair are common choices of a hiding place for a dog. Your dog chooses these locations because they make him feel protected and the noise that frightens him is muffled. If your dog has not already picked out a place, provide one. You may want to leave a couple treats in it to encourage him to go there during a storm.
Providing a safe spot for your dog to go during a storm helps with some of the signs of anxiety but does not get to the root cause of the problem. This is a more difficult task and one for which you probably want the help of your veterinarian or a behaviour specialist. The key is to desensitise your dog to the sound of thunder or the other stimuli associated with thunder. The earlier you begin treatment, the quicker you will see positive results.
Familiarity breeds contentment
Desensitisation needs to be done gradually. Basically you want to get your dog used to the sound of thunder and see it as normal. This is usually done by playing recorded thunder at low volume and in short intervals.
The thunder sound should come irregularly to simulate real thunder. While you're doing this monitor your dog's behaviour. Try and distract him while the noise is present by playing fetch or engaging in some sort of enjoyable activity. If your dog is too frightened to participate then you need to turn down the intensity of your thunder stimulus and try again later.
This may be a long process requiring a lot of patience but in the end your dog will be much more comfortable during a storm.