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The Surprising Reason Dogs Hate Thunderstorms—and How to Help

Quick: why do dogs hate thunderstorms? Most of us believe it’s about the noise, but it turns out that’s not the whole story. Learning the real reason dogs don’t like storms will help you comfort your pet when the rain starts. It could be a game-changer for you both!

Springtime means sunshine, road trips, picnics, and boat rides. Unfortunately for dogs, it also means thunderstorms, which can upset many dogs to the point of panic. According to one study, about one-third of dogs have anxiety, and thunderstorms are at the top of the list of anxiety-inducing situations.

Many dog parents believe that it’s the sheer volume of thunder that upsets dogs the most. Some recent studies by scientists and veterinarians in clinical research, however, indicate that the booming sound of thunder is just a small part of what upsets dogs during electric storms.

Cutting through the static It’s actually static electricity that makes dogs feel uncomfortable. What some studies show is that it’s actually the uncomfortable feeling of static electricity, especially the feeling of it tingling through their fur, that makes dogs feel uncomfortable. It can prompt them to run around the house whimpering, looking for places to hide.

Dr. Nicholas Dodman is the director of the Animal Behavior department at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. He says that dogs may experience numerous shocks from static electricity during thunderstorms. This explains why they tend to run toward the rooms and places in your home that are grounded.

What areas are grounded? Basements, bathtubs, and other enclosed spaces, most often. The bathtub is an excellent place for your dog to remain before, during, and after a storm passes.

This is especially true of the bathtub, which is an excellent place for your dog to remain before, during, and even after a storm passes—as it can take a while for your dog to stop feeling the effect of the storm, even after the rain, thunder, and lightning have passed. The porcelain of the bathtub effectively blocks electricity from traveling, and this is likely why dogs often jump in the tub when they feel a storm approaching.

Dryer sheets: yes or no? It’s research like Dr. Dodman’s that prompted Martha Stewart to recommend to her readers that they rub dryer sheets on their dog’s fur during thunderstorms, to help minimize the effects of the static electricity.

If you do this infrequently, and use a brand that’s unscented, experts generally agree it’s safe. There’s been some controversy about this, as dryer sheets can contain unwanted chemicals. However, if you do this infrequently, and use a brand that’s unscented, experts generally agree it’s safe. Dr. Marty Becker of Vetstreet addresses this question directly; dryer sheets have helped his dog, and he does recommend them to counter static during storms. Again, use an unscented brand, and wipe lightly. Also, avoid doing this if your dog is a frequent groomer; you don’t want them to lick up the residue.

Dog jackets can also help calm down a panicky dog. Dr. Dodman has published clinical studies on these jackets’ effectiveness, including this article evaluating the effectiveness of the Anxiety Wrap, which was published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior.

There are a variety of reasons dogs may fear thunderstorms and knowing these reasons can help us understand how to soothe their anxieties.

Pets and People, Saving Each Other

HSNT’s mission is to act as an advocate on behalf of all animals and to ensure their legal, moral and ethical consideration and protection; to provide for the well-being of animals who are abandoned, injured, neglected, mistreated or otherwise in need; to promote an appreciation of animals; and to instill respect for all living things.

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