Thunderstorm phobia in dogs is real, not uncommon, and should not be ignored by owners. In most cases, they don't even grow out of the "being afraid of storms." It is up to us, as owners, to make sure they are safe during storms.
They begin to pace, pant, hold on to us for dear life, hide in a closet, or some even curl up behind a toilet. If you are not home and your dog is not contained, they may even claw through drywall, chew your carpets, or even break through windows in severe cases. Their panic is real for them and if we are not there to help them, bad situations arise.
After discussing this topic with a few veterinarians I know, they commented that they really don't know what triggers these episodes, other than they hear things that we can not. These can be a combination of wind, thunder, lightening, the barometric pressure changes, static electricity, as well as low-frequency rumbles that precede the storm. Again, many of these noises are only heard by your pet and not you.
If your dog already suffers from separation anxiety, he or she is more likely to have storm phobia. In many cases, they also react to loud noises, such as fireworks or gunshots. Some dogs are only afraid of storms. Just like humans, some dogs are only afraid of storms.
There are many tools you can use to get your dog through a storm.
1. Reward your dog for CALM behavior at all times during the year. There are many training options such as practicing with your dog before a storm occurs. Practice getting your dog to settle on command. Use a special "inside" leash on your dog and practice having the pet lie at your feet while praising the calm behavior. Do this when storms are not occurring so they get used to the behavior. He will get used to the command "come on and lie down here." Remember to reward CALM behavior.
2. Giving your dog a safe place where he can go in a storm. You can use your basement where is quiet and he may not hear the storm and/or keep his crate open if that is where he feels safe. Allow him free access to come and go so he doesn't feel anxious.
3. In preparation for storm season, play recordings of thunderstorms on low while giving him treats or playing games. After he is feeling comfortable, increase the volume over the course of the training, and if he begins showing signs of anxiety, stop the process. The goal is to get your dog used to the sound of thunder and associate it with good things.
4. Always get advice from your veterinarian. He may have many other options for you, such as behavior modification, as well as anti-anxiety medication if necessary. Some dogs require a combination of behavior therapy and medication. They may only need the medication during storm season, however, you may notice they do better with it all the time.