Why Your Dog Freaks Out During Thunderstorms—And What to Do

With summer around the corner, we looked into what causes storm anxiety, and how to soothe our canines.

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Cinny, a three-month-old Chiahuahua, poses for a portrait. Static buildup and a drop in barometic pressure during thunderstorms may give some dogs anxiety.

Summer weather is just around the corner—and with it thunderstorms that may freak out your dog. We looked into what causes this anxiety, and how to soothe their rainy-day feelings.

Signs of anxiousness in dogs are "ears back, tails down, eyes wide, panting, lip-licking and yawning," says Terry Curtis, a clinical behaviorist at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. (See our favorite dog pictures.)

Sometimes, their panic escalates to dangerous levels during thunderstorms. "I've had cases where the dog has dug through walls, all the way through the drywall," Curtis says. "Another dog jumped through a sliding glass door."

So what gives?

Electrified

Dropping barometric pressure—which dogs can sense—coupled with darkening skies, wind, and the sheer noise of thunder can cause fearful reactions in dogs. (Read how scientists are trying to crack the mystery of nighttime thunderstorms.)

Some dogs have canine noise aversion, which can make them uncomfortable or even phobic about loud sounds.

Static buildup in their fur is another likely explanation, says Nicholas Dodman, a veterinary behaviorist at Tufts University and chief scientific officer at the Center for Canine Behavior Studies.

Large dogs and those with long or double coats easily build up static electricity, the way we do when we wear a sweater and get a shock from the car door if we're not wearing rubber-soled shoes, he says.

A dog already nervous during storms may get another shock when touching its nose to a metal object. Then mild discomfort could escalate to full-on phobia,...

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