Dogs and Thunderstorms

Many dogs become frightened or even panicked during thunderstorms. How to help if your dog’s one of them.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #21

Does Comfort Zone Work?

There’s been a preliminary study of “dog-appeasing pheromone,” sold in pet supply stores under the brand name Comfort Zone. The diffuser releases an artificial version of substances secreted when a mother dog nurses. Nine out of 12 dogs treated with pheromone plus behavior modification in a preliminary study showed some improvement, as reported by the owners. These numbers are tiny; on the other hand, Comfort Zone is pretty cheap. I would try it.

Does the “Storm Defender” Work?

A newish product is the Storm Defender cape, lined with metallic lamé. This is less crazy than it sounds. A veterinary behaviorist at Tufts hypothesized some years ago that pain from static electricity may contribute to thunder phobia; the point of the lamé is to prevent static buildup. A brand-new study found that about 2/3 of dogs wearing Storm Defenders showed some improvement, according to their owners. But – and how baffling is this? – so did about 2/3 of dogs wearing fake Storm Defenders, which looked like the real ones but minus the lamé. That might be the placebo effect at work. Or maybe the owners’ body language changed and in turn changed the dogs’ behavior. Or maybe it just helps dogs to wear a cape during storms.

The Treatment Will Depend on the Dog

While you’re dressing your dog up and giving him anti-anxiety meds, cut out as many features of the storm as you can. Draw curtains, close windows, turn on the A/C or play soft music. If your dog wants to hide in the bathroom or sit next to you, let her. Debate rages over the effect of comforting your dog by petting and talking to her. The attitude that you and your dog have to be tough guys is laughable, or sad, but maybe your voice and touch do reward fearful behavior. On the other hand, a calm, encouraging friend can help us through an anxious hour. I believe the right response is the one that’s right for you and your dog.

Often, with behavior problems, cure is elusive but improvement lies in reach. For references to the studies I’ve cited, see the bottom of this page. Call me with your questions and comments at 206-600-5661 or email dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com. That’s all for now, and thanks for listening.

Stephen R. Lindsay, Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training. Vol. 3: Procedures and Protocols (Ames, Iowa: Blackwell, 2005), p. 158.
See Joseph Ledoux, The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life  (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), pp. 235-38, for a discussion of  “preparedness theory.”
Lindsay, op. cit., p. 159. See also Pat Miller, Play with Your Dog (Wenatchee, Wash.: Dogwise, 2008), pp. 64-65.
Sharon L. Crowell-Davis, L. M. Seibert, et al., “Use of clomipramine, alprazolam, and behavior modification for treatment of storm phobia in dogs,” J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 222(6) (March 15, 2003): 744-48.
Sharon L. Crowell-Davis and Mami Irimajiri, “Evaluation of the efficacy of a synthetic pheromone analogue in the treatment of storm phobia in dogs: a pilot study,” Proceedings of the North American Veterinary Conference, January 18, 2008.
Nicholas Dodman, The Dog Who Loved Too Much: Tales, Treatments, and the Psychology of the Dog (New York: Bantam, 1996), PAGE REF. TK.
Nicole Cottam and Nicholas H. Dodman, “Comparison of the effectiveness of a purported anti-static cape (the Storm Defender) vs. a placebo cape in the treatment of canine thunderstorm phobia as assessed by owners’ reports,” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 119 (2009): 78-84.
Further Reading
Surprisingly little has been written for dog owners about thunderstorm phobia, but here’s a good discussion of sound sensitivity in general: Pat Miller, “Sound Off,” The Whole Dog Journal, May 1999. Ms. Miller’s website is www.peaceablepaws.com.
Comfort Zone (the only brand of dog-appeasing pheromone available) is sold in many pet supply stores. For the Storm Defender cape, see http://www.stormdefender.com/. I have no financial relationship with the manufacturers of either product.



About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).