Why does a 9 year old dog suddenly become scared of thunder and what can I do about it?

My dog is 9 and has never been bothered by thunder and lightening before - now all of a sudden he’s petrified, climbs in bed with me and pants for the duration of the storm. I don’t have a basement I can send him to - any thoughts as to why this would start now, and what I can do about it? He’s otherwise in very good health.

This usually starts because you allow him to climbs in bed with you and pay attention to him. The dogs learns that storms are to be feared and that you will reward him for being scared.

Best thing to do is to ignore him and force him to cope on his own. Any attention at all reinforces the problem.

I’m not sure why it would happen suddenly at that age. Most dogs develop fear of storms as puppies, and sometimes it gradually worsens as they get older.

As far as what to do about it, I’m not sure if this applies to an older dog, but I’ve always heard the exact opposite of what Blake said. You should give him some attention, let him know it’s ok. No treats, don’t let him up on the bed if you don’t want to, but acknowledge him, pet him and let him hang out in the same room as you. My dog is like this too, and he usually hangs out under a chair. Dogs like to have a “dog cave”, either a crate or a spot under something where they can hide.
In our situation, he seems to be getting over it. Sometimes he still freaks out, but most of the time he will walk around the house and I’ve even taken him on a walk with thunder happening in the distance.

Another possibility is that his hearing is deteriorating at that age, so maybe he doesn’t hear the storm until there is suddenly very loud thunder frightening him; or possibly he has lost hearing in a partial range of frequencies, so now storms sound different & strange to him.

Your vet can check his hearing, but not much can be done if it’s age-related loss.

So I’d just do the opposite of what Blake said: for frightened old pets & young children, just pet them, reassure them, and let them hang around with you.

They make a device called a Thundershirt (you can Google it) which supposedly wraps the dog’s torso in gentle pressure and reassures them; I don’t know how well it works.

We have a dog who’s scared of thunder for a very good reason – she has at least three shotgun pellets in her that show up on X-Rays. It’s pretty rational for her to associate loud booms with pain.

Using my pop-culture understanding of dog psychology, I reason that the pack leader never allows the pack to act frivolously in times of danger. No playing during a forest fire, no snoozing in the sun when the pack is starving. So, conversely, the pack leader initiating play must be a signal that (he or she has judged that) there’s nothing to worry about and the pack can relax and play.

Whereas hugging and comforting her might be sending the signal “yep, this is plenty scary, we’re in trouble.”

So I started playing with her whenever it’s stormy. Now, when the lighting starts, instead of cowering own and shaking, she brings me a ball. She’s still tense, but she plays instead of quaking in fear.

So I recommend playing with him, not “comforting him,” when the thunder comes.

Well, maybe a specific incident brought it on, like kids shooting fireworks at him in the yard. In my previous post, I mentioned we have a dog who was shot with a shotgun and fears thunder.

I’ll attest that the Thundershirt is helpful. It hasn’t made thunderstorms all better for Blackjack, but it does help. He has a very bad reaction as soon as he hears distant thunder. His heart starts beating very rapidly and he’s unable to hold still. We know he’d been stuck outside during storms in the past so his reaction is natural and quite common. I think the Thundershirt helps him in two ways, first by constricting his chest to keep him from hyperventilating and perhaps limit his heartrate, and secondly it gives him a familiar course of action to take in a storm.

Humm - thanks for the replies everyone. I guess it’s possible that his hearing is going causing him to freak out now - he doesn’t show any other signs that way - even if he’s on the far side of the condo I can just say his name in a normal voice and he comes charging in - I guess maybe something freaked him out when I was out or something, because there have been no incidents when I’ve been home.

I think I might try the Thunder Shirt - I have seen them in stores and if they work, I can get him one. Playing is probably not a great solution, as thunderstorms usually happen at night here - my son and I were sound asleep last night when the dog woke me up because of the storm - 11 PM is not the best time for a rousing game of fetch! :stuck_out_tongue:

I agree with avoiding giving the dog extra attention for the reason stated because doing so patterns the animal to repeat the undesired behavior.

My last dog developed similar behavior later in life and I tried a tight fitting tee shirt on her resulting in some improvement so you might try the thunder shirt.

My Chihuahua never feared storms until being around my mom’s scared yorkie. The yorkie goes crazy during storms.

I try to avoid giving too much attention. No treats, Good Boys or belly rubs. He cuddles on the sofa with me. He practically crawls under my leg. That seems to sooth his fears during storms.

My shih tzu is 3 half yrs old and she sleeps on her blanket on our bed every night with our other shih tzu who is 10 mnths, the older one has all of a sudden become frightened of thunder & lightening, but she jumps off the bed and comes to my side where I have to pick her up znd reassure her , she shakes and pants , when I cuddle her in next to me she stops, then when the storm is finished she goes back on her blanket at the bottom of the bed… Btw my dogs are bathed once a week, regularly frontlined and wormed :slight_smile: but I can see the point of not tee giving her fear , but I def think playing is a good idea , but bit diff at 4am as I’m my case :wink:
I do think as she is 9 I would go e her loads of cuddles :slight_smile:

Why would you send him to the basement? That’s just mean. He should be with you, and you should comfort him, imo. That’s what I would do if it were my dog. #

I don’t know why he is doing this. You could ask your vet. In any case, I’d make sure I comforted him and let him climb into bed with me and reassure him as much as possible.

I know of a mature(6 years give or take?) chihuahua that was only feet away when an owner committed suicide with a handgun. From that day forward the dog who never showed a fear of thunder before would hide at the smallest hint of it, usually by crawling into a small space.

It is possible.

Our black Lab mutt used to be fearless; at about 9 years old she began to develop a fear of storms and loud noises. Thundershirt helps, but she usually just needs to be really close to somebody and reassured that everything is OK. She really hates the 4th of July now and won’t go for walks if she hears a firecracker in the distance.

Do they have thundershirts for cats? Because my poor Buffy is terrified of storms. She crouches against the floor and then squeezes under the sofa until it’s over.

Yep. Our dog goes apeshit during storms and barks like mad – except when she’s in her crate. If there’s one at night, even right after we put her in at bedtime, she’s fine.

Buy the small dog size, it should fit. They usually have weight guides on the products.

I support the idea of comfort and reassurance (no food).

You might be able to take advantage of the thunder fear reaction. There’s a Thurber story (I think it was “The Dog That Bit People”) about a dog that ran loose outside and was scared of thunder. The family rigged up a “thunder machine” (it involved thin sheet metal and a revolving handle). When they wanted the dog to come in they’d get the thunder machine going and the dog would race in and hide under the bed.

Worth a try. :slight_smile:

Do you think it would work?

Certified professional dog trainer here . That’s tough. My dog is nine and has suddenly develop the same thing they get anxious as they’re older. There was an event that I remember clearly that sparked the phobia. Your dog is essentially having a panic attack.

Your dog has developed a noise phobia it’s very typical for this and older age sometimes there is an event that you aren’t aware of that created the trigger and now it is a phobia which is like the same phobia that humans have. I would suggest talking to your vet or a vet behaviorist regarding medication and how to desensitize your dog to the noise.

Whoever said it’s because you’re giving him attention is absolutely false and incorrect in the statement. It is very well known fear cannot be reinforced. Please do not listen to someone who has zero professional or academic education in canine behavior.

Blake… This is absolutely false. There is no scientific evidence to prove your statement. you’re thinking of a behavior, like demand barking for something. This is not the same thing.

If someone is essentially having a panic attack, we don’t ignore them. If it’s child is having a panic attack we do not ignore them…understand the causation of the behavior before you think that you’re reinforcing it. Fear cannot be reinforced, fear is emotionally-based and a matter of fact if you do ignore your dog, you erode the trust, and the human animal bond.

These types of phobias are difficult to change, and require behavior modification from a vet behaviorist along with a certified professional like applied behavior analysis.

Over-the-counter calming supplements can help, massage, thunder shirt, but there needs to be behavior modification and desensitization of the thunder.