The German Shepherd dog breed is widely regarded as a brave and loyal protection dog – a K-9 of amazing strength and courage.
So to see your GSD cowering under the bed or deal with a 90-pound dog who insists on sitting on top of you during thunderstorms can be a bit much to handle all on your own!
In this article, we talk about what the latest animal research has to say about why dogs fear thunder and other loud sounds.
We also talk about ways you can help your German Shepherd cope when thunder rolls in yet again.
German Shepherd Afraid of Thunder
German Shepherds may be fierce and strong, but underneath their stalwart exterior, they are still dogs. And most dogs are afraid of thunder.
German Shepherds are very intelligent, sensitive, and empathic dogs. A GSD that is a true K-9 working dog has gone through a systematic process of noise desensitization.
This is the only way that German Shepherds working in the military and security industries can remain calm in the face of sudden loud sounds like gunfire and bombs.
Helpful Tips from a Dog Trainer to Ease GSD Thunder Fears
In this helpful YouTube video from a professional dog trainer, you can get useful tips for how to help your German Shepherd dog make it through thunderstorms.
You will also notice that the trainer does encourage you to reach out to your dog’s veterinarian if your GSD is very anxious or panicked during thunderstorms.
Sometimes there are medications that can help a very anxious dog stay calmer.
How to Tell Your German Shepherd Is Scared of Thunder
According to Fetch by WebMD, anxiety during thunder falls under the medical heading of “storm phobia.”
However, you may not always be sure that what you are seeing in your dog’s behavior is thunder anxiety.
So let’s review some common signs of canine anxiety so you can see if these signs match up with your German Shepherd’s symptoms.
- Clinging behaviors
- Following owners around
- Trying to escape
- Flattened ears and tucked tail
- Licking lips
- Eyes wide
So if you see some or all of these signs when you are getting weather that includes thunder, it is a pretty safe bet that your dog has thunder anxiety.
Some German Shepherds will also display anxiety signs around other loud noises such as fireworks. But other GSDs seem to only be afraid of the sound of thunder.
This suggests there may be something else at work when thunderstorms occur than just the loud unexpected sounds thunder can make.
Other Reasons Your German Shepherd Afraid of Thunder
Because thunder anxiety in dogs can be difficult to treat, it can be important to look beyond the simple noise factor to see what else might be triggering these bouts of anxiety.
Anxiety in certain dog breeds
A 2001 study by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) showed that certain dog breeds may be more predisposed to thunder-related anxiety.
Herding breeds and dog breeds that tend to struggle more with separation anxiety may be more prone to developing thunder-related anxiety than other dog breeds.
This same research study showed that more than half the dogs participating in the study that had thunder anxiety were sheltered rescue dogs or dogs that were poorly socialized.
This suggests that a dog’s background and prior life experience can also lead to more anxiety during thunder episodes.
Changes in barometric pressure
National Geographic highlights two potential triggers for canine anxiety during thunderstorms that are easy to overlook.
The first is a change in barometric pressure.
When the barometric pressure drops, this is a sign there is a change in the weather that is imminent. When barometric pressure changes, people often experience “ear-popping” or pain, dizziness, migraine headaches, and irritability.
Dogs may experience similar physical symptoms that are uncomfortable and disorienting. In fact, StormGeo shares a number of stories of how people have learned to look to their animals to get advance warning of a change in the weather.
The onset of bad weather can even cause a change in how the air smells – and dogs’ noses are incredibly keen in terms of sensing even subtle shifts in smells.
In addition, since barometric pressure drops can also be accompanied by darker skies, increased wind, the ceasing of animal sounds, and other changes, it makes sense your GSD might be reacting on multiple levels to these warning signs.
The buildup of static electricity
We all know what static electricity feels like – it is that uncomfortable ZAP you get when you touch a doorknob or car door.
Storms can cause a buildup of static electricity, which in turn can deliver a healthy shock as it builds up on your dog’s fur.
Calm Yourself First, Then Help Your German Shepherd
As this popular German Shepherd owner forum highlights, lots and lots of German Shepherd owners report that their dogs are afraid of thunder.
One very interesting point that the owners talk about on this forum is how your dog will look to you for tips about how to react to sudden loud sounds like thunder.
If you are afraid of thunder too, your dog may pick up on this and mirror your anxieties.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with comforting your fearful dog, there is also something to be said for the old airplane safety cliché about putting on your own oxygen mask first before assisting someone else.
The more you can ease your own very understandable reactions to sudden loud sounds like thunder, the less likely your emotions are to increase anxiety in your dog as well.
Ways to Help Your Thunder Averse German Shepherd Stay Calm
There are a number of potentials that helps you can try to ease your German Shepherd’s anxiety the next time a thunderstorm rolls in.
VCA Animal Hospitals recommends trying anxiety vests – often called “thunder shirts” – as a way to deliver continual reassuring pressure to your dog’s body.
But here, the key is to start getting your GSD used to these vests when the weather is good. Don’t wait until there is thunder and then run to your dog and strap on the vest. Your dog may then start to associate the vest with bad things and get even more afraid.
Given the number of owners who report that their dogs try to hide in the bathroom, in the tub, or behind the toilet (all places with very low static charge), trying an anxiety vest may also help decrease the electric charge buildup in your GSD’s fur.
Create a safe place where your German Shepherd can hide
Speaking of hiding, if your German Shepherd does try to hide in a specific place each time thunder happens, consider outfitting that place with sound-buffering and even a white noise machine to drown out the thunder.
You can put your dog’s bedding in there and add a blanket and some favorite toys to help your GSD feel safer and calmer.
Just as working K-9 German Shepherds often go through a period of noise desensitization as part of their job training, you can try a similar approach at home.
You can get recordings of thunder and play them at a low volume while offering tasty treats, playtime, and other things your dog loves. Gradually increase the volume a little at a time so your dog gets used to the sounds and is no longer frightened.
Consider essential oils or medications
As Pine Creek Veterinary Hospital explains, some dogs will have a lot more anxiety during thunder events.
While researchers are still not clear about why some dogs experience only mild anxiety and others go into full-blown panic mode, what is most important is to get the right treatment for the level of anxiety your dog is experiencing.
For some dogs, that may mean talking with your veterinarian about essential oils or even prescription canine anti-anxiety medication.
Never give human anti-anxiety medication to your German Shepherd! Always talk with your dog’s veterinarian and get a medication designed for canines dealing with anxiety issues.
It is important to take canine thunder anxiety seriously. While in most cases dogs get only mild to moderate anxiety during thunder events, some dogs can have truly severe reactions.
There are stories of dogs leaping through glass doors and chewing through drywall trying to escape the sounds.
So if you see your German Shepherd getting anxious when the thunder starts to occur, do everything you can to ease your dog’s fears. Don’t be hesitant to talk to your dog’s veterinarian for additional guidance and canine-appropriate retraining or treatment.