By Caroline Menteith, canine behaviourist at tails.com
Grey skies, thunder, heavy rainfall all have an impact on your dog’s mood and behaviour, similar to the effect bad weather can have on humans’ energy and mood.
Our canine companions can all have their own unique quirks when it comes to weather, some may be terrified of thunder, heavy rainfall and strong winds, while others can seem depressed and have a low mood during the winter period, while others get excited and enthusiastic – and some don’t react at all.
According to a study carried out by the PDSA, a third of dog owners noticed their pet’s mood appears low during the colder months of the year. Many different factors can impact a change in your dog’s mood, including disruption to their daily routine, fewer opportunities to get out and about and enjoy the same amount of physical exercise as they get in the summer months, or as a result of stress or anxiety from fears and phobias.
Research carried out by Penn State University showed that some dogs experience a rapid increase of cortisol – the stress hormone – during thunderstorms, while other research shows that dogs can sense the changes in barometric pressure that predict a new weather front. For dogs who are afraid of storms, this could lead to them becoming agitated – or in more fearless canines, this could lead to increased excitement and activity.
If you see your dog sniffing the air, it might be that a storm is on the way. As the air pressure gets lower, the way scent travels changes – and so your dog can quite literally predict the weather with their nose!
During the colder periods, you may see a change in your dog’s appetite or they might show signs of reduced energy, which can be brought on by winter’s shortened days and gloomy weather and a lack of exercise and stimulation. During severe changes in the weather, you might find your pet seeking comfort in ‘safe’ hiding places within the home. In this case, create a calming, comfortable, warm ‘den’ filled with their favourite toys and blankets where they can find sanctuary from the stresses of the weather.
Strong gusts of wind and pressure drops can agitate our canine companions. Your dog might show signs of anxiety or restlessness, or might be unable to sit still when they are met with strong wind levels. This could be because of the noise of the wind – or that the sound, prevents your dog from hearing anything else!
If your dog displays signs of distress, try and distract them with play, enrichment toys that you can stuff with food (as chewing and gnawing is a great stress-reliever) or practise even some training exercises to give them something else to think about. If they still can’t settle and seem anxious or worried, sit beside them and let them wait out the storm in their comfortable ‘den’,
Most pets like routine so when this is disrupted by bad weather, and they don’t get the usual level of exercise they need, they may display changes of behaviour, some of which can present a lot like depression.
Dog behaviour during cold weather can depend on the breed. Thick-coated breeds such as St. Bernards, Siberian Huskies – and the gundogs such as Labradors and Retrievers are equipped to work in cold temperatures, while short-coated, lean dogs or those who originate from warmer climates may want to snuggle down during the chilly winter season.
You can help to minimize the stress your pet experiences during harsh weather conditions, by making sure your dog has plenty of exercises, lot of enrichment opportunities and by ensuring they are warm, feel safe and comfortable in the home.