There are plenty of anecdotal stories that suggest dogs can predict the weather before big storm rolls in.
They may perk their ears up, turn their heads to the side, fidget or pace around, whine and bark, or run for cover. But “predict” may be the wrong word to use here.
Dogs have a much greater sense of hearing than people, which means they can pick up on the sound of far away rumbles of thunder before we do. Their noses are also much keener than ours, so they can catch a whiff of a coming storm early on. For instance, there might be a rich and earthy smell before the rain rolls in.
Lightning also has a distinctive metallic scent that’s given off as it ionizes the air. In addition to smells and sounds, storms can cause atmospheric changes, such as a drop in the air or water pressure, which may be more noticeable to our four-legged friends.
Dogs are also famous for their strong instincts and reactive natures. If they feel like a big rainstorm is coming, they don’t ignore it or occupy themselves with thoughts like: “Did I close my car windows?” or “Will soccer practice be canceled?”
Instead, dogs will be more likely to pay close attention and jump into action, for instance, running for cover at the first signs of the storm. This may be a survival instinct passed down from their wild ancestors who would need to get to a safe area or seek out shelter for protection in bad weather.
There doesn’t appear to be much if any, research on the theory that dogs can predict the weather. It seems to be mostly anecdotal or observed evidence. For example, before the tsunami, it was reported that animals were fleeing the area. There is one study that identified this behavior in sharks that were tracked during Hurricane Charlie and Tropical Storm Gabrielle.
The sharks fled to deeper waters where they would be safer when the barometric pressure started to drop.
There is also a study that turned up in the Journal of Traditional Knowledge in January 2011 called “Presage Biology: Lessons from nature in weather forecasting” by Sandeep Acharya. In this study, Acharya states:
Animals are highly tuned into any changes beyond those natural fluctuations, which can signal significant shifts in the weather. These variations can trigger an animal’s survival mechanism. The animals’ instinctive reaction is to seek shelter in the face of potentially violent weather.”
However, there is only observational, and no real quantifiable evidence reported in this study. It’s much more likely that our dogs are sensing and reacting to the weather before we notice it ourselves, offered Dr. Mary Beth Leininger of ASPCA Pet Health Insurance.
So ask yourself, what can I do if my dog is upset by a storm?
Crashing thunder, streaks of lightning, and pelting rain can make anyone anxious, including our dogs. If your dog gets upset during a storm, you can try closing the shades and curtains to hide the flashes of lightening and muffle the noise of rain and thunder. If that doesn’t work, try moving your dog to a quieter room in the house with a favorite blanket to curl up in. Distraction can be helpful too. Start up a game of tug-of-war or offer a dog chew or a treat-filled puzzle toy to preoccupy your pooch. You can also play music or turn on a fan to help drown out the sounds.
Remember never to scold your dog for reacting to the weather. It’s a natural response and not your dog’s fault. Plus, it may just upset her more. It can be helpful to soothe your dog instead with some kind words and warm cuddles.
If your dog’s behavior during storms concerns you, talk with your veterinarian for advice. Your veterinarian may recommend medication or other treatments to help.