Why Is My German Shepherd Afraid of Thunder, Lightning, and Fireworks? And What Should I Do About It?

Despite being such large, powerful dogs, German Shepherds have a tendency to be afraid of thunder, lighting, and fireworks. If your GSD is showing signs of fear and extreme anxiety, such as whimpering, panting, and excessively licking, there are a number of methods you can use to set them at ease.

It is natural for German Shepherds to become anxious and afraid of loud noises like thunder, lightning, and even fireworks. The sudden and drastic change in the environment will be interpreted as dangerous for your German Shepherds, and it can trigger their nervous systems to send them running away for survival.

Understanding what causes GSDs to have these fears can lead us to empathize with them ourselves and to use solutions to the problem that are keyed into their specific needs. Through various methods such as targeted training, playing calming recordings, and/or medication, however, they can conquer their fear.  So let’s take a look at the symptoms you should be looking out for, why they might be happening, and then what can be done.

Key takeaways:

1. Try to anticipate the event. When a storm is going to start or when fireworks are scheduled, walk the dog before the event, and keep the dog indoors.

2. Provide a quiet dark place for your dog to hide, by draping his crate with some blankets or providing a pile of blankets on his bed.

3. DO NOT OFFER CONSOLATION – Petting and consoling your dog is viewed as an APPROVAL of the dog’s agitated state.

4. Follow your normal routine. Do not show attention to the noises. Your calm presence may be the best thing your GSD will need.

5. Play some soft music or white noise to cover up the noise outside.

How to Tell if My GSD is Afraid? Signs to Look for

German Shepherds are known for being very clingy, almost overly loving dogs to their masters. Their penchant for following them around has led to them being dubbed “Velcro dogs”. The fear of thunder, lightning, and fireworks can exacerbate this issue.

When German Shepherds are afraid, they may show these behaviors:

  1. Turn into full-sized whimpering puppies, nervously barking, howling, whining, and trembling. 
  2. Pant quickly and begin to chew or gnaw almost obsessively. 
  3. Either pace back and forth over and over again, or start to circle their owner (a protective instinct springing from the breed’s days as sheepherders). 
  4. Either attempting to hide or escape
  5. Repeatedly yawning or licking their lips, staring around with a particularly wide-eyed glare
  6. Exhibit the “tell-tale” sign of them tucking in their tails and flattening their ears

To see these signs in action, check out this video below:

Why Is My German Shepherd Afraid of Thunder, Lightning, and Fireworks?

Just like humans, it is natural for dogs to become anxious and afraid of loud noises, fair enough right?

With over 300 million smell receptors on the surface area of their nose, dogs are about 1,000 to 10,000 times keener to smell than we are. Their ears are also designed to pick up a higher frequency of soundwaves, allowing them to hear sounds four times further away than the human ear can. On top of that, a dog’s field of vision is much wider than ours. They can see objects at a greater distance even with lower visibility to humans.

7 Things You Didn’t Know Your Dog Can Sense – GermanShepherd 101

The sudden and drastic change in the environment will be interpreted as dangerous for your German Shepherd. The sheer noise can trigger the instinct to run away for survival.

There are many elements of thunderstorms and firework shows that can be affecting your GSD, including sound, smell, a change in surroundings caused by the new stimuli, and static electricity.

Sound

For starters, there is, of course, the simple fact of just how loud and almost violent these noises sound. Even humans can find thunder and fireworks distressing, and GSD hearing is significantly more sensitive and advanced than people’s.

The average German Shepherd can hear approximately twice the number of sound frequencies that a human can, as well as sounds from distances four times as far away. 

With their huge, perky ears, they’re also capable of picking up even more sounds than floppy-eared breeds, making GSDs particularly susceptible to finding these noises more immediate and distressing. 

So that explains fireworks but when it comes to the weather, scientists have even more specific theories. When a storm is incoming, there is a drop in barometric pressure, which can cause popped ears, headaches, and dizzy spells in people, let alone a German Shepherd, whose ears pick up on them even more intensely.

Smell

Furthermore, the other sense that German Shepherds famously have in far greater abundance than humans is the smell. A barometric pressure change can actually change the smell of the air, something which a GSD will immediately pick up on, all of which factors in to…

The Change in Surroundings

When you add the loud noise and new smells to other factors such as the sky getting darker, perhaps the wind picking up, sometimes the ground literally shaking from the noises, and other changes both major and minor surrounding your German Shepherd, it’s no wonder that they may get distressed. They could easily interpret bad weather or fireworks as a threat to them and their owners.

Dogs can pick up on a barometric pressure drop and the electrical signals that start to swirl before a thunderstorm even miles away. But some dogs may bark erratically to warn their pack instead. Others may like to cuddle up on their owner’s lap. 

If your dogs will pace and move restlessly around a room. If this is the case, check the forecast.

7 Things You Didn’t Know Your Dog Can Sense – GermanShepherd 101

Static Electricity

Additionally, some animal behavioral scientists have theorized that the build-up in static electricity caused by thunderstorms can actually cause it to build upon German Shepherds’ fur, giving them electric shocks throughout the storm, creating a very immediate and even slightly painful response.

Background and Trauma

Psychology can also play a big factor in a German Shepherd’s reaction to thunder, lightning, and fireworks. Many rescue and adopted GSDs picked up numerous anxieties in their earlier lives. Sometimes it can be due to various fears and traumas that occurred in previous homes or even living on the streets.

Shelter Dog Living

Other times, it can be a reaction to having grown up for a period of time in a dog shelter. While shelters are generally run by wonderful people with the best of intentions in caring for the dogs, the environment can cause a number of anxieties.

For some German Shepherds, it’s an unfamiliar environment, due to them being used to living outside or in a particular family home, GSDs again being very prone to being incredibly attached to their humans, and suddenly finding themselves with many other dogs and their unfamiliar smells, and also at the same time often caged or separated from them.

GSDs are very empathetic and this level of unease and uncertainty can have an impact on their psyches making them more prone to experiencing added anxiety when environmental factors change even later, once they’re in a loving home. 

What Can I Do About My German Shepherd’s Fear?

Amongst the methods you can use to help calm down your German Shepherds are rewarding calm behavior, using recordings of storms and fireworks to acclimate them to the noise beforehand and calming recordings during the storm itself, creating safe, comforting spaces for the GSD, tiring them out with exercise, calming treat, and anti-anxiety medication if needed.

1. Only Reward Calm Behavior (but do not show consolation)

Again, the last thing you want to do is to console them, as that actually reinforces the behavior by teaching them that their whimpering, etc., will get them sympathetic attention. 

Instead, you can teach them that calm behavior will earn them a reward. This is something you can begin doing on a regular basis during normal weather:

  • Place a little bit of a food your German Shepherd loves into a metal bowl, and let them eat it.
  • Immediately after that, pick up the now-empty bowl and drop it to the ground from a low height, so it makes a crash noise. 
  • Instantly put another portion of food into the bowl for the GSD to eat.
  • Pick up the bowl and drop it again, but this time from even higher up so the noise is even louder.
  • Again, give your GSD more food right away.

This will not only get the German Shepherd accustomed to loud noises but also reinforce that if they manage to not allow themselves to get frightened by the noises, they will be rewarded. 

Then when an actual storm or fireworks show is underway, all you have to do is present the bowl of food and continue the ritual, which they are now used to, and expecting.

2. Provide a Safe Space for your GSD to retreat to

Another good idea is to create an enclosed, small space for the dog to calm down in. 

German Shepherds will often look for a well-grounded space during a thunderstorm, which provides them with a feeling of safety and comfort during a stressful time, and also counteracts the static electricity, as previously mentioned. 

If you have perhaps a small cage or crate with a bed in it ready for the dog, they can instantly go there to lower their feelings of anxiety and distress.

3. Tire Your GSD Out Before a Storm or Fireworks

Sometimes getting a German Shepherd to calm down is simply a case of tiring them out beforehand. 

It’s been proven that anxiety in GSDs is lowered when their energy reserves are lower, so if you time a big walk or physically active excursion with them shortly before a storm or fireworks show is meant to begin, it can make them tired enough that they’re less prone to panicking during the event.

4. Offer your GSD Calming Treats

You can also get organic calming treats for your German Shepherd that can help reduce their stress. There are a number of brands on the market that use all-natural supplements such as melatonin and tryptophan to achieve this. 

5. Leave the TV or Radio

Research indicates that when dogs are stressed, music may help. A landmark study in 2002 compared how dogs responded to different genres of music, such as classical, pop, and heavy metal music as well as conversation and silence.

It was found that classical music had a calming effect on dogs. You may want to have a Beethoven playlist handy.

If you want more ideas to entertain your dog, check out this video below:

5. Provide Anti-Anxiety Medication

And in some particularly severe cases in which a dog’s anxiety is so extreme that none of the above methods work, you can also talk to your vet about putting them on medication, specifically ones with dexmedetomidine as an active ingredient, which suppresses various specific nervous system reactions. 

Many studies have shown that these medications can help a dog fully get over their fear of storms and fireworks, although again, it often isn’t necessary as the other, natural methods are sufficient in most cases.

Conclusion

German Shepherds may seem tough on the surface, but in many ways, they’re extremely sensitive dogs, so don’t let their exterior fool you. If your German Shepherd seems afraid of certain noises to an exaggerated level, this is actually completely natural.

So don’t worry, there are many methods, involving good training, some psychology, and if necessary, a bit of extra medical help in order to make sure your German Shepherd starts to feel right.