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Can Dogs Sense Bad Weather Or Know When A Storm Is Coming? Exploring Their Natural Abilities - PawSafe
Dog Behavior

Can Dogs Sense Bad Weather Or Know When A Storm Is Coming? Exploring Their Natural Abilities

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

can dog sense bad weather

Dogs have always been known for their keen sense of smell and hearing. They can detect things that humans can’t, such as certain medical conditions, drugs, and even emotions. However, can dogs sense bad weather or know when a storm is coming? After all, so many dogs struggle with noise phobia when there’s thunder, so can they sense it coming?

Many dog owners believe that their pets can predict bad weather. They claim that their dogs become restless, anxious, or even aggressive before a storm, and desperately need a dog calming bed. Some dogs may hide under furniture or refuse to go outside. Others may bark excessively or become clingy. But is there any scientific evidence to support these claims?

One of the ways that we know that dogs do sense rain or bad weather is because research on traditional weather forecasting in the Philippines actually notes that one of the animal signs of rain is: “loose dogs excrete their wastes in the middle of the road or at higher elevation. The unusual behavior of dogs can also predict an upcoming storm.”

How Dogs Know When Bad Weather or Storms are Coming

Dog owners are often amazed by their pets’ seemingly supernatural ability to predict changes in th” weather. Whether it’s an approaching thunderstorm or a dramatic temperature drop, many dogs exhibit behaviors that suggest they’re aware of these changes before humans are. One factor that might play a role in this ability is barometric pressure.

What is Barometric Pressure?

Barometric pressure is the weight of the atmosphere above us, usually measured in millibars or inches of mercury. Changes in barometric pressure often precede shifts in weather conditions, such as the arrival of a storm. Low-pressure systems are commonly associated with bad weather, including rain, thunderstorms, and even hurricanes, while high-pressure systems generally bring clear and sunny weather.

How Do Dogs Sense Barometric Pressure?

While it’s still not entirely clear how dogs sense barometric pressure changes, one theory is that their acute sense of hearing and smell allows them to detect these shifts. It may even be their sensitive whiskers. Their heightened senses may help them perceive changes in the static electricity of the air or even catch the distant scent of rain, long before humans can.

Research shows that barometric pressure affects odors for search and rescue dogs, so perhaps it’s the change in their olfactory mind map that lets them know the weather is changing.

Some researchers believe that dogs have specialized receptors that are sensitive to changes in atmospheric pressure, although this is still an area of active study. It’s possible that they feel physical sensations, such as pressure in their ears, that alert them to impending bad weather.

Several studies have tried to understand the sensitivity of dogs to meteorological changes. One study, published in the International Journal of Biometeorology, examined whether changes in air pressure might be linked to an increase in canine bloat, a potentially life-threatening condition. 

According to the study, the mechanisms by which a change in barometric pressure affects canine behavior are still unknown. However, the study noted that sensing adverse weather may lead to a change in activity levels in dogs. Fearful or excitable behavior, as well as rapid eating, has been identified as risk factors for Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV), commonly known as canine bloat.

Role of Static Electricity & Why Dogs are Scared of Storms

Another theory is that dogs can sense changes in static electricity. Thunderstorms can generate a lot of static electricity, which can cause the air to feel charged. Some dogs may be able to detect this change in the air, causing them to feel anxious or restless.

Their fur coat may also make it worse, as they may feel the static electricity more in their coat and the hair on their body, which can give them a static shock when they touch something with their nose. This may be why dogs often run to the bathroom during  a storm, as they’re looking for a place with less static electricity. Below we will briefly touch on some ways to help your dog through their fear of storms.

Dogs Can Smell Rain (Petrichor) and Chemical Changes In The Air

The sensitivity of dogs to bad weather extends beyond changes in barometric pressure. One of the most intriguing aspects of their ability to predict weather changes may be linked to their sense of smell, which is incredibly more developed than that of humans.

A Dog’s Superior Sense of Smell

A dog’s sense of smell is estimated to be between 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than that of humans. While humans have about 5 million scent receptors, dogs have around 220 million to 300 million, depending on the breed. This heightened sense allows dogs to detect scents at extremely low concentrations, which could enable them to sense chemical changes in the atmosphere that signal an approaching storm.

The Smell of Lightning and Atmospheric Changes

According to a Washington Post article, lightning can significantly alter the chemical composition of the air. When lightning strikes, it heats the air to around 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, breaking the bonds between nitrogen (N2) and oxygen (O2) molecules. As the air cools down, some of these atoms rearrange themselves, leading to the formation of ozone (O3).

Ozone has a distinct smell that humans can detect at concentrations as low as 10 parts per billion—equivalent to three teaspoons of water in an Olympic-size swimming pool. If humans can detect this faint aroma, imagine how much more potent it would be to a dog’s extraordinary nose!

The Smell of Petrichor

Petrichor is another scent associated with impending rain, stemming from the Greek words “petra,” meaning stone, and “ichor,” the fluid that flows in the veins of gods in Greek mythology. It’s the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil, releasing oils secreted by certain plants and minerals. 

This smell is caused by a soil-dwelling bacteria called actinomycetes and a compound called geosmin. Humans find the smell pleasant, and it is likely that dogs, with their advanced sense of smell, can detect it even before we can.

Why It Matters

Understanding that dogs can likely smell these chemical changes in the atmosphere adds another layer to our appreciation of their abilities. It may also offer practical applications, such as in disaster preparedness. If your dog suddenly becomes alert or restless and you catch a whiff of ozone or petrichor, it might not be a bad idea to prepare for inclement weather.

Dogs Can Hear Sounds Further Away (Like Tornadoes or Thunder)

While humans rely heavily on their sense of sight, dogs lean into their acute senses of smell and hearing. When it comes to detecting storms or bad weather, a dog’s auditory prowess is nothing short of impressive. Thunder, which is caused by lightning, offers a unique window into understanding the difference between what dogs can hear and what humans perceive.

According to a National Weather Service article, thunder is the sound produced by the rapid expansion and contraction of air surrounding a lightning bolt. The lightning heats the air to temperatures that can reach up to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is five times hotter than the sun’s surface. This rapid heating causes the air to expand, creating a sound wave we know as thunder. However, for humans, this sound can be heard only up to about 10 miles away from the lightning strike.

Dogs and Their Superior Hearing Range

Dogs have a wider range of hearing frequencies than humans. While humans hear frequencies ranging from 20 to 20,000 Hertz, research shows dogs can detect frequencies as low as 40 Hz and as high as 60,000 Hz. This broad range allows them to hear sounds that are both lower and higher in pitch than what we can perceive.

While there is no specific scientific study that states exactly how far away a dog can hear thunder compared to humans, it’s reasonable to infer that their advanced hearing abilities might allow them to detect the low-frequency rumblings of a distant storm long before we can.

Dogs have better motion visibility and may be more aware of distant lightning

Dogs have better motion visibility than humans, which means they may be more aware of distant lightning. They may also be able to see flashes of lightning that are too faint for humans to detect.

Dogs can be more sensitive to changes in their environment (and us)

Dogs are highly attuned to their environment and may be more sensitive to changes in the atmosphere than humans. Not only that, but they can sense changes in us very keenly. If we see a storm forecast and start shutting all the windows or calling for the kids to come in, the dogs will likely know something is up just from our behavior.

Dogs Can Make Pair Associations With Early Signs Of Storms From Experience

Dogs are highly intelligent animals that can learn from experience. They may be able to make pair associations between early signs of a storm, such as drops in barometric pressure or changes in the air, and the onset of bad weather.

How Dogs React to Bad Weather

Behavioral Changes

Dogs are known to have a keen sense of smell and hearing, which makes them highly sensitive to changes in the environment. When bad weather is approaching, dogs may exhibit behavioral changes such as restlessness, pacing, and whining. They may also become clingy and seek comfort from their owners.

Some dogs may become anxious and fearful during storms, especially if they have had negative experiences with thunder or lightning in the past. This is known as noise phobia and can cause a range of symptoms including shaking, panting, and hiding.

Physical Reactions

In addition to changes in behavior, dogs may also experience physical reactions to bad weather. For example, they may become more lethargic and less active. They may also lose their appetite or have digestive issues such as diarrhea.

Dogs with joint problems or arthritis may experience increased pain and stiffness during changes in barometric pressure, which can occur before a storm. This can cause them to become more reluctant to move around or play.

It is important to note that not all dogs react to bad weather in the same way. Some may be completely unfazed by storms, while others may be extremely sensitive. Understanding how your dog reacts to bad weather can help you provide them with the support and care they need during these times.

How to Help Your Dog During Bad Weather

Creating a Safe Space

During bad weather, it’s important to make sure your dog has a safe space to retreat to. This can be a crate, a designated room in your home, or even a cozy corner with their favorite blanket. Make sure this space is comfortable and secure, with no windows or doors that could be damaged by strong winds or flying debris.

If your dog becomes anxious during storms, consider investing in a thunder jacket or calming supplements. These can help alleviate their stress and make them feel more secure during bad weather.

Training and Conditioning

It’s a good idea to train your dog to be comfortable with thunder and lightning from a young age. This can involve playing recorded thunder sounds at low volume and gradually increasing the volume over time. You can also try distracting your dog with toys or treats during storms to help them associate the noise with positive experiences.

Regular exercise and conditioning can also help your dog cope with bad weather. A tired dog is less likely to become anxious or destructive during a storm. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise on days when the weather is good, so they are better prepared for bad weather when it arrives.

Overall, with a little preparation and training, you can help your dog feel safe and secure during bad weather. By creating a safe space and conditioning them to handle storms, you can help your furry friend weather any storm that comes their way.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do dogs sense barometric pressure?

Dogs have a heightened sense of smell and can detect changes in barometric pressure through their nose. When the pressure drops, it can cause a change in the scent molecules in the air, which dogs can pick up on.

Can dogs sense rain coming?

Yes, dogs can sense rain coming through their sense of smell and hearing. They may also pick up on changes in humidity and air pressure.

Do dogs get scared before a storm?

Some dogs may get scared before a storm due to the loud noises and flashes of lightning. However, not all dogs are afraid of storms and some may be indifferent to them.

Why do dogs freak out before a storm?

Dogs may freak out before a storm due to a combination of factors, including the loud noises, changes in air pressure, and static electricity in the air. They may also pick up on their owner’s anxiety or nervousness.

What do dogs do when they sense thunderstorms?

Some dogs may seek out a safe place to hide, while others may become restless and pace around. Some may also become more clingy and seek comfort from their owners.

Can dogs sense hurricanes?

Dogs may be able to sense hurricanes through changes in air pressure and the scent of the storm. However, it is unlikely that they can predict the exact path or intensity of the hurricane.

Conclusion

Dogs have amazing senses that allow them to detect changes in the environment. They have a strong sense of smell, excellent hearing, and can even sense changes in barometric pressure. All of these abilities make it possible for dogs to sense bad weather and know when a storm is coming.

While there is no scientific evidence to support the idea that dogs have a sixth sense for bad weather, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that they do. Many dog owners report that their pets become restless, anxious, or agitated when a storm is approaching. Some dogs even seem to know when a tornado or other severe weather event is imminent.

It is important to note, however, that not all dogs are equally sensitive to changes in the weather. Some breeds, such as German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers, are known for their strong senses and may be more likely to sense bad weather than other breeds. Additionally, individual dogs may vary in their ability to detect changes in the environment.

Overall, while it is not entirely clear how dogs are able to sense bad weather, there is no doubt that they are capable of doing so. Whether it is through their sense of smell, hearing, or some other mechanism, dogs have a remarkable ability to detect changes in the environment that humans may not even be aware of. As such, they can be valuable companions for those who live in areas prone to severe weather events.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.