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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Thundershirts for dogs, do they work?

Marjean's dog Rosie

Marjean's dog Punkin

Thunder phobia  is always an interesting topic and I have to say that my dogs seem to handle thunder a bit differently than the dogs whose owners send in questions. My guys become irritated and bark which is annoying, and if I let them out they will continue to bark and run the yard, exactly what I don’t want. I may be wrong, but I don’t see them as fearing the thunderstorm but more like they are annoyed at it. If they are ignored or given commands they stop acting out and eventually settle down. But in case I am wrong and this is another form anxiety type quirk, going on a friend’s recommendation I have ordered a Thundershirt for Crazy Benny. After all he’s the one in the group that gets my other dogs all riled up.     

With thunder fear I equate the dog’s fear as humans perceive it, such as hiding or shaking which can be seen in many dogs with thunder phobia.  I wrote about this subject a while back but have never had the pleasure of a dog that just wanted to jump into a bathtub and hide quietly upon the arrival of a storm. To me that would be a welcome site over the crazy barking, but I am happy to admit there have been some peaceful middle of the night thunderstorms without a peep from Bentley, but it is a continuous process.  I notice he’ll be really good if I allow him to sleep in the bed with me, but surely that is a bad habit to get him into.

When people complain that their dog acts terrified, I suspect they are talking about the shaking, hiding, and pacing, a fear of either the sound or the static in the air.

I do believe that as humans we foster the behavior by acknowledging it with pets or soft words and make it worse over time, but when it becomes worse what do you do about it?

Melatonin or Benadryl can take away some of the nervousness and are better than the meds prescribed by your vet only because with the prescribed meds you have to give them to your dog one hour before a storm’s arrival and basically it’s too late, your dog already knows its coming and has gotten too worked up for them to take notice of that tiny tranquilizer.

Enter the Thundershirt. I had heard about these before and I heard both good and not so good. The Thundershirt is designed to put continuous deep pressure on the nervous system of the dog.
After giving it some thought, I equate it similar to giving a deep pressure massage to an autistic child who is suddenly overwhelmed and beginning to stress out. Temple Grandin had cows being soothed in this similar manner many years ago, so why not give it a try?

 The people who swear by them really stand by them and others say they worked at first then stopped working, which made me wonder why it would work the first few times and then suddenly stop.  Going just by my customer base, I would say that the majority of them look for fast fixes to their dog’s problems and if there is no fast fix, then it is considered not to be working.  With the Thundershirt there are a few steps to take before you just put the shirt on the dog, some may skip those critical steps.

Thankfully I am surrounded by wonderful patient people and associated with a great dog training club, the Susquehanna Trail Dog Training Club, and among us are some superb trainers as well as some very patient owners who know to give things a try before they look for that quick fix. As luck would have it Marjean Krech one of my fellow trainers, happened to buy a couple of the Dog ‘Thundershirts’ as she has two fearful gals herself.  Rosie a Springer Spaniel who is an older gal, been around the block in many situations and Punkin a 9 year old Pekingese.  Quite a breed difference and size difference between them which I like to see when trying a product.

Here is what Marjean had to say about these shirts to me in an email.

“I got the shirt from, it was $36 - I searched for a coupon first and got free shipping. It comes with pictured instructions for putting it on, it's very easy. The one thing they don't mention is that after you've had it on your dog, just undo the body wrapping and slip it over their head instead of undoing the chest Velcro also. They tell you to pair it with food by putting really good stuff right on the shirt and letting the dog eat it off. I used chicken. They do warn that you should not only put it on during storms, and at first I did let Punkin wear it for 20 minutes for a couple of times when nothing was going on. But now when she's scared and she sees me with the shirt she gets a big grin on her face (stressful grin?) and comes running for me to put it on. I think she knows it will make her feel better.  Rosie is just sort of a ‘whatever’ type of dog. It calms her during thunderstorms, but usually if the neighbor decides to target shoot, she's behind the couch before I can get it on. She trusts me, too to help her.

One reason I didn't put it on and let them wear it more on a normal day is that it was too hot. They are very nice material, but having a double wrap around their chest and belly would just be too much. The other night when we had thunderstorms during the evening we had 2 floor fans and a ceiling fan in the living room - which also helped with the noise.”

To me, in Marjean’s short paragraph above, I can see the training involved to use the shirt whereas many people looking for the 'Quick Fix' probably did not take the time to train the dog to the shirt or even read the instructions. What they probably did was to put the shirt on when there was a storm approaching and not at any other time, which would explain why the shirt only worked for a short time. When you do that, then the dog associates the shirt with the storms and becomes afraid of the shirt! That was one complaint I did hear via customers, that the dog would run from the owner because it was afraid of the shirt.

From what I  see in the ads, this shirt can also help with many anxieties such as riding in the car, fireworks, staying in strange places such as hotels, kennels etc. It gives you a money back guarantee so you can’t really lose in that situationJ

Read the recommendations of use of the product. If your dog is afraid to go in the car and you only use it for car rides then the fear of not only the car will grow but also fear of the shirt.

Since ordering a Thundershirt for crazy Benny we have not had any storms but I did put it on him a few times to get him used to it, this way I am ready when the time comes, assuming of course I don’t put it in that special spot for easy access then forget where that special spot is!

 As always you need to see your dog as an individual and we know that not every product works the same for every dog, but with this product you get a guarantee so if it does not work you send it back for a refund. I think it’s pretty neat that the company donates the used shirts to shelter dogs. So either way it’s a good investment!

Here are a couple of sites regarding the Thundershirt

9. 27 .2011.  update,
 Since receiving my Thundershirt I was lucky enough to get a couple of storms:)  Here is my finding for my own situation.

After hearing a crackle of thunder or two this morning before morning coffee and while Bentley (or as we lovingly call him, crazy Benny) lay sleeping I thought, hmmm, I have to leave for work soon, so I grabbed the Thundershirt  and quickly put it on him.

Many days have passed  since I began to get Bentley used to the Thundershirt  via the instructions. Bentley is also used to wearing dog coats and some of my tee shirts so clothing was not new to him as it is not new to any of my dogs, especially after they have been shaved down.

  Once I got Bentley up from his light slumber and put the Thundershirt on him he almost immediately had the same reaction he had when wearing it on those days when there was no thunder, slightly calm with a bit more panting than normal.  Realizing that leaving the shirt on him while I went to work might not be a great idea given his history of chewing off harnesses; I took the shirt off him and instead tried putting it on Emma who had been out in the yard lying in the rain. Granted Emma had not worn this garb before, but she too is used to wearing tee shirts, sweat shirts and dog jackets that fit snug around the chest and abdomen.  Emma’s reaction of panting was similar to Bentley’s even after she had been in the house long enough to become semi calm. However, while the panting continued she did finally sit down and relax a bit. It’s hard to tell if it was the Thundershirt or the mere fact that my usual training of not acknowledging anxious behaviors at this time was the factor. Maybe it was a combination of both. When I came home from work 3 hours later Emma was lying on the floor with her head in the corner, like she was in a Doggie time out.

 To be fair and honest just  minutes after pulling out of the driveway and heading  down the road toward work, as I listened to the radio forecast heavy downpours and more thunderstorms, I turned the car around and headed back home to  give everyone melatonin which has worked for me in the past. (Yes Deb, this is why I was late to work!) I was not quite ready to depend totally on only the Thundershirt in my absence.


My opinion on the Thundershirt?

Though I fully respect that it does work for some dogs without additional treatment such as melatonin or training, I did not really see a huge change in my dogs as the movies suggested. As the day progressed downpours continued, more storms erupted and Emma was as antsy as ever trying to get out of the kitchen barricade, while Bentley whom I had worked the hardest with for the last year, was pretty much the same, giving a bark now and then until I interjected.

As for the make of this product, it is fairly strong and stretchy but I found that the Velcro around the neck grasped and pulled at the hair of Emma so maybe on a breed such as a Newfoundland it may not be that comfortable and extra precaution should be taken when fastening.

I have watched both commercials I listed above on the Thundershirt and I have heard from my fellow trainer who still to this day has success with it.  There’s no dispute that it does work, I am simply stating like every other training tool, it does not work for every dog, but oh how I wish it did because that would be an easy fix to a nation wide problem!

I do take pleasure in the knowledge that I can send it back to the company if I choose to and since I have used it, it may help a pup in a shelter somewhere.

When it comes to training tools I don’t usually say “don’t waste your money”, well, maybe that’s not entirely true as I did say that about ‘Air in a Can’, so to this product I say waste your money because I do believe that phobias in dogs are as different as they are in people and this may be just the fix  you need. There’s nothing to loose! 

As for me, I suspect I just have a bunch of whacky dogs whose quirks I played into over the years so it will take years to “un-Quirk” them!  Only three of the six act like this and to be honest, this behavior with Bentley and storms formed over time. He did not always get riled up like this nor did the girls. This is why as I sit here in my mud splattered nightshirt having just rounded up 3 crazy Newfoundlands from the pouring rain I suspect I played a major role in their dysfunction!

 Oh sure, they always blame the mother! 

If you are interested in seeing how this shirt worked for me check out my youtube video.

1 comment:

  1. Jane McCarthy LeflerSeptember 25, 2011 at 7:39 PM

    I've only had one client that ordered one. She claimed she followed the instructions that came with it and it worked pretty good through the first couple of storms, but then there was a storm a day for 4-5 days in a row and the dog started shaking and hiding all over again. She is now ready to try desensitizing her dog to thunder and gun shots. I'd be interested in knowing how your dogs do.