There has been no shortage of rain this Spring, but we have had very few really bad thunderstorms in our area, thankfully. Some dogs have no storm sensitivity, and others seem to really have a tough time with them. When dogs are worried because of storms, they can exhibit many of the same stress signals you would normally expect to see under other stressful conditions. In more severe situations, I’ve seen dogs really panic and injure themselves, or damage a home, requiring medications for them during future storms.
Today, I thought I would do a product review of “Thundershirts.” These are dog wraps /jackets which can help calm dogs when they are in stressful situations. The opinions expressed here are purely my own. I was not paid to endorse Thundershirts, and I bought Rugby’s Thundershirt many years ago when they were new on the market. Thundershirt has no knowledge of this review whatsoever.
Thundershirts were developed to offset the anxiety and fear that some dogs feel as a result of stressful situations. According to the Thundershirt package, various uses for Thundershirts include: Fear of thunder, separation anxiety, barking problems, noise anxiety, car or travel anxiety, crate anxiety, reactivity, general fearfulness, excitability, leash pulling, or as a general training tool .
If you are interested to read some of the science behind them, please refer to the following study: “King, C., Buffington, L., Smith, T.J., Grandin, T., The effect of a pressure wrap (ThunderShirt®) on heart rate and behavior in canines diagnosed with anxiety disorder, Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2014), doi: 10.1016/j.jveb.2014.06.007.” You can easily find that complete study by going to the Thundershirt webpage where it’s available. It’s really fascinating reading!
Believe it or not, Thundershirts were developed after research work done when livestock were placed in narrow chutes and were able to produce much more calm behavior as a result of being pressed into a snug space. As a result of those findings, studies were done with dogs, and the results were similar, finding that many dogs were calmer overall and their heart rates reduced when stressful situations were presented to them and they were wearing a compression wrap, which provides a gentle constant pressure on the dog’s torso.
Thundershirts are jackets made of soft, stretchy t-shirt fabric. It lays over your dog’s back, and has Velcro closures at the neck and under the belly of your dog. There is a wide range of sizes, so that you’ll be able to find a size to fit almost every dog. Rugby’s weight would put him wearing a small size, but that size was very small and tight on him, so I exchanged it for a medium which fits pretty well. Rugby has a deep brisket, and I’m not sure that the small allowed for that. With the medium size, I do have to watch that the flaps under his belly don’t slide back too far back to his penis sheath. If the jacket is too far back toward his tail, the straps under his belly will sort of pinch in that area, and he won’t be able to sit. If the straps were a bit more narrow under his tummy area, it wouldn’t be an issue for him, but I do have to really watch the positioning when I dress Rugby to make sure he’s as comfortable as possible.
There are many more uses for a Thundershirt than just for storms! I’ve found that anytime Rugby seems to be overly stressed is the perfect time to use his Thundershirt. He is far less reactive and barky, and much more inclined to find a place to just lay down and relax. Often when Rugby is very stressed, he’s not always easy to re-direct into more positive behavior, because of his reactivity, so his Thundershirt helps bring him to a calmer state, and then I can re-direct him into more positive behavior. It’s a positive, passive tool that enables me to train him in a direction that I want to go…towards calm, relaxed behavior. Here are some situations where it’s worked well for us: new guests in our home, a vet visit, neighbors having a party next door, regular walks, lots of neighborhood noise, bad storms, fireworks, taking him someplace new, etc.
I have to be honest and say that Rugby doesn’t really enjoy wearing it. You can tell how he feels by looking at his body language in the photos above. But, I can also preface that and say that I get the exact same response from him when I try to collar him, or put on his harness or leash. Rugby, in general, does not enjoy being “messed with” or “dressed” in any capacity. He’s as cooperate as he can be, given the fact that he doesn’t want to be dressed. But once it’s on, he doesn’t mind it at all as you can see from the photo on the left. He’s just calmer. That’s it. No other negative response from him at all. At times, I wonder if he gets warm wearing it, because he does have a thick, plush coat. So I try to take that into consideration when he’s wearing it, so that I don’t let him overheat…especially in very warm weather!
Understand that when you use it, like any tool, your dog will need time to get used to it, and time to see if it will work for you. I started Rugby wearing it when there was no stressful situation going on, so he got as comfortable as he could get before I added in any stress. The first few times he had it on, he was frozen solid and wouldn’t move, even when I tried to bait him with a high value treat. I kept my sessions short and sweet, and after several practice sessions, he got used to it and now tolerates it very well.
I often recommend Thundershirts for clients who have reactive or fearful/anxious dogs. The company offers a wonderful money back guarantee, so it gives their customers the chance to try them basically free of charge. If their dog doesn’t respond any differently when wearing the Thundershirt, they can always return it for a full refund, which is just great! The cost on the Thundershirts is a bit steep…$39.95 for the medium size. However, because it really does work well for Rugby, in my opinion, that was money well spent!
I’ve been using the Thundershirt for probably more than five years , and it’s held up extremely well. It honestly shows no wear, and it gets well used at my house. It washes up well, but keep in mind that the brushy Velcro straps catch all kinds of fur and fuzz on them, so they need to be periodically cleaned up a bit to ensure that they will fasten and hold the soft side snugly.
My conclusion is this: if you have a reactive dog, or if you have a dog with fear and anxieties, I think it’s well worth the chance that it might be a helpful, positive tool for you and your dog, especially when it’s coupled with professional training. It helps me bring a dog to a calmer state so that effective training can take place. With the money back guarantee, it’s definitely worth the shot, and I recommend trying it!