Things Your Dog Will Love: Thundershirt

The Thundershirt isn’t a dog toy but it is something they’ll love you even more for if they suffer from anxiety or other phobic behaviors.

Thundershirt-MainThe Thundershirt isn’t a dog toy.

It’s not something that dispenses yummy treats.

It isn’t even something that you’d think that your dog would like, but if they experience anxiety from storms, company coming, or crazy human holidays your dog will absolutely love the Thundershirt.

What the Thundershirt is, essentially, is a body wrap that helps the dog become less reactive to anxiety-causing stimuli using deep touch pressure.

Research done in the latter half of the Twentieth Century by Dr. Temple Grandin, amongst others, demonstrated that deep touch pressure had significant positive benefits for individuals on the autism spectrum and those with ADHD. Dr. Grandin’s background with autism inspired her initial research with animals and it was discovered that they can receive the same positive results as seen in humans.

I initially began using the Thundershirt in my own home because Porthos, our black lab-mix, can display Happy-Hunterepisodes of high anxiety related to his OCD, blood sugar fluctuations related to his diabetes, and stress from his other diseases. I also witnessed how well it worked after I suggested that we begin using Thundershirts at ARF, an animal shelter were I consult  in Beacon, New York.  While we did see similarly positive results in the even more chaotic and reactive atmosphere of a shelter we also saw some Thundershirt eating (more on that below).

So, why would you want a Thundershirt for your own dog?

Well, you wouldn’t if you don’t live in a place that has thunderstorms, high winds, holidays with fireworks, holidays with kids in spooky costumes knocking on your door at night, hunters in the woods behind your house shooting guns, etc. I think you get my point.

The Thundershirt is a great tool to add to our positive reinforcement training bag of tricks and it fills all my personal criteria:

  1. It more often than not does what they say it can do – there’s a definite improvement in reactivity when dogs are wearing it. It is recommended that they first be acclimated to it by having them wear it when they are doing something they love – like taking treats, playing ball, or tug.  This allows positive associations along with the physical benefits of the snugness and will help prevent them eating the Thundershirt.
  2. It’s reasonably priced.
  3. I always prefer to exhaust the non-pharmaceutical options available to combat anxiety in dogs before referring owners to a specialist for medical intervention.

One suggestion we have come across – especially in the shelter setting – is to remember that even for kids on the spectrum this kind of pressure has a limited time of effectiveness. Therefore remember that your dog’s Thundershirt will probably only be effective for an hour or so at a time.  Simply remove it, give your dog something great to do, and a little while later it can be put back on them.

I find the Thundershirt to be a really good investment for anxious dogs and I think you will, too.

(Please note:  if your dog has high anxiety please see a behaviorist before trying things out on your own.)

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