North Carolina based Thundershirt doesn’t try to blind you with science. They offer a money back guarantee for their product, a “wrap” your dog wears to combat a wide variety of anxiety-based behaviors, but admit that “as for WHY Thundershirt’s gentle pressure works to calm a dog; no one knows for sure.”
Seeing that admission of the inexactitude of the science behind the shirt made me feel better about it — few things irritate my anxious Dachshund/Lab mix, Franny, more than pseudo-sci-babble. Unfortunately, one of those few things that do irritate her is, in fact, the Thundershirt.
Franny lived for (it’s suspected) six years in bad, nonsocialized conditions with her sister (the late, great, Zooey). When their guardian died, they ended up at SF Animal Care and Control, and flunked their behavior tests due to extreme shyness and aggression towards other dogs (including one another!). They were on The List before being rescued by local org Grateful Dogs. She’s been with me for over 5 years, and has made a lot of progress, but is still deeply separation adverse — if I’m “available” but not with her (for example, in another room of the apartment, or in
another part of my building but within earshot) she’ll bark and whine and jump at whatever’s between us (door, window, dog gate) until I leave completely or return. So, a good candidate to try the Thundershirt? Sure sounds like it.
I am sad to report, however, that not only did it not calm her separation behaviors, but donning the shirt actually made her revert to many of her negative behaviors that had been “cured” in our time together. From the first moment we snugly wrapped Franny in the shirt, she started cowering and hiding behind furniture like she did when she first came to stay, anxiety licking herself until near rawness. And this was just the “Fitting and Conditioning” stage, in which you get your pup happy about wearing the shirt with copious application of treats. Folks, Franny was so anti-Thundershirt she DID NOT EVEN WANT TREATS. This was a bad sign.
And the signs just got worse: Over the course of nearly a month, I tried to get Franny used to the shirt, putting it on her for short bursts then putting her in the kitchen as I worked in the living room, or putting it on her and leaving her in the apartment as I did chores in the garage. Her barking and leaping were not improved, and a new behavior emerged — she started destroying stuff (a shoe, a pillow the hanging toilet paper), something she never did before.
Thundershirt says that though it’s “not required in many cases,” they recommend that the Thundershirt be integrated into a training program. As “get Franny a dog shrink” is on my “when I get some money” list (after paying the phone bill and before fixing my scooter), I’m definitely going to try that, and will report back.
I can’t emphasize enough that every dog is different, however, and just because the Thundershirt did not work for Franny does not mean that it won’t work on your pup. As anyone dealing with anxious dogs knows, it’s worth trying nearly anything to help a pup resolve their issues, and Thundershirt’s promise to refund your money if the shirt doesn’t help your dog is certainly a compelling argument to give it a shot.