A jacket that calms your dog?

01:15, Sep 06 2011

The pet product that caught my eye this week is the Thundershirt - so named because it's claimed to calm a dog at times when it gets anxious, for example during thunder. If it does what is claimed, then a Thundershirt could be a boon for Connor - and maybe for many other dogs that get jumpy when faced with something that troubles them.

The Thundershirt is a Velcro-fastened jacket that puts a "gentle, constant pressure" on the dog's torso, calming and settling the dog. It's used to combat fearfulness, separation anxiety, problem barking and other troubles, and the makers say four out of five dogs show a significant improvement with the jacket.

The jacket is based on the finding that pressure calms the nervous system and can help ease anxiety - an insight that's used with autistic children and kids with certain behavioural problems; swaddling a crying baby can also relieve its anxiety.

There are at least a couple of outlets in New Zealand (here and here) for the Thundershirts, and I'm tempted to get one for Connor.

As chronicled on this blog for the past two years, Connor finds life a struggle. He was terrifically fearful when we got him at the age of 7 months, though he's a lot better now, after a lot of effort in training and socialising him. Still, though, the sight of another dog gets him worked into a lather, with barking and lunging the worst of the symptoms. If slipping on a jacket could calm that emotion, then his life would be less stressful - and so would ours.

So we might try a Thundershirt. If we do, I'll review it here on the blog. Has anyone tried it and formed an opinion about it?

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Connor is actually showing some signs of improvement. At Sunday's meeting of the local small-dog playgroup, he spent the first half of the session fixated on a grey-blue poodle, barking at it and trying to lunge at it. We walked him around the inside of the church hall where the group meets, allowing him to see all the dogs but taking him away when he reacted to the poodle.

I "heeled' him a couple of times and he sat quietly at my feet. Then, as though a switch had been flipped, he changed. He started noticing his surroundings, the others in the hall, my partner standing at the other end of it. Connor took a drink from a bowl and seemed more his normal self.

So we let him off his leash and ... he was fine. He was blessedly, sigh-promptingly, unprecedentedly fine. He just trotted around, taking the odd look at the poodle then withdrawing, looking to us for praise for being so well behaved.  Maybe he'd just run out of gas; maybe it was the calmer energy that all the other dogs were exuding. Whatever it was, we've never seen him so calm around so many other dogs. It's hard, tiring, patience-testing work, but the long drive to socialise Connor and make the world less stressful for him seems to be paying off.

And speaking of de-stressing and of garments, this is my chance to pay tribute to Four Legs Good reader Colleen, who took the time to design and knit jackets for my two dogs. I sent Colleen the measurements, and she created two elegant black garments that fit Phoebe and Connor perfectly. Connor gets a spiffing tuxedo complete with silk bowtie, while Phoebe now has an evening gown embroidered with pearls and monogrammed with a silver "P".

Connor, who usually hates being put into anything more constricting than a collar, took to his jumper immediately - it gives him all the range of movement he needs, including in his boy areas. And he looks like a little toff.

I'd hate to see the jumpers get mud on them, but I can think of one or two coming special events for which a touch of class will be needed, so the dogs will go into their bespoke evening-wear and no doubt cause jaws to drop.

Thank you, Colleen.

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