A jacket that calms your dog?

NICK BARNETT
Last updated 13:15 06/09/2011

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.

ThundershirtThe 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?

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".

Phoebe in jumper Back of Phoebe's jumper

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.

Connor in jumper Connor's tie

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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27 comments
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KiwiKat   #1   01:26 pm Sep 06 2011

Great news about Connor at the meeting - what a good boy! And don't they just look absolutely gorgeous in their outfits - now you need to have an event for them to dress up for!

kater   #2   01:40 pm Sep 06 2011

Those outfits are fantastic, great job Colleen!

Amanda   #3   01:48 pm Sep 06 2011

We have an 'anxious' rehomed pooch who we tried the Thundershirt on, with no difference at all... He's a 'reactive on the leash' boy, and we've noticed improvements with working with treats. He can get past a moving bus now without going mental, and that's a huge improvement! And sometimes we can even manage walking past a still person, however having one walking towards us is still hit and miss. And another dog coming towards us... well let's just say we're working on that (would be helped if people could keep their 'friendly' dogs out of our faces!). Having said that, he had a great time at the kennels with a room mate so there is hope. The dog trainer/behaviourist is coming next week, so hopefully we can get some good tips then. Wish the Thundershirt had worked though, guess it's just not for our boy.

Kayla   #4   01:51 pm Sep 06 2011

I have tried the thunder shirt on my dog Polly and have had a good result. She is an anxious dog and is very unsettled if in new enviroments or if she is let inside. The first night I tried the shirt on her she actually went to sleep next to me! This was amazing since usually she would be pacing the room, panting and whining. I have also noticed a difference when walking her, things dont wind her up anymore (such as other dogs or children) and she doesnt pull now.

Moo   #5   02:00 pm Sep 06 2011

Can I have Colleen's details please? I have been desperatley trying to find a woollen jersey for one of my dogs but can't find one big enough - she's a boxer/rhodesian. She loses weight when she gets cold so at the moment she's wearing an old jersey of my boyfriend's that I shrunk accidently!

Debbie   #6   02:25 pm Sep 06 2011

Great article Nick. For anyone thats a little sceptical whether they work or not, check out Thundershirt on Facebook for loads of customer feedback. Debbie - Furr Kids

lesley   #7   02:50 pm Sep 06 2011

Yes i brought a thundershirt from auckland for my very scared bichon frise she was also barking at everything now a total different dog she was left on her own only with her mother as i was very ill in hospital I find if she gets excited or starts barking for nothing i just get out her jacket iam thrilled wish i could find another color watch you tube

Amanda   #8   03:03 pm Sep 06 2011

I saw the Thundershirt videos and feedback before we bought ours and had high hopes, the do seem to work well for lots of dogs (just not ours!). Whereabouts is your small dog social group? That's probably just the thing we need for our boy, a safe environment where the dogs are all his size!!!

Missy   #9   03:23 pm Sep 06 2011

My border collie hates boxers. If I stay calm and ignore the boxer so will he as he seems to pick up on our moods. If I am worried and pull him away he gets grumpy and barks.

Perhaps the same is true for Connor he was calm because you were calm.

Phoebe1   #10   03:23 pm Sep 06 2011

Don't they Phoebe and Connor look marvelous in their new gear, they look 'simply spiffing' Great work Colleen.


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