Thundershirt for Dog Storm Anxiety – Do they Work?

Do you have a dog that is terrified of loud noises such as thunder or fireworks? It can be devastating to watch as your dog shakes uncontrollably, pants, and paces every time a storm approaches or during Independence Day celebrations. Not too much is known as to why some dogs have a phobia of loud noises while others don’t. Yet, no matter what the cause, when our dogs go into this type of panic, we’ll do just about anything to relieve their noise anxiety.  

Experts estimate that as many as one-third of dogs are afraid of storms. No one is quite sure what causes some dogs to have storm phobias. However, animal behavior consultant Amy Donahue says that dogs who are prone to anxiety in other situations are more likely to be scared of loud weather, as well. “It’s best to expose the dog as much as possible to stimuli that make them nervous when they are young, and work with them to overcome their fear as they grow.”  This way, the dog is comfortable in a wider range of situations, and does not become frightened as easily.

If you have an adult dog who is afraid of storms, there are still ways to help them cope. “If the dog likes to hide during storms, let them,” says Walter Maseda, Education Coordinator for the Humane Society in Thomasville, Georgia. Many dogs feel safer if allowed to stay in an interior room for the duration of the storm. Distracting the dog with games may also work.

Experts estimate that as many as one-third of dogs are afraid of storms.

One of the worst things you can do is play into the dog’s fears. “If you have a small dog, and you pick them up whenever they are scared, it empowers them and reinforces the behavior,” says Donahue.  Maseda agrees. “If you start reassuring the dog, they will think that the storm really is something to be scared of.” Just talk to your dog in a normal tone of voice to let them know that there is nothing to fear. 

Oftentimes, dog owners unknowingly encourage anxious behavior by petting or otherwise trying to console a panicky dog.  This only reassures their clingy behavior and may be reinforcing their fear of the thing that you’re attempting to soothe away.  Although you must not scold your dog for acting this way, you do not want to reward them either.  By distracting my husky with fun, upbeat activities, such as throwing the ball or having treats, he seems to feel more at ease for the duration of the thunderstorm, especially when he is wearing his Thundershirt.  Without his Thundershirt, he hides in fear in the guest bathroom, which really breaks my heart.  It’s obvious that he is truly afraid, and we all know how that kind of fear feels.

My Siberian Husky, Kodi, wearing his Thundershirt during a thunderstorm.

On occasion, when there are no thunderstorms or other loud noises, it helps to practice getting your dog to lie at your feet while praising the calm behavior. By learning this routine beforehand, you can command your dog to sit and relax next to you when a storm comes. Hopefully your dog will dissociate thunderstorms and fear, replacing her fear with feelings of calm and well-being.

Thundershirt Worked Very Well for My Siberian Husky

I have a Siberian Husky named Kodi who is terrified of both fireworks and thunder.  When he hears thunder, he retreats to the guest bathroom where he hides in the small space between the wall and toilet.  He has this luxury when we are at our home, because he made that his safe place years ago and he knows that space is his.  When we are traveling, his anxiety is much more disconcerting.  He doesn’t have his typical safe place, and he will run around in a horrible panic searching for a place to hide.  He will work himself into a frenzy, panting and trembling uncontrollably.  Even if he finds a place that he likes, he will immediately jump up and resume his search as long as he can still hear the thunder.  It breaks my heart to see him under so much stress. 

In his 6 years, I have tried many things to help alleviate his fear.  To date, the Thundershirt, has provided the most relief for his anxiety.  On the surface, it doesn’t look as though it should accomplish anything other than keeping the animal warm. It looks like a doggy raincoat. However, its combination of Velcro(R) closures makes a consistent pressure around the dog’s torso. On her website Templegrandin.com, Dr. Grandin mentions that heavy blankets and similar kinds of firm-but-gentle pressure can be useful for producing calm and for making it easier to sleep. Thundershirts might function in the same way.

The question remains: does it work? The product’s own website, Thundershirt.com, claims an 80% success rate. This means that the shirt helps four out of five dogs to be calmer in stressful conditions. It also means that the manufacturer expects the shirt not to work for one dog out of every five.

Canine stress is such a widespread problem that many people have bought these shirts for their pets, and shelters are starting to try the shirts, too. Because of this, there are hundreds of customer reviews on pet blogs, pet-supply websites, and general online stores such as Amazon.com. Results ran the gamut. For some dogs, they owners report that there was no noticeable difference.  Quite a few reported some improvement. The majority of dog owners who commented found that the shirts worked very well. Some members of that last group were not expecting the shirt to do anything at all, and were stunned by how effective it turned out to be.

The shirts are easy to use, because the instructions come with pictures. The only tricky part is choosing the right size for your pooch. A measuring tape is a crucial tool for this.  If you select a size that is too large, the extra material that hangs on the underside can irritate male dogs.  This happened with Kodi, and fortunately I realized early on that this was happening; in my opinion, the length of the shirt and the extra material are my only complaints.  If you get appropriate measurements before you purchase, you should not have any problems.

Overall, it seems that Thundershirts work well for many dogs, and it certainly worked for my husky. If your dog is afraid of thunder or other loud noises, this product is probably worth the price.

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