Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Product Review: Thundershirt**

Though a relatively recent invention, the idea behind the thundershirt is not new. Parents have been swaddling their (human) babies for hundreds of years, and the thundershirt operates on a similar theory: that, as the official website states, "gentle, constant pressure" can "calm your dog, effectively aiding anxiety, fearfulness, barking and more."

As its name suggests, the thundershirt is often used by dog parents to alleviate their dogs' fear and anxiety during thunderstorms. Luckily for us, Lily is entirely unfazed by thunderstorms and often peacefully sleeps through them. However, Lily has her own fear and anxiety, namely, her exaggerated sense of stranger danger (read details about that here). Since the thundershirt is marketed as being helpful for all different kinds of fearfulness, I wondered if it might be a useful tool for Lily during some situations involving strangers. In fact, I had a particular situation in mind: Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving dinner for my family is often a relatively large event at my parents' house. Lily has spent lots of time at their house since we adopted her, so she's used to the environment. The Thanksgiving occasion, though, obviously involves many more people than she is used to seeing there. Lily had attended Thanksgiving the year before, a few months after we adopted her, and she spent most of the event curled up on an armchair, warily keeping an eye on things to make sure no one was getting too close and attempting to burrow away into the chair if anyone approached. I thought maybe the thundershirt could help her be more social during Thanksgiving 2012.

We purchased a thundershirt a few weeks before Thanksgiving in order to get Lily used to it before the holiday. We introduced it to her first by feeding her treats off of it (predictably, she was a big fan of this step), and then put it on her, leaving it on for progressively longer periods of time every couple of days. While this helped Lily acclimate to wearing it, it was impossible to tell whether or not it was going to make any difference in her fearfulness, since the trial periods were all carried out in our home with only me and Peter present, which meant she wasn't fearful in the first place.

On Thanksgiving, we got to my parents' house before anyone else and put the thundershirt on Lily a few minutes before the other guests were due to start arriving. We settled her in a spare bedroom with a bowl of water and left the door open so that she could come and go as she pleased but would know that there was a safe, quiet place for her to retreat to if she felt the need. Only a few minutes after that, as guests were arriving, Lily left the bedroom and came looking for Peter and me. Once she located us, she hopped up onto "her" armchair, from which she had a clear view of us, and settled in.

Though she did stay in that armchair for most of the night, unlike the year before she was much more engaged with the other people in attendance. She let them pet her with minimal shrinking away, and she happily took tidbits of food from anyone who offered it (I monitored the offerings to make sure she wasn't getting anything that would make her sick). After a little while, at Peter's urging (he was unconvinced of the necessity or efficacy of the thundershirt in the first place), I took the thundershirt off to see if her behavior would change. It didn't. She behaved exactly the same way as she had with it on, happy to take food and willing to tolerate some petting in exchange. She ended the night stretched out in my lap, in that same armchair, as we enjoyed the football game.

Is it possible that the thundershirt alleviated Lily's anxiety towards the beginning of the night enough to get her over the proverbial "hump," therefore making a difference in her behavior and anxiety level even once I took it off? Perhaps. Peter definitely wasn't convinced, though, and I wasn't really either. I think the difference between her experience of Thanksgiving 2011 and Thanksgiving 2012 is more attributable to the extra year spent in our care (with all the love and confidence building efforts we made during that time). We took advantage of the satisfaction guarantee and returned the thundershirt shortly thereafter.

I don't at all mean to malign thundershirts. I know they can be extremely helpful for some dogs (and their owners!), both for thunderstorm-related issues and other anxiety and fearfulness struggles. For Lily, though, and her unique quirks, it seems like the old cliches are the most effective: time, love, and patience!

**Unfortunately, at the time that we tried the thundershirt with Lily I had not yet decided to write a blog. Therefore, I don't have any photos of her wearing it. So, here is a photo of another beagle in a thundershirt. Just pretend it's Lily.



  1. Annie and Paul both have their own thunder shirts. While i'm not sure Annie's does what I hope for it to do, I know Paul is usually calmer from wearing his in stressful situations.

  2. We occasionally use a Thundershirt for Balton - I was inspired when we started taking him to adoption events and he seemed to be much more calm in his "dog in training, give me space" vest. It's hard to know if it's terribly helpful, but we break it out for situations that are especially tough for him (like when my in-laws were over and when he had to go to the vet). Is he still stressed? Yes. Do I still need to manage him even with the shirt? Yes. Do I feel like he could be a lot worse when he's wearing it and think it helps, just a little? Maybe.

    I'm going to try it out at training this week and see if maybe it takes a little edge off during "Rowdy Rover Sits" - I'll let you know how we do. :)