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January 6, 2012

I could use some help establishing expectations about Lilly’s ongoing struggle with anxiety. Living with a fearful dog can be a day-to-day, minute-by-minute thing, and I’m used to that. However, I’m trying to get a grip on what I can and cannot expect going forward as well as what shifts in dog behavior matter at this point.

Come May, Lilly will be 8 years old. That means we’re 7 1/2 years into her fearful dog reality as a member of our family and a good 5 years since we saw a major shift in her fearful behavior as she reached social maturity (around age 2 – 2 1/2).

In summer 2008, 8ur dog behavior modification work (combined with dog anxiety medications) got underway in earnest (after a couple of years of trying herbal and other scent-based remedies). This includes the Dog Relaxation Protocol MP3 files for which we are now famous for recording and providing FREE downloads.

In 2010, we successfully dropped the use of xanax (prescribed mostly for Lilly’s extreme sound sensitivity) from twice daily to only as needed.

Regular readers also know that we recently experimented with giving Lilly chlomipramine (prescribed for her generalized anxiety) just once a day. After 6 weeks or so, we reversed that decision and returned to twice daily chlomipramine for Lilly’s fears.

Over the holiday, I broke down and bought Lilly a ThunderShirt (~ $40 retail). While Lilly is indeed sound sensitive, I’m happy to say that she isn’t overly conditioned to fear thunder or fireworks. She actually copes with storms pretty well, and we’re lucky to live in a place with virtually no fireworks noises.

However, the pitch for ThunderShirt is that it works for all kinds of fears and dog behavior problems, so I figured … why not?

best dog blog, champion of my heart, border collie wearing thundershirtEventually, I will write a true review of Lilly’s new ThunderShirt, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear your insights into its best use and what kinds of dog behavior changes you saw in your dogs when you added ThunderShirt into the mix:

  • When does your dog wear the ThunderShirt?
  • How did you condition the ThunderShirt to mean good things?
  • How long is too long to wear it at once?
  • What tangible behavior changes have you seen when your dog is wearing the ThunderShirt vs. when he / she isn’t wearing it?

Because, frankly, after a week of experimenting with it, I worry that I’m expecting too much.

Now, I should clarify that we tried other kinds of dog anxiety wraps years ago without success. In fact, they made Lilly’s fearful behaviors worse. She would throw herself to the ground and refuse to move while firmly bound.

I’m going into this product trial with a heavy dose of anticipation and skepticism, so I’d really like to know what to expect. Do tell.


About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

  1. My friend’s great dane has some severe people anxiety, and she tried the TS at one point. One thing I noticed was that it worked better when my friend was feeling confident it would work. It worked great in the beginning, but whenever she had the anxious “it might not keep working” feelings, I think her dog picked up on it as well. Of course, this is just one case, and by no means would I base an entire judgement on it, but it does make me wonder how much owner confidence plays into it.

    Either way, great article, and I hope it continues to work for many owners and their pets.

  2. Four minutes ago my husband banged something downstairs. It was a deep thud. Our dog got “the look” and started to pace in a circle trying to decide if she should run into her crate. I told her to wait and quickly retrieved her Thunder Shirt. I put it on her. She looked around and paced a little more then came to me for an ear rub. I gave her treats and told her it was okay. Now she’s lying at my feet her head resting on her paws. She just stood up and “shook it off” so to speak. I’ll leave it on her for the rest of the evening because even though several bicycles passed us on our walks today and she ignored them as I gave her praise and a few treats, she was more bothered than usual by the people in our park’s parking lot. Today the fear factor kind of hung around her.
    After the past fantastic week I was thinking maybe we should broaden her horizons a little and walk her on Main St. again but her reaction to people today made me think twice. When is the right time to take the next step?

  3. Hi Roxanne.

    I first got a Thundershirt for Daisy after a friend recommended it for her. I mostly put it on now for thunderstorms and fireworks (Daisy is also extremely sensitive to sounds), but at the beginning I would put it on for a few hours.

    I would say that what I have found is that there aren’t huge changes with the Thundershirt, but subtle ones that seem to add up over time. Before her Thundershirt arrived, Daisy was skittish and would run if I made any sudden movements. She was also reactive to any noise that was loud and sudden. She would run in fear at the slightest thing.
    When I started using the Thundershirt, Daisy started being less jumpy when I moved suddenly (or at all). She stopped running in fear and seemed to be calmer in some situations. It didn’t work in every situation (going to the pet store still scares her), but it did take the edge off.
    I guess I would say give it some time and look for small, subtle changes in Lilly’s behavior. I have found is that it allowed Daisy to be calmer and more relaxed but it’s not the going to be “the cure” for some dogs.

    Goo luck! I really wish for Lilly and you to be less stressed.

  4. We adopted a hound who was picked up as a stray. Her age was guessed to be 2. She definitely had been bred. Her teats still had some milk in them. In the 3 weeks between her initial pickup by a far away county animal control shelter to landing in our house she had passed through 3 different living homes.
    It took her a few days to come out of her crate in the morning and for the next couple of months (the honeymoon period?) she was shy with strangers but great with dogs. Suddenly she began baying and barking non-stop. It could last for hours if we were on the road. Walking her in our local state park became a trial. People would walk up to us and ask what was wrong, her baying was ruining their experience, etc. I told them she was going through training, she was a work in progress. It got to the point that after our walks I was choking back the tears. At home she was perfect. Home is her happiest, safest place to be.
    Then one morning while walking her down our small town’s main street she freaked out at every “normal” situation, kids, a barky little dog, men standing on the street corner. She dropped and had to get back to the car. On the way she grabbed a storefront’s window ledge with her teeth like it was corn on the cob and she didn’t want to let go.
    That’s when I knew I had to consider meds though it made me feel like a failure. I’m forever grateful to have found Champion of My Heart and Fearful Dogs blog. Your insightful, gentle, funny, well written blog showed me how to observe what was going on and accept it might take a long time to have a “normal” life with our dog and that even if we never achieve that goal her health and happiness with US is what it is for her.
    Cut to the chase—she is afraid of noises, guns, paddles knocking against the canoes below our house, and sounds we can’t hear but send her running to her crate. After the 4th of July we putting the Thunder Shirt on her without which she wouldn’t go out the front door. This was pre-med (Prozac) and though it didn’t perform a miracle cure (she still dropped to the ground at the sound of a bang) she definitely showed signs of relaxing. She no longer spent the afternoon in her crate out of fear of sounds.
    Now, almost a year after she came into our lives between the Thunder Shirt, Prozac, much training (for us, too), this past week she has made a huge break-through. For a whole week no barking at people, bikes, when the key is turned in the ignition or at stop lights. We tried the Calming Cap 2 weeks ago and it made her more anxious.
    Could it be the pheromone collar she started wearing last week tipped her just over that point of accepting more of the world with less anxiety?
    I hope the Thunder Shirt meets your expectations. But as we all know the bottom line is: different strokes for different folks. That, and I have much trust and optimism that as we continue our dog/human journey with progressive animal behaviorists and trainers our dogs and we have a future that will be less fraught with trauma and time wasted as we experiment with the myriad of remedies on the market and bookshelves for our consumption.
    Sorry for being so long winded.

  5. Guinness is a 7 year old rescued Australian Kelpie who was abused and likely neglected. She has been fearful since I adopted her at 6 months, and once she “matured” it actually worsened with her confidence as an adult.

    I ran the course with Clomicalm for a couple of years, and was then told that Prozac may be more suitable since Clomicalm is really best for separation anxiety. I will say that Prozac did work much better than Clomicalm for Guinness. It’s also a LOT cheaper than Clomicalm and you can get it at Costco or whereever you get your human RXs filled.

    However, I have recently taken her off Prozac and have Xanax for use as needed. I also have a Thundershirt, and have found it helpful to use in stressful situations — not all the time, but if we’re going to have a lot of people over for dinner, or if we will go somewhere that I think may bother her. I can’t say it’s miraculous, but I do notice that she seems calmer. I think used in conjunction with Xanax, that might be a good combination.

    Keep us posted — I appreciate all your good work and sharing!

  6. Clementine has always been fearful of thunderstorms and fireworks. Typically she will either hide in the bathtub/behind the toilet – shaking. No amount of food, treats or belly rubs will coax her out. I’ve never been able to get her to eat during a storm or go potty outside if there is one even nearby.

    2 years ago we were at a flyball tournament – and she shut down when a storm rolled in (we were inside, so racing continued). I ended up being able to purchase a thundershirt off the auction table for Western Border Collie Rescue – figuring it was worth a shot! Unfortunately, it did not help during the tournament..HOWEVER….
    being it was spring in Colorado, we had storms almost daily for a few weeks. By the third time using it – I had a different dog. Now, I could still tell she was nervous – but for the first time in the 5 years I had her, Clem was laying on the couch next to me – SLEEPING during a storm. Not eyes bugging out – panting heavily – or cowering in the bath tub. She also will eat, do some tricks and even go potty outside now during thunder. One Fourth of July she even hung out calmly outside with me while we watched the town’s fireworks from our porch.
    I’ve tried using it when there is thunder during flyball or agility, and it does not help enough for her to still want to do that – but it does keep her calm and keeps her from taking off and hiding. Instead she comes to me. Now, whenever she hears thunder she actually will go get her thundershirt out of the toy box and bring it to me. She had no problems getting used to it, so I never had to condition her to wear it. I’ve kept it on her for 24 hours at a time for really big storms (as long as its not too hot) and she’s been fine. She LOVES wearing it.
    I have also tried using the shirt to help with her car anxiety – but it did not seem to help with that…only storms/fireworks/gunshots.

  7. The Thundershirt has worked very well for both of my dogs. Shanoa is a 3 year old Doberman who is quite reactive and anxious. She is not sound sensitive, but we use the Thundershirt for times when she’s having a lot of difficulty settling down and is pacing and whining (with no addressable cause). Within about 15 minutes of putting it she will go to her bed, lie down, and sleep. I’ve also seen decreased reactivity when she wears it on walks.

    My other dog, Simon, is a nine year old we recently rescued. He’s overall a very stable dog, but has very mild separation anxiety that results in OCD licking that causes lick granulomas. We’ve recently started putting him in a Thundershirt when we’re gone, and it seems to be working. He also wears it overnight.

  8. The Thundershirt was one of the first things I tried with my fearful/fear-aggressive basketcase of a dog, Pongu.

    It did next to nothing. Not quite TOTALLY nothing (in my experience, the ultimate in uselessness has been scent-based remedies), but not enough to be any real help. I put him on fluoxetine a week later.

    After about four months of never touching the thing, I finally dusted the Thundershirt off and put it back on him for New Year’s Eve (between the fireworks and the guests we had staying over, he was not doing well). I went to the bathroom, leaving him alone for thirty seconds. When I came out, Pongu was sitting outside the door in a perfect Down, looking up at me, his paws crossed neatly over the Thundershirt. He had somehow gotten it off and even managed to make it look sort-of-neatly folded. How, I don’t know.

    Anyway, I took that to mean he’s not a huge fan of the Thundershirt, and I doubt I’ll be using it again. I’ll likely keep it around, though, in case one of my foster mutts has a better response.

  9. We bought the Thundershirt for our dog Kaiju who fears (among many other things) having to walk through the neighborhood streets. We haven’t been able to get past the parking lot behind our building, during the day time, in a long time.

    Since his fear is not about a few specific things, we haven’t had a lot of success. We’ve only tried putting the shirt on him a few times when we went out for walks and felt like it made no difference in how unwilling Kaiju was about moving away from home, and how much he trembled.

  10. We tried an anxiety wrap with Maisy (a TTouch ace bandage style) and it made her worse. She started panting, her eyes dilated, and she did a lot of lip licking. After about a minute, she laid down and refused to move.

    She had the same response to the Thundershirt (we tried it on in the store).

    For some dogs, they’re amazing products, but… we were not so lucky! 🙁

  11. We’ve had some success with Buster and his Thundershirt. It wasn’t a big deal getting him used to it; I just said, “Let’s put on your t-shirt” and when I was done he laid down and went to sleep. Buster’s not afraid of thunder or fireworks, but gets nervous when we’re driving – mostly when we come to a stop. We’ve noticed that he’s less likely to bark and be generally upset when he’s wearing it. Also, he gets nervous around other dogs when he’s on leash, so he sometimes wears it on walks – especially if we know there will be other dogs around. It’s not a cure for his anxiety, but it definitely takes it down a notch. He doesn’t mind wearing it at all and will sometimes have it on all day.

  12. I don’t have a lot of experience with anxiety wraps, but, like a lot of other supplements or fearful dog training aids, I think that they fall in to the same came of “might help, won’t hurt.” I think that the “help” usually comes in the form of a dog that will be more receptive to counterconditioning. At least that’s what I’ve seen with the things I’ve tried.

    I think it’s hard to say how exactly Lilly will ultimately “wind up” in terms of her anxiety status. I think her behavior is more dynamic than static, and I don’t think she or any dog actually reaches a peak, more like, their sort of “baseline” behavior changes and they hopefully begin to deviate less and less from it. I think it depends SO much on the environment and what things are going on in one’s life and how much time you’re able to work on the problem.

    Marge, as brave as she’s become, had a major meltdown two days ago, when the smoke alarm kept going off. I have NOT seen her that afraid in a long time and it was extremely hard for me to watch.. I almost didn’t know what to do. Interestingly, I popped a big dose of L-Theanine in her mouth, and, later in the day, when the stupid thing went off AGAIN, she didn’t seem AS freaked. But the situation totally took me by surprise because with the exception of fireworks (and the gosh darn smoke alarm, apparently), Marge’s noise phobias have really, really improved… just reminding me that even though she HAS improved, there are still going to be situations where she completely melts down.

  13. We picked up the Thundershirt for Bella as an attempt to help calm her during storms. When we first got it, we’d have her wear it for short periods when there were no storms in hopes of getting her used to it, and we’d always give her a treat when we put it on.

    Now, if we know storms are in the forecast, we try to make sure she’s wearing it before they begin. If the storms are likely to happen while we’re at work, I will leave it on her during the day.

    It hasn’t been a miracle item for us – although some people seem to have amazing success with it. I will say that although it has not completely calmed her during storms, it does seem to have some effect. The pacing and panting decreases some, and she’ll sit on the couch with us instead of running all over the house. It doesn’t seem to have any effect when the thunder is really loud, however.

    So for us, it’s been hit or miss.

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