Note: Thundershirt kindly arranged with their local partner, Hound Habitat, to send to me a sample of the Thundershirt for trial after I wrote to them about Donna’s thunderstorm phobia.
Strange as it may sound, there is a need to introduce anything new to the dog slowly. Our dog is not adventurous. New things are often viewed with an unhealthy dose of suspicion. So here’s Donna inspecting the Thundershirt.
As Donna has had previous experience wearing a t-shirt, wearing the Thundershirt after her inspection is not such an alien or uncomfortable experience to her. Here’s a shot of me trying to get her to do high-five with both paws (I’m not sure if there’s a name for that ). That was how comfortable she was with it already that first night the Thundershirt arrived.
She had it on for perhaps an hour getting treats and attention, and then when the humans went off to do other things and she was left to her own devices, she decided she wanted to get out of it after a while. :P
That’s all fine and good, but how does the Thundershirt help a dog to calm down when it thunders? According to the official website, the “ThunderShirt’s patented design is a pressure wrap that applies a gentle, constant pressure on a dog’s torso.” More information on their Frequently Asked Questions page.
It is good to know that TTouch dog trainers, vets and some autistic people find the use of pressure to relief anxiety effective. But this is pretty much from a human’s perspective.
Hence, it was interesting for me to read the following in Alexandra Horowitz’s book, Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know:
…besides being a jacket, the raincoat is also one distinctive thing: a close, even pressing, covering of the back, chest and sometimes the head. There are occasions when wolves get pressed upon the back or head: it is when they are being dominated by another wolf, or scolded by an older wolf or relative. Dominants often pin subordinates down by the snout. This is called muzzle biting, and accounts, perhaps, for why muzzled dogs sometimes seem preternaturally subdued. And a dog who “stands over” another dog is being dominant. The subordinate dog in that arrangement would feel the pressure of the dominant animal on his body. The raincoat might well produce that feeling… that someone higher ranking than you is nearby.
This interpretation is borne out by most dogs’ behaviour when getting put into a raincoat: they may freeze in place as they are “dominated.”… The be-jacketed dog may cooperate in going out, but not because he has shown he likes the coat; it is because he has been subdued.*
That does sound a little negative, doesn’t it?
And that is why the Thundershirt or any shirt or dog clothes for that matter, should ideally be introduced gently and deliberately to a dog…. rather than pulling it immediately out of its package over his or her hairy head. Which, unfortunately, was what I did after Donna finished her inspection of the shirt. The good thing is, she more or less was used to having that pink t-shirt on her, so it helped. :P
The next time I showed her the shirt, I did it more gradually. Just wrap around the neck first. She is being calm and relaxed because it was afternoon nap time for her.
And because it gets boring doling out treats for nothing, and she is somewhat used to the Thundershirt already, I got her to work for it :P
We are still working at her “wave”. She doesn’t like to do that very much and when she holds her paw up just a tiny ways from the floor half-heartedly, it looks like she is complaining about her limp paw. – - as in picture below, left.
Above, classic signs of her getting frustrated and for me to stop the activity. In fact, one of the things I need to work on is stopping the activity while she is still engaged so that it builds that positive buzz that she experiences when training. Frustration doesn’t happen so often though, it’s just that I bothered her to do this for me at a time when she would rather be sleeping or eating food for free :P Usually I just let her sleep, haha!
A better way to get her acclimatised to having the shirt around her is to play :D We played fetch the bone, which usually ends with her tearing at the bone, until she is bored and then we played fetch the bone again… and again…haha~
Note: I don’t recommend low quality “pressed” bones like what she is having.
Oh yes, taking the Thundershirt out for a walk is also an option for triggering instant endorphins, I think :P The whole point of all this was to help her associate positive feelings with the Thundershirt.
It kept raining these two days, so sometimes we had to walk when it drizzled lightly. We had a nightmare of a thunderstorm last night, but that is a story for another time.
Do you have other tricks for introducing new things/clothes to your dog? Or do you have better remedies for thunderstorm phobia?
To read more posts on thunderstorm phobia, click on the thunderstorm phobia tag.