Introducing the Thundershirt or any shirt to our dog

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.

Yes! She may master this yet :p #augustbreak2013 #yes

A photo posted by weliveinaflat (@weliveinaflat) on

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~

I is having boney pleasure :D #dog

A video posted by weliveinaflat (@weliveinaflat) on

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.

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35 thoughts on “Introducing the Thundershirt or any shirt to our dog

  1. Lovely images of Donna!

    Ahh the dreaded thunderstorm phobia.

    Well … I’m not going to like saying this and I’ve never done it AND wouldn’t do it, because I figure if I’M frightened by something I wouldn’t want to be thrown head-first into the fire …. but some people and trainers SWEAR that it’s baptism by fire. A storm hits …. put the animal out in the thick of it.

    Personally this doesn’t wash with me. Different dogs require different approaches to different terrors. My dogs initially were frightened by the sound and flashes, but after a few calming words and reassuring hugs, they felt it was safe to carry on as normal, although they usually remain quiet and attentive. Perhaps this is because they sense my nervousness during a big blow. I often think an animal’s reaction also depends on our behaviour and attitude about the situation. If we consistently molly-coddle then this not effective either. Of course, it has happened that my dogs have been out in storms … desperately curious about the rain and blowing winds, not even noticing the elements or sensing the danger … well … actually I think they DO sense it, but seem to be less inclined to panic … and also because they HAD to go out (you know … ‘business time’) and this too helped them learn and understand.

    The one natural event that still spooks them (my sole dog and kitten) are earthquakes. We don’t have them often, nor are they terribly strong, but they do sense it before it happens and when it hits … we all freak out a bit. But it’s MY job to take charge and lead the pack … and so I try to shelve my anxiety and adrenaline for their sake.

    • I’m glad you guys don’t get the earthquake often Pat. It must be a terrifying thing to have to experience. We don’t have earthquakes here, storms are more than enough for us :P

      And you are right, the dog does appear less affected by on-coming storm when she is outside and preoccupied sniffing the grass. But I wouldn’t throw her into the thick of the storm either. It’s just like what you say, different dogs have different personalities. Some times it works, sometimes the dog becomes worse and everyone suffers. Not ideal.

      I’m glad you have found the best way that works for you and your dog and kitten. I hope we will reach that end point too.

      Thank you for sharing your experiences and have a great day today with your dog and kitten. Do they get along well? :D

      • I’m sure Donna will eventually settle down – you will find the best way … some times it just takes patience and lots of it. Hang in there :)
        Actually yes, the dog and kitten do get on quite well …. mostly. There ARE moments of course when Niekah (dog) is a little too overly eager and she does have bouts of jealousy, minor ones, but all in all, Salem (kitten) and Niekah are just fine.

        Our last 2 dogs also had feline companions …. one had 2 friends and our first dog had 13 at one point in time. It’s just a myth that the 2 species can’t or won’t get along. One just has to figure out the dog’s personality first. Some dogs aren’t feline friendly and never will be. Depends on the breed and character I would think.

        Have a great day too :)

      • They CAN be …. it depends on many factors …. the age of the cat … it’s overall temperament. We’ve introduced kittens to young cats to the elderly to our various pooches …. all reactions/interactions were different. It really is a 2-way street …. it takes lots of patience and watchfulness. I liken it to people socializing at a party … some will hit it off instantly, feeling a bond, others will be indifferent, some never quite liking the new acquaintances.

  2. Donna looks absolutely adorable with her shirt on and love the shots and video Mrs. P. Please give her a big hug and kiss from me and Simba. :D xxx

    • Perhaps, who knows? Lately, perhaps because of the thunderstorm, Donna has started to show some reaction to the plan flying past too! The powers of doggy associative skills is inestimable! – – Haha.

  3. Someone gave us a Thundershirt for Willy. It worked great in moderating Willy’s constant battle with Crabby, at least until the Idiots got it off him and used it as a tug toy.

    • Oh man, the idiots have got to learn to respect the shirt! But I don’t suppose you call them idiots for nothing. And I suppose one can hardly blame the idiots when they are such a fun crew :D How’s Vito doing? Haven’t heard about him for a while. :)

    • I’ve never heard of the Zendog before. The Thundershirt is supposed to fit snugly so on a short-hair dog, it does perhaps accentuate the lines of the dog. I imagine it may look funnier on a fluffy dog :P I dunno. I hope it helps Donna too. But I am realistic. I think it will take time and consistency, which is hard to manage, the weather being the wildcard here. We’ll see how it goes. Fingers crossed. ;)

      • The Thundershirt looks like it is made of heavier material. I have seen a similar one here called the Thundercoat. It is probably the same thing just marketed differently in the states. The Zendog is made out of thin nylon ($10.00 cheaper) although it fits and fastens exactly the same….pretty tight if you want it that way. Hope it helps Donna.

  4. Great tips! Play, have fun, get treats… all great ways to get used to something new. Pierson tried the Thundershirt for his recent visit to the vet. It didn’t help. So we have been visiting the vet just to say hi and to get a few treats.

    • You are awesome! I am too lazy to walk Donna to the vet or the groomer to do the say and help her feel more positive about these places :P The silver lining is, I have learnt to cut her nails myself (even though its not very fun for her :P).
      As for the vet, she actually has fun going into that place where there are so many dogs to look at in the waiting room… until she is taken into the vet’s office, then suddenly she is terrified. Just like that. Unfortunately, the vet(s) we go to is so busy, I don’t think any of them will have the time to say hi and give her a few treats D: But that’s a good idea, maybe I should bring her to there with the Thundershirt on if I ever need to visit the vet!

      Welcome back from your weekend trip!!

  5. My friend told me about that kind of shirt too when I told her about my dog’s fear of thunder/rain. Anyway, I’m not sure my dog will let us use the shirt for her because we used to let her wear another piece of cloth but she always try to remove it.

    • Your dog may need more time to get used to the cloth. I guess the standard advice would be to treat her when she leaves the cloth alone, and to distract her when she starts to try to remove the cloth. You can treat her again when she gets distracted and stop thinking about the cloth. After some time doing this consistently, she should get the idea that if she leave the cloth alone she will get more treats. But of course, you are closest to her and can see her reactions, so whether you want to continue with the cloth or not is really up to your own good judgement :D

      I hate it when Donna freaks out when it thunders though. Feeling sorry for her for her terror is one reason why. Another reason is, she sheds like crazy when she is stressed! – – A lot of hair on the floor D: Bwahahahahaha *pets ownself consolingly :P* I guess small dogs shed less huh? :P

  6. Way way behind. Did Thundershirt help?

    The only clothes our dogs ever wear is their neoprene vests during hunting season. They never had an issue putting them on from the start and of course they associate fun with them. :)

    • It’s effectiveness appear inconsistent at the moment, so I can’t rightly judge. In some cases, I think it helped, on other days, it seemed no so effective. Thanks for asking about Donna! And I totally understand that time is limited and precious, so thank you for dropping by and checking out so many of the previous posts!! I appreciate it! :)

I love your comments! It will help me greatly if you can leave them on the actual post that this post links to so that I can have them all in one place, thanks! :)

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