Will the Thundershirt stop separation anxiety?
The dog Thundershirt works as a training tool to help some dogs with separation anxiety if used in addition to other training tools. The Thundershirt is not a quick fix for separation anxiety.
In this post:
- Tips on how to properly use the dog Thundershirt for separation anxiety
- Read about a dog with separation anxiety who benefited from the Thundershirt
- Learn why the Thundershirt won’t work for all dogs
- Learn what to do in addition to using a Thundershirt
The Thundershirt for separation anxiety
Separation anxiety is a complicated issue. Just because a dog barks when home alone does not mean he has separation anxiety.
It could be that the dog hasn’t had enough exercise and is simply bored. Or maybe he’s young and has never been taught what to do when left alone. In those cases, a Thundershirt probably won’t be much help.
A dog with true separation anxiety enters a fearful state of panic when left alone, and sometimes a Thundershirt can help to ease some of that anxiety. I wrote a post on the signs of separation anxiety in dogs.
Signs of separation anxiety in dogs include:
- Constantly leaning on the owner for security
- An unhealthy attachment to the owner, always following her around
- Scratching or “digging” at a crate or door if she is not allowed near her owner
- Panting and pacing or other nervous behavior once the owner picks up her keys, grabs her purse, etc.
- Having accidents when left alone but is otherwise potty trained
- Disinterest in really tempting food (like hot dogs!) when left alone
Just because your dog does some of these things, it doesn’t necessarily mean she has separation anxiety. These are just some possible signs to be aware of. For more information, read my post on how to stop a dog’s separation anxiety.
Also see my more-detailed guide on dog anxiety.
Tips to properly use the Thundershirt
1. Slowly introduce the dog to the Thundershirt.
You should introduce your dog to the Thundershirt when she is not feeling anxious. For example, just set it on the floor while you’re watching TV. Every time she sniffs it, give her a treat. Or, simply set the Thundershirt next to her bowl while she eats.
The next day, place the Thundershirt on your dog’s back and give her a treat (something worth it, like real meat!). Repeat this a few times. You want to teach your dog that the Thundershirt equals treats and fun. Try not to be nervous or tense yourself.
2. Begin leaving the Thundershirt on your dog for longer periods.
Start out by putting the Thundershirt on your dog and giving her a favorite treat like a Kong with peanut butter. Then take the Thundershirt off and take the treat away. You want her to associate the treat with the Thundershirt. No Thundershirt equals no treat. Repeat this several times.
Once your dog seems to accept wearing the Thundershirt without any stress, begin leaving it on her for 10 or 20 minutes at a time. You should do neutral or fun things like sit and watch TV, go for a walk (if this is not stressful for your dog) or feed your dog.
3. Put the Thundershirt on your dog prior to stressful situations.
After a week or two of the training sessions above, your dog should have positive associations with the Thundershirt or at least neutral associations. Now you can begin using it in your overall behavior modification plan to help your dog overcome separation anxiety.
To do this, you need to put the Thundershirt on your dog a good 30 minutes before you know she normally becomes anxious. For example, if she begins to feel anxious when you start to get ready for work, put the Thundershirt on her before you take a shower or before you eat breakfast.
Maybe you need to put it on her right away when you get up or right after her walk. Remember, you’re not putting the Thundershirt on her to stop her anxiety at this point. You’re putting it on her while she is calm to help her remain calm in addition to other training techniques.
How the Thundershirt helped Poppy the mixed breed with separation anxiety
The Thundershirt helped Poppy the Westie mix with her separation anxiety, according to her owner Justin Flitter. I interviewed him for my past post on Thundershirt reviews, and he said the Thundershirt made Poppy less stressed and less anxious when left alone.
In addition to the Thundershirt, Justin recommended that dog owners stick to a regular exercise routine with their dogs to decrease the dogs’ extra energy. He also recommended that dog owners ignore their overly excited dogs upon returning home.
As for Poppy, she has become happier and less anxiety when left alone. Justin said he no longer has to worry that his dog is bothering the neighbors with her barking and crying.
You can read additional reviews of the Thundershirt here.
Why the Thundershirt won’t work for all dogs
Each dog is an individual. One dog’s anxiety level, energy level and personality is not the same as any other dog. As far as whether or not the Thundershirt will work for separation anxiety, two big factors include:
1. The dog’s level of anxiety.
The Thundershirt is more likely to help the dog if the dog has a milder case of anxiety. My mom wrote a dog Thundershirt review based on her experience with the product for her dog Elsie. Since Elsie is on the high end as far as anxiety levels, the Thundershirt did not seem to work for her. Although, in that case the product was used for anxiety during storms, not separation anxiety.
2. The dog owner’s expectations and dedication to training.
Someone expecting a quick fix is going to be disappointed with this product in most cases. However, someone who uses it along with a serious desensitization program will be more likely to see results and possibly benefit from the Thundershirt.
And of course, some dogs just flat out won’t benefit from the Thundershirt at all, regardless of what the owner does as far as training. Some dogs just don’t seem to be affected by the product even if they have only mild anxiety.
What should dog owners do in addition to using a Thundershirt?
- Lots of controlled exercise such as running with your dog every morning.
- Be calm yourself, especially during departures and returns.
- Kennel train your dog.
- Stick to a routine.
- Ignore your dog’s crying. Don’t punish or give attention.
- Begin desensitizing your dog to her “triggers.” Triggers could include picking up your keys, putting on your coat, etc.
- Give your dog tempting (and I mean tempting!) chew toys like Kongs filled with raw hamburger when you leave. None of this dry biscuit nonsense.
- Read my post on dog and puppy separation anxiety.
Have any of you used a Thundershirt to stop a dog’s separation anxiety?
Let us know in the comments!
Sunday 2nd of June 2019
My Rottie X Pit mix Zoë was a very balanced confident dog until her later years where she started having trouble getting around. Meds and a doggie wheelchair gave her many more happy years.She became very dependent on me to care for her. When I had to leave for work she developed seizures from her anxiety attacks and I got her a Thunder shirt. The shirt DID help her and with the addition of Thunder Ease spray the seizures stopped completely! I highly recommend trying Thunder Shirts for anxiety in dogs, often this along with interactive food filled toys and daily treadmill exercise does wonders.
Thursday 3rd of October 2013
I love this - "None of this dry biscuit nonsense."... it really happens!! I know!!
Because my dog is so used to feeling happy every time she sees her collar and leash, it works better than the thundershirt haha! No cost and good. I use both together nowadays for her thunder phobia.
Thursday 3rd of October 2013
Haha! Great to hear! I'm sure that would work for quite a few dogs.
Wednesday 2nd of October 2013
Aww, poor guy. Ace is scared of the vet too ever since he had to spend the night one time. Sorry to hear the shirt didn't help Pierson. I don't think it would help Ace at the vet either.
Thursday 30th of May 2019
The shirt hasn't worked with our Odin. Hes very stressed at the vets but, unlike how ace was, one & half nights at the vets has seemed to have calmed him down after he went in as an emergency through the night - I think he got to know the nurses more and so had a pleasant experience and realised it wasn't so horrible after all - enough to let the vet look at him as a follow up appointment. He used to climb the walls and found out how to get out the consultation room previously. People must have thought we were all trying to murder him before with all the squealing he used to do!! Lets hope he remembers next time he visits as he visits on a regular basis
Wednesday 2nd of October 2013
The Thundershirt didn't help Pierson's anxiety at the vet. I think he's had too many bad experiences there. The first bad experience was about 3 days after I got him. Somehow he ended up with a severe bloody nose and the vet couldn't stop it so they had to keep him overnight. He'd only been in his new home with me for a few days so to be shipped off to a strange place with more strangers must have been traumatic. I often wonder if he thought he had been abandoned again. The second traumatic event was when he got neutered. Ever since then, he's been so scared of the vet that he pees himself. Highly unusual. Although the Thundershirt didn't work for him in this case, I really believe that it can work in other situations for most other dogs.
Tuesday 1st of October 2013
Our dogs don't have separation anxiety, thank heavens. We have a Thundershirt and I put it on Rodrigo when I know we're going to have a storm or fireworks (about an hour before it's due to start). He does seem to measurably relax, but what really relaxes him are tight hugs, so I sit with him and just hug him for about 60 seconds and then we relax and he chews on his Nylabone. When he's ready for another hug, he comes back to me.
When I'm not home, he's just fine with my boyfriend. Hugs aren't necessary. So maybe Rigo is actually comforting me.
Wednesday 2nd of October 2013