My 2-year-old dachshund, Franklin, is the world’s first agoraphobic dog. Has he received a formal diagnosis from a dog psychiatrist, you ask? No. But you have never seen a dog this terrified of leaving the house.
He doesn’t shake when he’s scared; he convulses. He retreats under the couch when he sees us take out his harness and leash. And he’s too busy looking left and right, keeping his ears and eyes peeled for attackers, to even pee outside — unless he’s petrified to the point that his bladder gives out.
Nothing has ever alleviated his anxiety, including anti-anxiety medication. But then we got the ThunderShirt.
I spotted the ThunderShirt in SkyMall magazine last year and snapped a photo of the page with my iPhone thinking, “Might as well try it. We’ve tried everything else.” The ThunderShirt looks like a little jacket for dogs and is essentially the canine version of swaddling for babies — the fabric wraps around them snugly, relaxing them. (They also have one for cats.)
According to the website, experts believe that the ThunderShirt’s pressure has a calming effect on the nervous system, possibly by releasing a calming hormone like endorphins. The homepage boasts, “Over 80% of dogs show improvement.” And the company, ThunderWorks, is so confident in its product that it will refund you the full purchase price if you’re unhappy with it and return it within 45 days.
My parents bought a ThunderShirt for Franklin for Christmas after I mentioned the product to them, and we tested it out on Christmas Eve when grandparents, aunts and uncles visited for a big meal.
Franklin usually freaks out when strangers — meaning people he hasn’t seen 10 times or more — enter his general vicinity. So we were curious to see how he would react to not-so-familiar family members with the ThunderShirt on. He was a little confused when we wrapped the various flaps under his torso and neck and secured them with the fabric fasteners, but he just walked around like usual after it was all situated.
Was he uncomfortable and scared when people arrived? Yes. But there was an obvious difference in his reaction. The defensive barking we usually witnessed in such situations was almost completely eliminated. He didn’t hide under furniture, and instead just stayed close to me, watching “the intruders” carefully.
We noticed the most dramatic difference at the groomer’s. On top of having a complete stranger handle him and clip his nails, he is also faced with the scary nail-grinding monster — and the sound drives him insane. Despite being securely fastened to part of the table with a collar, he literally thrashes around, desperate to escape, and it absolutely breaks my heart to see him so terrified.
But when we brought him in to have his nails clipped with the ThunderShirt on, he didn’t move. Though it was still clear to me that he was frightened, he stood there calmly, letting the woman do her job. The groomer was so shocked by the difference in his behavior that she asked for details about the product so she could recommend it to others with anxious dogs.
You can order the ThunderShirt through the company’s website at ThunderShirt.com for $39.95. Consult the size chart on the site to determine what size is best for your dog’s weight.
When I ordered mine, I was concerned because of Franklin’s odd hot-dog shape, but a customer service representative assured me that the jacket works by mainly wrapping around the chest area, so it didn’t need to cover his entire torso.
I was also worried because Franklin’s chest protrudes more than other breeds, and his weight fell almost in between ThunderShirt sizes. If you have this concern too, the site also has a helpful sizing chart based on both chest size and weight.