Treating dog anxiety with Thundershirt

February 19, 2011 7:30:57 AM PST
Whether it's a thunderclap or fireworks, there are many different triggers that can cause stress in dogs.

Some cases are so severe owners look to medicate their pets.

For $30 and no medication, a new product claims to have a calming effect within minutes.

Dr. Jennifer Kramer of the Animal Hospital of Richboro has a soft spot for the Shar Pei breed of dog. A couple months ago Jennifer added 6-month old Whiskey to her family and expected a seamless transition.

"Puppies love people and puppies are interested in meeting new dogs, and I never expected to have any problems," said Dr. Kramer.

But problems began immediately.

"As soon as he sees another dog or a man, who he feels is threatening to him, he starts off with his snarling, growling, lunging," she said.

Jennifer demonstrated that Whiskey would calm down when she hugged him. So she thought the Thundershirt might help him. The item is a flannel-like shirt that wraps around the dog's neck and chest. It claims to provide gentle, constant pressure for a calming effect.

The transformation for Whiskey was instant!

"In a second, he was a different dog," she said. "He's calm, he's relaxed, he's wagging his tail."

We left the Thundershirt with Jennifer and armed her with a camera for a week to capture Whiskey's progress.

Unfortunately, the results were mixed.

"We didn't have very much success with it," said Dr. Kramer.

It did calm Whiskey that first day, but it didn't help his dog versus dog aggression or his dog versus cat aversion. When Action News returned, he seemed fearful and defensive every time our photographer picked up her camera.

One of our producers also tried the Thundershirt on her dog, who is a chronic leash puller, a condition the shirt also claims to help. She says she felt a slight release in the dog's pulling.

As a veterinarian, Jennifer sees anxiety issues all the time in dogs and says treatment is usually done by trial and error.

"There is no individual behavior modification technique or behavior modification tool that will work in every circumstance," explains Dr. Kramer.

She says some things to try are classes with a professional trainer, consistent praise and/or correction for behaviors you like and don't like. Also check into different types of collars and even ask your vet about medication.

As for the Thundershirt, she says Whiskey is an extreme case and that it could work in your dog.

"I think this has a lot of potential to be helpful in the right circumstances," said Dr. Kramer.

The makers of Thundershirt say based on customer surveys over 80 percent saw an improvement in their dog's symptoms. But they acknowledge not every dog responds, and so they're offering a money back guarantee in the event the shirt does not work.

Links: Richboro Ritz Pet Resort