Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Product Review: Thundershirt

The Thundershirt is a dog jacket that helps reduce anxiety by applying pressure like a big hug. It is available in a variety of colors and styles, and comes in seven sizes to fit dogs under seven pounds through dogs over 110 pounds.
Photo by Erin Koski

This is a pretty awesome tool for helping dogs with major anxiety, mostly because it works instantly and with no training. Just wrap the dog up in it, and four out of five of them will chill out at least a little.

How does the Thundershirt work? It's basically like a hug. At work, when a dog is terrified of getting their nails trimmed, we have one person wield the clippers while a second person holds the dog. The most effective hole involves wrapping one arm around the front of the dog's chest below the windpipe, and the other arm around the dog's body over the shoulders and behind the front legs. When held firmly against the person's body like this, most dogs relax enough to have their nails cut.

The type of pressure applied when hugging someone, or restraining a dog like this, is called "deep pressure". This type of pressure can be used to help calm and focus autistic kids. People have been wrapping dogs up in athletic bandages to calm them down for years, but getting that sort of wrap right takes some effort. The Thundershirt just velcros on without any physical manipulation of the dog, there is nothing to pull over their head or step their feet through.

Brisbane's Thundershirt is actually a size small. Technically he should be in a size medium, but it's supposed to be tight so the small works ok. I use it for chilling him out when I trim his nails.

Pros: Easy to put on and take off. Requires no effort, unlike behavior modification training like the Relaxation Protocol. Works instantly for many dogs. Allows for freedom of movement.

Cons: One in five dogs won't feel less anxious when wearing the Thundershirt. Using a Thundershirt doesn't mean stopping other slower methods of helping dogs with their anxiety.

Bottom Line: I use the Thundershirt when cutting Brisbane's nails, but I also use a muzzle, a blindfold, prescription medication, and lots and lots of conditioning with food. Even for occasional upsets like fireworks, the Thundershirt works best as a tool to help get a dog calmed down enough for other management strategies to be effective. It's a useful tool to have in my toolbox, but not the cure-all that the Thundershirt company advertises.

Have you used a Thundershirt or other pressure wrap on your dog? Did it work?


  1. I'm not sure if the Thundershirt works for my dog, he tends to freeze when I put clothes on him which he does do for a bit when I put the shirt on. He also shakes off a lot when I have the shirt on which is a calming signal, but I think he's just trying to shake the shirt off. He eventually "gives up" but seems mellower, but I'm not sure if its because there's something on him or that the shirt is working. Also I got a XS for my mini poodle and he's male so the part closest to his man parts always seems to be RIGHT there, so I have to adjust it to make sure its not putting any pressure on there.

    1. Brisbane also tends to freeze when I put clothes on him, so I'm never really certain if the pressure is helping. I'll settle for him just being less active sometimes, though. I haven't had issues wit the belly panel being too close to anyone's parts though, maybe a size smaller would help?

  2. I once tried it on a dog-reactive foster dog with no improvement, but the one we had was kind of big on him so that could have been why. I do like the concept. One thing I found interesting about the use of deep pressure with humans vs. dogs is that deep pressure is supposed to simulate a hug, and while most humans like hugs, most dogs don't. I thought it was interesting that the same technique is used for both species. Any thoughts?

    1. Most dogs don't like hugs as a sign of affection, but they do find deep pressure calming. That's why most veterinary restraint holds look like hugging.

    2. Thanks for clarifying! It makes sense that dogs might dislike hugging due to the fact that a giant is looming over them, rather than the pressure. Many people with Autism or Sensory Processing Disorder will also not like being hugged, but still benefit from deep pressure, so I guess it makes sense that it could be the same for dogs.