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Thunder Shirt

            We bought Cricket a Thunder Shirt over the summer. We were having more guests over in the new apartment, and Cricket was making her (loud) feelings known. I felt bad for our guests because Cricket made them feel so unwelcome. We’d tried everything we could think of to calm her down, and then I kept seeing commercials for the Thunder Shirt and figured it was worth a try.

            Right out of the box, Cricket loved it. With the terrible reactions she’s had to sweaters, and jackets, and harnesses, over the years, I thought this would be a hard sell, but she was a fan. She jumped up and asked to wear it, and didn’t even bite me when I strapped the Velcro around her neck and belly. She looked quite attractive in it, actually. I never knew that gray was her color.

"I know I look good."

“I know I look good.”

            Cricket has no issue with thunder, actually. That’s her sister’s area. Butterfly is afraid of storms and car rides and loud noises and walking along public streets. Cricket’s fundamental issue is people. So, half an hour before a scheduled visit, I would put the shirt on her, and she looked cozy, svelte and stylish, with her hair puffing out at the edges.

"My butt looks big in this shirt."

“My butt looks big in this shirt.”

            But still, she barked. She needed to be held, and given plenty of treats, and even after she’d calmed down, any sudden noise or movement would start her up again. Eventually I worked out a mix of holding her in my lap, dangling her in the air, massaging her ears and tightening her Thunder Shirt, that kept her grumpiness at a low growl, for the most part.

            I wanted the Thunder Shirt to do magical things for Cricket, to calm her and make her feel safe enough to have no need to bark. I’m sure there’s a more proactive training method I should have put into play, instead of expecting the shirt to do all of the work, but I couldn’t figure it out.

            I kept trying the shirt, for visits, for outings, for random intervals during the day, and she still loved it, and kept barking.

Out visiting in her Thunder Shirt, in the rain. (Butterfly is modeling her plaid jacket and feeling beautiful.)

Out visiting in her Thunder Shirt, in the rain. (Butterfly is modeling her plaid jacket and feeling beautiful.)

            We tried Prozac too. Every morning Cricket had her pill with a piece of chicken (and Butterfly got to have a pill-free piece of chicken as well), but there was no improvement. If anything, Cricket was grumpier than before and more prone to isolating herself under the couch, between barking attacks at the front door.

            We haven’t bothered with the Thunder Shirt in a while. It has attached itself to the couch (with its Velcro straps) and is easily available, just in case.

The couch finds that Thunder Shirt very comforting.

The couch finds that Thunder Shirt very comforting.

            My hope is that, over time, Cricket will learn to tolerate guests. We’ve been handing out chicken treats to our visitors so they can bribe her, and she can associate them with good memories. And maybe I’ll give the Thunder Shirt another try, if only as a pretty outfit for Cricket to wear on special occasions.

Cricket finds comfort in her sister's tushy.

Cricket finds comfort in her sister’s tushy.

Peaceful.

Peaceful.

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

111 responses »

  1. Love the cute pictures.

    Reply
  2. Izzy has a Thundershirt, too, and he wears it whenever it’s raining or cold outside. He loves it. As for barking with visitors, he did it for a long time when he first came to live with me, and like you, I gave out treats to my guests to give to him so he’d associate them with good things. After a while, my trainer told me to only give him the treats when he’d been quiet for a little while, and to also let him know that the barking wasn’t okay (he now will quiet when I put myself between him and my visitor and tell him “no” quite firmly). If he’s quiet, he gets a treat (from the visitor). He is soooo much better now than he was a year and a half ago (when I was convinced that I would never be able to have a visitor in my house). You can keep trying the Thundershirt. It won’t hurt 🙂

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  3. We tried a Thunder shirt for Lobo (our bullmastiff with severe anxiety…of everything). It didn’t help at all. We tried medication, herbal remedies and therapy–to no avail. Eventually, we got him a spunky doggie sister. And she changed everything. He wasn’t Mr. Courage but the feral, terrified light left his eyes and he could function. I’ve heard good things about the Thunder Shirts. I figure, it’s whatever works for each dog.

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  4. It’s an interesting problem, one dog troubled by visitors and the other not. I hope you find a solution so Cricket can be more at ease. In the meantime, she looks very attractive in her Thundershirt! 🙂

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  5. Thank you for writing about this – I was thinking of a Thundershirt for Gabi, because she is so anxious, but it sounds like it’s more of a fashion statement (albeit a comfy one) than much help with behaviors. She trembles whenever things aren’t routine, and I thought perhaps one would comfort her. Fortunately, visitors are a treat for her – the only trouble is that she jumps on them.

    Your dogs are adorable.

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  6. I think she’s showing off for you. Try ignoring her for awhile and see what happens. It worked for one of my dogs.

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    • Cricket is very hard to ignore. She hits a certain high pitch when she’s hysterical that seems to rewire the human brain. I am powerless.

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      • Well, that’s the point, isn’t it, from a dogs perspective? To render us powerless. Lol! I have found that when we get trained to react a certain way to whatever they’re doing, like barking inappropriately, the dog brain is soft wired to keep it up. Dogs love consistency.

        So this is how I got my dogs to stop barking in the yard…a feat, since 6 dogs just egg each other on. Instead of hollering at them to stop, which they considered meant I was just joining in the fun, I allowed them to bark for half a minute, since I reasoned they were alerting that something was out there, then I called them back with a “Good Dogs!” which they associate with treats. They ran back to be congratulated on what good dogs they are, and at first, got rewarded with a treat. Now they just get praised for doing their job…guarding our property. It actually worked rather quickly. I was one very surprised human, but it taught me a lot about canine thinking.

        Cricket has a bad case of the smarts, it sounds like. She may have learned early and fast that acting like a crazed bitch ( ha ha) gets her attention, takes the focus off of the visitors, and results in treats. You might try putting her in another room when someone arrives. When she quiets, praise her through the door and place a treat under the door. This kind of reverse training takes two weeks of patience and practice. So,you need someone to help you by play acting the situation over and over. Or just play the role yourself, knocking on the door, talking to yourself…your neighbors will think you’re nuts.

        Never reward the bad behavior…I’m sure you know this, but you have to be patient and let the barking run it’s course until the dog is quiet, then promptly reward. Painful, but necessary. Also, her being in another room removes the inherent reward of you being present and close to her. By slipping the treat under the door you surprise her and get her attention. Change the mind, change the behavior, and surprise gets you on that road because the mind loves nothing as much as a surprise. Dog minds, too. If they made a casino for dogs, someone would make a mint.

        You may have tried all this and are justifiably tired of all the good advice. My guess, tho, is unless Cricket was a rescue dog with a traumatic background as a puppy, she’s just doing what dogs do…learning that a certain behavior gets her what she wants, then getting stuck on that behavior because….like humans, dogs are creatures of habit. But unlike humans, they can’t imagine a different outcome without two solid weeks of practicing a different outcome. It’s worth trying, because every single time Cricket barks at a visitor, she reinforces herself, and she gets more screwed up. A bad feedback loop that grows stronger all the time. Happily, two,weeks of behavior modification usually does the trick, because are hard word to adapt. That’s why they sleep in our beds, instead of us hunting and eating them or raising them as food.

        Good luck!

      • I’m going to have to print this out and read it a bunch of times. Sounds like it could work! Unless Butterfly decides to eat my notes!

      • Sorry! I was afraid it was too much.

  7. The relationship between the Thunder Shirt and the couch is beautiful to behold. Also, Prozac for dogs? I have to say I had no idea.

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  8. I have a Thunder Shirt for my oldest dog who has thunder rage. It doesn’t really do much besides take the edge off her, but it does wonders for my sister’s GSDx who has full blown storm anxiety.

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  9. I bought one of my dogs a Thundershirt for – well, thunder, which scares her and sends her stress levels through the roof. I did hope that the thundershirt would help me get her away from being zonked out on medication when we have a thunderstorm. It did not work and we went back to the medication, but I have to say that she does look good wearing it and, fortunately we don’t have many thunderstorms in the part of the Commonwealth.

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  10. Interesting. Oscar doesn’t bark for visitors (except in tandem with Shemp on immediate entry), but he engages in inappropriate chewing and peeing. I have been wondering about the effectiveness of the Thundershirt . . .

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  11. The thundershirt combined with Benadryl helps take the edge off for our most nervous dog. The perpetual barker eventually ended up with a spray collar for visitors, but I know some people prefer not to use corrective collars. This one just spritzes her with water when she barks. It’s helped a lot. Good luck to Cricket! And you!

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  12. No problem with thunder here-we don’t mind it. Now, about those chicken thingies. I think I’d bark at the people so I could get more of them. I’d associate my behavior with good things.

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  13. I love your dogs. I had a black toy poodle, but at 11 years of age and a bad heart condition, he died 12/3/2012. He was my baby and I will always miss him. Take care of your babies. They are only on loan to us to love and care for.

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  14. I bought a thundershirt for Sofie. Not for thunder but for her barking at everything that comes near the house and her endless high anxiety . She does not have to see things, she hears, or maybe feels them, idk which. It makes her sleepy when I put it on, it seems. Not sure yet that it works but I will keep trying. Best of luck and keep us posted. – Lorian

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    • I wonder if Cricket feels more sleepy in her shirt. the problem is, she gets even more enraged when she’s relaxed and hears a noise. She has to jump out of a deep sleep to yell at everyone, which is clearly an undue strain. Harrumph.

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      • Sofie also wakes from a deep sleep, in her kennel, with the curtain down, when she senses fox or other critters near the house. She then proceeds to wake the neighborhood. If you find a calming spell for Cricket, let me know. Louise, on the other hand, could sleep through a train.

  15. I’ve never heard of a thunder shirt. I had a dog who was terrified of thunder years ago and the only thing available then was a sedative, the dosage of which had to be increased daily.
    With another, we’d give our guests a bonio as soon as they walked through the door. We explained it was for the dog so that he knew they were friendly. It worked most of the time, but there were some visitors that were just not doggy people. He sensed it, so kept out of their way. He didn’t like thunder either and would hide in the bath until it was over.
    Maggie will bark at visitors until we tell her that ‘they are invited’ and ‘allowed’ and then she usually takes them a toy (good ploy, as they feel obliged to play with her!). She’s not really happy with thunder or fireworks, but tolerates them. She did bark at the sky though when too many planes flew over in succession!
    They’re all different, and we love them regardless of their little (if annoying sometimes) ways.
    Hope Cricket soon finds a happy level with your visitors.

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  16. Hello 🙂
    Have you tried asking visitors to call you before they arrive so you can be prepared for their visit? Our dog barks when he hears a knock at the door, but he is alot calmer when we are prepared and in control, as soon as we start rushing around and panicking he becomes more aroused too.
    Does cricket have a ‘safe place’ where she can relax and feel happy and safe? Somewhere cosy with toys and chews that you can take her to every now and then. Then when you anticipate something that may cause tension, e.g visitors, take her to her safe place with a stuffed Kong toy for example?
    Anyway, I hope you can discover the root of Crickets concern and eventually enjoy having visitors around 🙂

    Reply
    • She likes to hide under the couch when she’s anxious, or angry, or escaping from bath time. But, no amount of preparation seems to relieve her of the belief that it is her job to scare all visitors away. Maybe if I put a whole roasted chicken under the couch with her…

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      • Ahh I see. If you enjoy training with Cricket you could try teaching her an alternative behavior to perform on cue as a distraction when visitors arrive 🙂 That’s if you haven’t already tried that 🙂 Whatever it is it’ll take time to overcome but it’ll be well worth it 🙂

      • I like the idea of teaching her an alternative behavior. The trainer we went to had a GSD who could ride a skateboard…

      • I don’t think I’ve pressed the right reply button! But let us know if you do find a solution/teach an alternative behavior 🙂 and we have a GSD, and I can’t imagine him riding a skateboard, haha!

  17. I’m a tad bit cheap so never bought the Thunder Shirt because of the mixed reviews of it actually working. My dog is terrified of thunder and she has separation anxiety. What worked well for me what that horrible smelling gel.. a calming aid i found in the pet store, over the counter nothing the vet prescribed. Bianca would just lick it up and retreat to her bed with wild eyes but kept her calm-ish throughout a storm.

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    • I’ve never heard of a calming gel. Do you know the name of it? though, Cricket LOVED the bitter apple spray that was supposed to keep her away from the furniture as a puppy. She’d lick it up, aned then proceed to chow down on chair legs with abandon.

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  18. mom bought a thunderleash to help me with socialization we love it. Well she does 😀

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  19. We bought a thunder leash once what should help to stop the pulling on the leash :o) btw: your butt looks not big in this shirt, you are beautiful :o)

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  20. Thundershirt is just one of the many ways that may help a dog feel safer and more relaxed but changing the way she feels about the situation requires working on her associations with the situation. There is a great protocol by Grisha Stewart called Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT). BAT has just been revised and here is a link for more info – http://empoweredanimals.com/new-bat-2-0-information/ This may help Cricket to feel differently about visitors. 🙂

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  21. I have seen these and make a dog feel safe. You are patient and you feel every need your little Cricket needs so much. Lovely post.

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  22. Ahhh I wanted magic from our Thundershirt too! I think it does calm Ellie down somewhat, but y’know I think she kinda likes barking anyway! I stick with ours in the hope that she is getting even the smallest thing out of it and she seems to like the thing so it’s doing no harm at least!
    Good luck, it’s hard and the best thing you can do is be patient… which you are so she will be just fine!
    Big hugs to you love Carrie (Myfie, Ellie and Millie) x

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  23. In the Dallas area we get thunderstorms 8 months out of the year. Will be interesting to see how Maverick does.

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  24. Love this post–thanks!

    No one here should feel badly about “being taken in” regarding the efficacy of the Thunder Shirt.

    Heck, our Springer has practically broken records for having the most severe case of “separation anxiety” known in the annals of veterinary medicine–yet I bought one.

    And guess what–it didn’t do a darn thing for Mr. B!

    But like Cricket, he certainly “looks dapper.”

    🙂

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    • There’s a lot to be said for looking good. Maybe I should put in a mirror close to the floor, so Cricket can see how god she looks, or be hypnotized by her own expressions, and, at the very least, be distracted from the outside noises.

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  25. Poor Cricket. I hope she feels better about guests soon! Bailey gets snappy at times as well. But I’ve noticed that he barks less when there are more people. He almost always hates the first few visitors, but as more arrive, he mellows out and finds the folks whose company he prefers. 🙂

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  26. I just recently started reading your blog and love it!! It’s all about the dogs at our house too. We have a thunder shirt. We got yo for our beloved Dixie, who was old and deaf at the end. When she lost her hearing, she became frightened of thunderstorms, and we have some doozies! The thundershirt calmed her a little, but not entirely. I would end up holding her as tight as I could, talking soothingly to her. She has crossed over now. I put the shirt on Banjo during storms ( he gets nervous), but I don’t think he likes it.

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    • Cricket loves human contact. She believes that her Grandma is an all purpose bed, chair, ladder, and when she is at her most anxious she does best with being held, just like Dixie. Butterfly is learning, but still uncertain about this hugging business. She prefers scratchies.

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      • Banjo does not relish human contact except from me. He is definitely a one person dog. My husband is taking him to dog training class. This is the third time in a row. He is not taking him for training anymore, but it is helping Banjo to bond with him. Banjo loves going to “traing class” with Daddy! Darby, who is Dale’s shadow, cries and watches out the window for them to return. “How dare Daddy leave and take Banjo and not me!!!”

      • Oh yes, taking one dog and not the other,this is a crime in my house as well.

  27. Love the story about the Thunder shirt! We were thinking about trying it for the thunder, but now I think not. Poor Cricket we hope she learns humans can be our friends.

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  28. It’s really hard when your dog is anxious around people (I had a dog like that once). It’s too bad the Thunder Shirt didn’t work as well as you hoped. Celeste 🙂

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  29. Have you heard of Calming Collars? Some people have had good luck with them.

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  30. So glad Butterfly loves the shirt!!!! That’s definitely a victory…both her and Cricket look so cute in their sweaters on their little walk!!!! Happy weekend!!!! Hugs

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  31. I bought want for Mr. Bo but it did not help him either. At some point I got meds from the vet but I needed to give it two hours ahead of thunder… Besides in the summer it thunders basically every day in my area.

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  32. She looks such an angel in the last picture. It’s a pity she is so anti-people, least that is the way I feel about it. She must have had a traumatic time at some point in her puppy stage and this reaction has grown throughout the years. She is lucky to have such a great, caring owner. As for the thunder shirt, Bob asks, do they come in red and extra comfy?

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  33. Jack Henry has a thundershirt and it has helped some with the agitation and excitement-but I have also had to work with him in getting him to sit or go to his chair and wait as people come into the house–otherwise he is jumping up and down and crying and it can make for a hectic time for all-When he has settled down, he gets a cookie-I think the thundershirt can really help-my vet said it is like the dog is enveloped in a hug all the time-but it also took some extra work on both our parts to make Jack Henry a more accommodating host-good luck–it sounds like progress is happening, although it be slow-

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  34. Are you sure Cricket isnt really a cat in a Dog Shirt??

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  35. Shame it didn’t work. It does for some.

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  36. Our Pearly Greyhound is VERY phobic when it comes to loud noises, and when it thunders she wraps herself around the pedestal of the toilet so no one can use it. I might look into this Thundershirt phenomenon… though I can’t imagine how it works!

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  37. Hi there Thank you for liking a post. Those shirts are so cute .My baby wouldn’t like wearing clothes not even a hot dog costume for Halloween:(

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  38. my american collie teeny queen ZORA dislikes these kind of rain capes…
    but youre’s are cuties…
    CUL8R…

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  39. Your doggies are adorable! My boys aren’t too traumatized by thunder – they just “woof” a little. It’s fireworks on July 4th and New Years Eve (and, um, gunshots on those nights and unfortunately other nights in our neighborhood) that they freak out over. So on July 4th, my hubby and all the neighbors will be having a fun time lighting off roman candles and whatever else they illegally purchased from across the border in Wisconsin, and I have to sit inside with the dogs, calming them down.

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    • I feel very lucky that no one is shooting guns around Cricket. She’d start barking and trying to run after them. Don’t even want to think about it. On July 4th I’m pretty sure I’ll be hiding under the bed myself, so if the dogs want to join me, they are welcome.

      Reply
  40. Hi thanks for a like in my post. Hope you have a nice day. Hugs your puppies:)

    Reply

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