A couple of years ago – or maybe longer – I started hearing radio ads for the Thundershirt. Being the owner of 10-year old Westie – Ernie — who trembles, pants, paces and hides at the first sign (or sound) of a thunderstorm, I was intrigued. But at the time, I thought, “this has got to be a gimmick.”
Shortly after that, however, I happened to be at the AnimalSense office (I was just contemplating a change in careers at the time) when I overheard a conversation with a client. The client was expressing concerns about bringing her dog to class because the dog got anxious in the car and she didn’t know how that would affect the training. “Then I heard the AnimalSense trainer ask, “Do you have a Thundershirt?” So AnimalSense was recommending this “gimmick?”
I ordered the shirt that afternoon. It arrived a few days later… on a day that storms were predicted. So that afternoon, as the skies began to darken, I put the Thundershirt on. To my amazement, Ernie did not resist at all. I wrapped the shirt around him and waited for the storms. They came. And like magic, Ernie was not nearly as anxious as he typically was. He still was obviously upset by the thunder, but he didn’t violently shake. He didn’t run. He just curled up at my feet and rode the storm out.
That was well over a year and half ago. Since that time, I’ve put the Thundershirt on Ernie many times. Not just for storms, but also for walks, car rides and training classes. In nearly all cases, I am convinced the Thundershirt has helped. It is not a cure-all. But it does lessen the anxiety. Now, however, I have a new problem.
Over the last few weeks I have noticed that whenever I pull the Thundershirt out (I try to get in on Ernie before the storms start), Ernie turns and runs away.
It makes sense. Think of how Pavlov’s dogs came to associate the sound of a bell with food. Ernie has come to associate the Thundershirt with impending thunder. So what do I do now? Well, you will notice I have labeled this post as Part 1. I have a plan to “re-associate” the Thundershirt with goodness – instead of badness. It involves putting the shirt on Ernie at different times, using treats every time the shirt comes out and a few other things. So we’ll see how that goes… and I’ll report back in Part 2. Stay tuned.