I’ll admit I was skeptical of these. None of my previous dogs were sound-sensitive, and I doubted that tight swaddling would have the same effect on a dog that it does on a human. Turns out I’m wrong, as I found out from direct experience.
Xander is my Great Pyrenees/Lab mix. Isn’t he just adorable? I bought him a Thundershirt last year, and had it on him a few times. It seemed to have only limited success from what I saw, but Xander apparently felt different about his anxiety-reducing garment.
He is the least confident dog I’ve ever had. Belgian sheepdogs aren’t known for their shy, retiring natures, and my Lab, well, she’s a Lab; everyone’s her friend and fear is unknown to her. But for such a big dog, Xander is remarkably…timid, especially when it comes to sounds. We no longer host our big 4th of July party – much to our friend’s dismay.
However, I couldn’t hear anything when he woke me up at 4:30 this morning, scrabbling around in the adjoining room. It was early, but not unusual for the dogs to need to go out at this time. So up I got and out they went. The wind was whipping but it wasn’t raining, Xander quickly returned to the door and wanted back in.
Once back inside, his continuing distress was clear; he was pacing, panting and licking his lips. He would sit and lean against me for a time for comfort, but then look off into the distance over my shoulder and growl. I checked, but nope, no ghosts in the house.
Then I saw the flash outside in the darkened sky and it all made sense. He could hear the thunder I couldn’t.
We went into the basement where it would be quieter, and I turned on the TV to help drown out the thunder. Golly ate her breakfast right away, unfazed by the distant storm. Did I mention she’s a Lab? Xander did not, which is not unusual when he’s nervous. What he did next though, took me completely by surprise.
He walked up to his Thundershirt, draped over a nearby chair and nosed it. Then turned at looked directly into my eyes. I didn’t need any psychic animal communication skills to understand what he was asking. I picked it up, held it out and he promptly sat down to let me wrap it around his body. He even sighed with relief.
He may not be the bravest, but he’s certainly one of the smartest dogs I’ve ever had.
Within a minute of getting wrapped up in his Thundershirt, Xander had stopped pacing and panting. He sat and leaned against me, then sank down and nudged his way under my feet with another relieved sigh.
He was snoring a few minutes later. Thank you Thundershirt!
Is your dog sound sensitive? Does your friend whine, cower, or try to escape from loud sounds like thunder, heavy machinery, or fireworks? It’s important to know the behaviors that signal your dog is in distress – Xander paces, whines, pants, and licks his lips, but other dogs may dig, run, hide or bark.
If you see your dog reacting stressfully to loud sounds, what should you do?
The last thing you want to do is try to reassure him or her. Petting, saying things like “It’s okay” or “You’re a good dog” can actually reinforce your dog’s stress reaction, even amplify it. Pet parents sometimes find it difficult to understand this because the behaviors we humans find comforting – hugging, petting – often do not translate as soothing or calming to our dogs. Try to avoid these if your dog is acting stressed.
Instead focus on projecting calm and confidence. When you do speak, do it in low, gentle tones. Avoid using the voice or cue words that mean “Good dog!” as these are easily interpreted as meaning his stress reaction is appropriate.
If your dog comes and leans against you, it’s okay to put a reassuring hand on a shoulder or hip, but don’t pet or scratch. Let it rest with some heaviness – let your dog feel the weight of your hand and arm – but don’t press her against you.
Try turning up the TV or radio and distracting your dog with a toy. However if your pet is so stressed that they won’t engage with you, you may want to look into a Thundershirt for your pet. You can find their website here. It has excellent information and links to the science behind the Thundershirt’s effectiveness.
Helping your dog to reduce his anxiety will build his confidence in himself and you!