All Things Dog Blog
Dealing with Dog Anxiety

Thundershirt – tool for helping dogs with anxiety

I read a fabulous article by Debra Flick – Scrunchies and Lavender Candles for Thunder Phobia? Yep. – on solving a serious dog anxiety issue. Pepper the dog was a really serious case. At the onset of a storm she’d begin by pacing and panting. This quickly escalated to racing from room to room and chewing at the carpets and floorboards. Bad news! Luckily she hooked up with a talented trainer who initiated some innovative therapies which really paid off.

So how did this trainer John Visconti produce such amazing results with a hair scrunchie, a lavender scented candle, a white noise machine, CD of soft music, and some food? If your dog suffers from serious anxiety issues I highly recommend you read the article and find out! It’s quite amazing and it reminds me of techniques I learned during a course to become an NLP practitioner. It’s all about positive reconditioning of brain patterns. Instead of trying to train Pepper not to react to thunderstorms the trainer chose to create a positive environment with such strong positive anchors and associations that Pepper would be immune to the thunderstorms when in that environment. In the end it worked and Pepper now seeks out this specific room to take refuge from the storms. A fantastic result and what a change!

Among the tools that John Visconti would normally use to alleviate this type of canine anxiety is the Thundershirt which we carry at Waggle. One important take away from this article for me was when John Visconti mentioned he wouldn’t put a Thundershirt on an anxious dog just when a storm was brewing. This would work to reinforce the dog’s mental connection between the Thundershirt and the unpleasantness of the storm. If you are using a Thundershirt it’s really important to put the shirt on your dog during times when your dog is relaxed and happy to solidify a connection between the shirt and a chilled out feeling. Once established as a positive experience the Thundershirt can then be applied during times of stress.

This article provides a really positive outcome to a situation which I’m sure leads many very anxious dogs to being abandoned at shelters. There are ways to solve these problems!  If you know anyone with a dog who is suffering from extreme anxiety like Pepper’s please pass this article along to help and inspire them.

Here’s a link to dog trainer John Visconti’s website.

4 Responses to Dealing with Dog Anxiety

  1. Susanne Edwards says:

    Dealing with a dog with severe anxiety is distressing. We were taught by our vet to be vigilant during storm season. Dogs sense and hear storm systems before us and often once the cycle of anxiety starts, it becomes near impossible to stop. We sadly had to rely on Valium for our Tessa, and we had to administer it at any chance of a storm. If a Thundershirt had been around back then (Tessa passed away many years ago now) I would have tried it for sure!!

    We had tried drowning out the storm noise with music and even drawing all the curtains to keep out flashes and noise. But you can’t protect them from that “electric atmosphere” that comes with a bad storm, nor can you stop the foundations of the house having a shudder!

    Tessa’s anxiety was life threatening at times. If we didn’t give her a valium tablet in time, and the storm was a nasty one, she would be in a terrible way, pupils dilated, panting, struggling to swallow and her heart would pound out of her chest. We would have to drive her up to our vet for a injecion of sedative to prevent a heart attack.

    As an old lady she lost her hearing and calmed down a lot. Storms worried her, but with the wardrobe door open, she would sneak inside and hide until it was over, with none of her previous anxiety symptoms or any need for drugs.

    The advice about putting the Thundershirt on outside of stress times is a good one.

    Let’s hope many dogs benefit from this simple and drug free comforter.

  2. zoe says:

    Sounds like a serious case like Pepper in the article above. The Thundershirts are really making a difference for so many dogs. Unfortunately they aren’t the sliver bullet for every dog though. Thanks for your comment Susanne. Just curious.. just how many dogs have you lived with & loved?

    • Susanne Edwards says:


      You asked.. so here goes… the dogs I have lived with & loved…

      Duke, from Battersea Dogs home – A german shepherd, whippet, Labrador mix and the gentlest and most sweet dog we have ever shared our lives with. We miss him still, after all these years since he died.

      Haddles – a puppy farm dog, but luckily turned out just fine considering he was a golden English cocker spaniel (known for the rage gene). I cannot believe Puppy farming still goes on, I see the puppies at the pet shops here and wonder “do the public think this is okay, really??”

      Tessa – My Mum adopted her from the RSPCA, when my Mum passed away she came to live with us. Already a bit highly strung, the separation anxiety she suffered loosing my Mum was awful. But she had a great long life and one day decided she’d live with hubby’s folks, who lived opposite. She just refused to come home after another great day with the Grandparents, so there she stayed. Of course we saw her every day.

      Riley – Not my dog, but I was his dog minder for a number of years. The cutest little Border Terrier and Duke’s best buddy. Lot’s of fond memories there :o)

      Max – hubby’s folks dog. He was pretty old when they rescued him form horrible circumstances (Via the Cocker Spaniel Rescue Society) He was a golden English Cocker Spaniel. He didn’t know what toys were about and didn’t know how to be affectionate. Alan’s folks quickly changed all that and he became a cuddly bear. He lost his sight and went on to suffer fits, but they took care of his every need and he died last year :o( We loved him very much. Sadly, at 79, Max will be their last dog :o(

      Merlin – A Brittany, a hunt, point, retrieve gun dog. He is a total sweetie in so many ways, but a nightmare in a couple areas of life. But, we love him and will maintain a sense of humor and will keep working on him! He is now 5.

      Budleigh, or Buddles – A black English Cocker Spaniel. We had only been in Australia about 5 weeks (Merlin had just come out of quarantine). I sent Hubby to the vet to buy some food for our cats, he came home with the food and an eleven month old dog with a poorly knee. The knee is healed and “so-so”, and life would not be as much fun as it is now without him :o)

      So there you have it, not that many compared to some folks we know.

      What about you?

  3. zoe says:

    What a menagerie! I wasn’t allowed a dog when I was very small so I had to make due with canine buddies in the hood: Hank the GIANT St. Bernard, Sheba the Husky mix, Sky the Beagle, Pippin the little Black Maltese and Corby the Rottie. Then when we were a bit older we were finally given the choice: a trip to Disney World or a dog. A crazy Springer Spaniel named Snooper won out! He stole neighbourhood chickens, bit my younger cousin, growled at anyone who came near my bed, had to be fed once piece of kibble at a time by hand as he was very finicky. And i LOVED him! It’s really a shame my parents didn’t know enough about dogs to realise he had to be properly trained or he would have travelled a much smoother road. They were of the tie a dog out during the day and give him a bowl of kibble twice and she’ll be right sort of mentality. Oh well!

    And then… many interesting years of transient life later… Pluto! What a difference having a properly trained dog makes. Well… mostly properly trained! : ) She is the great canine love of our lives to date.

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