Keeping dogs calm during storms: Does the Thundershirt really work?

We put the Thundershirt to the test

TULSA - "He's calm 99 percent of the time, as soon as thunder starts he goes nuts!" said dog owner Austin Keeney.

Keeney's four-legged friend, Rowdy, is the perfect volunteer to try out a product that claims to be "the best solution for dog anxiety."

It's called a Thundershirt and it wasn't hard to find three dog owners willing to put it to the test.

"Essentially if the storm starts at 3 a.m., we're awake at 3 a.m.," said Keeney when describing how Rowdy acts during storms.  

Melissa Lancaster's dog, Joker, is also terrified of thunderstorms.

"He jumps on our bed and lays on my head on the pillow, tries to wake me up because he wants us to hold him," said Lancaster. 

"He comes to the door and starts scratching and shaking and it's very visible that he's upset," said Leslie McKinney, when describing her dog, Moses.

We sent the Thundershirts home with the owners to try during some of Green Country's spring storms. 

In the meantime, we called upon veterinarian Dr. Joe Landers to weigh in.

"What it does is it just comforts them a little bit," he said.  

Landers has seen the Thundershirt and has even recommended something like it to a few of his patients. He said the idea is similar to swaddling a baby. But he said it's not a sure fix.

"Overall, I think it's about a 50 percent shot at the mild dogs," said Landers.  

For those dogs it doesn't work on, Landers has some advice. First though, let's see what our volunteers found.

"I think timing of it is probably the most important part of the whole thing," said Keeney.  

He said he made the mistake of waiting until after the storm arrived to put the Thundershirt on Rowdy; therefore, it didn't seem to make much of a difference in his demeanor. 

Keeney said Rowdy still woke them up in the middle of the night by jumping on their bed and panting.  

"I think we need to put it on him before storms get here in advance, half hour in advance to get him acclimated," he said. 

McKinney's dog, Moses, had a much better experience. During a storm, she said Moses usually shakes and hides under a table, but once she put on the Thundershirt, Moses became much more calm and actually fell asleep.

"I would definitely recommend it. I think this summer when we have fireworks at the park, I think it will be a big help for (Moses). Those scare him really bad," said McKinney.  

Our third volunteer, Joker, paces a lot during storms. His owner said with the Thundershirt on his pacing nearly stopped.

"He kind of would just sit in one spot, he wouldn't lay down at first but he would stand in one spot not pacing as much," said Lancaster.  

Landers says for dogs with severe storm anxiety, medication may be the best option, but before that he says to try something else.

"No. 1 deal is to not coddle them, not to say it's OK, because they'll think that's positive reinforcement. But instead bring them to you and hold them. A lot of times that's all it will take," said Landers.

Overall, in our unscientific test, opinions about the Thundershirt were mixed. But all three owners agreed, it works best when put on before the storm arrives. 

The shirt retails for around $40 and can be bought online and at several local pet stores. It's available in multiple sizes to accommodate all dog types.

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