Many of you already know Ramona's story. Ramona is my 8 year old, 25lb terrier mix. I adopted her from the Hawaiian Humane Society 4 years ago, and they told me she had a history of showing up at the shelter at least once or twice a year for her entire life. At the time I had hardly any experience with dogs, and I thought her shaking, whining when we walked away from her cage, and super lovey, cuddly behavior were just charming. Now I know those are typical manifestations of a dog with anxiety problems, and lo and behold, my difficult life with Ramona had begun.
Our first few months together were amazing. I was a teacher at the time, and on summer break. Ramona came everywhere with me! She "didn't like" being left home alone, so I just caved in and took her along. She was extremely trainable, and very well-behaved in public places, so it was easy. But once school started up again, Ramona had no choice but to be left home alone during the day. We had tried crate training, deconditioning, videotaping, confidence boosters like obedience and agility training, and even medications as severe as prozac and zoloft. Nothing worked. Ramona had the most severe separation anxiety, thunderstorm anxiety, firework anxiety, and loud airplane noise anxiety all of our trainers had ever seen.When she was triggered (by a loud noise, or being home alone), she would shake, pant, and drool severely. She'd bark and whine nonstop, and would claw and bite at any exit to try and escape. In a year she destroyed 3 crates (2 hard plastic, one metal), 2 windows, one front door, and her teeth in the process. She even learned to open doorknobs with her mouth! I remember coming home the day she tore a hole in the front door. The carpeting had been pulled up and she had dug at the floor in front of the door to the point that you could see the dirt under the house. The floor was covered in wood and there was a 1'x1' hole right through the bottom of the front door. Luckily a neighbor caught Ramona and called me, or she probably would have run far away and been back in the Humane Society yet again.
4 years later, we have come a long way. I wish I could say definitively what helped Ramona, but I think it was a combination of things that lead to a basic trust between us. We did hours and hours of training, and I think it was that devotion and bond that helped her finally realize that when I left her at home, I would come back. She still doesn't like when I leave her at home, and she will sometimes regress and claw at the floor near the door, but we haven't had any major issues in a long time.
She is still a very anxious dog, though, and after going through so much with her, I'm always looking for new products that will help other people who are going through the same doggy madness. Cue the topic of this blog:
Thundershirts are a company in Durham, NC who makes a special type of doggy shirt that is based on the principles of T-Touch. Basically, it provides pressure around the dog's middle area in a way that's supposed to help calm the dog down. I got a bunch of them in and took one home to try out with Ramona. I figured that if it works on her, it will work on most anxious dogs, right?
On my way home I stopped by a friend's house. My friend has two crazy pit mixes, amazing and beautiful dogs, very active, full of fun. We put the Thundershirt on one of her dogs (Peek-a-Boo) and in minutes, Peeks had calmed down, stopped jumping on visitors, and stopped chasing the other dog around. I was amazed! I had not expected it to be instantaneous like that!
Today Ramona came to BONeJOUR with me, and it was a yucky, rainy, muggy day. Usually rain scares Ramona because she associates it with thunderstorms, so I was prepared for her sitting and shaking behind the cash register with me. I put the Thundershirt on her and I definitely noticed an improvement in the anxious behaviors - they weren't erased like they had been with Peek-a-Boo the night before, but they were definitely less than I was used to. And when you've been through as much with a dog as I have with Ramona, you take what you can get.
So, in my opinion, the Thundershirt really works! I'm definitely going to keep using it with Ramona, and when my friend saw what an amazing job it did with Peek-a-Boo, she said she wanted to come by and pick one up as well! We have them in sizes XS-XL, and in grey, and rugby blue.
(Thanks, Peek-a-Boo, for modeling the grey Thundershirt for us! Look how nicely she's sitting!)