COLUMBUS, Ohio --
Drake is an active border collie. He likes to go running with his owner. He also likes to leap the fence and go running on his own. When someone knocks on the door, he barks like a madman and actually begins spinning in a circle, biting at his own tail. He's loveable, even if he's a little nuts.
Winnie lives in the same house. He's a nervous little guy with wiry hair, a bum shoulder that gives him a bit of a limp and a perpetual shake. He finds most of the world a little scary and distracting. And that makes it difficult for him to learn and follow his owner's commands.
And they both like to get in the trash when their owner leaves them home alone.
Susan Bechtel is their very patient, loving owner. She's the one who has the pick up the trash from the living room and kitchen floors three to five times a week. She's done everything she can to make the dogs comfortable and make them feel secure. But she'd really like for their behavior to improve.
The Thundershirt (Thundershirt | The Best Dog Anxiety Treatment
) claims to have the solution. Its own website calls it the "Best Solution for Dog Anxiety."
The Thundershirt is, essentially, a tight-fitting, neoprene jacket for your dog. It wraps around the animal's neck and mid-section and is secured in place with Velcro straps. The wrap creates pressure without restricting the dog's movement. "Pressure has a calming effect on the nervous system," the site says. "Using pressure to relieve anxiety has been a common practice for years."
"That's like a giant, wearable hug that never ends," says the site's promotional video.
"Probably the toughest dog to train is a dog that's afraid of the world," says Scott MacConachie, a certified dog trainer and owner of K9 Ponderosa (K-9 Ponderosa Dog Training and Behavior Modification Center located in Delaware Ohio. Dog Training in Columbus, Dublin, Powell, Lewis Center, Hilliard, Gahanna, Westerville, Grove City. Dog training in Ohio
) in Delaware. He says our pets are just "designer wolves" that have the same pack mentality as their undomesticated cousins. He often uses his own pack of "balanced dogs" to help heal issues with problem pooches.
His own dogs are trained to flip light switches and even retrieve the mail from a closed mailbox.
NBC4 took the Thundershirt to him for a few tests.
"I think it has some validity. Dogs do like compression," MacConachie says. "But I don't think it's going to cure a dog that's fearful of the world or a dog that has real fear or anxiety issues."
As MacConachie gave commands to Winnie in the K9 Ponderosa facility, the dog seemed to understand, but was too nervous to stay in a sit or down position. He would bounce up and down, unable to stay still or concentrate. When told to walk or heel, Winnie would break into a near run.
Then he was strapped into a Thundershirt. The straps needed to be adjusted a few times to give his troubled shoulder some support. But MacConachie and Winnie's owner, Susan Bechtel, noticed an immediate change in his behavior. Almost instantly, the dog was less anxious and he was able to concentrate.
"This is different," noticed MacConachie with a bit of surprise. "And now, he is listening and he is doing the commands and he is being more patient."
The dog stayed in a sit position. He stayed in a down position. He walked more slowly and confidently.
"He's never really held his commands like he just did. So there is something to be said about that."
"I'm seeing a very calm dog compared to when we first walked in," said Susan once Winnie was sitting on her lap again. The dog was nearly falling asleep in her arms. That never happened before the Thundershirt.
The trash was strewn around Susan's house again as an NBC4 crew walked in the kitchen door with her. Drake and Johnny were the culprits.
"Unless I put a chair in front of the garbage can, the dogs will make a mess like this," she said while putting wrappers and cups back in a plastic bag.
MacConachie stepped outside and knocked on the door. The dogs began barking. Drake jumped up on his hind legs to paw at the door and then jumped to the middle of the kitchen to practice is own bizarre, spinning-and-chasing-his-tail ritual.
Drake was then strapped into a large-sized Thundershirt. Like Winnie, his behavior and demeanor changed almost instantly.
When another knock came at the door, Drake slowly wandered over to the door without barking. And then turned and walked away as the other dogs continued barking.
"That is amazing. That is unbelievable," remarked Susan. "He's not spinning."
"He's not even barking or jumping," noted MacConachie.
"I would love for him to wear this all the time. He's a new dog," she said.
When asked if, in his experience, if it was unusual for a dog's behavior change so quickly, MacConachie said it was. Sort of.
"It's unusual, yes," he said. "I'm not going to say that it's going to change the world, but it definitely made a difference."
Every dog's situation and psyche is different. They are as individual as humans. And not every solution works for every animal. The Thundershirt's own website only claims 80-percent success. But the tests conducted by NBC4 certainly seemed successful.