Melatonin + ThunderShirt = Better 4th for Your Fearful Dog

My dogs make it through the 4th of July with the selective use of Melatonin and a ThunderShirt. I suggest you use them too if you have noise phobic dogs.

Dublin gets a Frisbee workout in his ThunderShirt.

I’ve already discussed Melatonin before on the blog and I’ve documented my experience and dosing information later in this post, so I’d like to start off with the ThunderShirt.  It’s one of those things that sounds like woo-science and an expensive gimmick that probably won’t work and you’ll just be too afraid to take it back after it proves ineffective.  Being a skeptic and a general curmudgeon, it’d give me much pleasure to tell you all that the swaddling compression shirt is a big scam and not to waste your $40.  But I think it’s actually an effective tool, I’ve seen it work on my own dogs, and enough of my dog sport friends report very positive results with it that I feel no trepidation in recommending you give it a shot.

The basic theory (and again, getting hard science on this is going to be difficult making worries of woo all the stronger) is that compression helps with anxiety just like swaddling a child, the comforting fully body hug Temple Grandin speaks of as effective for some Autistic people, the radical hug therapies, compression garments worn by burn victims and athletes, and even massage therapy techniques.

Let me make it clear that unlike the bogus claims of some skeptics, the goal and proper use of the shirt is not to overly restrict your dog’s movement.  As you can see above in the photo and below in the video, Dublin does just fine running and catching a Frisbee in his ThunderShirt which I put on him in case the passing storm turned around or we caught the tail end of a strike while we were out at the park playing.

Some animals respond to the compression by not moving much at all and there’s a funny video of a cat that just shuts down and refuses to move when wearing a shirt that is obviously several sizes too small for his cat.  But I’ve seen this behavior in dogs with as little as adding booties to their feet to allow better traction for Frisbee demos on hardwood arena floors.  No one would suggest that little dog booties are overly restrictive on the dog’s movement, but the dog protested by not wanting to move at all.



The goal is not to strangle or incapacitate your dog, it’s a compression vest not a straight jacket and if sized correctly it does not bind the limbs or joints at all.  In fact if there is a possibility to do harm with the jacket, it’s most certainly in using one that is the wrong size and applied too tightly which could pinch off blood supply or nerves to the extremities, much like wrapping vet-wrap too tightly on a dog’s limbs.  Don’t do that, you don’t want to harm your dog while trying to help it.

What I notice when using the ThunderShirt is that the dogs are initially reticent to move about excessively and yet they are not in pain or desirous to remove the garment. They’re fully able to try to remove it themselves if they don’t like it, and yet I’ve never had them try.  Nor will they destroy it when it’s left about (which is what they do to things they don’t enjoy like the hair brush or the nail clippers… those things get buried in the yard or chewed to pieces.  Rather, the dogs enjoy the shirt and will come up and paw for it when I get it out.

Within a few seconds of the shirt being on, the dogs chill out, get a little Zen and are just not highly reactive or anxious.  To me, a single $40 investment to help take the edge off during desensitization training has been well worth the money and the product is nicely made and has lasted several years and through a few wash cycles (mostly when I take it out to the park and the dogs fund a mud puddle to cool off in).

Severe thunder and fire works anxiety is a major problem for dogs during the 4th of July holiday.  More dogs are lost today than any other day of the year, by far.  Don’t let your dog become a statistic, and don’t let them continue to suffer from the common problem of noise phobia.  There are no miracle solutions, no singe pill or product or trick that will obviate the issue instantly and permanently.  It will take work on your part.  But there are some things you should try that are cheap, easy, and worth decreasing or eliminating the panic some dogs develop over the loud noises this time of year.

I recommend Melatonin and the use of a ThunderShirt based on my own experience of satisfactory efficacy of both products in treating my own dogs’ noise phobia. I don’t get paid by any Melatonin manufacturer or the makers of the ThunderShirt, I offer this advice only because I’ve seen these two products work on my own dogs.

The brain is the least understood organ in humans, dogs, and all animals. We don’t have a robust understanding of how it works and why many treatments for neurological disorders and conditions work.  A lot of it is basically guess and check and stumbling on drugs that alter brain chemistry, usually with rather negative side effects.  There is no cure for anxiety and depression, there are only treatments that work o.k. for some people, and some dogs.

It’s already too late to employ desensitization techniques for today’s fireworks, but you can use today as your first lesson.  I’d recommend tiring your dog out this afternoon before the big fireworks start, getting some high value treats like bacon, liverwurst, cheese or peanut butter and when the bombs go off, start treating your dog to associate the sound of the explosion with the treat, much like you “charge the clicker” when first starting clicker training.  There are 100 videos on youtube and any dog trainer worth their salt should be able to walk you through desensitizing your dog to the sound of the doorbell or other dogs barking or even thunder and lightning (although those are a bit harder because reproducing those sounds convincingly takes a hell of a sound system).

So if your dog panics during summer storms or fireworks celebrations, book your appointment now for a trainer to help you with the rather straightforward techniques.

But since it’s already the 4th and training takes TIME to work, try Melatonin now.

Melatonin is a natural hormone found in all living things and an antioxidant with very little risk of overdose.  I reviewed the literature and could not find a harmful effect of overdose.  Contact your Veterinarian for the right dose for your dog, but I’ve found 3mg effective for my 45 pound dogs.   Searching the internet seems to suggest does around 1mg per 10 pounds of up to 3x per day with a max of 6mg per dose even for dogs over 100 lbs.

Studies show that Melatonin is rapidly absorbed and reaches its maximum concentration in the blood between 20 and 30 minutes after dosing and has an elimination half life of 5 hours, so it can be given minutes to hours before a storm/fireworks show.

Melatonin is NOT a sedative, you won’t have a woozy or knocked out dog as a result.  Some Vets recommend Benedryl to act as a mild sedative but I’ve not tried this or found it necessary.

Other drugs which treat mood disorders and noise phobia require weeks of daily dosing to reach appropriate and efficacious levels in the body. Melatonin does not. You do not need to put your dog on it long term or pre-dose days before the storms or fireworks.  While it’d be optimal to dose in advance of the storm, I’ve noticed calming effects within a few minutes of a dose.  The cheap and readily available 3mg pills (the typical human dose for sleep and stress relief) are easy enough to pop down the dog’s throat or hide in a treat and it does come in liquid form which can be given under the tongue. Just be sure that there’s no sweetener like xylitol in the liquid form as that is toxic to dogs.

Most every grocery or vitamin store carries it for cheap, so pick up some when you run out for last minute barbecue items for your 4th of July celebration.

And no, I don’t own stock in a Melatonin company, and I’m hardly a pill pusher. I’ve just seen Melatonin work a miracle first hand.

Growing up, I lived less than a mile from a country club that hosted a fireworks display every year that is known for low-shot mortars that burst right overhead, and knock the wind out of you with every burst. The rich know how to party.

The best viewing for this yearly show for those of us who mow our own lawns is the elementary school parking lot half-way between home and the club. If the wind is right, the spent shells of the mortars will actually land in the lot, bringing a cloud of sulfur with them.

The tangible proximity and explosive percussion make for great entertainment, but whether we went to the show or not, the dogs never enjoyed the evening. What started as mild discomfort and hiding–that was easy to overlook or consider problematic–grew each year reaching full blown paranoia and panic.

Black Jack ate through this hollow core door to after busting out of his crate in the basement because of the loud local fireworks. Melatonin worked the next year to ease his anxiety greatly.

We didn’t appreciate it how bad the situation had gotten until we returned home to find that Black Jack, whom we had locked safely in the downstairs laundry room, had become so distraught at the noise that he chewed halfway through the hollow core door trying to escape.

Black Jack’s noise phobia was contagious and Bonnie Belle soon began leaving the room when people sneezed or hiding under the table when someone banged the pots pulling them out to cook dinner. These were adult dogs who hadn’t displayed the level of fear they had grown into during their early years.

We found Melatonin and never had an incident again. The first summer both dogs were aware of storms and fireworks, but quickly dropped their fear response, and during the next 4th of July we all watched the fireworks from our back yard without so much as a whimper.

With the current pack of dogs, I’ve used it selectively and prophylactically to cut possible noise phobia before it started, and it even helped me desensitize them to the new doorbell sound.

I recommend it highly, so ask your veterinarian about it. The all mighty google suggests that an appropriate dose for a small dog is 1/2 to 1 mg and 3 to 9 mg for larger dogs (25lbs+). Published studies showed no ill effects with amounts between 10-80 mg per kg of dog weight, MANY times the levels that appear effective for easing phobias.

Fast, effective, and safe. Do your dog a favor and give it a try. Save your laundry room doors from wanton predation!


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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.