How to Ease Dog's Fireworks Freakout

Thundershirt provides gentle pressure to ease dogs' fireworks anxiety

June 27, 2012, 4:51 PM

July 2, 2012— -- Every year around the beginning of July, Gerald and Sarah Willick find their French Bullmastiffs, who weigh a combined 235 pounds, hiding in the bathtub.

The Willicks' dogs, Bosley and Roxy, are terrified of fireworks.

"They'll be panting and then when the firework goes off they'll stop," Gerald told "They normally come up to the couch and lay down alongside the couch and alongside of us. When the fireworks get more repetitive and intense they'll actually start pacing."

That's when Bosley and Roxy work their way to the tub.

"To get them in the tub to have a bath it's almost impossible," Gerald said. "But when the fireworks are going off, they love the tub. They feel more comfortable in there."

The Willicks, from Fort Erie, Canada, get a double whammy. Their dogs head for the tub each year on July 1 when fireworks are set off to celebrate Canada Day. But because they live so close to the United States border, the Willicks have to deal with fireworks on July 4, too.

One possible solution for the Willicks could be the Thundershirt, a product for dogs that provides a dramatic calming effect with the use of gentle, constant pressure.

Phil Blizzard, the creator of the Thundershirt, had tried everything from training to sedatives to calm his golden doodle Dosi's fear of thunder and fireworks. After countless nights of Dosi keeping the family awake, Blizzard needed a new solution. A friend suggested putting a tight wrap around Dosi's chest.

"It didn't make very much sense to me," Blizzard told "But one night with a 50 pound dog on my chest, my wife was like, 'We're trying this.'

When the wrap "worked like a charm," there was no turning back for Blizzard and the Thundershirt was born. The company launched in May 2009 and has a success rate of 80 percent, Blizzard said. The shirt is made out of durable, washable fabric and comes in seven sizes at a cost of $39.95.

"We've had probably three returns and we've sold hundreds," a store employee at Friendly Paws Pet Supplies and Grooming in Athens, Ohio told

"So many dogs do suffer from anxiety, it's one of the biggest concerns people have when they come in," an employee at the The New York Dog Shop in Manhattan said.

According to a survey sponsored by Thundershirt, 13% of dogs have a significant fear of fireworks.

For some dogs, it could require two to three uses before they become comfortable with a Thundershirt, Blizzard said.

Cesar Millan, who stars in the Nat Geo WILD reality show "The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan," advises using the shirt before a dog gets too anxious. On an anxiety scale of one-to-ten, dog owners should try to use the shirt early.

"You want to catch it from zero-to-five," Millan told "If you're 5-10 you have to come out with another thing before you use the Thundershirt. They work, you just have to know how to use the tool. All tools are great you just have to learn how to use them."

Sarah Perkins, a dog owner and groomer, said the Thundershirt doesn't work if she doesn't use it early enough on her pitbull, Rucca. But when she gets it on right, the Thundershirt is a success for Rucca, who is terrified of everything from storms to car rides.

"He tries to crawl in my pocket. He is a wreck," Perkins told "He sits there and pants and tries to hide anywhere he can and shakes. If you put the shirt on him he'll lay on the bed. There is a definite difference when he has the shirt on."

But why is it that 50 pound dogs think they are lap dogs when fireworks go off?

"The ears of dogs are very sensitive," Millan told "Dogs get over stimulated often by sounds."

Dog owners often use high-pitched, loud voices to get their dog excited. That is one of the main problems with July 4, Millan said, dogs get excited by the loud fireworks. Also, when owners hug their dogs, it encourages the excitement.

Another problem is that most dogs do not get enough physical challenge. The majority of dogs in America walk an average of 15-20 minutes a day, Millan said. In order to remain calm, they need much more than that.

"A dog spends too much time behind walls without going outside to drain energy," Millan said. "Their level of frustration is so high that it will take loud sounds to have a nervous breakdown"

Millan advises to act more like a paramedic to your dog than a family member when it is freaking out over thunder or fireworks. When taking care of others, paramedics stay very calm. You staying calm is the key to your buddy staying calm.

"Dogs can pick up on your vibe," Millan said. "They are wondering why you are getting so concerned, upset, bothered. Then the sound comes and they think 'oh that's what it was.'"

For more tips on how to relax your dog, visit Millan's website. The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan returns to Nat Geo WILD for the 9thand final season on July 7th at 8 pm ET/PT.

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