Archive for the ‘Alternative treatments for fearful dogs’ Category

Just Say “I’ll Think About It”

vintage image of pharmacist with death in the background

Concern about the use of drugs is not new

In the 80’s there was a campaign to keep kids off of drugs and the mantra was “just say no to drugs.”  I thought the better advice to give kids about what they should or shouldn’t do when it came to their physical and mental health was “just say I’ll think about it.” I would apply the same advice to people with fearful dogs and the consideration of behavioral medications. Think about it.

It’s not easy to think, really think about whether or not to consult with a vet about behavioral medications that could help our dogs by lowering the level of anxiety and stress many are experiencing on a daily basis. We leave important pieces of information out, specifically the very real risk of NOT using medications to address anxiety in our dogs. We tend to put a lot of weight on the possible side-effects of medications and fail to consider the impact chronic stress and anxiety has on our dogs’ health and quality of life. We have a knee-jerk distrust of big pharma which we consider is out to suck our wallets dry by selling us unnecessary meds and hold the marketers of sugar pills and unregulated and untested remedies in high esteem.

It’s difficult to acknowledge and assess the baggage that we carry in regard to the use of behavioral medications, for people or dogs. For many of us it’s about how their use makes us feel. It feels not quite right to us and we come up with excuses and reasons to justify those feelings. Meds are a cop-out. If only we did something else they wouldn’t be needed, and we just need to figure out what that something else entails. They are an indication of laziness on our part. The need for meds means we failed our dog, we weren’t good enough. Few of us are willing to accept that and so we keep looking for alternatives that will make us feel more successful.

The other problem we run into is that we put more merit into anecdotal information about untested or unproven remedies than we do into the data and research available regarding the efficacy of meds. Someone’s cousin’s dog was put on an anti-depressant and their behavior got worse. If we are reluctant about using meds we will latch onto this information like a tick on a warm body. With no other information other than that statement we will write off meds as an option for our dogs. If someone’s sister’s best friend used a homeopathic remedy and saw improvement in their dog we’ll race out to the local shop to buy some. And this is where our thinking is cloudy.

In any group of dogs, some will get better and some will get worse whether we do anything specific or not. If a dog who was likely to get better is also given a magic potion (many of the products that are available have never been tested let alone shown to be more effective than a placebo) you can guess what will be credited with their improvement–the potion. I would surmise that when we start to think about how to help our dogs we are often changing more about how they are handled and managed than simply adding a few drops of something or other to their water bowl. We are likely increasing the odds of them improving because of these changes in management, and the drops are credited for it.

Two years ago my border collie Finn was diagnosed with lymphoma. I did some online searching for information and met with an oncologist. The prognosis for this disease if left untreated isn’t simply not great, it’s bad. But there is a well established protocol of chemotherapy that could increase his chances of surviving beyond the time the disease would kill him. Given all the factors; the type of cancer, his otherwise good condition, his age, the availability of treatment, credit cards, etc., we decided to treat him. He’s still with us (and even I can’t resist superstitious thought-touch wood). Don’t feel bad about the struggle to think critically about the use of traditional medicine to help our dogs, Even smart guys have a hard time with it.

If you enjoy thinking about the best ways to live with and train dogs you might enjoy my latest book Does My Dog Need Prozac?

Climb Aboard?

circus wagon with dog cartoon in itI haven’t been involved in the dog training field as long as some, but it’s been long enough to observe that we are as prone as the next person to hitch rides on bandwagons as they go through town.

Our interest in the latest new thing is at once a good thing, possibly benign or potentially dangerous. If someone wants to spend weeks seeing if they can teach their dog to ring the doorbell by demonstrating the behavior and hoping their dog will imitate it, unless being able to ring the doorbell is an important skill the dog needs to have, I figure they can knock themselves out and see what happens. But if someone has a new dog in their home and housetraining is an issue, I’d suggest that not only is time of the essence (pooping and peeing in the house is a surefire way to get a dog returned to the shelter), I’m not so thrilled with the prospect of having to explain to an owner how they will implement an imitation-based protocol for this one.

Sometimes we behave less like the general population in regard to jumping on bandwagons than we do like someone heading to the Bahamas in 3 weeks who wants to lose 30lbs. Eating only tuna fish and grapefruit juice may “work” but we know that it’s not healthy and not likely to lead to long-term weight loss. There is no end to the diets one can try and apparently are working for some. Some of those diets may even claim to offer behind the scenes kinds of benefits, increased metabolism, happier brain chemistry, you name it. They may even offer all kinds of “evidence” supporting their claim. But the bottom-line remains that when it comes to losing weight the formula is simple (though not easy to follow) it’s about calories, eat fewer, burn more. Any diet based on this formula is likely to be successful.

Learning to be discriminating and thoughtful when it comes to how we train dogs, especially those with life-threatening behavior challenges (i.e., the dog will be relinquished to a shelter or euthanized) is important. Sometimes by the time we find which sh*t is going to stick to the wall the owner’s patience and the dog’s time is up. Or we subject a dog to a life of chronic suffering.

Jean Donaldson will be featured in this upcoming webinar on the importance of standard operating procedures in the dog training industry. Creativity and innovation can be wonderful things, but it’s helpful to be able to know how to kick the tires on that bandwagon before you climb onboard.

Because Why?

I don’t want to come across as someone who trolls the internet looking for other people’s websites, blog posts or videos to criticize. More often I try to ignore most of it. Sometimes it lands in my lap. The link to the video included in this post was shared with me by the manufacturers of a new product designed to eliminate anxiety in dogs. I understand why they’d send it to me and I’m always happy to learn about new products to help the population of dogs I care a lot about.

The first image in the commercial for a calming coat is of a trembling, scared chihuahua used as an example of the dogs the product can help. I understand why they’d do this, but I had to work to not start getting pissed off about it. Princeton is not just feeling camera shy, Princeton is scared. I get it. We all get it. While we’re getting it, and they’re getting footage, Princeton is scared. Why is it ok to scare a dog in order to sell a product? We don’t push old ladies down a  flight of stairs in order to film a commercial for a distress call product to use after they’ve fallen and can’t get up. We don’t sneeze on people to give them the flu so we can get shots of them for a nighttime flu-relief medicine. But for some reason it’s ok to put a dog in a situation that scares them so we can get the images we need, to sell something. Even if what is being sold is of value–people have been using wraps, ace bandages and tight T-shirts on dogs for years to help with anxiety–it only seems to lessen the disrespect for the victim (the real-life animal actor) slightly in my mind.

As the commercial continues a claim is made that the product works because it “simulates a mother dog holding its young.” Seriously? Have they ever seen a litter of puppies being held by their mother? I know that we live in a world in which one can say practically anything they want about dogs and be believed, but this is creepily Orwellian. The myths that dogs need pack leaders, feel shame after peeing on the rug, you should correct dogs by grabbing their muzzle because that’s what mothers do, have just been joined by “mother dogs hold their puppies.” In internet-speak my response is WTF?

I also take umbrage with the assertion that dogs who need daily medications or treatments will no longer need them if they wear the coat. Body wraps do not work for all dogs. If they do, fantastic. If they don’t, it’s better for a dog to remain on daily medications and treatments that are working. My comment (which has since been removed) on their youtube page did not question the efficacy of their product, but rather the claim as to why it worked. I mean come on, “hold its young.”

I asked them to provide me documentation regarding this assertion. I was told that it was tested and veterinarian-approved. OK, that’s great, I don’t want that test info or the names of the veterinarians who have approved it, I wanted to know where they got the information that young dogs are soothed by being held by their mothers. Bottom-line is that there is information out there that supports the use of compression for ramping down nervous systems. With a little homework they could have found it but instead resort to the all-too-common tactic of “making sh*t up about dogs.”

I notice that they didn’t use Princeton as an example of their product working its magic. Though he appears later in the commercial notice his tightly tucked tail, one of the easiest pieces of body language there is to judge how comfortable a dog is. Unless when being held by their mothers puppies also tuck their tails (I just made that sh*t up). The company sent me info about their product and my feedback to them has simply been met with repeated claims that research proves it works. My issue with their advertising is not that their product doesn’t work, but their claim regarding WHY it does.

People should stop thinking they can keep making sh*t  up about dogs and it’s ok.

*Thanks to a reader for pointing out that one of the dogs has an electronic collar on. Aversives are contraindicated for anxiety.

Webinar-Medications To Treat Fear Based Behavior Challenges

Yes, yes I know, people use too many drugs. People think drugs are the solution to everything. Drugs have side effects. I won’t dispute any of those statements, but at the same time drugs can save lives and the side effects of some conditions are worse than the possible side effects of some drugs.

Being scared is no way to live.

Being scared is no way to live.

The reasoning that one should try alternatives to drugs first, makes sense, sometimes. But sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes we should address a disease or condition immediately with drugs. Delaying treatment can allow the problem to get worse, making it more difficult to treat with or without the recommended medication. This doesn’t mean that we should use medications as a first choice in all situations, but sometimes the dog would be better off if we did. In the case of fearful dogs, the sooner we can get a dog to perform new, appropriate behaviors, and reinforce them, the sooner we’ll be able to help them gain skills for being more comfortable in their world. Often medications can help facilitate this process.

Understanding how medications can help a dog with fears, phobias and/or anxiety is key to the process of deciding whether to use them or not. I hope you can join me for this live webinar with Linda Aronson DVM. Dr. Aronson is currently lecturing at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. We will talk about the medications available to help our dogs, how they work, how they should be used, possible side-effects and there will be time for questions.

You can register and find out more information here.

Happy New Year!

3 happy dogs facing the cameraI am grateful to all of you for your continued readership. Your comments and feedback provide me with the reinforcement I need to continue to learn and share information about how we can make life easier and better for our beloved, anxious and fearful dogs.

As a pragmatic New Englander whose views on life & the universe were tempered by years of living in northern California I am able to admit that with this work I feel I have found my calling or bliss, take your pick. It certainly took long enough!

In lieu of resolutions, the following are the ideas I have, in varying stages of development, for 2013 and beyond.

1. Fearful Dogs’ Blog- keep posting!

2. Get more people to ‘like’ the Facebook page. I want more people to have access to information about how fearful dogs learn and Facebook seems to be a good vehicle for that. Plus, I confess, I am envious of people who have thousands of ‘likes’.

3. Publish Does My Dog Need Prozac?, a collection of posts from this blog. It is currently being edited!

4. Continue writing the next book on my list detailing the steps that can be taken, from first meeting to rehoming, to help fearful dogs become happy pets. It will pick up where A Guide To Living With & Training A Fearful Dog leaves off.

5. Offer high quality webinars for people learning to handle fearful dogs. The first one is scheduled for February 19, 2013! I will be joined by Dr. Linda Aronson who will talk about the use of behavioral medications to help dogs suffering from fear, phobias and anxiety. Pretty darn excited about this one.

6. Be available for seminars and presentations about fear based behavior challenges. I am especially interested in getting information out to pet owners, foster care givers, rescue groups and shelters. I know that the information I share will increase the chances of adoption success for many fearful dogs.

7. Create a fun and informative program about animal training and behavior for our local community access television station. I’ve got the go-ahead from the station and have lined up some fabulous folks for interviews.

8. Travel to Puerto Rico with a group of trainers and dog lovers to share information about reward based training methods. I’ve made more progress with this after speaking at an animal protection symposium in San Juan. Any readers in Puerto Rico who are interested in helping with this, let me know!

9. Publish A Guide To Living With & Training A Fearful Dog in Spanish and German. Translations are on their way!

10. Don’t start smoking, drinking too much or making a habit of eating maple walnut pie for breakfast.

11. Late breaking opportunity! I have been invited to host a radio show about dogs.

I have also set-up a page where you can purchase a discounted hard copy of A Guide To Living With & Training A Fearful Dog. It will be live until January 31, 2013. Happy New Year to you and yours!

The Belly Button Rule

blond haired baby smiling in bathtub

Creating positive associations with water in a safe place

When I was a young child and our family visited a body of water to swim in my parents instituted the the belly button rule. The older, more proficient swimmers could swim out to rafts in the middle of the lake or play in the waves, but the little kids could go no deeper than their belly buttons. If we lost our footing we would be safe and it was deep enough for us to pretend to be swimming. With our hands on the bottom of the lake we could kick our feet, put our faces in the water, blow bubbles, all the skills that one needs in order to swim, for real.

People living with fearful, shy or reactive dogs are often reluctant to limit their dog’s opportunity to go out into the world, for walks or car rides because they feel as though they are depriving their dog of exercise or variety. It’s thoughtful to take a dog’s needs in these areas into consideration, but not if they routinely end up over their belly buttons and have a bad experience because of it.

I remember wanting so badly to be able to swim with the big kids. My father shot Super 8 movies of me putting my entire face into the water and then coming up, wiping the hair and water from my eyes triumphantly. This was a milestone enroute to becoming a swimmer. My parents did not feel guilty that they were limiting my exposure to deeper water. They did not impede my ability to learn when they called me in when I went too deep or my lips turned blue and my fingers wrinkled.

Until a dog has the skills to come into contact with the things that cause them to react negatively, don’t risk them getting in over their heads. I didn’t have to almost drown to learn to learn to swim.

Give them a break

dog being massagedWhen I volunteered at our local shelter and ran a ‘working with the dogs’ orientation for new volunteers, one of the suggestions I made was to give dogs a break. When most people volunteer at a shelter they usually think in terms of walking or playing with the animals. Both are wonderful things to do, but along with exercise and stimulation, animals living in shelters often need the chance for some down time. A dog spending all day alone in a kennel may look like it’s relaxing but often they are experiencing high levels of stress.

Instead of going out for a walk, why not find a quiet room where you can sit with a dog or cat. Give the animal time to settle into the space, this may take a few minutes while they sort out what’s going on. Get comfortable and invite the animal onto your lap or sit on the floor while gently and calmly stroking them and speaking quietly to them. Look for indications they are decompressing. Some will sigh, lie down, even close their eyes. Gentle massage or TTouch can be soothing as well.

The opportunity to have a break from a cage or kennel run, doing what we hope our shelter animals will end up doing, spending quality time with a human, is a gift we can afford to give them.

This post was written for Blog-a-thon 2011 to help raise money for homeless animals at the Nebraska Humane Society. Click here to donate!

Free music to calm your dog

image of through a dog's ear CD caseThis is true- my 5-CD player is currently filled with 5 CDs of Through A Dog’s Ear.

From the Through A Dog’s Ear website

“The music of Through a Dog’s Ear builds on the ground breaking psychoacoustic research of Dr. Alfred Tomatis (1920-2001). Known as the “Einstein of the ear,” Tomatis discovered the extraordinary powers of sound as a “nutrient for the nervous system.” His therapeutic discoveries redefine modern psychoacoustics — the study of the effect of music and sound on the human nervous system.

These recordings are psychoacoustically designed to support you and your dog’s compromised immune or nervous system function. When the immune or nervous system is heavily taxed, a natural reaction is to self-limit the amount of auditory or visual stimulation coming into the system. However, the “nutrients” of sound are needed the most when life energy is at a low ebb or when neurodevelopmental (including sensory) issues are present. To facilitate maximum sound intake while conserving energy output, the method of simple sound has been created.”

This week as a gift to you and your dog you can download a new piece of music each day. Don’t miss out, each piece is only available on one day. Get your free download. And as if that wasn’t enough, Lisa Spector and the folks who produce Through A Dog’s Ear, provide free CDs to shelters and approved rescue groups.

If you have never listened to, enjoyed and watched your dogs snooze to Through A Dog’s Ear, now’s your chance to check out this fabulous resource.

Ahhhh That Smells Good

Dog at shelterStudies have shown that scents affect us in different ways, some make us scrunch up our noses and hurry away, others have us closing our eyes and taking in a deep breath in order to experience an aroma more fully. Scents can call up past experiences or emotions in our minds, in some cases more powerfully than words or images.

This week guest blogger is Anna Bettina Johnson. Anna is a Holistic Canine Practitioner, Nutritionist, and +R Trainer in Salt Lake City, UT who uses a variety of different approaches to help dogs feel and behave better. You can follow her on tweeter @HappyHealthyPup

A Holistic Approach to Fear

Knowing what to do for our fearful dogs isn’t always easy, as a professional, I always encourage people to ‘take a look at the big picture’ and set their pup up for success by ensuring their mental, physical and emotional needs are allowed to flourish. In the coming weeks here on the Fearful Dogs Blog I will address just a few of the holistic approaches I take with fearful dogs. These approaches will already assume that you have:

Taken your dog for a full physical and received a clean bill of health from your vet?

Contacted a Positive Reinforcement trainer or are using positive methods yourself?

In aromatherapy, specific essential oils are blended in a neutral base, i.e. water or oil. Essential oils, the pure essence of a plant, have been found to provide both psychological and physical benefits when used correctly. I often will use aromatherapy in conjunction with flower essences. I have found these two therapies to have the greatest results. Aromatherapy requires a little more caution on your part, two things we always recommend:
~ Do not use around cats. If you’re using a spray on your dog, be sure to spray in a room away from the cats, and not on a surface they generally walk on, as they can walk over the residue and ingest it when grooming themselves. If need be, you may spray a bandanna outside and then come indoors and tie it on your dog.
~ Let your dog choose the scent. With any new essential oil, open the bottle several feet from your dog and watch to see if he approaches it. If he turns his head, walks away or shows any of his normal stress indicators, do not use the oil. Also, please do your research before using a new oil, some oils are dangerous around animals, those include oils such as Clove, Juniper or Yarrow. Make sure all the oils you use are therapeutic grade oils.
Some of our favorite blends
We use sprays most often, so we have included our personal recipe for each. Sprays can used in the air, directly above or on your pup and also on things like bedding, collars, bandannas, etc. I also use the spray on myself before working with a very fearful or agitated dog, this helps him have a greater sense of calmness around myself, but also helps me step into the right frame of mind for working with him.

Tangerine & Marjoram: This blend has an almost sedative effect, great for animals with extreme emotional outbursts. Spray: 2oz. Distilled water, 10 drops Tangerine, 8 drops Marjoram.
Lavender, Sweet Orange, & Neroli: This blend is very reassuring and calming, helping to relax and comfort fearful dogs. Spray: 2oz. Distilled water, 8 drops lavender, 6-8 drops orange, 2 drops Neroli Lavender & Roman Chamomile: Relaxing and calming, this blend can be used before, during, or directly after a stressful time to help soothe and calm an agitated pup. Spray: 2oz. Distilled water, 8 drops lavender, 6 drops chamomile.

These are just a few of the ways I help calm, anxious, nervous or fearful dogs. We love these therapies because they are easy ways to help aid our pups in their journey to being happy & confident dogs. We know it can be overwhelming, especially when presented with lots of new information. We always encourage you to do what feels best for you and your dog & reach out or continue to educate yourself on things that feel right for you – Happy Training!

Flower Essences For Fear

Whatcha looking at Bugsy?With my own fearful dog Sunny I use a combination of different approaches to work with his fearfulness. I understand that there is no magic cure that will fix a fearful dog, but there are many different options for owners to try, which may help their dog feel less afraid or upset. Remember that for long term success with a fearful dog any drug or remedy must be combined with a program of desensitization and counter conditioning. Keep in mind that a dog that feels better, is going to act better, so don’t forget their emotional well being.

This week’s guest blog was written by Amit Karkare a Homeopathic Consultant & Certified Bach Flower Practitioner. I asked him to share information about flower essences that are commonly used to help dogs suffering from trauma and fear.


Fear is one of the basic emotions that every living organism experiences and our beloved pets are not an exception. Though dogs are often known for their courageous attitude, some dogs do face situations where they exhibit signs of fright, requiring professional handling. Unlike human beings, who are able to express their emotions in a refined manner, dogs can’t communicate their feelings in an explicit way, but a close observation of their behavior can lead us to significant information about their mental state. A dog may display his fear in varied ways: he may try to escape from the room, or may stay motionless, or can become intensely restless, or can soil the room by submissive urination, or might bark / growl at the fear-object. In extreme cases he can even become destructive or dangerous.

Bach Flower Remedies

Bach Flower Remedies are a collection of 38 plant and flower-based remedies discovered in the 1930s by Dr Edward Bach, a Harley Street physician. Each Bach remedy deals with a specific negative emotion, so we can select and take one or more remedies to match the exact emotion or reactive pattern. These remedies can help our animals get over their own emotional difficulties. They are completely natural and harmless. Flower remedies help to restore the peace and harmony in the energy of our pets.


As a part of any treatment, it is extremely essential to get the dog examined by a veterinarian, to rule out any signs of organic disease, which might manifest in the similar manner. Once it’s confirmed to be only a fear, it’s worth giving a well-suited Bach Flower Remedy a try. The selection of the remedy (-ies) is very simple and is based on the reaction pattern of the dog. Here are the most commonly used remedies for the fear seen in dogs:

Mimulus: Mimulus deals with fear of known causes. If you can identify the fear-object of your dog,  Mimulus may help him to get over it. The commonly seen fear of loud noises or fire crackers in dogs can be relieved with Mimulus. Some dogs are afraid of water being poured on them, a fear also which calls for Mimulus, a perfect addition to bath time.

Rock Rose: Rock rose is indicated for dogs that also show fear but in an extreme manner – in a state of panic. Thus an intense fear of known or unknown reason, but manifested in a state of panic calls for Rock Rose. A dog which walks through the whole house on tip-toes in a cautious and wary manner, might be relieved with Rock Rose. The key to the choice of this essence is the intensity of the fear reaction.

Star of Bethlehem: This remedy relieves the state of sudden shock or trauma. A puppy, who has seen an accident or has attacks of fright, a dog who was mishandled by his previous owner, or the one who has escaped a situation of great danger may find relief with this remedy to help them get over the state of shock or emotional trauma.

Walnut: Walnut is the remedy for adaptation. If a puppy brought from a breeder or your friend’s house, shows signs of fear in the process of getting used to the new environment, Walnut aids in adaptation. It can also be used for a dog separated from his mother and exhibiting fear.

Rescue Remedy: This is not a different remedy but a mixture of five remedies that are used to help with trauma. This can be used if you can not decide which remedy to be selected or if the state of your dog is an intense one, such as during an emergency. The unique formula contains Star of Bethlehem for shock, Rock Rose for terror and panic, Cherry Plum for lack of self-control, Impatiens for agitation, and Clematis to counteract faintness and bemusement.

Two drops of the selected remedy (-ies) can be added to the watering bowls or food, that the dog will drink regularly. Otherwise, two drops (each) of the remedies can be added to a 30 ml bottle containing water and four-six drops from this treatment-bottle can be administered to the dog on regular basis (at least four times a day).

It can also be put directly in the mouth of your dog, if he allows. One can also drip few drops on the nose of the dog so that he can lick it off.
In case of emergency, where it is not possible to make the dog drink the medicine, few drops can be applied onto the back of the ears (being a sensitive skin area) which can get absorbed through the skin.

The remedy combination should be repeated until required. There would be no harm if you select an incorrect remedy or continue to administer the remedies even after their need is over. If any other pet drinks water from the same bowl, it should be fine, since the remedies do not modify healthy emotions.

If you would like to learn more about the application of Bach Flower Remedies visit


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