Some of my favorite Petmate products (ok, they’re all toys!) are 20% off 02/20 ONLY!
Petmate, one of my all-time favorite pet product companies, is having a 20% SITE WIDE sale on National Love Your Pet Day on February 20th (apparently, lolz!). Their prices are very competitive on their website, so 20% off makes most things a great deal! You may not know that Petmate includes the brands JW, ChuckIt, and Jackson Galaxy. Some of my favorite Petmate products include*:
ChuckIt KickFetch – if your dog is a fetch addict like Luna, you NEED this! It’s so much fun!
JW Funble Football – one of Allie’s favorite! It has a delightful…ah, texture? Consistency? Not sure how exactly to describe it, but Allie adores repeatedly squeezing it (it does squeak!)
JW Cuz – one of the world’s most obnoxious and durable dog toys. Your dog will love it!
If your pet is exhibiting any type of behavior that puts you or other people/pets in your home at risk of injury, you need to take immediate action to ensure everyone is safe and get professional help. Do not risk your/other’s safety.
I am writing this because I wish I had been able to find this information when I realized that I had an anxious, aggressive, and reactive dog, Luna. As Luna reached behavioral maturity, around 1-2 years old, she started to display worrying behaviors that evolved into outright aggression towards the other pets in my home and reactivity (i.e. lunging, barking, generally freaking out) in unfamiliar situations. As a person who is really invested in her pets’ quality of life, enough to dedicate a blog towards the pursuit, it was terrifying and traumatic to see my dog’s behavior deteriorate to the point where I was concerned about my other pets’ safety. Thankfully, through a lot of work, we have gotten to a fairly happy place with Luna’s behavior. This is what worked for us:
1. Professional help, including medication.
Over the course of three years, we have enlisted the help of three veterinarians* and four dog trainers*. This was partially because we moved during this period and partially because it took a little while to find a good fit for Luna’s particular problems. And this was very expensive: our veterinary behaviorist consult with Dr. Amy Pike at the Northern Virginia Veterinary Referral Center cost about $500 and we’ve had six private consultations in our home with dog trainers that cost between $95 – $200 each. This was definitely worth the money. Admittedly, I wish we had parted ways with one trainer sooner because we retrospectively realized she just was not meeting our needs with Luna’s issues! Nevertheless, I gained immeasurable knowledge about the underlying causes of Luna’s previously bewildering behavior, management techniques to keep everyone in the house safe, and behavior modification strategies that have greatly reduced the severity and frequency of inappropriate behaviors in our home. Is it insane to spend hundreds of dollars on a dog’s behavior problems? Aren’t there hundreds of behaviorally sound, homeless dogs that would have cost me less to keep? Yes, probably. What do you do if you are unable or unwilling to fork over the cost of a pretty crappy car or a fairly nice computer for behavior specialists? Find other ways to learn! Read about dog behavior – from academics/researchers/trainers/veterinarians who are well-versed in modern animal psychology, attend free/low cost seminars on dog behavior if they are available in your area (check out your local animal welfare agency or Your Dog’s Friend on YouTube), and you know…keep reading my blog!!
2. No punishment, ever.
Punishment has been actively and enthusiastically discouraged by every single animal behavior professional with whom I have worked on Luna’s behavior problems.
It was a major revelation in handling Luna to realize just how damaging any type of punishment was in Luna’s existence. Specifically, I’m talking about punishment in terms of operant conditioning: anything that decreases the frequency of a behavior. I have known for a while now that force-based training, which relies on positive punishment such as physical manipulation, yelling, shock/prong/choke collars, etc., can be very harmful and counterproductive. I previously believed negative punishment – that is, removing a stimulus that decreases the frequency of a behavior – applied with discretion, could be a useful tool in dog training. Walking away from a puppy who is nipping you, for example, is a perfectly appropriate way to decrease the frequency of nipping behavior. Generally. Because in Luna’s case, withdrawing attention is so confusing and distressing that she really cannot learn. And because positive punishment (again, generally) has an even more powerful emotional impact on dogs, really: punishment makes Luna’s learning brain turn off and her defensive, reactive brain turn on. So, you may be asking yourself: but how do you stop a dog from doing something you don’t want them to do if you can’t…stop them? In a word: prevention! Armed with the knowledge from Dr. Pike and our trainers, it’s pretty easy to set Luna up for behavioral success and, if all else fails, give Luna my tacit permission to behave “badly” and I remove her from the situation immediately.
3. Behavior modification to build impulse control.
When I started to work with good trainers and veterinary staff, I was told over and over that I needed to build up Luna’s impulse control. I was not told, however, why. Or at least I wasn’t told why in a way I understood! So it seemed a little..random, I guess, that teaching Luna to wait for a cue before going through doorways, fetching a thrown toy, taking a treat from my hand, etc. was going to significantly improve her aggressive outbursts. As Luna’s impulse control has been building, however, I now see why: impulse control means Luna is sometimes able to insert a break into her alarming stimuli -> extreme negative reaction behavior pattern so that it occasionally looks more like alarming stimuli -> wait a minute, this isn’t so bad -> no reaction and move on.This is especially helpful because, for Luna, things that one would take for granted as not that alarming – like our cat, whose tenure in our house predates Luna, walking by – have caused her to enter this negative reaction behavior cycle. Practice makes perfect, too, so this behavior is self-reinforcing!
4. A holistic approach.
It pains me to admit this: the primary underlying cause of Luna’s anxious and inappropriately defensive behavior is that she could not cope with our lifestyle at the time. Our lifestyle wasn’t particularly demanding, she adds defensively, but nonetheless: it did not suit Luna. Consequently, the only real way to improve and resolve Luna’s issues was to entirely rearrange her lifestyle to a more mutually satisfactory design. Basically every aspect of Luna’s life has been examined by me and/or my trainer(s) and/or my veterinarian(s) for opportunities to make Luna more comfortable. This has involved rearranging my house (and purchasing many Carlsonpet gates), changing Luna’s diet, pheromones, compression wraps, counter-conditioning and desensitization, subscribing to a classical music station to calmly drown out noise stimuli, developing a strict set of rules Luna must follow for certain activities (i.e. she must sit before crossing a threshold, she must wait for a cue to take a treat), implementing behavior modification strategies, discontinuing use of potentially-dog-stress-inducing artificially-scented products, only permitting supervised interactions with Luna and our other pets, training Luna to wear a muzzle, trying practically every harness and head collar known to humankind, hanging up thick curtains to reduce visual stimuli at home…you get the picture, I think!
5. Different exercise.
Behavior problems can be solved by increasing a pet’s physical activity if those behaviors stem from boredom or pent up energy. But as Luna’s issues developed from fear and anxiety and our typical venues for physical activities (our yard and neighborhood) contained ample stimuli that caused Luna fear and anxiety, more exercise probably made Luna’s situation worse. Finding exercise that Luna could handle was key to improving her – and our’s – quality of life. And it turned out to be really simple: mental exercise and scent games! I intersperse our regular walks with short training sessions, using tricks and games I learned in previous dog classes. Scent games are simple: I hide kibble or toys in boxes or just around a secure location (because, of course, Luna does resource guard food items with our other pets). We started in a familiar location (inside our home), then moved outside, and try to go on ‘field trips’ to nearby parks regularly to build Luna’s confidence in these strange locations. If you have an anxious or fearful dog, I highly recommend looking into scent games!
Perhaps second only to seeking professional help, time has been the most important factor in improving Luna’s behavior. Of course behavior modification and meds take time to impact behavior, but it also seems to me that the longer we have stuck with the strategies listed above, the more spontaneous “good” behavior I see from Luna. I basically think of like Luna’s poor brain was inflamed from all the stress and anxiety, and now that we have addressed many of the sources of these bad feelings, her little brain is recovering. For example, just a few months ago, if my cat came into Luna’s room/my office and started meowing at me, Luna would have flipped out and gone after my poor cat. The cats learned pretty quickly to avoid my office. But just this circumstance happened last week – in itself pretty shocking, as again, my cats had been avoiding my office – and Luna just glanced at the cat…and that was it. It. was. magical.
I’d really like to hear from you if you’ve found this post interesting! Do you have an anxious/aggressive/reactive dog? What worked for you? What didn’t work for you? What do you wish you had known prior to adopting a dog with behavioral issues? Would you adopt a pet with behavioral issues, and if so, to what extent?
And 3 Things That Did Not Work:
1. Over-analyzing Luna’s history.
I’ll be brief: unless an event in a dog’s past has resulted in neurological damage, it is not helpful to know a dog’s background when designing a behavior modification and management strategy to alleviate behavior problems associated with anxiety, aggression, and reactivity. Strategies to deal with such behavior problems focus on changing a dog’s reaction to a stimuli, so it is not important to know that, say, a dog is fearful of brooms because she was beaten with one in a past home – you need to desensitize and counter-condition the dog so her reaction to the broom is one of indifference rather than defensiveness, period.
I say this because I have heard countless explanations – or more aptly, excuses – that a dog’s behavior is, “because he must have been hit” in a previous home. Most animals are neophobic after early socialization periods so it is a normal for dogs to react to unfamiliar stimuli with apprehension, as this was important survival trait during the evolution of dogs. So, maybe the dog was hit in a previous home. Or maybe he’s just never seen a man in a baseball hat before! The point is: it doesn’t matter which!
2. Giving Luna “more discipline”.
The people who have told me Luna would be better behaved with “more discipline” meant well but this suggestion inherently suggests that I needed to give Luna more punishment. Re: #2 above, more punishment was explicitly disadvised by all the professional behavior experts with whom I have worked and would likely have lead to an increase in behavior problems. While Luna does have a strict set of rules to which she complies – a routine which is as calming to her as it is to me – punishment will never be part of this.
3. Doing it on my own
I just want to reiterate that scientifically-up-to-date, professionally certified animal behavior experts were vital to improving Luna’s behavior problems. I know that many very worthy families struggle to pay for routine veterinary care for their pet and behavior care is SUPER expensive. My point is that behavior experts are a worthy investment if you are really struggling with your pet’s behavior. Be sure you are consulting a real expert*.
*Unfortunately, there are many trainers/veterinarian’s/etc. who will recommend behavior advice that is out of date, ineffective, and downright dangerous. Check out the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists for more information.
Just so you know, I may collect a share of sales from the links on this page and elsewhere on this blog. If you do purchase an item linked on this page, thank you for supporting my blog!
Happy 2018! We’re starting the year off with a round up of my favorite pet products that I discovered in 2017:
Freedom Harness: The Freedom
Harness was recommended to us by Luna’s dog trainer, Sarah Stoycos of Laughing Dog Academy. Having already tried the WeissWalkie and the Easy Walk Harness (both of which have pros and cons for different types of walkers – post coming soon!), I was a little skeptical about trying another harness, but the Freedom Harness was an instant favorite! I bought one for Allie shortly after because it suits Luna’s WHOOPIE-we’re-going-on-a-walk-sled-dog style walking and Allie’s pokey mosey pace.
K&H Pet Products EZ Window Mount Kitty Sill:I literally only bought this to get my total high enough for free shipping and what a serendipitous impulse decision that was. This cat seat really is easy to mount and impressively holds both my cats, a 12-lb-er and a 16-lb mini panther, with ease. Both of my cats adore window shopping for squirrels in thisand it’s a heck of a lot less bulky in my living room than another cat tree!
Retractable cat wand: My Sophie cat has always loved wand toys but I haven’t loved storing (or failing to store and then inadvertently breaking because it wasn’t put away properly) wand toys. TA-DAAA, enter the retractable cat wand from Jackson Galaxy’s pet product range. Compact, durable, and with easily-swapped out toy attachments, this has been a staple of kitty play toy all year (especially with this ground iguana (?) attachment!!!)
Treat tube: With Luna’s food allergies/intolerances, finding an easy-to-dispense treat that she could safely eat while wearing a muzzle proved impossible. Enter a purpose-marketed refillable treat tube for dogs! Unfortunately, those turned out to be poorly designed and they did not last…but then I realized virtually identical products are sold as travel tubes for a fraction of the cost! These are much more durable and have withstood many a dishwasher run. I fill them with peanut butter, pumpkin puree, and/or plain yogurt and use them on walks with Luna – they’re perfect!
Drs. Foster and Smith Deluxe Warm & Cuddly Slumber Ball: So I’ve known I wanted one (or more!) of these beds for a long time. I just couldn’t justify spending $100 on this bed (even though it looked awesome) just because I already have so many pet beds! This holiday season, however, fortune shined upon me: they had a huge sale! I got a large bed for the dogs and a smaller one for the cats, andit has been the cutest, snuggliest season of all! Allie has never loved a bed more – she even drags it around the living room so she can sleep in it and keep an eye on us. Would recommend!
Martha Stewart Pets Quick Bath: I randomly saw this in the impulse purchase section of a local TJ Maxx and I instantly knew this was going to be a game-changer (if it worked). This attaches to a shower head (or outdoor hose, although I haven’t tried that yet) with a diverter mechanism so it’s amazingly easy to attach and remove. The best part is undoubtedly the length of the hose and the function that dispenses soap through the shower head is so convenient!
*Please note that I may collect a share of sales from the product links on this page. This post was not sponsored by any of the companies mentioned and I personally purchased all products featured in this post.
A local dog training non-profit organization, Your Dog’s Friend, hosted a lecture called, “From Fear to Confidence”, a few weeks ago. It was given by Tonya Wilhem of Raising Your Pets Natural, a behavior professional from Toledo, Ohio. It was a very interesting talk with lots of food for thought, so I thought I’d share my notes!
Bringing a young dog into your home is an opportunity to prevent fearful and anxious behaviors through positive reinforcement of which you should take advantage! Tonya gave the example of lavishly rewarding her puppy for calm behavior during thunderstorms (for years!), before he started developing storm anxiety. I’d note that it’s probably never too late to use positive reinforcement to prevent undesirable behaviors – so give your dog a treat for being good pupper whenever!!
It is an owner’s responsibility to prevent (and if necessary, manage) situations that will put their dog over threshold. “Threshold” is a term meaning the point at which a stimulus will provoke a reaction. So my Luna can see a squirrel down the street and not react, but if a squirrel pops out of a few feet from us, you better believe she’s going after said squirrel. Thus, Luna’s squirrel threshold is somewhere between “down the street” and “a few feet from us”. For a dog that is suffering from anxiety, it is vitally important to keep the dog under threshold and that may mean the owner has to determine some areas and activities are off-limits. A dog-reactive dog just should not be walked in an area frequented by other dogs, and a stranger-reactive dog should likewise not be walked where loads of people will be.
It’s worth noting that “reactive” and “anxious/fearful” can be synonymous for some dogs. A dog may be reactive (i.e. barking, lunging, and generally carrying on) for many reasons: frustration, fear, excitement, etc. You have to know your dog and your dog’s body language to tell the difference!
Know your dog’s body language. How do you identify your dog’s threshold, prior to doggo becoming a lunging, barking mess? The dog’s body language!It is unfortunately true that some proportion of dog owners misinterpret canine body language so it’s a good idea for any owner to brush up on their canine body language in general and to carefully study their dog’s body language in a variety of situations. This piece on dog body language from the ASPCA is a good place to start but remember that every dog may be a little different.
Use counterconditioning to change your dog’s emotional response to fear-inducing stimuli while your dog is under threshold. Counterconditioning is the process of pairing a stimuli that elicits an undesirable response with something positive with the goal of changing the dog’s immediate response to that stimuli. The key here is to use counterconditioning when the dog is well under her threshold! So I’ve used counterconditioning extensively with Luna – one example is with the neighbor whose yard abuts ours. For whatever reason (I’ll withhold my non-charitable thoughts about how this guy has never even said, “Hi!”, to me despite my perfectly friendly overtures), Luna has decided that she does not like him and will be barking at him at any given opportunity, thank you very much. To counter-condition Luna’s reaction to him, I kept her on leash (to keep her below threshold) and as we walked around our backyard at some distance from the neighbor, she would get treats for looking at him and not barking. Over many weeks, we slowly closed the distance between the fence and Luna, and now she (mostly) does not bark at him. Counterconditioning win!
Appropriate tools and products are helpful, but they will only get you and your dog so far. Some pet products on the market will definitely make life harder for you and your anxious dog, because anything aversive -or force-based, like shock and prong collars, loud noise canisters, etc., will likely induce further fear and anxiety and undesirable behaviors. Great tools that will help you manage an anxious dog safely are widely available, such as front and back-clip and front-clip harnesses (Freedom Harness, Easy Walk, etc.) and head halters (Halti, Gentle Leader, etc.). In the way of counterconditioning, there are also products designed to help you deliver that special positive counterconditioning treat on the go, like treat pouches, LeanLix, Treat Toobs (fill with yogurt/pureed pumpkin/peanut butter/etc.), a really special toy, etc. And that’s just to name a few, and not including appropriate veterinary care, supplements, food, psychopharmaceuticals, and other products that may be helpful to an anxious dog.
The bottom line is that a holistic approach to a dog’s anxiety is the only way to move your dog from fear to confidence!
If you enjoyed this entry, please give it a, “Like” and leave a comment below! I’d love to hear about your experience with an anxious or reactive dog.
If you’re in the DMV (that’d be DC-Maryland-Virginia area for you non-locals!), check out Your Dog’s Friend for other FREE dog behavior seminars like the one describe here (and great opportunities for fee-based classes too!)
In a rather stunning spurt of crazy-dog-mom-ness (even for me!), I decided that Luna needed bumpers in her crate. So in the event that you too experience this urge, here’s how I made them!
Just FYI, Luna’s crate is 30″ x 48″ and she has a large Buddy Rest Comfort Deluxe Memory Foam bed. (Yes, we would have preferred a bed that completely filled the bottom of her crate but it was the closest size I could find for the quality I wanted.) The following supplies/instructions are for a Luna-sized kennel, so scale accordingly!
2 yards of 27″ x 1″ thick Poly-fil foam (my art supply store sells this by the yard so I only bought what I needed)
approx. 5 yards of 58″ wide fabric (I used brown upholstery fabric and a lightweight blue fabric from the clearance section at my art supply store)
Ribbon or additional fabric for bumper ties.
I cut the foam into (2) 13.5″ x 48″ (side bumpers) and (1) 13.5″ x 30″ (rear bumper) pieces, and the fabric into (4) 14.5″ x 49″ and (2) 14.5″ x 31″ pieces. To make the bumper ties, I cut enough fabric for (6) 10″ x 0.5″ ties. (I used the method described in this strap tutorial to make these, but you can just use ribbon!)
Map out where you want the bumper ties on the bumper pieces, approximately 0.25″ from the edge of the fabric; fold the bumper ties in half and sew the tie near the fold on to the right side the fabric (these will experience a lot of pull, so sew on securely).
Pinning right sides together, sew a 0.5″ seam nearly all around the edges of the side and rear bumpers, leaving about 6-8″ gap near one of the corners. Stuff the Poly-Fil foam pieces into the correct bumpers and manipulate the Poly-Fil until it sitting properly in the fabric. Hand sew up the gaps. Install them in your dog’s crate and watch your pup enjoy!
According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy or even significant sources of stress. This process is obviously seen in humans, but what does it have to do with dogs?
The ASPCA and other animal welfare professionals are concerned about resilience in dogs because, for some dogs that end up at a shelter, a lack of resilience is a major obstacle to successfully rehoming the dog. Despite shelters’ best effort to mitigate the stress of being in a shelter, the stress of being in a shelter can lead to some dogs developing pretty depressing and challenging behavior, such shutting down, becoming frantic, or even defensive aggression.
I am personally interested in resilience in dogs because my younger dog, Luna, is the least resilient dog in the world. OKAY – that may be a slight exaggeration! However: Luna’s recovery time from a single stimulating event (which includes things such as: playing with a toy, going on a walk, someone coming to the house, etc.) is hours if not days. Since I have organized Luna’s routine to accommodate adequate recovery time, many of Luna less-than-desirable behaviors (including becoming frantic and inappropriate defensive aggression) all but disappear.
This can be tricky though, if we have to have a handy man over to the house and then Luna unexpectedly needs to go to the vet – or a hundred other eventualities that I’m sure you can imagine! Hence my interest in building resilience in dogs: if I can build up Luna’s resilience, maybe I won’t have to be quite as vigilant about guarding Luna’s recovery time.
A dog’s resilience seems to depend on her genetics, early life experiences, and current environment. By the time a dog enters shelter, there typically isn’t much that can be done about those first two factors. Fortunately, Dr. McConnell, the ASPCA, and other animal welfare professionals have identified five ways we can set up a dog’s current environment to help foster resilience.
Dr. McConnell talks extensively in the webinar about the following strategies in the context of a shelter environment (so really, check out the webinar recording!!). Here, I am going to illustrate these strategies with things that I have tried, am trying, or would like to try in my own home for my own un-resilient dog!
1. Sense of safety and security. In general, dogs take in a lot for stimuli than us humans and it can be overwhelming, especially for a dog that is already feeling low on resilience due to a stressful event. Think rock concert + strobing light show + an entire perfume department: you might want a break too! Additionally, for a dog suffering from a lack of resiliency, knowing that it’s safe to sleep, when the next meal is coming, where and when she can go to the bathroom, etc. can be sensibly comforting. How can you create a sense of safety and security? Two main ways: avoid sensory overload and create predictability.
Avoid sensory overload
Give the dog a seclude “quiet spot”, like a crate or a room that is out of the way of household traffic and let everyone in the home know that the dog is “off-limits” when she is in her quite spot. Encourage or enforce your dog’s use of the quiet spot both during down time at home and when things are a little hectic.
Maybe even cover the dog’s crate with a blanket (not for dogs who chew and/or eat cloth, obviously!).
Train your dog to wear a ThunderCap, which reduces visual stimuli.
Create (and stick to!) a routine. Meals, exercise, playtime, and down time should all occur at roughly the same time every day.
Teach your dog cues to indicate something is going to happen. For example, Luna gets worked up over treats (she is a lab) so I say her name before I give her a treat and I say my other dog’s name when I am about to give my other dog a treat. Luna does not have to guess who is getting the treat!
Other times cues can be useful: nail trims, taking a turn or stopping during a walk, baths, meal times, end of playing (“all done!”), hitting a bump while in the car, etc.
Classical music adds to the calming predictability of home (or just the dog’s quiet spot) by adding predictable sounds (and maybe even blocking out some unpredictable sounds!)
3. Social support. Dogs tend to like other dogs – they just speak the same language! So it can be helpful to provide the company of dogs on the way to a resilient recovery…but it might not. Dogs that have not grown up around other dogs or who have had bad experience with another dog in the past may prefer the company of humans. Regardless, dogs are social creatures who (generally) enjoy social interactions.
Spend time with your dog in a way she appreciates (i.e. snuggles with a dog who likes that, quiet time (or read aloud!) with a dog who is not so touchy-feely).
Arrange for one-on-one play with another friendly dog or visit a well-maintained dog park.
Arrange a walking club. For dogs that may not be comfortable with off-leash play, introducing a dog friend as a walking buddy (when both dogs are leashed and kept at a comfortable distance) may be helpful.
4. Sense of autonomy. Autonomy means, for a dog, having a choice. And let’s face it, the dogs in our lives do not have many choices: we decide the what, where, and when of her eating, going to the bathroom, playing, sleeping, going on a walk, visiting the vet, and so on. Providing opportunities for a dog to choose what they want to do, when they want to do it.
Teach behaviors that the dog can initiate herself, such as ringing a bell to go outside or going to a quiet spot.
Teach the dog tricks. This gives the dog appropriate behavior options to offer to you and also, when you ask the dog to perform a trick, you’re setting up a situation where the dog really does have a choice to perform the trick or not (with no negative repercussions).
5. Healthy and Balanced Internal Physiology. Just like humans, it is hard for dogs to behave well when they are feeling bad. And beyond veterinary care and good food, dogs need mental and physical exercise to be at their best.
Time outdoors. Given her own experience and the results of many research studies in humans, Dr. McConnell feels that time outdoors can be profoundly therapeutic to dogs. While I do agree, this is something that Luna struggles with because A) squirrels, B) sticks, C) people walking down the sidewalk, D) noises…you get the picture.
Regular exercise. This is so critical for so many dogs. A tired dog is a happy dog, some say – although really, it should be, “a satiated dog is a happy dog”. Overworked and overwhelmed dogs are tired, yes, but happy? Nope.
Mental games, like teaching and performing tricks and using puzzle toys. Luna is so helped by mentally taxing work, especially scent work. Sometimes she is not able to go on our near-daily walks, but she is always able to play “sniffy boxes”. If you have an anxious dog, I highly recommend finding a trainer who does scent work.
Have you tried any of these strategies with an anxious or un-resilient dog? Do you have any suggestions for building resilience in dogs?
To follow up from my post about the efficacy of cat pheromones, I wanted to delve into the scientific literature looking into the effects of pheromonotherapy (the therapeutic application of pheromones to treat behavior problems) on dogs.
What is pheromonotherapy?
Scientists have demonstrated that many animals utilize pheromones (chemical communication signals emitted by animals) for a purposes as varied as sexual receptivity to spatial orientation to appeasement of infant animals. The idea behind pheromonotherapy is pretty simple: use synthetic pheromones to communicate a useful message to a pet displaying a behavior problem. While no side effects or toxicity to synthetic pheromones are known, the application of pheromonotherapy is complicated by the fact that animals do not passively intake pheromones (as far as scientists and veterinarians understand) – rather, animals must actively suck in pheromones through a specialized organ in the nasal cavity called the vomeronasal organ (VNO). Unfortunately, there are typically environmental or behavior signals that induce an animal to engage the VNO and these signals may or may not be present when synthetic pheromones are applied. Synthetic pheromones are available from many pet retailers in the form of plug in diffusers, impregnated collars, sprays, and wipes.
What can pheromones do for dogs?
The only dog pheromone that I have found on the market is Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP), which is supposed to be a synthetic copycat of the pheromone mother dogs produce to enhance attachment and promote emotional stabilization in her puppies. The common application for this pheromone is, unsurprisingly, to mitigate a undesirable dog behavior resulting from stressors such as loud noises, being left alone, meeting/living with another animal, going to a veterinary office, etc.
So…do pheromones work for dogs?
I separated studies that I found in my literature review of pheromonotherapy efficacy in dogs into two broad categories: those considering dogs in “social” situations (i.e. where many other animals are present: shelters, veterinary clinics, or training classes) and those looking at dogs in a more private home setting. My motivation for this division is the probable increase in the engagement of the VNO in social situations vs. when dogs are just sitting in their familiar environment.
Interestingly, the general consensus is: YES, pheromones are very effective in reducing anxiety and displacement behaviors (barking, panting, avoidance behaviors, destruction, excessive licking, etc.) while promoting relaxed and social behaviors (social greetings of strangers, laying down, normal appetite, etc.) in dogs. In social settings, results have been reported in as little as 4-7 days, while the treatment period for dogs in home settings is typically longer (4+ weeks). One study even found that DAP application had comparable results to an antidepressant medication, clomipramine, on reducing anxious behaviors. That’s pretty impressive, considering that DAP has no side effects while clomipramine can have serious side effects including GI upset, elevation of liver enzymes, convulsions, and confusion.
Nearly every study that I read included the stern limitation that more research is needed to confirm these positive results. Furthermore, serious canine behavior problems are unlikely to be fully ameliorated by pheromonotherapy alone: behavior modification programs and psychopharmaceutical drugs should be applied as determined by a veterinarian and/or behaviorist.
What does the manufacturer have to say about pheromone efficacy in dogs?
I contacted Ceva Animal Health, the company that produces a popular dog pheromone, Adaptil because their products/website purport to have data on file about the effectiveness of Adaptil. A veterinary technician in their customer service section got back to me with three pieces of literature: one was an actual study of pheromonotherapy and socialization in puppies , one was a well-referenced summary of pheromonotherapy studies , and the final piece was (probably?) a selection from a book that had no references and a single author . Since I expected some data generated internally from Ceva or at least a Ceva-funded study, I was pretty disappointed in this response – all of this information is available publicly, so what’s with the “data on file” statement? I suspect that Ceva (and other animal product manufacturers) are not all that interested in selling an effective product – they just want to sell any product.
Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) is pretty well established as an effective treatment for stress-induced behavior problems in dogs. Pheromonotherapy has been demonstrated to reduce anxious behaviors and increase relaxed behaviors in dogs in especially short timeframes (4-7 days) in situations where other animals are present, which appears to hold up in more private home settings over longer periods (4+ weeks). Dogs with serious behavior problems should be evaluated by a veterinarian and/or dog behaviorist because pheromonotherapy is likely only one piece of the behavior modification and treatment program that the dog will need.
Denenberg, Sagi, and Gary M. Landsberg. “Effects of dog-appeasing pheromones on anxiety and fear in puppies during training and on long-term socialization.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 233.12 (2008): 1874-1882.
Landsberg, Gary. “Why Practitioners Should Feel Comfortable with Pheromones – The Evidence to Support Pheromone Use.” Presented at The North American Veterinary Conference. (2006)
Mills, Daniel S. “Pheromones and Pheromonatherapy.” The Henston Small Animal Veterinary Vade Mecum. Part IV: 316-323
Frank, Diane, Guy Beauchamp, and Clara Palestrini. “Systematic review of the use of pheromones for treatment of undesirable behavior in cats and dogs.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 236.12 (2010): 1308-1316.
Tod, Elaine, Donna Brander, and Natalie Waran. “Efficacy of dog appeasing pheromone in reducing stress and fear related behaviour in shelter dogs.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 93.3 (2005): 295-308.
Kim, Young-Mee, et al. “Efficacy of dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) for ameliorating separation-related behavioral signs in hospitalized dogs.” Canadian Veterinary Journal 51.4 (2010): 380.
Gaultier, E., et al. “Comparison of the efficacy of a synthetic dog-appeasing pheromone with clomipramine for the treatment of separation-related disorders in dogs.” Veterinary Record-English Edition 156.17 (2005): 533-537.
Mills, Daniel Simon, et al. “A triple blind placebo-controlled investigation into the assessment of the effect of Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) on anxiety related behaviour of problem dogs in the veterinary clinic.” Applied animal behaviour science 98.1 (2006): 114-126.
Sheppard, G., and D. S. Mills. “Evaluation of dog-appeasing pheromone as a potential treatment for dogs fearful of fireworks.” Veterinary Record: Journal of the British Veterinary Association 152.14 (2003).