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Bach Flowers and the Emotions of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

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The fear, anxiety, and general distress certain dogs experience when left home alone is known as “separation anxiety”. In this article, I discuss how to choose Bach flower remedies to help reduce the symptoms of canine separation anxiety.

Lonely Golden

The term separation anxiety is something of a catch-all phrase; rather than describing a particular set of symptoms, separation anxiety can manifest quite differently in different dogs. Not only can the severity range from mild to severe, the precise behaviors displayed can vary widely. General distress is evident in dogs that pant, pace, drool, and/or tremble, before or after the owner leaves home, or both. Some dogs will shadow their person before they leave, others may go “hide out” in a spot that feels secure to them. Barking, whining, and howling after the owner’s departure is common. Some will do this only briefly, others will continue the entire time the owner is away! Occasionally, dogs will express their distress (and distress their owners) through repetitive, self-oriented behaviors, like flank sucking, paw licking, and the like. And, although not all dogs with separation anxiety will be display destructive behavior, it is common, and the behavior most likely to cause dog owners seek help for this difficult problem.

Destructive behaviors like chewing and shredding household items – sometimes the house itself – is, most often, a stress-relief mechanism for dogs. This is why punishment typically will not help destructiveness associated with separation anxiety, and will often make it worse. Instead of relieving stress, the anticipation of punishment when the owner arrives home actually increases stress levels (which often then triggers more destructiveness, not less). When working to improve destructive home-alone behavior, it’s important to realize that the dog is stressed, and not being “spiteful”, even when a dog seeks out and chews furniture or personal items that carry the owner’s scent. Over-attached dogs often soothe their anxiety by chewing objects that smell reassuringly like their absent person. In other cases, separation destructiveness seems to be targeted to whatever is handy - in which case you may have a dog that is more bored than anxious. Finally, sometimes destruction is stress-associated and goal-oriented, such as with dogs that chew or break through doors or windows to escape.

When selecting appropriate flower essences, look to the underlying causes - that is, the emotional motivation - behind the anxious dog’s discomfort, as well as the expression of the emotions the dog is experiencing. With that thought in mind, let’s look at some obvious, and maybe not so obvious, Bach flower essences that may be able to help reduce your dog’s separation anxiety.


When selecting Bach flower essences, a good rule of thumb is to limit the number of essences used in any one formula to no more than six at a time. While it may be tempting to pick every essence that seems remotely applicable, a more narrowly focused formula is more likely to be helpful, and you will have a better idea which essences are working for your dog. And - as with any serious dog behavior concern, flower essences should be used in conjunction with, and as an aid to, a sound, behavior-based training program.

 

General Stress and Trauma

  • Rescue Remedy –always appropriate for alleviating the stress and anxiety associated with traumatic events. Rescue Remedy (AKA Five Flower Formula) is not a single essence, but a combination of five Bach essences that, together, have proven to be highly effective at alleviating severe stress during traumatic events. **Rescue Remedy is typically counted as a single essence when combining with other Bach remedies.  

Fear, Panic

  • Mimulus – the remedy for specific, known fears. Whether there has been a specific, frightening experience at home that has left your dog feeling less than secure when alone, or your dog associates being home alone, as new, unfamiliar, and therefore frightening, Mimulus is an excellent choice.
  • Aspen – helpful to alleviate the general anxiety and jitteriness often seen as the owner prepares to leave.
  • Rock Rose – indicated when there is outright panic, or panicky feelings. Dogs that flee in terror are experiencing panic. So are dogs that “freeze up” in their fear.
  • Elm – a useful helper essence when the dog appears to feel overwhelmed by the situation or task.
  • Larch – improves confidence and ability to handle new or difficult situations. I often combine Larch with Mimulus, since mild fear can easily be confused with lack of confidence (and vice versa) in dogs. Most appropriate when the dog’s anxiety is mild, without panic or destructiveness. 

Owner attachment issues

  • Chicory – the essence of choice when normal, desirable attachment and loyalty has tipped over into clingy dependency or even outright controlling behaviors. Chicory helps “loosen the apron strings”, restoring normal emotional attachment.
  • Heather – combines well with Chicory. Indicated when the dog exhibits noisy attention seeking, such as barking, whining, moaning, and groaning.
  • Red Chestnut – helps the dog that experiences fear and concern, not for himself, but for the owner. While this is not a common emotional motivation for canine separation anxiety, when present, it can be powerful.
  • Honeysuckle – a good choice for the dog that “pines away” for the owner when left behind.

Destructiveness, Self-Mutilation, Severe Escape Behaviors

  • Vervain – moderates intense, driven behavior. Indicated with high-strung personalities, dogs that require large amounts of physical exercise and/or mental stimulation, as well as when the intensity of the negative behavior is particularly high. Combines well with Impatiens and Cherry Plum.
  • Impatiens – excellent for moderating frustration-driven behaviors. Very useful for dogs that break out of confinement, even to the point of injury. In addition, Dr Bach recommended Impatiens for “nerve conditions”, including physical trembling.
  • Cherry Plum – indicated when there is a loss of control. This can be loss of bodily control (housetraining accidents that happen soon after the owner leaves, dogs that get “nervous diarrhea”, lose their anal glands, or urinate out of fear); or loss of emotional control (dogs that injure themselves breaking through crates, doors, or windows; dogs that destroy - not just chew - furniture, walls, personal items, etc while the owner is away). 
  • Chestnut Bud – very useful for habitual and repetitive behaviors. Chestnut Bud can help any time the dog seems resistant to changing routines, but should be considered when there are self-harmful behaviors (use with White Chestnut).
  • White Chestnut – restores a “calm mind”. Indicated for the dog whose internal worrying and fretting lead to self-harmful behaviors (see also Chestnut Bud) or externally destructive behaviors.

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I hope you found this article interesting and useful!

Julie Cantrell BSc, CDBC
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