Canine stress, anxiety, and fear seem to be becoming more and more common in dogs. A recent veterinary research survey found that as many as 39% of dogs are noise sensitive, and 26% have general fearfulness. Emotionally, and practically, on a day to day basis, this can present a huge challenge for pet owners.
Training, and even simply exercising the dog can be impacted. Owners of fearful dogs may find not only their hopes for their family companion affected, but often their own relationships and social lives, as well.
Over a dozen pharmaceutical medications are marketed to dog owners seeking help with canine anxiety.
But are anti-anxiety drugs right, or even necessary, for every nervous, jumpy, or timid dog?
Are there alternative remedies for stress and general anxiety in dogs? What about the dog that’s afraid of fireworks, or thunder, or gunshots, but nothing else? Or the chronically shy dog, scared of strangers, or children, or (fill in the blank)?
If you’re seeking natural, gentle help for your dog’s fear and anxiety, or are looking for holistic alternatives to powerful medications and their potential side effects, let me suggest a good solid look at flower essences, particularly the Bach flower remedies.
These remedies were developed in 1930’s England, and are the most familiar flower essences to most people. (If you’ve heard of Rescue Remedy, you’ve heard of Bach flower essences.)
Bach flower remedies have a long history of safe and successful use, worldwide, in people and animals.
Flower essences are not habit forming (use them as long as they continue to help; quit when the dog doesn’t need them anymore), no need to “wean off”, and no worrisome physical or behavioral side effects (if you pick the wrong essences, they just won’t have any effect).
[If you have no experience using flower essences to improve dog behavior issues, I recommend you read this article on how flower essences can help with dog behavior problems.]
As a long-time dog trainer with nearly 3 decades experience helping owners resolve behavior problems, and a strong attraction to do-no-harm products that actually work, I can say these remedies can be lifesavers for some dogs, and at least quite helpful for most.
What follows are recommendations for selecting Bach flower essences that can help reduce stress, anxiety, and fearfulness in dogs.
When selecting essences, choose those you believe are pertinent to your dog at this time. Limiting your choices to 6 essences per combination (or “formula”) is not written in stone, but a good rule of thumb.
Try not to pick every one that might apply; fewer essences in a more narrowly focused formula will likely be more helpful. Plus, you will have a better idea which remedies are helping your dog.
After selecting what appear to be the most appropriate essences, you can purchase them individually and blend your own combination, or take advantage of a service like Aldaron Essences’ Design Your Own formula option. You might also want to browse Aldaron Essences’ selection of flower essence blends for reducing anxiety, fears and phobias in dogs.
Primary flower essences for stress, fears, anxiety, and lack of confidence in dogs
Rescue Remedy / 5 Flower Formula alleviates stress, panic and trauma, restoring calmness and presence of mind.
This is Dr Edward Bach’s original “emergency” blend, combining the individual essences Impatiens, Clematis, Rock Rose, Cherry Plum, and Star of Bethlehem.
While Rescue Remedy can be used alone to soothe highly stressed dogs, in cases of fear and anxiety it is best used in a support role along with other flower remedies. Residual, lasting effects of previous traumatic events (think canine PTSD) also respond well to Rescue Remedy.
(Significant trauma takes time to heal. Be prepared to use Rescue Remedy long-term if you have adopted an abused or severely neglected dog with deep emotional damage.)
Is Rescue Remedy safe to give to dogs? Absolutely, YES. Just be sure to use the human or pet liquid version, and not the pastille lozenges, as they contain xylitol, which is highly toxic to dogs.
Aspen flower essence restores calmness, courage and a sense of security in dogs that spook easily (regardless of whether they always do, or only in certain situations). Aspen helps alleviate general apprehension and anxiety in jumpy, nervous, edgy dogs.
Mimulus increases courage and confidence in generally timid, shy dogs, as well as in dogs with very specific fears.
Mimulus is an important Bach flower remedy for dogs afraid of loud noises, certain types of noises, or unusual/unfamiliar sounds; dogs that are fearful of large men, people in hats, or children or skateboard or in strollers; dogs that worry about flags snapping in the wind, ring gates at dog shows, big dogs or certain breeds of dogs, etc.
The point being that Mimulus addresses identifiable fears, versus vague, general anxiety. [Naturally dogs, like people, can have general anxiety as well as specific fears. This is why Aspen and Mimulus are commonly used together, along with Rescue Remedy for the stress that tends to accompany fear.]
Rock Rose builds courage and steadiness and reduces panic in dogs prone to extreme fear, terror and panic attacks. An important flower remedy for dogs that respond to tense or frightening situations with a “freeze, fight, or flight” response. The key aspect of the behavior being “extreme”.
Supportive flower essences for dogs with stress, anxiety and fearfulness
Cherry Plum. Some dogs get so panicked that they lose control – emotionally, physically, or both.
Use Cherry Plum to restore self control and build emotional reserves in dogs that freak out and “lose it”:
- during vet exams,
- when being gone over by the judge at dog shows,
- when confined to small spaces (or any confinement at all),
- when left home alone, etc.
Extremely panicked dogs may also lose control of bodily functions – emptying their anal glands, bladder or bowels.
Since loss of composure and panic tend to go hand in hand, Cherry Plum is frequent combined with Rock Rose to good effect.
Oak improves emotional stability, stamina, and endurance. Use to fortify your dog emotionally for stressful, difficult situations. Oak is also a great choice for working dogs as well as naturally responsible personalities that tend to be under a good deal of life pressure.
Elm reduces the sense of overwhelm. This flower remedy helps the easily overwhelmed dog as well as the dog put in situations its upbringing or training has not adequately prepared it for. Dogs exhibiting increased anxiety or fear after long bouts of chronic illness or stress may also benefit from Elm.
Impatiens. Physically, Impatiens reduces muscle tension, quivering, shaking, and trembling – physical symptoms that often accompany stress and fear. Behaviorally, Impatiens increases cooperation, gentleness, and patience in impulsive, easily-frustrated, excitable dogs.
Chestnut Bud improves the ability to learn new behaviors and can help you re-shape, through training, new reactions to familiar situations. This essence helps “loosen up” behaviors and reactions that have a strong habitual nature. It’s excellent for when your dog is in a rut and resistant to training/behavior efforts to encourage improved responses.
Bach flowers for dog behaviors that may accompany stress and anxiety
Larch. Loss of confidence can accompany fear and anxiety, or can be mistaken for them. Larch improves confidence in hesitant dogs unwilling to try again after a setback.
Chicory. Use this remedy when fear or anxiety is tied in with attachment to a particular individual. In cases where reactions are worse when the dog is with a particular person, Chicory can help “loosen the apron strings” and restore a healthier attachment.
Vervain moderates and improves restraint in intense, serious-minded dogs with a need to control their environment (herding dog, anyone?).
This naturally responsible type of dog may become overwhelmed and anxious with too much chaotic activity. Their natural intensity can work to strengthen fear reactions – not necessarily increasing the fear itself, but making the display of it stronger. Vervain can help this from becoming a cycle that feeds on itself.
Rock Water increases emotional and physical flexibility. Use when fear and stress combine with bossy, high-status personalities and/or territorial tendencies. [AND get professional help to learn how to work with this type of dog gently but effectively. Stress, fear, and territoriality can be a dangerous combination.]
Vine. This Bach remedy improves natural communication, and reduces forceful, bullying behavior (often resorted to by a dog that doesn’t understand how to peacefully communicate his needs). Use when stress and/or fear triggers threatening, challenging, confrontational behavior. [AND get professional help to learn how to build non-confrontational communication methods with your dog.]
What about a combined approach for canine fears and anxiety?
Depending on the severity of the issue, including how much your dog’s anxiety is impacting his quality of life (and yours), you may wish to combine approaches. While some anxiety treatments do not combine well with other treatments, flower essences not only don’t interfere with other therapies, they tend to work exceptionally well with them.
Nutritional supplements, dietary modifications, homeopathics, TTouch, body wraps, pheromones, sound therapy — any number of other natural, alternative therapies can contribute positively as part of an overall holistic approach to improving his behavior and quality of life.
I hope you found this article interesting and useful. If you did, please share it with your friends.
Julie Cantrell CBDC BSc is a professional dog trainer and canine behavior consultant who’s logged many thousands of hours training dogs and teaching owners since 1990. Flower essences have been part of her work with canine behavior since 1994. (bio)