An excellent article by Melissa Shelton DVM, founder of animalEO. Get to the end, good stuff here!
It is always very sad to me when people describe their dogs as having anxiety to thunderstorms, fireworks, or even to the sheer fact that you have left the house (aka separation anxiety). It is actually becoming quite an epidemic, and there are several reasons for this occurrence. Probably the most significant cause of anxiety in dogs is from lack of exercise and quality leadership from the humans in their life. That’s right… We humans are largely to blame. I’ll warn you now – my opinion is not always popular with those who baby their animals. But, I will guarantee you – that when I do behavioral consultations and training – if the human behaviors have not been addressed for a dog – the anxiety problem is not likely to be resolved. I have to break it to you now – please take a deep breath – are you ready??? Here it is – YOUR DOG DID NOT COME FROM YOUR WOMB! Are you okay? Did you fall over onto the floor? Take a deep breath, you’ll be okay, I promise. The truth of it is, if you treat a dog like a human, you will create abnormal feelings in a dog. Consider if you treated a child like a dog. What kind of emotional trauma would occur? This happens in reverse, when we treat a dog like a human. As much as we would like them to be – dogs are just not humans.
The most natural thing for a dog – is to be treated like a dog. For this to happen, it is often helpful to think of how dogs treat each other. When a storm rolls in or fireworks go off, and a dog in a pack is frightened… What would the other members of the pack do?
One – they might ignore the situation. You will generally never see another dog running over to the scared dog, and trying to comfort them. When a dog is scared, and we say “What’s wrong? Are you okay? It’s okay… It’s okay…” We actually confirm to the dog that there is something to fear. How we initially respond when a puppy first experiences a fearful event, is incredibly important. How we react, can form a base of behavioral response for a lifetime (however, it can be corrected.) Imagine if my children were to go to the dentist. If I acted like there was something to fear every time, and I confirmed their thoughts that a dentist visit was scary, I don’t think the visit would be a very happy and low stress event for them. Instead, we promote bravery and calm behavior. For a dog, bravery and calmness, often equals being ignored. So, when a dog experiences an event that is scary – we need to actually “ignore” it. I ask my dogs to do something else that takes their mind off of things, and promotes confidence – sit stays, down stays, heel during a walk – anything other than babying them, giving them treats, feeding them, petting them, or coddling them. If you don’t know what to do, you are better off doing absolutely nothing at all – than risking “promoting or rewarding” the fear or anxiety response. That means – do not talk, pet, feed, react – in any way shape or form! Pretend that your dog is invisible!
Second – a pack may actually attack the “abnormally” behaving pack member. After all, abnormal behavior may bring harm to a pack – so it is generally not tolerated. Of course, we do not need to punish or attack the abnormal dog. Since we are not dogs – our communication of this event – is often very poor. Things like “Alpha Rolls” are largely unnecessary, and may actually create worse situations like fear aggression or fear urination. Of course, there are situations were a little bit of physical force may be required for a dog – however, it is generally NOT with anxiety dogs. I have indeed, had to scruff or physically “handle” a dog that is basically trying to attack me – and there is a place for it – but with anxiety dogs, you are better off with good leadership skills and a training collar. We will have to discuss training collars and methods another time – but I do not recommend choke chains, pinch collars, prong collars, shock collars, or flat collars. My favorite system, that we have used for over 20 years, is a snap around collar. You can see more about the system and the collar at http://www.handcraftcollars.com/ .
Okay – so that covers the way humans respond to their dogs that promotes anxiety – however we also promote anxiety in our dogs with lack of exercise. Many breeds are high energy or working dogs. These dogs are meant to have mental and physical stimulation and work, for a large portion of their day. When we do not provide adequate exercise to a dog – the excess energy can be turned into “negative” behaviors. Basically, a tired dog is a good dog. But you can’t just go throw the ball, throw the ball, throw the ball… This actually ramps up behaviors and creates a dog with more stamina. Just like if you want your kids to go to bed – we read them a nice quiet bedtime story. We do not try to wear them out with a big round of jumping on the bed! Mental activity is what makes dogs and kids the most tired. Remember when your child (if you have one) started kindergarten? They were so exhausted at the end of the day. Learning and thinking is more tiring than lots of active physical activity. My dog could run a 5K Fun Run, and still drag my friend for another 5K. However, ask him to heel perfectly around the block – and he was exhausted!
It has become more and more obvious to me as the years go by, that many people just do not understand how important training can be or just how life changing it can be for an animal. The mindset just has to be changed. Thinking about a thunderstorm or fireworks as something we have no control over, and that it is just a dreaded event – needs a bit of an overhaul. I again, go back to explaining this as a human childhood event. My mother LOVES thunderstorms. She instilled this love of thunder, lightning, and even a good “Tornado Warning” – as a magical event of nature into her children (even if she was truly worried). We didn’t fear a “basement event” – it was like camping. So once I had children of my own, I valued how much my opinion of a normally fearful situation (although still fully respected), would matter to their outlook on life.
In regards to dogs, the questions I get regarding what to do for thunderstorm or fireworks anxieties always have a common vein. Everyone feels so powerless against these forces. Those horrible neighbors lighting off fireworks. Oh no, rain in the forecast. Now what!? Well, change your view, change your world. How about, “Wow, thanks neighbor for the new training opportunity! Normally, I’d have to pay for a noise maker to train my dog! But you! YOU, beautiful person, have spent your hard earned money, and use your valuable spare time – JUST TO PROVIDE ME WITH TRAINING OPPORTUNITIES FOR MY DOG! You love me! You REALLY LOVE ME!”…
Okay, a bit of overkill. But can you see it? Can you see that if we change our mind about how we view things, we could just change the world? Or at least your world.
But wait! How does this work? Think about service and therapy dogs. Rarely ever would I hear people say things like, “Darn that person in a wheelchair! My dog is afraid of it. How dare they use it near my dog!” Again overkill, but do you see the exact relationship? When we train a dog as a therapy dog, we embrace crutches and wheelchairs in our dog training classes. We purposely expose our dog to these items, WHILE training them. We value the opportunity and understand the need to make our dog heel, sit, stay, and ignore the items that may cause problems while working. We do not wrap them in a ThunderShirt. We do not give them medications. We TRAIN them. We are also not just letting them cuddle up to us, or run rampant within the training facility when we expose them to said wheelchair (which is often what people do in their homes)…they are ON LEASH, working, heeling, sitting, staying, recall. We walk and WORK them past the wheelchair. If your dog is off-leash, you are not really training them. Just because your dog is sitting, does not equal that you gave the command to sit, or that you are in control of it. Please, please, please…change your “training” into real training – and you will discover near miraculous results.
While I’m fine with still using supplemental tools for dogs in need, it is “I” who experience anxiety when I hear of people wanting to use an essential oil (or now the popular CBD oil, or any other tool) to “fix their dog’s anxiety” while ignoring training. Even if you have a little dog, an old dog, a young dog, a well behaved dog, a dog who does not need training, a blind dog, a deaf dog…I have heard all the excuses. ANY behavioral issue that you feel you have no control over, should be viewed as a training opportunity. The pure lack of training, true training, in every dogs’ life, is staggering when you look at it. If your dog cannot do a sit stay for a few minutes, and truly do a sit stay, and you are reading this article… start looking for a training center, book, YouTube video, or person who you resonate with that can at least teach you one basic training skill. Then, instead of fretting over your dog during the next thunderstorm – start working. Train a trick. Train a sit stay. Walk, heel, turn, repeat – even if in your living room. Put your dog in a sit stay on leash, stand in front of them, and ask them to come (recall). Repeat this recall for the entire duration of the thunderstorm if needed. The time you normally would be coddling or worrying about your dog, dedicate to ANY training event instead. I promise you, if you do this, your life will change!
Now, onto nutritional issues that cause anxiety, hyper-activeness, or otherwise contribute to behavioral “faux pas”. There are no perfect diets out there these days. Whether you feed raw, home cooked, kibble, organic, canned, holistic, or whatever… ALL diets are deficient in vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and nutrients. Our world and soil is just not the same as it used to be – so all foods do not contain adequate levels of these items. And, as soon as a diet is processed or cooked – vital enzymes are destroyed – sometimes making it impossible to absorb and utilize the nutrients. So – I will ALWAYS supplement any diet (but especially those of anxiety dogs) with a few different items. First, Standard Process Canine Whole Body Support is vital for making sure the body has what it needs. This is a whole food supplement – containing all of the nutrients in a raw, undamaged, whole food form. You can read more about what I call the Foundation of Health and Standard Process Supplements HERE – and if you happen to have a bird, rat, horse, or cat – we still use all of these products for them. So – cats can get the feline versions, but can also take the canine powder. Birds can take the canine powder quite easily. Horses have an equine formulation. And my rat eats up the canine formula or even the human chewable versions. Brains do not function normally, without proper nutrition, so although it may sound weird, it is vital to have proper nutrition for anxiety dogs.
Next, on the nutritional hit list – are grains and carbohydrates. These pack high energy and sugars into the diet. Sort of like feeding your hyper kid lots of sugar. It just doesn’t add up to a good situation. So – we often recommend a species appropriate and largely grain free diet. Grains are things like corn, cornmeal, wheat, rice, oats, oatmeal – and although sometimes there are health benefits with certain grains – we need to be cautious with the amounts of these items that dogs consume. And, the scary part is that “grain-free” diets that are now everywhere on the market – actually contain more carbohydrates than some of the kibble diets filled with grains! Items like peas that are added to grain-free diets in order to make them “crunch” and form into kibbles…still provide huge amounts of carbohydrates into your dogs meal. And, this could be just as bad, if not worse in the long run. I recommend looking into the vast information on species appropriate diets provided by Rodney Habib and Dr. Karen Becker. You can find out more at Planet Paws – and find many educational links to the information that Rodney and Karen have been graciously sharing with the world!
Minerals are one of the next big things that I make sure anxiety dogs (as well as humans and other animals) are supplemented with. Standard Process human formulations such as Organically Bound Minerals or Trace Minerals B12 are some of my favorite mineral supplements. Most dogs take these quite easily. Minerals are known as a “natural calmative” and their supplementation has greatly helped humans and animals with anxiety issues. All neurotransmitters function with the use of enzymes and minerals, so if these are not supplied, neurons cannot fire and transmit information properly.
Digestive enzymes are next on the list. Did you know that everyone is deficient in enzymes? Basically, animals are being born deficient these days. Generations of animals are being born and raised on processed foods, which lack enzymes. Over time, this deficiency becomes more and more pronounced, and it is my belief that a large portion of “hereditary” disease is being formed on enzyme and nutritional deficiencies. I will often use Prozyme digestive enzymes for animals (mainly dogs and cats) and am also incredibly fond of Mercola Healthy Pets Digestive Enzymes. Anxiety (and actually almost all health issues) can be linked directly with enzyme deficiency. Not only do the lack of enzymes prevent normal digestion and absorption of nutrients, but all of your body functions, as well as your brain activity, function with enzymes. Brains are basically one big gigantic blob of enzymes! When enzymes are not present in foods or the body in adequate levels – brains don’t quite function right. And, anxieties can be promoted.
Okay – so that already sounds like a lot of information – but there is MORE! That is why it can be so rewarding to work with “end of the line” anxiety dogs. Once you realize how many things can improve their life – there is always something more to try. Certainly other modalities such as Acupuncture, Acupressure, CBD oil, Massage, Reiki, TTouch, ThunderShirts, Flower Essences, Herbs, Electrostim, and more – have proven beneficial for some anxiety dogs. If you find one of these modalities helpful – then USE IT! However, my favorite thing to use (well, second to training) is Essential Oils of course! We have tremendous results with animalEO blends such as Calm-a-Mile RTU! Petting your dog with a light coating of any of the animalEO blends on your hands (prior to applying a ThunderShirt or onto the shirt itself), allowing your dog to “lick up” the Calm-a-Mile RTU from your hand if desired (as mine do), or diffusing animalEO essential oil blends (the ones created for diffusion) into the air have brought amazing results to many.
Let’s cover one of the reasons why essential oils can be so incredibly helpful to anxiety issues. Do you know that a huge majority of anxiety dogs (and humans and other animals) will also have gastrointestinal issues? This works both ways actually. Gastrointestinal (GI) inflammation can make you anxious, and being anxious can cause GI symptoms. Because essential oils are the ultimate “cross-trained” therapy, they do not only provide calming – but can indeed provide anti-inflammatory actions to the gut or other areas of the body. So, amazingly enough, the essential oil blend you might have selected for calming your animal – might just be supporting other aspects of the anxiety and body, that are highly necessary for a full body approach to anxiety and behavior issues.
Diffusion in the household can bring amazing and consistent results – and you can read more about Diffusion HERE. Essential oil blends of all sorts can bring calming benefits, so even diffusion of Warmth Diffusion Blend can bring anti-anxiety effects and many essential oils are being researched for their continued benefits.
animalEO blends that I most recommend to try when you are dealing with anxiety, fear, or other behavioral concerns include quite a long list… It is true that every essential oil not only has a physical effect, but an emotional component as well. Some blends may “jive” with a particular individual or household better than another, and this is normal. We can even see certain individuals who are “excited” and energized from normally calming oils! I always recommend for my clients to try several options, and the ability to try Sample Sizes of animalEO blends is a great option to screen through several formulas to decide on which resonates better for your loved one!
Trying out items such as Calm-a-Mile RTU, Calm-a-Mile NEAT (for diffusion), Charming, Clear Sailing, Feathered Blend NEAT (for diffusion), Hormone Blend, Smooth Delivery, Strength, Sunshine in a Bottle, Transition, and Warmth Diffusion Blend have all been helpful. And, as we’ve discussed, the physical effects of fear and anxiety are great. The release of additional stress hormones and cortisol can be significant, and adrenal glands can become stressed. It is for these reasons that “physical blends” such as AromaBoost RTU, Boost in a Bottle, or AdrenoBalance can be found helpful and calming as well. We often describe a “post-Boost coma” in many dogs, and it is true, many take quite a long and peaceful nap after an application!
I do not worry about this calm episode. To me it is entirely beneficial, and has never seemed abnormal. Purely the body and mind’s response to having inflammation decreased, hormones balanced, and other physical ailments at bay for possibly the first time in a long time! I purposely use this calm after the application, to my advantage. If you do know that your dog tends to have a “post-Boost coma” – and they have a stressful event coming up – then time an application before the event.
I have not found that you will overwhelm your dog however, by using multiple layers of essential oils. I often recommend that people diffuse in the home, apply a form of a topical body boost, and also use a calming formula like Calm-a-Mile RTU. To me, these layers become so much more valuable, than overwhelming in nature. So, while I might start with one thing, I will usually add all of them as I progress. And in times of true need, will use them all at once, right from the beginning.
The basic rule with all oils and supplements is to start with a small amount, and gradually build up how much is given. Adding supplements is like a dietary change – it is best done gradually and slowly. Some animals may need more of an item, and some animals may need less. We often tailor the amount to the individual animal. The animal formulas of the Standard Process supplements have recommendations for how much should be given – but I still start with smaller doses and gradually increase them to the recommended amounts. I have still encountered a few animals that require less than the recommended dosage at first – and it is always best to take an individual approach to everything we provide.
Remember that you can find some great help and assistance with recommendations in our animalEO Facebook group by CLICKING HERE and requesting to join! We have an admin team called the “Pack” – who have additional training with me in the “art of animalEO”. And while not vets, and they still will have varying opinions – I trust them to give reliable and safe information – or to find out the true answer if they don’t know. I can’t thank them enough for their continued help and support with animalEO and the animalEO Facebook group! Simply wonderful helpers!
Disclaimer: This information was provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, prescribe or treat any illness. If you or your animal have a health concern, you are encouraged to seek the council of a health care professional who is knowledgeable in your area of interest.