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Using Flower Essences to Help Your Reactive Dog

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Bach flower essences are used to moderate a full range of emotions and emotional excesses, and as such, they have many useful applications to the pet dog owner, dog sports competitor, dog trainer, and canine behavior consultant. Although originally developed to assist humans with their “emotional roadblocks”, the Bach remedies are now used worldwide with great success with all kinds of animals, including dogs. Animals and humans share the same basic range of emotions, after all. The main challenge in using Bach flower essences to improve dog behavior is interpretting the underlying emotions that are driving the behavior of concern. It is important to read your dog correctly, and refrain from projecting your emotions onto your dog. With canine reactivity, as with other behavior issues, having a sound basic knowledge of canine behavior is very helpful, therefore, when deciding to employ flower essences to help your dog’s behavior.

Reactive Dog - flower essences can help!

How do you know if your dog is reactive? A reactive dog is one whose actions are out of proportion to the situation. She acts before she thinks. She “shoots first, and asks questions later” (even if her canine equivalent of “shooting” is only barking or trying to run away). Her policy is “a good offense is the best defense”.The reactive dog generally lacks the ability or motivation to control her impulses. She may try to escape the situation, she may bark to express her distress or to keep things that concern her at bay, or she may be actively aggressive, snapping at or biting whatever comes too near. There is no one Bach flower remedy for all reactive dogs. Determining the motivation behind the reactivity is key to choosing the Bach flower essences that will improve your dog’s outlook, and make your training efforts more successful. Fortunately, choosing the wrong essence will have no harmful effects - it will simply have no effect at all. Let’s look at some possible essences to choose from and how they might help your reactive dog:

  • Rescue Remedy - for the dog whose behavior stems from some past traumatic incident, and/or who is severely stressed in the situations that bring on the reactivity, Rescue Remedy can help soothe and calm, creating a more receptive state of mind for your direction and guidance. If unsure, add Rescue Remedy!

  • Mimulus - if your dog’s reactive behavior is brought on by a specific fear (large black dogs with floppy ears, for instance), Mimulus can reduce and moderate that fear. Dogs who respond well to Mimulus typically appear intimidated by the thing that scares them.

  • Aspen - reactivity brought on by general anxiety can be improved with Aspen. The dog who benefits from Aspen will often be more reactive in certain types of places (for instance, in large, echoing buildings, or outside during stormy, windy weather) or may have an ongoing anxiety that reduces their ability to deal with the increased stress of new or worrisome situations.

  • Rock Rose - the dog who outright panics, or who internalizes her panic, will benefit from Rock Rose. Rock Rose lends courage and poise.

  • Elm - some dogs’ reactivity stems from simply being overwhelmed by the situation. Elm reduces this feeling, and helps your dog feel up to the task. Elm combines well with other flower essences for fear.

  • Cherry Plum - in my experience, this is a key remedy for reactivity issues. Cherry Plum restores self control, and is a wonderful aid in helping training to improve impulse control be more effective. It is ideal for the dog who “loses it”, or who barely manages to keep her emotions and behavior under control.

  • Chicory - moderates possessive, controlling behavior, when the reactivity is more about guarding the owner from anyone or anything coming near.
  • Vervain - helps tone down the highly intense dog, who is driven to control all aspects of her environment. This type of dog is sometimes referred to as “the fun police”!

Please keep in mind that reactive behavior in dogs can quickly get out of control, turning into something more than many pet owners can handle. With all serious behavior issues, Bach flower essences should be used in conjunction with a sound, behavior-based training program. An experienced positive trainer can speed training progress along, as well as help you see the situation through a fresh set of eyes (something even experienced owners and trainers can find very helpful!). For a trainer near you, I recommend visiting the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (apdt.com) and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (iaabc.org) web sites.

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Julie Cantrell BSc, CDBC
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