Using Bach Flower Essences to Improve Your Dog's Behavior
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Flower Essences - Some Background
Flower Essences are completely natural, delicate yet powerful preparations that can be remarkably effective at correcting or adjusting extreme or out of balance emotional reactions. These very dilute liquid preparations contain the energy signatures (or "essences") of various healing flowers. Each flower essence addresses a specific emotional state, and when taken, gently works to bring that emotion back into healthy balance. For instance, there are flower essences that can help your dog become more focused, less fearful, more tolerant and patient with others -- the list goes on. Flower essences can be taken individually, or combined into formulas. They work beautifully either as an aid to a behavior modification program, or as a stand-alone approach, for animals who have difficulty in specific situations. They are non-toxic, non-habit-forming, have no negative side effects, and cannot be overdosed.
In the 1930's, English physician and bacteriologist Dr. Edward Bach discovered, tested, and developed the twenty eight flower essences we now know as Bach flower essences, or Bach flower remedies. Since that time, these remedies have become recognized and utilized world-wide, benefiting the emotional health and well-being of not only humans, but companion animals and domestic and captive-wild species. In more recent years, research has broadened beyond the British Isles, and hundreds of flower essences from around the globe continue to be developed.
Beyond Rescue Remedy - Flower Essences and Their Range of Behavioral Applications
Many people are familiar with the much-loved and widely available Rescue Remedy, a combination of five flower essences formulated by Dr. Bach himself as an emergency or "rescue" aid. What many people don't realize is that Bach flower remedies have far more wide-ranging applicability than the renowned stress and trauma relief of Rescue Remedy. The 38 English essences cover a wide range of emotional states and their imbalances. Listed below are just some of the areas in which flower essences have been used with success with dogs:
improved self control and reduced reactivity
improved focus and attention
increased tolerance toward other animals, people
reduced fears and anxieties
enhanced ability and willingness to learn
improved energy, stamina, and ability to handle stress
facilitated recovery from the behavioral fallout of neglect, abuse, or other traumatic experiences
reduced mood swings in intact female dogs
improved confidence in show and performance dogs
eased adjustment to new home, new family members, changes in routine or household
The Importance of Balance
Flower essences are all about balance, and we should always strive for balance in all areas of our dogs' lives. With that in mind (no doubt stating the obvious), it's important to note that flower essences work best when the needs of the whole dog are met. They should be used in conjunction with, and not as a substitute for:
Veterinary care - Flower essence formulas are, of course, not a substitute for veterinary care, or necessary prescription medication. Chronic pain, hormonal or other chemical imbalances, irritating skin conditions – these and other health issues can cause changes in personality and reduced ability to handle stress. A thorough veterinary work-up is always advisable when dealing with serious behavior issues.
Training - As with a child, a dog’s emotional health is also influenced by care and upbringing. Keep in mind that all dogs require thoughtful instruction, guidance, and structure from their human families, as well as a solid relationship based on trust, clear communication, and mutual respect.
Exercise – All dogs require sufficient regular physical and mental activity to remain emotionally “even-keeled”.
Diet – A nutritious, health-supporting natural diet will not only help your dog feel better, it will also feed his nervous system, and thereby his emotional health.
How Do Flower Essences Work?
Flower essences subtly adjust attitude, altering perspective over time from negative and reactive, to positive and balanced. How do they accomplish this? It's a good question. As one whose education and background are in the sciences, I lean toward healthy skepticism when encountering techniques or products that seem to lack clear explanation. However, I also realize that there is a whole universe of processes and events that we do not yet fully understand. After all, virtually every scientific notion that we now accept as established, was not long ago unexplained and “mysterious”. The living body appears to be capable of responding, reacting, and adjusting to subtle “energies”, for lack of a better word, that are not currently measurable given the level of technology and understanding we have today. So, at this time no one can offer formal studies that demonstrate the mechanism by which flower essences work. However, as long as I keep seeing the results I have seen for two decades, I am happy to accept that the universe still holds its mysteries, and am thankful that things don’t stop working just because we can’t understand how or why!
As far as how flower essences may work, The Flower Essence Repertory, by Patricia Kaminski and Richard Katz, of the Flower Essence Society, a major flower essence research organization, states that: "like homeopathic remedies, flower essences are vibrational in nature. They are highly dilute from a physical point of view, but have subtle power as potentized substances, embodying the specific energetic patterns of each flower. Their impact does not derive from any direct biochemical interaction within the physiology of the body. Rather, flower essences work through the various human energy fields, which in turn influence mental, emotional, and physical well-being."
How to Give Flower Essences to Your Dog
The most common method of administration is oral - typically a few drops of the essence blend directly into the dog's mouth, or added to his dinner, or a small snack or treat. Flower essences can also be added to the dog's water bowl. As alternatives to giving flower essences internally, some prefer to mist the area around the dog's head and body, and/or his sleeping quarters, and/or the room or area where problem behavior tends to occur. Flower essences may also be applied directly to the skin; ear flaps and lips are common sites, as are acupressure points.
For ongoing or recurring behavior issues, flower essences are best given 3 or 4 times each day, on a regular, rhythmic schedule. (That is, space the doses out over the day, and try to give those doses at around them same time each day.) Continue this as long as they continue to help - anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. For acute, "emergency" use, where a behavioral reaction comes on suddenly or severely (for example, a dog reacting excessively to thunder or fireworks, or a dog that "loses it" when visitors come over), flower essences can be given "as needed"; three or four doses spaced 3-5 minutes apart is often sufficient to bring the dog back into a more balanced emotional state.
What To Expect
Flower essences do not work in a drug-like fashion. They will never artificially manipulate your dog’s personality, or change his attitude, behavior, or responses in ways that aren’t natural for him. Instead, they work subtly, under the surface, balancing out-of-balance emotional states. Look for shifts (sometimes subtle, sometimes very obvious) in your dog’s attitude in situations that previously had caused stress or a particular negative reaction.
Every animal is unique, and every individual tends to incorporate changes at their own pace. This is particularly true with flower essences - balancing may begin to occur as quickly as minutes after the first dose, or as gradually as a month afterward. Typically, noticeable changes will begin anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks after starting to use them.
Assuming the appropriate combination of essences has been chosen, you should see a progressive reduction in intensity, frequency, duration, and/or tenacity of the negative reaction. Over time, these small improvements build into bigger ones. If an essence within the formula is not an appropriate one for your dog, then you simply will not see that aspect of behavior affected.
Flower essences can be continued as long as you continue to see regular progress. There is no chance of them becoming habit-forming - in fact, the opposite is true. As your dog becomes comfortable with the new, positive balance, that balance will begin to "hold" for longer periods, until the essences are no longer needed.
I have been a professional dog trainer since 1990, working with all types of behavior issues; flower essences have been an integral part of that work since 1994. The consistently positive, and often remarkable, results I have seen have changed me from cautious skeptic to "true believer". While flower essences are not a cure-all, and are not "the answer" for all dogs, they are a wonderful, yet currently under-utilized, tool that presents enormous potential for behavior improvement. Of course, as with any product or therapy, whether conventional or alternative, there will naturally be some animals that seem to benefit more significantly than others (in other words, "your mileage may vary"). However, given the potential for improvement they offer, while being gentle and safe for all ages, conditions, and states of health, with an over 70 year history of no harmful side effects, they definitely fall into the category of "worth a try".
I hope you've found the information presented here useful, and I encourage you to consider these amazing natural formulas.
Julie A Cantrell BSc CDBC
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