Dogs love to smell things. They get a clear picture of their world through smell, and their odor acuity is 10,000 to 100,000 times that of humans! Scent is also connected to the limbic brain, the seat of memory, emotion and learning, and so aromatherapy has the potential to calm your dog as well as facilitate bonding and behavior change.
Aromatherapy is the art and science of using aromatic plants to restore or enhance health and well-being. Pure essential oils are the heart of aromatherapy, and their complex compounds are extracted from all parts of plants: flower, seed, leaf, bark, root or resin. Scientific studies in Germany and France regarding the medical effects of essential oils on animals and humans were quite advanced by the mid-1800s, and because of positive clinical results, the practice of veterinary aromatherapy was not uncommon in these countries by the mid-1900s.
Many essential oils, including lavender, rose geranium and bergamot, are known to have relaxing effects, and can be safely used to calm your dog, too. Pure essential oils are highly concentrated (200 pounds of lavender tops are distilled to make one pound of lavender essential oil) and so it is accepted practice to dilute essential oils to avoid sensitization, skin irritation or overwhelming the dog’s sense of smell. It’s important to read labels and be sure products use pure essential oils rather than synthetic fragrance oils that can cause problems such as headaches, agitation or allergic reactions.
In 1999, I was approached by a kennel owner who wanted help with calming her canine visitors. The blend now known as Canine Calm is diluted by using fan-driven diffusers throughout the facility and is also applied to individual dogs in a water-based mist. Diffusing Canine Calm has an overall calming effect, starting in the waiting room – staff stays calm, dogs (and their humans) start to calm down, and other animals in the facility area are less prone to aggressive behavior when a new dog enters the facility.
Pure essential oils have a therapeutic physiological effect and enter the bloodstream when inhaled or applied to the skin. There are many blood vessels on the dog’s outer ears, and so gently massaging the aromatherapy mist into the outer ears gets things moving quickly, although depending on the dog’s health or level of distress, multiple applications may be necessary.
Thinking back to the limbic connection, it can be important for the first exposure to take place at a non-stressful time. For example, when introducing an aromatherapy mist, lightly mist your shirt or pant legs and hang out with your dog to see how the dog responds, and to associate the scent with a person of comfort at a safe time. Use it during training for quick calm focus and then to set the stage at home for practice; for making an easier transition from shelter to forever home; for scenting a familiar object such as a blanket or pillow to leave with the home-alone dog, a scent that reminds the dog of a person of comfort; for bonding with a new puppy (of note, the mists are safe for puppies as young as 8 weeks old).
I love receiving feedback from our customers. My current favorite Canine Calm success story is about a Jack Russell, who is afraid of vacuum cleaners and always runs away when the groomer needs to clean up. The groomer recently tried Canine Calm and left her dog for about 15 minutes; when she returned, the dog was chatting with the vacuum cleaner, holding the hose in her mouth! There are rumors of a video, which we are anxiously awaiting!