Lavender scent and the treatment of anxious dog behavior

by Steph Mahrle

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Today, a very good friend of mine mentioned to me, "I was listening to the radio. A local dog trainer and behaviorist called in about dogs and winter depression/anxiety. The behaviorist suggested putting lavender around the house." My friend asked me to share my thoughts on using lavender scent to treat anxiety in dogs, so I thought I would share my thoughts with everyone at once.

While it is entirely possible that aromatherapy is helpful to dogs, I see the use of this training tool in isolation to treat anxiety, as being a bandaid. Before I began training Karma, I was VERY interested in the "quick fix" for all manner of Karma's behavioral issues. I can totally relate to being at wits end with my dog, and just wanting the bad behavior to stop. Reaching out for some lavender oil and hoping for the best, -was right up my alley.

Here is the honest answer, there is no quick fix to resolving a dog's anxiety issues. Don't get me wrong, I think using the lavender scent in conjunction with an actual obedience training regimen (including crate training, "heeling", "down/stays", and "place") can be highly effective, in terms of resolving anxious dog behavior. I just don't think the answer lies in using the lavender scent only.

Anxiety in dogs is a symptom of not having structured leadership. In my professional opinion, it is important to provide leadership through the structure of basic obedience first. Adding a calming scent to the experience (in theory) can help facilitate calmness but should not be relied upon as a cure all.

I will give you a real world dog training example: I do not use aromatherapy, and my balanced dog training approach results in a calm dog, so the use of lavender scent to treat anxious dog behavior is certainly advice to be taken with a grain of salt.

This whole situation reminds me of a funny observation my Dad once made about bathroom deodorizers. He said, "At some point, the spray really just makes the room smell like a purple turd." A hilarious observation, that I'm sure we can all relate to.

My point is, you can try and cover up or mask the dog's anxiety with the lavender scent, but you are unlikely to resolve the root of the problem (in this case, the dog's anxious behavior), unless you provide the dog with actual structured leadership. Otherwise you'll just have a badly behaved lavender scented dog, and home. Also known as "the purple turd."

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