I don’t know if I’m a huge believer in aromatherapy, but I do know that there’s something that’s very calming, after a hard day of writing, about lighting up a lavender-scented candle, pouring myself a good stiff drink, and binge-watching “Supernatural” on Netflix.
Of course, I can’t exactly give liquor to Janice and Leroy. I keep telling them, “Guys, you can’t drink until you’re 18, so stop asking!”
Kidding, of course. Janice can’t drink because she’s pregnant.
Seriously, though, I’ve often wondered if the things that work so well to soothe me would work for my dogs, as well. So, will aromatherapy work for dogs? Are there certain calming scents that are better than others? What are the best calming scents for dogs, assuming that there actually are any?
What is aromatherapy anyway, and how does it work for dogs?
There are a lot of people who will tell you that aromatherapy can ease any number of health issues, as well as keep you (and presumably your dog) emotionally happy and healthy. They claim that natural extracts can even work to fight off disease and infection.
Is there any truth to this?
It Couldn’t Hurt
This is pretty much my take on it. I don’t know if aromatherapy, and finding the right calming scents for dogs, is really going to have a huge effect on your best buddy’s wellbeing, but it’s definitely not going to hurt, so why not give it a try?
As we move forward, we’ll talk about how aromatherapy might work to calm anxiety in dogs, and the other benefits that it could have.
More Than Just a Good Smell
I suppose that when I light up those lavender candles, what I’m really trying to do is simply impart a good smell to the house. Does it relax me? I’m not sure. I guess that if the house smells good, by definition, I’m probably more relaxed. But does it do anything for my immune system? Does it make me healthier? Is it really anything more than just a “feel good” experience?
A lot of aromatherapists insist that it goes a long way beyond just making your house smell good. Introducing certain essential oils into your home can boost your immune system, repel mold and yeast, and perhaps most significantly, make you feel calmer.
I’ve never had nervous dogs. Boxers are my dogs of choice, and generally speaking, they’re pretty calm. I do have friends, though, that have nervous dogs, and I know from talking with them that it can be very challenging. Small children drive them nuts, brooms can terrify them, and the neighbor’s cat is beyond evil and must be “barked away.”
If this sounds like your dog, then my first course of action would be to consider behavior modification training. There are those, though, who would tell you that you might want to try aromatherapy first. Well, I don’t pretend to know everything, so if you want to just try out finding some calming scents for your dogs first, I’m fine with that.
The idea is that dogs who are terrified of certain things like noises, or objects, can benefit from the calming nature of essential oils. These calming scents for dogs affect them not just on the surface but deep down at the cellular level. They actually affect the dog’s body chemistry, balancing it and allowing the dog to achieve better emotional health.
This isn’t just “new age” crap either; some respected scientists also suggest that calming scents are, for dogs, the best way of dealing with many behavioral disorders. Many dogs, they say, improve a great deal by means of the use of essential oils.
Stress in Your Dog
How do you feel stress? What causes it? You might be surprised to learn that a lot of things that cause you to stress out are the same things that provoke a stress reaction in your dog.
What do you worry about? Trips to the doctor or the dentist? Fear of losing someone you love? Getting sick? Being confined? Being re-homed?
Trust me on this: those are all things that can make your dog worry, too. Just as an example, see Mommy, Don’t Leave Me: Dealing With Separation Anxiety. Separation anxiety can be a huge issue in dogs. If you think that your dog doesn’t worry, then you are very, very wrong. Dogs feel anxiety in the same way that we do, and sometimes, it might relate to being afraid of losing their human, or visiting the vet, or maybe even something else that we can’t identify easily.
Now, let’s talk a bit about the difference between stress and anxiety. Stress is deep-rooted, and can often cause physical illness. It’s usually due to serious issues, like the loss of a loved one. A stressed dog will usually react in much the same way as a stressed human, with changes in behavior like binge-eating or loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, and irritability.
Anxiety is a little more low-level. It’s not, “I’m terrified that I’m going to lose my human.” Instead, it’s “What if I lose my human?” It’s not, “My Mom is taking me to the vet, and I’m scared to death.” Instead, it’s, “I really hope I don’t have to go to the vet.” Anxiety is less troublesome than full-blown stress.
Either way, though, whether your dog is experiencing stress or just anxiety, it should be dealt with. And a lot of people believe that you can deal with it by means of aromatherapy. They believe that this is true even in extreme cases, like when a dog is being re-homed.
Well, as I’ve said, I’m not sure, but I’m not going to denigrate anything that might help a dog, so with that in mind, let’s talk about essential oils for your dog.
The Best Essential Oils
Here are my top 10 essential oils.
During my research, one essential oil came up over and over as being good for dogs. It’s chamomile oil.
This probably isn’t surprising, given that a lot of humans seem to find a cup of chamomile tea very relaxing. The essential oil is, apparently, even better. It’s believed to work very well to calm nervous dogs, and even to work to suppress anger and aggressiveness.
This type of oil is also very soothing when applied to the skin or delivered in a shampoo.
Most essential oils are easily found in health food stores. Cedarwood isn’t all that common though, and you might be better off looking for it online. It’s believed to calm the nervous system and also work to relieve pain. Some even say that it boosts the dog’s immune system and works as a natural repellent against fleas and other parasites. Further, it’s even believed to work as a pain reliever for arthritic dogs.
3. Lemon Oil
Lemon oil is believed to ease nervousness, stimulate the immune system, and also work as a natural preventative when it comes to various sorts of viruses that could affect your dog. Don’t think, though, that this is a substitute for regular vaccinations; no matter what anyone might tell you, it isn’t.
4. Helichrysum Oil
Again, there’s no magic bullet, but helichrysum oil is believed to be effective in helping broken bones to heal. It’s also believed to be effective in healing bruises, and also to suppress aggression.
Some people will tell you that just sniffing helichrysum oil will calm an aggressive dog. I highly doubt it. But it is believed to promote rejuvenation in nerve cells, and a healthy dog is far more likely to be a less aggressive dog. Don’t use this oil as a substitute for proper training, but if you want to use it as an adjunct to behavioral modification, I’m not going to stop you.
5. Myrrh Oil
Well, if it was good enough for Jesus…
Seriously, there is some evidence to suggest that this extract of the commiphora myrrha tree could soothe your dog’s skin, and improve brain function. If nothing else, it is one of the most calming scents for dogs, and it’s credited with decreasing tension and helping dogs to socialize more effectively with other pets in the household.
We’re back to my favorite essential oil now, and with good reason. Most aromatherapists believe that lavender is the most soothing oil. It’s a natural sedative, so if your buddy is anxious or recovering from injuries, this is one of the most calming scents for dogs. Lavender is also a natural flea repellent.
Rosemary is a natural disinfectant, and can work to dramatically improve your dog’s health.
Not all dogs are happy with having their teeth brushed, for instance, although it’s every bit as good for them as it is for humans. If your dog won’t tolerate having his teeth brushed, though, putting a bit of rosemary oil in his food can work to prevent the buildup of bacteria and plaque. It even eases the pain of teething in puppies. And as a bonus, most dogs love the smell of rosemary.
Rosemary also works to reduce the production of cortisol, which is a stress hormone.
8. Rose Geranium Oil
This fragrant oil is believed to relieve depression and anxiety. For this reason, it’s very good for dogs that are being re-homed and missing their original human.
This isn’t given orally, though; you should spray the oil on the dog’s bedding.
Back to Jesus again! It was good enough for him, and it’s good for your dog. Frankincense oil is believed to be a mood elevator, and also to work to calm the mind and deliver general feelings of wellbeing.
Peppermint is a natural coolant. In fact, you might even have noticed, yourself that after a long hike, popping in a peppermint makes you feel cooler. Peppermint is also known to ease pain and soothe an upset stomach.
These essential oils can be very good for your dog, and most of them actually come from plants that dogs would have ingested in the wild. Most of the time, in the wild, dogs know what they need. When they’re domesticated, though, it’s your job to know. So a lot of the time, it’s a matter of just using your own common sense, and then letting your dog determine what essential oil pleases him most.
With essential oils, you make use of this natural sense and let your dog select which oil or mixture of oils he needs.
How to Introduce Your Dog to Aromatherapy
To find the best calming scents for your dogs, first select a few that you think will help him. Then, open up the bottles. Place them on the floor, and let your dog take a sniff. Note how he responds. If he smells a lot, or licks, take note. And keep in mind that once he finds an oil that he really likes, he’ll stop smelling and licking.
Your dog knows what he wants, and he’ll most likely find it by means of smell. He might do other things too though, like blink his eyes, or even curl up and go to sleep.
Some dogs prefer to actually ingest the oils instead of smelling them, though. If it looks like that might be the case, then take a few drops of the essential oil, and rub it onto your dog’s skin. Then look for his responses. You want to make sure that you interpret them correctly. Don’t force the dog to react in any particular way.
Once you’ve found the oil that your dog likes best, chances are that he’s going to lower his head toward it. Then, he’ll lick his lips. And then, you’ll know that you have the oil that pleases your dog the most.
Getting it Wrong
Chances are that you won’t get it wrong, but if you do, you’ll know because your dog will try to avoid the smell of the essential oil by turning away or lowering his head. If that happens, then just try another oil.
The other thing you don’t want to do is over-think this. If your dog isn’t crazy about any particular oil, then it’s not right for him. Just let him rest, and then try other oils. Don’t make this a “job.” Sometimes, you need to have a bit of patience, and not rush your dog into telling you, “Yes, I like this oil, but I don’t like that one.” Just let him get used to things in his own time. You’re looking for a positive response, but you’re not trying to force a response.
Don’t try too hard to make him come to you. Otherwise, he will get extra cautious and perceives the whole situation as a tough task.
In fact, you should even be prepared to see him moving away from it initially. Allow him to leave if he chooses. As long as your dog remains in the same room as you with his nose pointing in your direction, it’s a positive response.
Once your dog has identified the oil that he likes, make sure to use it properly. Usually, the best dosage is 1-3 drops, delivered in vegetable oil. You can offer the oil two or three times a day, until your dog’s anxiety has eased, or until he no longer seems to have interest in the oil.
Keep in mind, too, that every dog is different. One dog might like a certain oil, while another dog won’t. Some dogs might need higher concentrations of oil, too. You will probably need to experiment.
Usually, if you’re using essential oils to calm your dog, you probably won’t have to do it for much more than a week. Ultimately, your dog is going to get bored, so calming scents for dogs only have to be used in the short term.
There are a few things that you have to keep in mind, though. First, only use oils from reputable companies. Second, dilute them before you use them. They’re pretty harmless, generally speaking, but if not diluted, they can cause skin irritation. A little goes a long way. And finally, don’t mix the oils in your dog’s food. They’re meant to be used on the skin, and then sparingly.
Buying Essential Oils
There are a lot of places where you can buy essential oils. If you’re looking for calming scents for dogs, though, you’ll probably find that there are a lot of variations in prices. You should also make sure to buy only from reputable retailers. One thing you should keep in mind is that you should only buy essential oils that come in colored bottles; this is because when the oils are exposed to light, they can deteriorate.
Also, the bottle should be labeled with the actual, scientific name of the oil. Lavender oil, for example, would be labeled as “lavandula angustifolia.” The country of origin should also appear on the label, and you should always, always look for these words: “100% pure essential oil.”
The other thing that you shouldn’t do is buy cheap oils. You have to expect to pay a reasonable price for pure oils, so if you’re looking for calming scents for dogs that will really work, then you have to understand that you won’t get them on the cheap. The real thing is expensive, and there’s no getting around that.
The Final Word
Dogs get stressed just the same as we do, but we can’t exactly pour them a drink and tell them to chill. Fortunately, though, there are remedies available, including calming scents for dogs that can be delivered by means of aromatherapy.
The 10 essential oils that I’ve recommended above could go a long way to calming your dog if he’s prone to anxiety. At least that’s what I’ve been given to understand. Now, I can’t tell you for sure that any of these remedies are really going to work – much of the research I’ve found is backed by nothing more than opinion and not in hard science.
That said, try out these remedies. If they work, that’s great. If they don’t, you’re not really out much. I would suggest, though, that if you have a serious problem with an anxious dog, the best source for suggestions when it comes to treatment would be an animal behaviorist or your veterinarian.