Alternative medicines to help with behavioral training (Proceedings)

April 1, 2008
Randy Kidd, DVM, PhD

Roughly 10 million dogs and cats are euthanized (killed) in shelters every year, and most of these animals are relinquished because they have behavioral problems that the owners can't (or don't want to) deal with.


Roughly 10 million dogs and cats are euthanized (killed) in shelters every year, and most of these animals are relinquished because they have behavioral problems that the owners can't (or don't want to) deal with. (Note that these figures do not include those animals euthanized in veterinary clinics nor those animals "lost" and likely turned feral, and we can only speculate how many of these animals are euthanized/lost due to behavioral problems.) Given the extent of this problem, "bad behavior" may well be considered today's most lethal disease of pets in this country.

It is true that most of the behavioral problems are really not with the animals, but rather with pet owners who may not be knowledgeable enough about nor prepared for the realities of owning a pet. And some of the reasons pet owners cite for giving up their pets to shelters may be resolved through educational or other types of programs ... a holistic approach to pet health would thus, of necessity, include some type of positive behavioral training for pets and their people.

What all this suggests is that the practicing veterinarian should become more aware of behavioral problems in animals and perhaps should provide some sort of help – either directly or in the form of referrals to positive-method trainers – for clients who are having problems with their pets.

Normal Animal Behavior; Not So Normal In Our Human Society:

Many of the activities that animals engage in are entirely appropriate for their species ... but not so appropriate in our civilized human society. Examples include: barking, digging, chewing, turf marking with feces and urine, and aggressively protecting their own turf. So, while many of these behaviors can be "trained away", owners also need to be aware that these are normal animal activities ... before they purchase their pets.

In addition, pets may have problems with socialization with some or all of the human family members, for a variety of reasons. As examples, the family pet may fear children, or distrust either females or males, or hate the newest member – child or spouse – of the household. Socialization problems can be compounded when they extend into the neighborhood and its people. And many pets, because they have become a part of the family "pack" become extremely anxious when they are left home alone.

Problems of socialization may also occur with other pets in the family or with animals in the neighborhood, especially when new pets or animals are added to the environment.

Finally, as a pet ages, it often becomes more crotchety, perhaps from increasing arthritic pain, from cognitive dysfunction, or from diminishing eyesight or hearing.

Many of these behavioral problems stem from "normal" animal attitudes or "normal" ways animals deal with their situation or environment. Many behavioral or socialization problems can be "trained away", and many of these training efforts can be helped with some of the alternative remedies. In addition, some of the normal training processes such as housebreaking or comforting an animal during a thunderstorm may be helped via the alternative remedies.

Behavioral Training:

As mentioned in the previous session, the older, alpha dominance, method of training has come under more and more criticism – with the feeling that it may work for the short term, but not necessarily for the long term, especially when the "spirit" of the animal is considered, and more especially when the specificity of the trainer involved is considered.

More positive methods of training are now replacing the alpha dominance model.

However, whatever the training method used, training to affect behavioral modification is a necessary component of the whole process. Natural remedies can be used as an adjunct to good and proper training methods.

For more information on positive training methods see: Association of Pet Dog Trainers:

Medical Behavioral Problems

It should be remembered that medical conditions may lead to behavioral problems. Household soiling may be related to diabetes, Cushings, or inflammatory bowel disease, for example. A crotchety attitude may be due to arthritic pain, or to diminished eyesight or hearing.


A holistic approach to behavioral training will recognize the importance of this three-way connection, with perhaps more emphasis on the mind and spirit aspects. Remember, though, that bodily factors may also contribute to a lack of ability to comply with some of the aspects of training.

Following are some natural methods that may be helpful for enhancing behavioral training

Herbs to Consider for Enhancing Behavior Modification Training

  • Nervine tonics: Herbs that strengthen and feed the nervous system, helping it achieve a state of balance: Oats, skullcap, and vervain.

  • Nervine relaxants: Herbs that may help the dog undergoing stress and/or tension: black cohosh, chamomile, hops, lavender, motherwort, St. John's wort, skullcap, valerian.

  • For emotional conditions, consider flower essences (Bach Flowers®).

  • To enhance brain/cognitive function: Herbs that may help the dog to better use his brain's capacity: gingko, kava kava.

  • To calm a nervous stomach: slippery elm bark, chamomile, peppermint.

  • Also consider flower essences for emotional conditions that lead to a "nervous stomach".

Homeopathic Remedies to Consider for Enhancing Behavior Modification Training

Some animals respond to homeopathic remedies by "normalizing" aberrant behavior when they are given their constitutional remedy. This constitutional remedy conforms to the personality type of the animal. Some examples of homeopathic "personality types" include:

  • Lachesis: Patient is aggressive and "talkative". Symptoms/lesions tend to be on the left side; the patient has a voracious appetite for food and sex, and dislikes bright lights.

  • Lycopodium: Typical patient has symptoms that tend to move from one part of the body to another. The patient dislikes being alone and appears apprehensive; is alternatively aggressive and submissive.

  • Nux vomica: The Nux personality is voracious in everything, especially eating habits. May be surly and aggressive.

  • Pulsatilla: Used especially for female conditions of all sorts.

  • Silicea: For the shy, chilly, thin, and unsure patient.

  • Sulphur/Sulfur: Typical patient is dry, dirty-coated, smelly, overweight, and stubborn. Usually easy-going but may react violently if cornered. Prefers cold. Sulfur is powerful constitutional remedy, often used to clear the system before other remedies are used.

  • Thuja: One of the remedies to use when toxicosis or adverse reactions (including mental or emotional reactions) to drugs or other substances is suspected, and especially when these reactions may be thought to be interfering with normal behavior.

Flower Essence (Bach Flower) Remedies

Flower essences work by helping modulate emotional conditions, and they may be used to help an animal return to a more normal (and socially acceptable) behavior pattern.

For the abused and/or neglected animal, for example, a combination of Aspen, Star of Bethlehem and Larch may be indicated. Aspen and Larch are indicated for the animal that shows his fear with downcast eyes, and Star of Bethlehem for grief and trauma. For the animal that seems to lack confidence a combination of Cerato, Aspen, Elm, Larch, and Mimulus might be helpful. Chestnut bud and Walnut have been used successfully, along with gentle but firm training, to work with animals that bite or nip.

Other specific remedies include (parentheses indicate the company where the particular remedy was originally developed):

  • Mimulus (Bach): For fear of particular things or circumstances such as thunderstorms, vacuum cleaners, trips to the vet, visits by small children.

  • Aspen (Bach): For the nervous, fearful animal, especially in new circumstances. For the dog with its tail always tucked between its legs or the dog that constantly rolls on its back and "piddles".

  • Rock Rose (Bach): For extreme fear and panic; restores courage and calmness. A good remedy to add to Mimulus (and possibly also Aspen) for the dog afraid of thunderstorms or during the Fourth of July firecracker season.

  • Star of Bethlehem (Bach): For the physically or emotionally traumatized animal – dogs rescued from the shelter, previously abused animals, or after surgery or boarding.

  • Chestnut bud (Bach): For the dog that fails to learn from experience; that makes the same mistakes over and over.

  • Larch (Bach): For the dog with no confidence; the animal who seems to always have a fear of failure.

  • Walnut (Bach): Helpful after any change such as new babies or pets in the family, moving from one home to another, weaning, after heat cycles.

  • Tiger Lily (Flower Essence Society): Helps with aggression and animals that tend to bite and snap. Teaches co-operation with others, helps release aggression and hostility.

  • Chamomile (Flower Essence Society): Calming. Helps with the irritable and fractious animal.

  • Rescue Remedy (Bach), a combination of five flowers which is also known by a variety of other names, available from other suppliers. These other "rescue remedies" often have a slightly different flower formula from the original Bach remedy, but all of them are used: For any accident, illness or injury ... the emergency remedy to use until you can get to the vet.

Aromatherapy Remedies

Aromatherapy scents work by triggering parts of the brain to enhance or dampen emotional responses. While specific aromas have varying effects in different animals, some are fairly typical in the responses they elicit. Aromas that may help with behavioral training include the following:

  • English Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia or L. vera, L. officinale: Lavender affects the emotions by balancing them, relaxing or stimulating where necessary. In one experiment it was found that kenneled dogs bark less often when lavender aroma is present in the air.

  • Basil, Ocimum basilicum: The scent is said to have an uplifting effect that overcomes stress and lack of confidence and helps increase awareness of one's surroundings.

  • Cedarwood, Cedrus species: Cedarwood aroma is said to increase self respect and stabilizes the emotions by "grounding" the individual.

  • German Chamomile, Matricaria recutita or M. chamomilla: Chamomile aroma has potent anti-anxiety and anti-depressant activity.

  • Cinnamon, Cinnamomum zeylanicum: The smell of cinnamon relieves tension, steadies the nerves, and invigorates the senses.

  • Clary Sage, Salvia sclarea: Its scent produces relaxation and acts to alleviate mental fatigue and stress-related conditions.

  • Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus globules: There are many varieties of eucalyptus, but the scent of most of them seems to increase energy.

  • Jasmine, Jasminum officinale and J. grandiflorum: Jasmine is a nervous system sedative. Its scent soothes depression, anger, worry, and lack of confidence.

  • Juniper, Juniperus communis: The scent is good for those with anxiety and for those who are emotionally drained.

  • Peppermint, Mentha piperita: Peppermint's scent acts as a mental stimulant.

  • Rose, Rosa spp.: Rose aroma helps overcome depression and lack of confidence.

  • Thyme, Thymus vulgaris: The scent of thyme is said to be stimulating to the mind.

  • Ylang-Ylang, Cananga odorata: Ylang-ylang is a strong sedative and antispasmodic. The fragrance makes the senses more acute and tempers depression and anger.

Association of Pet Dog Trainers:

For more information on the modalities acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, aromatherapy, and flower essences, see the write ups for the previous sessions.