Soothing stressed-out pooches

Special to The Times

IF your dog is a terrible traveler on car trips, aromatherapy may help calm Fido -- and you.

Dogs relaxed or were better behaved when they smelled lavender oil that had been sprayed on a flannel cloth and placed inside the car, according to a study. Researchers compared that behavior with car trips where dogs smelled only normal odors, says Deborah Wells, a senior lecturer at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She reported her results in the Sept. 15 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Assn.

“We have found that lavender has a calming effect on dogs in other non-travel-related contexts, specifically rescue shelters,” she says. The discovery prompted her to test its effects during car rides.


For the study, Wells recruited 32 dogs with a history of unruly behavior in cars. The owners took their dogs for a 20- to 30-minute car ride for three consecutive days with nothing but typical car and outdoor smells.

Then Wells sprayed a cloth with about .16 ounces of lavender oil, hung it in the cars and asked the owners to take the dogs for 20- to 30-minute rides on three consecutive days. On each ride, the dog’s movements and barking were recorded, and Wells computed the percentage of time dogs engaged in various behaviors.

When exposed to lavender, the dogs barked less, moved around less, and rested and sat more during the rides. During the normal-odor rides, they spent more than 70% of the time barking and otherwise vocalizing. In the lavender-scented rides, their vocalizing time dropped to 55%.

Lavender may also help with dogs’ motion sickness, Wells says, citing a study that found it helps quell motion sickness in pigs.

Even the owners seemed more relaxed during the aromatherapy drives, Wells says, although she isn’t sure if they relaxed after their pets did or whether they too were affected by the lavender aroma.

Lavender oil, available online and from health food stores, costs $8 to $20 an ounce.

Other ways to calm your four-legged traveler:

* Water therapy: Take your dog for a swim, if it likes water, says David Reinecker, a Los Angeles-area dog behaviorist and founder of Dog Remedy Behavioral Training. “You want the dog to be happy and exhausted.”


* Massage: “Focus on the ear, the tummy, the hips,” Reinecker says. During the massage, “talk soothingly. Do it for 10 or 15 minutes.”

* Dog-appeasing pheromone: Sold online and at pet stores, products with DAP promise to stop stress-related behaviors, such as excess whimpering.

They contain “a pheromone associated with what we would probably interpret as pleasure,” says Bonnie Beaver, a professor of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M;, College Station. “It’s from the mammary gland of a female dog. Puppies smell it when they nurse. For some it works; for some it doesn’t. But I think you would find that with lavender as well.”

* Drug therapy: Available over the counter, Benadryl can help quell the motion sickness that may trigger the unruly behavior, Beaver says. Ask your vet about the proper dose.

“Give it at least 30 to 60 minutes before travel,” she says. It will make some dogs sleepy, but not all, she says.

* Another option, Beaver says, is to ask your vet about doggie tranquilizers.

* Nature CDs: Once in the car, try not to have high-pitched sounds, Reinecker says. “Get a CD of nature sounds or classical music,” he says, “even New Age.”