On the Scent
By Catherine Bird

As a regular contributor to Natural Horse Magazine it is always great to get feedback from readers. After writing about aromatherapy for horses, I was contacted by Lynne Smith who emailed me with questions about using essential oils when showing dogs. She then put together a set of questions and this is the resulting article.

Lynne Smith and Magic

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils, which are concentrated forms of powerful aromatic molecules that produce ketones, phenols, aldehydes, ethers and other active constituents. The essential oils are an extremely concentrated form of plant energy, and for this reason they must be used with caution, respect and educated awareness of their power. Seventy times more powerful than the whole plants they come from, essential oils have, consequently, greatly increased healing activity and potential toxicity.

It is important to understand that essential oils themselves do not cure. The body and soul are responsible when it comes to healing, and this is a basic principle and understanding of natural health. The essential oils simply stimulate the already active healing, calming and regenerative mechanisms within the horse and us, or in this case the dog. Essential oils can assist in the treatment of physical, emotional and mental conditions.

The effectiveness of essential oils lies in several areas - in their immediate effect on the olfactory sense, their power of penetration, and their physiological action of the body. Much can be said about the sense of smell and its role in health and immune response. It is one of the animal's most primitive senses, a direct link from the outside world to the brain. It is believed that through the sense of smell, essential oils are able to cross the blood/brain barrier, the lipid membrane that protects the brain, partly due to the extremely small size of aromatic molecules, and also because olfactory nerves evolved before the brain. The oils affect the horse or dog not only on the physical level but they can be calming and centring on an emotional and psychological level as well.

It is the emotional and psychological level we will address in this article. Lynne asked for some ideas on how to use aromatherapy with her show dog and I asked her for specific situations in which she wanted to use essential oils.


Lynne's Question: My dog in particular can be a bit shy at times towards the judge. I have always assumed this was because maybe I tense up at that moment. Is there a scent to wear that could keep the dog's attention, keep him confident, maybe even something to make him feel all warm and fuzzy? Then it wouldn't matter whether we were in the ring with the scary judge or in our living room.

There are two issues here to address - the shyness and lack of attentiveness. For gaining confidence my favourite essential oil is Jasmine. You have to be careful in selecting jasmine when purchasing it, as it is a very expensive essential oil. Jasmine often sees attempts to duplicate it synthetically, so if you choose to use jasmine you need a reputable supplier. Several suppliers will provide jasmine diluted in jojoba oil and state that, which makes it economical to use for its aromatic properties.

When it comes to attentiveness, you need to have an idea as to why your dog is not attentive. Is he a bit of an airhead and daydreamer, or is he nervous and disassociating from the whole experience? Cypress is an excellent essential oil for drawing in and pulling the mind back to you especially if the mind is scattered and all over the place. Basil could be used if focus is vague, or lemon is another essential oil used to bring your dog back to the present moment. He may also need to get grounded, in which case you would then select a wood or root essential oil. This may be patchouli, sandalwood or vetiver.

My favourite warm and fuzzy essential oil is sweet orange. The orange plant is one that is very diverse in aromatherapy. You can obtain sweet orange from the peel of the fruit, neroli from the orange blossom, or pettigrain from the leaves and twigs. The scent of sweet orange is fairly inexpensive and it's a very female nurturing essential oil that envelops your dog in a big warm motherly hug. Neroli falls into the price range of jasmine and you can use this moreso if your dog has suffered extreme trauma and the sweet orange is not strong enough in its action.

The best way to decide which of these oils you would use singularly or in a combination is to offer them to your dog and see which ones he gravitates to just before the show. I like the idea of placing a couple of drops on a facial tissue and then slipping that tissue into your coat pocket so it is close to your dog's nose. Don't forget to let him have a good strong sniff of the final blend with some reassuring words, then enter the ring with confidence. It wouldn't hurt to inhale the essential oils yourself, as your dog may need the aromas to help him cope with your emotions.

Essential oils can assist in the treatment of physical, emotional and mental conditions, for all of us.


Lynne's Question: In the article for horses you mention using cypress and patchouli to keep a horse alert and grounded so in cases where the big, scary fern jumps out at you on the trail the horse is less likely to panic and take the high road, and more likely to try to figure out the situation. Can dogs benefit from this little bit of help as well? Showing dogs is really not the DOG'S idea of a great time! I would like to make things as stress-free for them as possible.

We covered these essential oils in the first question so I will look at this issue from another angle for you. What I find with animals is that most of their stress can be traced back to an incident with a human somewhere along the line. I use kinesiology processes to isolate a moment in time and then gain an insight into the tone of the story. What would be most useful in this sort of situation is using frankincense and or juniper.

I would use frankincense to clear away past fear issues. Place a few drops on the palm of the hand and 'wipe' your dog. You don't necessarily need to touch him; simply wipe through his energy field with the intention of clearing away past fears. If you look back honestly at your training history you will probably see times when you were nervous about doing the right thing or you were frustrated. These emotions lodge in your dog's energy field and he takes them on as his own, so this is one simple way to relieve him of the baggage.

Juniper is my worry remover. It helps the dog who suffers performance anxiety, especially in the show ring where expectations are high, or when training for a big competition. Juniper is made from the berries of the plant, the same source of the alcoholic spirit gin. It gives you and your dog the relaxation a gin and tonic would at the end of the day.


Lynne's Question: I know that even for training sessions such as teaching the dog to pull a cart, it is going to be stressful on my dog because he is always a bit apprehensive when first learning something new. I give him a product called Relax, which helps; I spray it into his mouth and it helps take the edge off, however I am not allowed to use this at an actual event. Even though it is a completely natural product I can't use it. So here again having a scent on me or on a scarf around the dog's neck might prove to be useful.

Some of our essential oils will overlap in all my replies so consider each one I have mentioned in previous questions and I will mention further ones.

The scent on a scarf is a wonderful idea. It is not wise to apply essential oils directly to the skin on dogs, as their systems are much smaller than ours, so the 'scarf' application of the scent would work well.

Lavender would be my choice of essential oil here. It is soothing and removes the frazzle from any situation. It is also gentle in its action. We could choose chamomile as well, however its action is much more sedative and we could end up with a dog suspected of being 'doped'. Mind you if your dog decides to throw a spoilt child tantrum just before having to look his best, then chamomile should be wafted immediately to bring him back to maturity.

You would still have to be discreet in your use of the essential oils on the scarf. Most associations are beginning to look at the use of essential oils and may decide they could be considered performance enhancing and fall under the same banner as using this product you have mentioned.

Lynne's Question: What about travelling a long way either by air or over the road? Would a soothing scent help the dog stay relaxed and less stressed out?

On the way to the event I would let him have some peppermint to inhale before driving off. This will keep him fresh and excited. Whenever you pull over for a petrol or toilet stop then offer him the peppermint along with any of the anti nerve essential oils.

Lynne's Question: Also, since my dog is a male he is starting to figure this out as well. He tends to get a bit excited when he sees the "girls" ringside. Would marjoram help with this if I had some on my hands or in a pocket close to him? Then he would hopefully keep his attention on me and the job we need to accomplish.

I like the idea of essential oils on a tissue. This way you can remove the source of the scent if it becomes too overwhelming for your dog, or move it closer if he needs a stronger whiff of the scent.

Marjoram is definitely the essential oil to have here. Though a word of caution - it is also one of the most sedative essential oils available to the general public. I find with horses if a 'bloke' is excited sexually, the marjoram will be effective for about twenty minutes when the source of the excitement cannot be removed, such as in a show situation. So I would use marjoram sparingly and give him a sniff from the bottle about ten minutes before parading and then rely on the focus essential oils while in the ring.

Lynne's Question: One more thing: what about a bitch whelping a litter? I have a little oil burner, which I love, and I was wondering if having something burning near the whelping area or a drop of oil on the bedding might help the bitch to relax. Of course one would have to take the new pups into consideration and not have a scent too strong, right?

I don't have any experience with whelping pups, however I have been lucky enough to assist in the birth of my two godsons.

Jasmine is the first essential oil I consider when a birth is imminent. The scent will trigger the hypothalamus gland to release all the appropriate female hormones, thus making the birthing process easier. Then it is a matter of personal preference. Geranium is a nice balancing essential oil to have burning, lavender for all its calming effects, and maybe grapefruit to help with keeping the atmosphere light and sunny.

If you keep the blend of essential oils subtle it will provide a welcoming environment for the pups. Once the delivery is over you may want to burn sweet orange to encourage a warm motherly feel; ylang ylang is also popular with young-uns as it gives reassurance with the unknown. You only need to burn the essential oils for about half an hour, I would not leave a burner on unattended overnight as then it could become overwhelming for the pups.


I think we have covered quite a few options here; they were great questions to work with. I would like you to be flexible with your approach when using essential oils and be guided by your dog and your intuition. What I have given as suggestions is very subjective, and as you get to know the essential oils you will find you will develop your own slant as to how you apply them. If you get an adverse reaction you may have used too much of the scent; remember, you only need enough to get the scent up his nose, and then the body does the rest. The scent does not have to be constant, but rather just enough to trigger a response, and that occurs in nanoseconds.

I expect your adventures in the show-ring will be very aromatic from now on; good luck to you and Magic.


About the author:
Catherine Bird is a Sydney-based qualified Aromatherapist, Medical Herbalist and Massage Therapist specializing in treating animals. Her clients have included the NSW Mounted Police, Olympic level competitors, and horses in all disciplines as well as backyard pets. She is the author of "Horse Scents, Making Sense with Your Horse Using Aromatherapy", which is one of a series being developed and she offers the Equine Aromatherapy Correspondence Course worldwide. For more information see www.hartingdale.com.au/~happyhorses, and http://communities.msn.com/HealthyHappyHorses, or email Catherine directly at happyhorses@hartingdale.com.au

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