Can Pheromones Influence Dog Behaviour?

Pheromones emitted by fearful dogs may negatively affect the fear levels of other dogs in the vicinity. Whilst the presence of appeasing pheromones may decrease the effects of anxiety.

What are pheromones?

Have you heard about pheromones in connection with your dog’s behaviour? Maybe you already use a product that contains a manufactured compound of the pheromones a mother dog produces around the mammary glands during lactation, milk production.

It is thought that dogs secrete pheromones to trigger many types of behaviour, which may include:

  • Raising an alarm/fearful responses (vets waiting rooms)

  • Signalling a food trail (teats for milk)

  • Bond between mother and pups

  • Triggering sexual arousal (female dog in season)

  • Delineating a territory/marking (urination and defecation)

  • Recognition of individuals/family members

Pheromones are substances that influence behaviour by olfactory means, through the nose.

Pheromones emitted by fearful dogs may negatively affect the fear levels of other dogs in the vicinity. Whilst the presence of appeasing pheromones may decrease the effects of anxiety.

Communicating with pheromones?

It is believed that dogs detect pheromones through an organ in their nose called the vomeronasal, or Jacobson’s organ.

The Flehmen response where the upper lips are raised and the mouth slightly opens, enhances pheromone perception. A dog may also ‘chatter’ their teeth after smelling something intently such as another dog’s urine. This is thought to direct the pheromones to the vomeronasal organ. In my experience this teeth chattering is more prevalent in some breeds than others.

From the vomeronasal organ, information is transmitted to the olfactory bulb where the odour is first interpreted, from here different areas of the brain analyse the scent in detail. If the odour prompts an emotional response this will be processed in the limbic system of the brain, the amygdala and hypothalamus among others.

Can pheromones help with canine behaviour issues?

Products that emit a synthetic appeasing pheromone have been available for many years. The pheromone is selected from the pheromones the mother dog produces around her teats when milk is available. Studies from Lincoln University showed that the use of appeasing pheromones reduced the night time vocalisation and waking of newly homed pups and rescue dogs. There have also been studies showing that the pheromones may reduce stress and vocalisation in kennels or the veterinary pre-op/recovery rooms. From my experience, these products may be helpful to dogs, I’ve no experience of negative effects. My approach would use them in combination with a behavioural programme that includes appropriate learning activities, exercise, play and environmental management alongside a good quality diet and freedom from pain.

Can I help?

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