Illustrative Cases from S.A.F.E.R.

Flower Essence Canine Case:
Jessie: Learning to "Think Dog"

Jessie is a three-year-old, female, long-haired German Shepherd, who has been in trouble with the law after biting a teenager five months ago. Under the Dangerous Dogs Act (UK) if she transgresses one more time she is at risk of being forcibly taken from her owners and destroyed. The owners have been cautioned and threatened with a criminal record. The owners requested a remedy "to stop her from doing this again."

The Owners

The owners do not wish to be named due to the legal aspect of the case. For the purposes of this case history we shall call them Mr. and Mrs. Davis.

The Davises live in a country house in a very remote rural area, several fields from the nearest neighbor and half a mile from the country village where the attack took place. Mr. Davis is a businessman, and Mrs. Davis is a freelance writer for women's magazines. They have no children. They have owned Jessie since she was nine weeks old, and moved from the town to the country about a year ago.

Circumstances of the Attack

The attack took place when Mrs. Davis took Jessie into the nearby village on a shopping trip. She walked to the village, and left the dog tied up outside the village shop while she was inside getting a couple of groceries. She came out and was untying the dog, when a group of teenagers on skateboards came down the road. One of them skated within a few feet of Mrs. Davis. Jessie decided he was a threat, flew at him, and bit him on the arm. The bite was only superficial, luckily, which was the reason Jessie escaped with only a warning and was not put down immediately (dog laws are very strict in the UK).

First Consultation

We visited the Davis home on the first of May, 2001. It is a very fine house in a lovely tranquil setting, surrounded by trees. When we arrived at the house, we commented to Mrs. Davis what an impressive place it was, and a great place for a writer to live, being so quiet and secluded. Mrs. Davis laughed and said she thought it was too quiet sometimes, and that it scared her. We did not take this comment seriously at the time.

We were taken into the kitchen, and Jessie was introduced into the room shortly after. She was wearing a basket muzzle, and the owners explained that they must now take this precaution when people are around. They also said that when friends came with children, the children would want to play with Jessie and she would growl quite menacingly at them when approached. The result of this is that, since the attack, Jessie is a virtual prisoner in her own home, her owners terrified to take her anywhere.

When released into the room, Jessie approached us directly, in a straight line, as a confident dog will do; a nervous or insecure dog will approach in a curve. She growled softly whenever one of us made a sudden movement, and liked to maintain eye contact. We also noticed that Jessie tended to pester Mrs. Davis, nudging her and demanding attention, while ignoring Mr. Davis. We saw that Mrs. Davis was feeding her pieces of biscuit to make her go away, giving in to her demands.

We asked some questions about Jessie's temperament and upbringing:

  1. What kind of environment did she come from originally?

    Answer: The breeder was very caring and careful, and only bred the occasional litter. The Davises had seen both the sire and the dam, and they were both very well-behaved, friendly dogs.

  2. How well socialized was she as a puppy, both with the breeder and with the owners?

    Answer: She was very well socialized in the breeder's family, living with children of various ages and lots of coming and going. Since coming into the Davis family, she was taken as a puppy to obedience classes, where she was handled by different people, and never showed any sign of aggression.

  3. Has she ever been traumatized by any person, or had a fright relating to skateboards, roller skates, anything noisy or fast-moving?

    Answer: No, nothing like that.

  4. Has the dog shown any fears or nervousness, perhaps triggered by specific things?

    Answer: She has always been a very confident and inquisitive dog.

  5. Where does Jessie sleep?

    Answer:In her basket outside the bedroom door.

  6. What is she like on the leash?

    Answer: She has always tended to pull a little, more so with Mrs. Davis than Mr. Davis, which they put down to a question of physical strength.

Since the age of two, Jessie has been increasingly prone to barking and lunging at people in the street. Until then, her behavior had been impeccable. They had taken her to a vet and she had had a full check-up, all results negative. The vet could not explain the sudden change in behavior. She was also on a very good natural diet. A mystery.

Discussing the case at home later on, we were trying to make sense of the sudden, unexplained change in behavior at around two years of age. It was a strange time for a dog's behavior to change like this - it was not as though Jessie was entering adolescence. Then it occurred to us that the change would have coincided with their house move. We remembered that Mrs. Davis had said she felt uneasy sometimes in the countryside. Could there be a link between all of these things? Gael phoned Mrs. Davis and asked her to expand on what she had said. They spoke for a long time, and Mrs. Davis finally opened up. Suddenly everything fell into place.

The Davises had been town dwellers all their lives. At the same time as Mr. Davis's business flourished and he began to make money, his wife was becoming interested in creative writing. They mutually decided that it would be a good idea to buy themselves a nice big place in the country. They moved house and everything was fine. But the other side to Mr. Davis' growing success in his business was that he had to spend more and more time traveling away from home. Mrs. Davis found this very hard to cope with. She was unnerved by the silence and often had to take sleeping pills to get to sleep at night. She was afraid of intruders and let Jessie into the bedroom with her. Jessie started lying on the bed with her, and this made her feel comforted. She didn't tell her husband, fearing that he would think her silly.

Thus, quite by chance, a whole new dimension opened up for us on the case of Jessie. We understood why the dog was more dominant with Mrs. Davis than with her husband, pulling more on the leash with her, pestering her more at the table, and defending her against "attackers" in the village. It was because Jessie had taken on the role of protector of the home while Mr. Davis was away, and had taken it upon herself to make leadership decisions. As a point of fact, we discovered that the attack had taken place during one of Mr. Davis' absences. Sensing Mrs. Davis' anxiety, Jessie simply took over her place in the hierarchy, as she saw it.

We realized that to cure this problem, we would have to treat Mrs. Davis for her fears, too. If this pattern went on, there was a chance that Jessie would attempt to take over the entire household and most likely challenge Mr. Davis for the role of Alpha, or pack leader, a potentially dangerous situation for all concerned!

First Cycle of Essences

Vine for dominant behavior and the urge to become pack leader (although, in her own way of seeing things, Jessie was only responding normally to her circumstances. But it could not be left untreated. Vine helps to soften such traits, but the rest is up to the owner - see below*)

Holly for aggression and snappy temper

Chestnut Bud /Cosmosto help with the training program, help absorb lessons and aid communication between Jessie and her owners.

Essences to be given twice-daily, at mealtimes; eight drops in her food.

In light of her fears and anxieties about being alone at night in the big, dark house, her sleeplessness and thoughts of the supernatural, Mrs. Davis was given Mimulus, Aspen, White Chestnut and Cherry Plum. Jessie was banned from the bedroom, and to compensate for this lack of an emotional "crutch" while the essences took effect, Mr. Davis arranged to take some time off work and be at home with her. Far from thinking her silly for expressing her fears, he was very supportive and understanding.

  • In addition, the Davises were given our usual "Dog Demotion" program, which is a simple, yet effective and time-proven list of non-confrontational measures that can be incorporated into the daily routine to help lower the dog's standing in the household "pack" and so undermine much problem behavior. Our research shows that this program, if carried out correctly, will eliminate the 30% of problem behavior that the flower essences leave untouched in dominance / aggression cases like this. The two approaches, working together, almost invariably bring about a quicker, better result than either approach on its own (this is the main thrust of our book, Dogs Misbehaving - Solving problem behavior with Bach flower and other remedies). The reason the flower essences do not work entirely in such cases is that a dog will behave naturally in certain ways in response to certain circumstances. Being pack animals, their interest in hierarchy is not a vice, but a healthy, biologically adaptive survival instinct. Many, if not most, cases of canine aggression stem directly from poor training and owners' lack of understanding of basic canine psychology. In short, they fail to "think dog."

We were very clear that Mrs. Davis should be the one to pay the most attention to the Dog Demotion program, and follow it to the letter!

Reports came in three weeks or so later, when the 30ml treatment bottles were running out. The Davises phoned us to say there had been a big improvement. They had carried out the Dog Demotion Program to the letter and had given the essences regularly in Jessie's food, eight drops, twice daily. Results had come on quite suddenly after about ten days or so and remained consistent.

When Mrs. Davis took Jessie walking, the pulling on the lead was much lessened and the dog more content to trot along at heel. Mrs. Davis was amazed at how relaxing it was not to have tension on the lead and struggling all the time. When people walked by, the dog was no longer lunging at them, and showed no aggression at all, even when someone came up to ask the time. Mrs. Davis was also feeling much more confident.

Another bottle of the same essence combination was given to Jessie at this point, and Mrs. Davis also had a repeat of her previous combination.

Another week went by, and we received another call. Mr. Davis had gone away for a night. This happened to be a stormy and windy night, but Mrs. Davis felt quite relaxed and unafraid. Jessie was not allowed into the bedroom, and did cry and whine a little outside the door for ten minutes until, ignored, she gave up and went off to lie down in her usual place. We put this down to normal doggy behavior rather than a relapse of attention-seeking, controlling behavior! Considering that the dog was very used to being up on the bed with her mistress when Mr. Davis was away, it was not surprising that she expected to be let into the room. It was, however, quite surprising to Mrs. Davis that Jessie gave up so easily and seemed content to return to her own bed.

A period of time elapsed, and we received a further call from the Davises to report that some visitors had come to stay with them. The visitors had children, and Jessie had played ball games in the garden with them without any problems. These children were able to take the ball from her and she never once acted possessively about it, nor showed any sign of hostility toward the kids.

Mrs. Davis now feels that a better rapport has developed between herself and Jessie. Even though she had been comforted by the dog's presence before, she has come to see that that was a less healthy and positive relationship than the one that has grown in its place. She did not feel the need to go on with further combinations of essences, but ordered a supply of Cosmos as she feels this was an important essence in heightening her attunement and bonding to Jessie.

There have been no further reports, but we believe that if there had been any trouble the Davises would have been in touch with us. This is a case that shows when people are cooperative, willing to give the essences according to instruction, and (where relevant) apply the necessary practical behavioral measures, even potentially worrisome problems like this can be solved with apparent ease.

Read three other animal case studies from S.A.F.E.R.

Brandy is a Springer Spaniel pup belonging to Mary, Gael's cousin in Ireland. When we started the case, he was about 4 and a half months old. Brandy's problems are very much behavioral, training issues.

This is the case of a Retriever named Jacques. This is one of our recent cases. It was carried out by distance consultation, the dog and owner being in France (showing that in this type of therapy it is not actually always essential to have personal contact with the client / animal).

At the time of this writing, Molly is in foal. However, her problematic temperament was causing concern as to how easily she could be approached and handled as the pregnancy progressed. This was the main priority for treatment, to "mellow" the mare into a more docile and receptive emotional state within the remaining month of pregnancy, for her own good, that of the foal, and for the safety of the handlers.

Read the full interview with Martin and Gael
and their pioneering research work through S.A.F.E.R.




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