Herbs for Working Dogs
The Whole Dog Journal published a very insightful article about the use of herbs to improve your workings dogs capabilities in early 2001 by CJ Puotinen. CJ is the author of several books about medicinal herbs and The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care (1998 Keats Publishing) [Amazon]. Essentially, the only healthy shortcut that can help you and your boy or girl to the winners circle is Mother Nature herself, as certain medicinal herbs could help your fur kid concentrate despite distractions, relax under stress, keep his or her joints limber, improve coats, increase stamina and even possible improve sense of smell.
We discuss a few of these natural options for your interest only. Please note that herbal and other natural products can harm your pets – not all plants are safe and gentle! Do not attempt using any of the plants, herbs or spices listed, or any other plant matter, without the guidance of a qualified herbalist. Most importantly is to remember that with herbs and spices, there are no absolutes, but rather, ranges of active components in a plant. Mother Nature does not create every plant equally.
Herbs for learning
If you want your dog to pay attention, there are two groups of herbs that may help. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla or Anthemis nobilis), both are [nervines], herbs that nourish the nerves, and either one can help prevent your dog from being distracted, hyperactive, or overstimulated. While most people describe valerian as smelling like old socks, most dogs enjoy it and many cats actively crave it.
Memory tonics such as gotu kola (Centella asiatica), ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) enhance blood circulation and help stimulate clear thinking. Mental acuity also helps a dog’s physical performance. No matter what the canine sport your dog participates in, his ability to concentrate and make fast, accurate mental connections can be enhanced by the herbs described above.
Herbs for scent work
Memory-tonic herbs improve circulation throughout the brain and body, and some herbalists speculate that they may improve a dog’s sense of smell. Ginkgo, gotu kola, and rosemary are even more effective when combined with small amounts of stimulant herbs such as cayenne pepper (Capsicum frutescens) or ginger (Zingiber officinale). Valerian and / or chamomile can be used at the same time to improve concentration and focus.
Unfamiliar herbs may distract your dog’s nose, so don’t wait until the day of an event to introduce them; start weeks ahead so that his sensory system can adjust as you experiment.
Herbs for stress
A growing number of boarding kennel operators, humane society shelter workers, handlers of traveling dogs, and veterinarians know what a difference calming nervines can make for any animal who is anxious or confused. Valerian, skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), hops (Humulus lupulus), oatstraw (Avena sativa) and chamomile help dogs adapt and relax. Although these herbs are considered sleeping aids, none of them will sedate an active, alert dog the way pharmaceutical tranquilizers do. Instead, they allow a resting dog to relax and sleep by relieving nervous anxiety, and they help a wide-awake dog remain calm.
In addition, [adaptogen] (in herbal medicine a natural substance considered to help the body adapt to stress) herbs help dogs cope with stress. Adaptogens gradually correct imbalances, such as by raising or lowering blood pressure, reducing or increasing pulse rate, or correcting blood sugar levels, and when taken on a daily basis for weeks or months, they have been shown to help stabilize a dog’s responses to stress.
The most famous adaptogen herb is ginseng (Panax ginseng or P. quinquefolius), but other adaptogens gaining popularity among dog owners are fo-ti (Polygonum multiflorum), schizandra (Schizandra chenensin), ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous). Like tonic herbs, adaptogens work gradually and require months of use before their benefits are apparent.
An additional benefit of adaptogens is that they help increase stamina and endurance. This effect can be helpful for dogs that run or jog with their owners over long distances, as well as hunting, tracking, or sled dogs.
Herbs for the skin and coat
One of the more popular herbs for topical application is aloe vera juice or gel, which can be rubbed into the skin to soothe irritation, relieve itching, and speed healing. Chamomile tea is an excellent final rinse for all but white-coated dogs (it can temporarily darken white fur) and stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) tea is recommended for dark coats; both are natural hair conditioners.
Topical application offers temporary relief, but the real solution to skin and coat problems comes from inside. In addition to improving the diet, consider giving [alterative] (often called blood-cleansing) herbs such as burdock root (Arctium lappa), dandelion leaf (Taraxacum officinale), dandelion root, red clover (Trifolium pratense), stinging nettle, and yellow dock root (Rumex crispus). Gradually, over a period of weeks and months, these herbs restore normal body function and act as general tonics for improved health and appearance.
In addition, bitter herbs such as dandelion leaf, wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), feverfew (Tanacetum partenium), or commercial preparations such as Swedish Bitters stimulate the gastrointestinal tract, improve digestion, and indirectly improve coat condition.
To use a bitter herb, add small amounts to your dog’s first bite of food or simply place a pinch of the herb or a drop of tincture in her mouth. She won’t like it, but in response to the bitter taste her digestive organs will secrete bile and other fluids. If you accustom your dog to receiving bitters with each meal, she will usually come to accept them eagerly as she associates their taste with food. Last, adding aloe vera juice or gel to food can also help improve digestion and relieve skin and coat problems.
Herbs for limber joints
Conventional medicine considers arthritis irreversible and incurable; its only treatment is with symptom-suppressing drugs that temporarily alleviate pain, thus increasing mobility. However, holistic and integrative veterinarians are finding that a well-balanced all-raw diet can actually reverse the arthritic process, keep bones strong, maintain flexibility, and help prevent injury.
Arthritic dogs fed commercial feed may be helped by nutritional supplements such as glucosamine sulfate, chondriotin sulfate, or blends of herbs, but they usually begin limping as soon as the supplement is discontinued, something that wouldn’t happen if these supplements actually cured the condition. Boswellia (Boswellia spp.), devil’s claw root (Harpagophytum procumbens), yucca (Yucca spp.), white willow bark (Salix alba) and feverfew offer relief from symptoms, but they should be considered only part of the arthritis protocol. All of these herbs are appropriate for dogs recovering from injuries.
External applications of arnica (Arnica montana) tincture speed the healing of muscle sprains and bruises by increasing capillary blood circulation. Arnica tincture is an important first-aid remedy; if used within a few minutes of injury, it prevents pain, swelling and bruising.
As with any condition, the most healthful natural diet will improve the pet’s overall health.