Recently, I worked on a case where I believe dog-appeasing pheromones (DAP) helped significantly. The dog presented with moderate separation anxiety and exhibited guarding behaviors during the first days and weeks with a new family, which included people, dogs, and cats. As a result, I dug into the current research to find out WHY it works.
Wikipedia defines dog-appeasing pheromones as “a mixture of esters of fatty acids released by…lactating female dogs. [DAP] has an appeasing effect on both adults and pups, and assists in establishing a bond with the mother.” There are companies who product synthetic dog-appeasing pheromones, as a plug-in diffuser and a spray.
Sounds great, right? Well, possibly. There have been studies done using DAP, mostly in high-stress environments such as animal shelters and veterinary hospitals. In these experiments, DAP was not proven to be very effective. (Feliway is a similar product for cats that also seems ineffective in high-stress environments.)
In fact, based on a a systematic review, which evaluates all the published data on the basis of quality, the SkeptVet encourages fellow veterinarians not to recommend either Feliway or DAP to clients.
However, in lower-stress environments and combined with behavior modification, DAP may help ease fear-based stress that dogs may experience. For example, dogs who experienced heightened anxiety during thunderstorms or fireworks showed improvement when DAP was introduced.
In my practice, I have also seen situations of resource guarding and dog-dog introductions that were made more manageable by using DAP in home environments. (Notice that I didn’t say that using DAP fixed any behavior issues on its own.)
Though I was never a smoker, I’d liken DAP to a stop-smoking patch. It’s temporary, and it works well for some people (at least those on the commercials). However, you still gotta do the hard work of creating healthier habits (behavior modification).
I think the lesson here is that DAP is not magic. It is one tool that trainers can combine with behavior modification and management. It is not a quick fix, but I think it’s worth a try when working with fear-based issues.