Soar is a young adult Belgian Sheepdog imported by Rich Cummings from French working lines. He has his TD and TDX titles. Soar’s first year began well, with no issues and lots of potential as Rich’s future competition dog. But at about a year of age, he started becoming fear-reactive when people were nearby. Find out how Bach flower essences got this amazing team back on the road to success. At the end of the article you'll learn which essences worked for him.
AE: Rich, thanks for joining us. Please tell us a little about Soar’s background.
Rich: I got Soar from France because he has some working dogs in his background and I was looking for a competition dog. He flew over from France at 12 weeks old with no problems. I picked him up in Chicago and he just fit right in with my pack. He was fine with people.
At about 1 year of age he started reacting fearfully to people. I have no idea what triggered it. He would back away. If they didn't try to interact with him he was fine.
When working, though, he might growl if someone got too close to him, within a few feet. It’s almost like his elbow space room is pretty big, like he needs his space to work. He’d give a very low, short-lived growl, and then get back to work. But in a nervous way, always looking to where the people were.
He was steadily getting worse and by the time he was 2 I had him neutered. He got a little better after that. But he still didn’t want people touching him. So, I only participated in dog sports that did not involve direct contact with people.
Soar is confident, a good working dog, very happy go lucky in general. He’ll go just about anywhere with an up attitude. That’s why the issue about people was so disappointing and frustrating, especially since I never knew what triggered it.
AE: You sound like quite an experienced dog person and trainer.
Rich: I’ve had 2 Belgian Tervuren and 7 Groenendael (Belgian Sheepdogs) including Soar. But I started out with Siberian Huskies and had several till I finally got brave enough to get a GSD. After 3 in a row with hip dysplasia, I researched breeds and got a Belgian Sheepdog. Because of some health problems in my early ones, I’ve become a health check fanatic and will not get a dog unless the parents have OFA ratings. It has paid off in that department.
In competitive obedience, I’ve gotten a UD on my GSD. None of my other dogs liked the metal articles so I only got CDXs on most of them. In agility, I got a MACH on one of my Belgians. The others had MX and MXJ. We also do tracking. Soar is one of my two current dogs with a TDX. In Scent Work, Soar has an SWM and Dee, my other Belgian, has an SWE with legs towards her SWM.
AE: That’s impressive! What can you tell us about your training style?
Rich: Back in the '90s the jerk and pull training was still the only game available and I trained that way. I still had Sibes when I explored obedience training and competition. I was training my Sibe and GSD to do a retrieve and the trainers insisted on an ear pinch.
I tried it and knew it was an unacceptable way to train a dog. A friend with Malamutes gave me an article called The Inducive Retrieve. It was written by Glen Johnson and published in 1976 in Off Lead magazine. It worked like magic.
The trainers around me hated it but had to acknowledge my successes. In my eyes it’s the only way to train any dog. Most of the trainers around here try to come off as positive/inducive trainers but they are still jerk and pull trainers so I train by myself.
As far as training, I teach the dogs new things with food and then try to get away from food as fast as possible. I’m into verbal praise and playing with the dog. My advice to people new to training is to go watch the other trainers to see how they really train. Don’t believe what they tell you. Go watch. If they are into harsh training methods, go find another trainer. Go to trials and watch the competitors. See who has a good relationship with their dogs and find out how they train.
AE: What approaches had you tried before trying Aldaron Essences?
Rich: I tried getting Soar used to people at first from a distance. Giving him treats when he got closer to people when they looked at him.
I'd been going to classes and gotten him to the point that some people could do a sit for exam with him if they didn’t face him. They would have to back up to him with a treat. It had been slow progress.
Whenever we’d go to the local dog club he would alert bark once, sometimes twice, as soon as we got in the door. I started having him sit before I opened the door, stepped in while he's was on a sit stay, released him and had him sit once he was in the room. That helped so that most times he wouldn’t bark.
AE: Which flower essence formula did you try for Soar’s behavior?
Rich: I contacted Julie and she asked for a list of traits that needed addressing. She asked me for clarification on some of the traits and when she felt she had all the information she needed she made a custom blend for him.
AE: Can you describe the differences you’ve seen?
Rich: When I got the custom blend I was thinking, OK these things usually take time and I may not see a difference for weeks or months. I also knew I would have to experiment with dosage and how often. And these steps can take quite a bit a time. I know that to honestly try something you have to give it several months.
I was very surprised to see him less fearful of people within days. It was very subtle and I didn’t realize the changes were happening so quickly till I thought about the Scent work competition he had just been entered and qualified in. And was not reactive to all the people walking around. His confidence was up.
Some of my training buddies noticed the positive change and made comments. Some of them have friends who have similar issues to Soar’s and asked for contact information for Aldaron Essences.
I thought it would take years for Soar to get to the higher levels of Scent Work competition. We started Nose Work training in February of 2018. Late October he finished his Scent Work overall Master title. I am still stunned that he has moved up so fast with this accomplishment. I know we would not be at this level if he had not been on the Bach flower custom blend. He is now competing at the Detective level at AKC Scent Work trials.
Another huge change is I thought he would never be able to compete in agility because he would never stand for a measurement by a stranger. One day I was at an agility competition with my other dog and I brought him along for socialization. There was an AKC measuring official there and she asked if we needed a measurement. I told her I was just getting him used to people being so close. She said let’s try. Soar jumped right on the table and just stood there while she measured him. It was unbelievable. I still can't believe it. I wasn't sure we'd ever get a measurement.
AE: What was the most helpful training or lifestyle change you made?
Rich: The one and only change was to start Soar on Bach flower essences. Until we started them I was not sure how far we would go in competition.
AE: Did you use any other alternative therapies that helped?
Rich: I had not tried any others. One friend who had a dog similar to mine said calming collars helped her dog so I was saving that as a backup if the flower remedy did not work. But it has worked so well I am not going to change anything.
AE: Which accomplishments are you are most proud of?
Rich: That I was there for Soar with the mental support he needed. That I was willing to try various methods to get him through this. And most of all that Soar achieved the AKC Scent work Master title in such a short time.
AE: Any future plans with Soar you’d like to share?
Rich: We are training in agility since I now know he can handle people close by. And I will keep trying to see if he’ll be able to compete in obedience.
AE: Any words of advice to people experiencing similar issues with their dog?
Rich: 1. Be calm when your dog is having a problem. By being calm you will help your dog to be calm.
2. When you try something to help your dog, give it an honest try. That means trying it for more than a day or two. We got lucky and I saw a change within days. Sometimes it may take weeks. But give it an honest try.
3. The only rule that cannot be broken with a dog who has issues is you can never, ever lose your temper. One moment of losing control will set you back months if not years of hard work to get a dog to accept difficult situations. You will regret it, and that is not what he needs. He needs to know you have his back so he can look forward.
AE: Thank you, Rich, for sharing your challenges, successes, and wonderful words of wisdom. I think you have inspired everyone reading this to be more patient, persistent, and not ever give up on their dog! We wish you the best with Soar and many great things in the future!
And now, let's look at Soar’s custom Bach flower essence formula:
Soar's custom formula consists of Mimulus, Aspen, Larch, Cerato, Vervain, Impatiens, Chicory, Beech, Elm, Oak, and Cherry Plum Bach flower essences. Here's why I picked each one:
Mimulus. Soar’s reactions were clearly fear and avoidance. He shied away, tried to scoot clear of things that worried him, ducked away from contact. Mimulus is the Bach flower essence for alleviating specific fears as well as general timidity and shyness. Mimulus will help increase courage and confidence in fear-inducing situations.
Aspen. I almost always include Aspen in blends for dogs with specific fears, unless they are 100% okay until the fear trigger presents itself. It the trigger generalizes, Aspen should be included. This essence reduces the anxiety evident in dogs that feel tense and apprehensive in certain general situations. It’s a great Bach essence for when you can’t clearly identify the “something scary”, but just have an oppressive feeling that something is wrong.
Larch. Even though Rich couldn’t identify an incident that had triggered Soar to become worried about meeting people, it was possible something happened that Rich wasn’t aware of, or didn’t catch his attention at the time. Dogs can sometimes get through a difficult situation just fine (or seemingly), and there's no indication until the next time they’re in a similar situation. (One of my own dogs can be like that.) So I felt it was a good idea to include Larch to address any loss of confidence in Soar through some event that scared or stressed him.
Cerato Bach flower essence can be helpful for dogs that fall apart when not under direct influence and support of their person / handler. Rich had told me that Soar had had some trouble when at the vet’s without him, behaving in a way that was more than just shying away; he really panicked. So I added Cerato to help shore up Soar’s independence and inner confidence.
Vervain. As is common with most dogs with strong working temperament, Soar is serious-minded when it comes to his work and playing his part on the team. Vervain strengthens and supports strong-minded dutiful character in dogs, while tempering the negative effects over-striving and excessive, “spillover” intensity.
Impatiens. This Bach flower essence remedies tension, impatience, and frustration-related behaviors. Working-bred dogs and herding/working breeds in general frequently experience a lot of tension accompanying their drive to work. And young adult male dogs (even after neutering) seem to walk around on their toes, brimming with energy and impatience. I felt Soar would undoubtedly benefit from a flower essence to emotionally soften his approach and reduce tension and frustration.
Chicory. I didn’t have any definite sense of there being any aspects of Rich and Soar’s relationship that was unbalanced. That said, herding breeds in particular tend to get bonded like super glue to their owners. When stressed, or when the dog is under-worked or not satisfied mentally, that bond can get out of whack. I didn’t see anything like that with Rich and Soar, but included Chicory to repair any subtle, under-the-surface imbalances in their bond, just in case.
Beech. Soar seemed more testy than anything about interruptions to his work (by people too close by), so Beech was added to improve tolerance to, and help him ignore, small annoyances.
Elm. Crowded, people-packed situations clearly tended to cause Soar to become overwhelmed and unable to process his stress effectively. Elm was added to help reduce this kind of situational overwhelm.
Oak. I often add Oak when there’s a need to strength a dog’s emotional stamina and ability to withstand stress. Soar is a young dog going frequently into challenging working situations. Oak was added to strengthen his ability to stand strong under those stresses.
Cherry Plum. There weren’t many, but some evidence of instances where Soar would lose a degree of self control. Cherry Plum helps restore bodily and emotional control.
No Rescue Remedy? From the information Rich had given me, Soar did not seem to be extremely stressed or traumatized. In the not too distant past, I would have always thrown in Rescue Remedy when making a Bach flower blend for a fearful, anxious dog, but have learned that it’s not always needed.
I hope you enjoyed this flower essence case study. I love Rich's and Soar's story because it's a beautiful example of an owner who had done an amazing job of laying the foundation for his dog's success, and a dog who really only needed just a nudge in the right direction with flower essences. Once they had that extra bit of help, all their hard work fell into place.
Julie Cantrell BSc CDBC
Owner, Aldaron Essences LLC