Marvin is a sweet, shy Boxer mix that missed out on some early socialization. Add some scary experiences and onset of adolescence, and what showed up? Strong fear-based reactivity and territorial aggression. Marvin's bad behaviors were all emotion-driven, and so were perfect for Bach flower therapy. This is one dog's dramatic - and very encouraging - story of healing through flower essences.
Marvin is a 7 year old Boxer mix. With his brindle striping, he looks like a bit like a small tiger. Marvin’s owner, Sandy Stormer from Wisconsin, is one of the most dedicated and hard-working dog owners I’ve come across. She does not know the meaning of quit, or “good enough”! This is good, because Marvin developed some serious behavior issues as a young dog. He was impulsive, strongly reactive, and seriously fear aggressive.
Marvin is one of those dogs that had many “layers” of behavior issues, so his transformation has been a steady, long-term process. Of all the consults for custom flower essence formulas I’ve done since 2009, I would say that Sandy is the client I’ve stayed in most consistent contact with. Marvin’s custom formula went through 8 revisions over 3 years, as we “peeled back layers” of emotion-driven behavior, and addressed what was coming to the surface at that time. Eventually, all those emotions stabilized, and since fall of 2016, he has been doing well on the same blend.
Marvin's story illustrates how important early socialization is, and how bad experiences - including training experiences - can have tremendously negative effects on a dog's outlook and behavior. Thankfully, Marvin's experiences took a turn for the better. Let's hear his story!
AE: Tell us a little about Marvin’s background.
Sandy: We bought Marvin at 4 months old from a breeder. Because we’d been shown video of Marvin taken in the breeder’s kitchen, we assumed he was socialized and raised as "part of the family". But that was not the case at all. (We found out a year later, from an acquaintance who knew the breeder, that he was kept in a kennel in a separate building.) So, when we picked up Marvin, he hadn’t been socialized at all for his first 4 months. He was fearful and anxious from the start.
We would take Marvin to the dog parks and, though shy and timid, he would actually do great with people and other dogs. It was only after Marvin underwent 3 surgeries, two for his cherry eye and one for his neuter, that he became fear aggressive to both people and other dogs.
Marvin became reactive to adults as well as children of all ages. Direct eye contact, people approaching, people reaching, and people walking on our sidewalks or by our car would all set him off. Marvin looked fierce when he reacted, but was also obviously terrified.
We tried sending Marvin to stay with a private trainer for a week, for “boot camp” style training. The day he returned he bit a person’s hand. I was mortified and so upset. Marvin also was returned to us with no hair and sores on his neck, which we found out were from too many shocks and too high setting on the shock collar the trainer used. (It literally caused him to have thyroid injury and now is on thyroid medicine.)
We contacted the trainer immediately; he wanted to continue training Marvin. We didn't know any better, as we never had a "reactive" dog before, so we continued. When Marvin only became worse, we stopped working with that company. We had no idea what went on there until a former employee of his told us that Marvin had been abused by the owner.
AE: What a nightmare! So, how did you end up contacting Aldaron Essences?
Sandy: It was in a health magazine, "Dogs Naturally Magazine" that I saw an article by Julie on flower essences. I decided to contact her. Julie did an in-depth consult by email and viewed many videos of Marvin’s behavior. She’s been customizing formulas for Marvin now since 2013.
Marvin's Custom Flower Essence Formula
I made up a blend of Rescue Remedy, Aspen, Mimulus, Impatiens, Chicory, Holly, and Cherry Plum Bach flower essences for Marvin. Rescue Remedy would help heal the effects of the trauma he had experienced, which turned his behavior from shy to aggressive. Aspen would alleviate the general anxiety, Mimulus the specific fears that triggered his reactivity. Impatiens would calm his nerves and improve cooperation and patience. Chicory would address and balance any relationship issues such as protectiveness or possessiveness of Sandy. Holly is a heart-healing (emotionally speaking) essence which would soothe Marvin's anger and suspicion. And Cherry Plum would help restore his ability to remain in control when stressed.
This was a very effective blend, right off the bat, although as Marvin's emotional layers revealed themselves, the exact blend changed accordingly. Marvin's final flower essence blend is very similar to a formula I have now, that I hadn't designed at that time: Equilibrium. It includes flower essences for intense, bossy, controlling and territorial tendencies, in a fearful, stressed, anxious dog.
AE: Can you describe the differences you’ve seen?
Sandy: Marvin is now happy and wags his tail. He no longer has the "violent, aggressive" outbreaks when people walk on our sidewalks, go past us on walks or in the car at a stop or in parking lots where he sees people. He may bark which I feel is normal, but no longer the "teeth showing" aggressive behavior he used to have.
I feel all the training we’ve done wouldn't have been as successful had Marvin not been on the custom flower essence formulas from Julie. I communicated regularly with Julie what we were doing and how Marvin’s training was coming along, and she came up with different combinations of essences depending on where he was at at the time.
AE: Did you use any other alternative therapies that helped?
Sandy: Along with Julie's formulas I incorporate TTouch massage for Marvin. He underwent some reconnective healing sessions also. Another change I made was making all of our dogs’ food – they now eat a raw meat, vegetable and herb diet.
AE: What was the most helpful training change you made?
Sandy: Julie steered us away from the shock collars altogether, and toward more positive training. We now take Marvin to the trainer that used to work for the trainer we stopped using. (He’s on his own now). Marvin loves to go there and play with his dogs.
When we got him, Marvin was not food motivated at all. So, the most helpful training we received was how to get Marvin interested in food. This was with the help of a trainer in Canada via Face-time videos.
AE: Any future plans with Marvin you’d like to share?
Sandy: Marvin gets to move up to Northern Wisconsin onto 20 acres we purchased and are building a new house on. Marvin will not have to worry about a lot of dogs or people around him. He can finally learn to be leash free on our land. Of course there will be wild animals but Marvin does not wander off or leave our side more than a distance of 15-20 ft away and he does have a good recall. I work with Marvin every day as consistency is the best training for our dogs.
AE: Any words of advice to people experiencing similar issues with their dog?
Sandy: My biggest word of advice for people is: don't give up on them too quickly. Do your research and contact Julie for a custom formula for your dog. My husband has said if it wasn't for us Marvin probably would not be alive to this date, because there are many people that do not want to put in the time and research. But Marvin, once he gets to know people, is the most loveable and cuddling dog ever. Marvin also loves to work for treats, he loves to play fetch, hide and seek, etc.
We have learned a lot about dogs and dog behavior over the past 7 yrs with Marvin. He has taught us a lot and without him we could have never learned as much as we have. We know and are smart about what situations Marvin will be able to handle and what type of situations he has reactions too. We never expose him to situations where he could potentially react and bite someone or another dog, either.
Marvin has 3 “cousins” now and he has learned to deal with them as they grew from puppies to adult dogs. One cousin is his favorite though and that is Wrigley, a pug. Yes, we had to change some of our lifestyle to accommodate Marvin but it has all been fun and for the best. We also realized that there are a lot of dog owners out there that seem to think ALL dogs are friendly, etc. They do not even think that another dog could have "stranger danger", fear anxiety, etc. etc. Those are the people we have extreme caution with. Also, it is not always the breed or the owner's fault that dogs have behavior issues. You can never know what may have happened to cause a behavior problem.
Thanks so much, Sandy, for sharing Marvin's story. Marvin has come so very far. He's a lucky pup to have landed in such a wonderful home.
Julie Cantrell BSc CDBC
Owner, Aldaron Essences LLC