Pet Treats Didn’t Do the Trick

May 20, 2019

When it comes to animal anxiety, are the shelves of calming products paved in gold? 

My downstairs neighbor has a highly neurotic dog, a shelter rescue with severe separation anxiety. She barks at anything that moves and makes the most forlorn, whining howl whenever she’s left alone.

I don’t crab about it because I like my neighbor, and the dog is all she has left. Without going into melancholy details, let’s just say that this lady has endured troubles that make Job’s look like a case of the sniffles.

Last winter I was researching an article, which eventually ran in our February issue, about ingredients for stress relief. I was surprised to see that there were many more such products marketed to dogs and other pets than to humans. (I later found out it’s because product claims, for stress relief or anything else, are much less strictly regulated for pets than for people.)

Shortly afterward, I was on my way to buy some Christmas presents. I passed a Petco and, on impulse, turned into their lot. I asked a guy inside, “Do you carry treats to help dogs calm down?” and he led me to an entire shelf of them. I chose a canister of treats with melatonin, chamomile and other ingredients I was writing about. I wrapped the canister up nicely as a Christmas present, so it would come across as a little more neighborly than “use these to shut up your damn dog.” My neighbor called to thank me (she lives right underneath me but has trouble using stairs), telling me it was the only present she’d received that Christmas.

Mirabile dictu, the dog quieted down. I was very proud of myself for using my learned-on-the-job knowledge to be neighborly and improve my own quality of life.

A few months later, I ran into the neighbor. “So those treats did the trick?” I said.

“Actually, I think it was more the bark box,” she replied.

“Excuse me?”

She explained that she had bought a device that emits a shrill whistle, at a frequency only dogs can hear, at the touch of a button, and she used it to train the dog not to bark. Apparently it was ruthlessly effective. “Now I just have to say ‘bark box’ and she shuts up right away,” she said.

Just one more depressing reminder that carrots are nice, but they’ll never replace sticks.

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