Dog Appeasement Pheromone

possible uses for behavior problems involving fear or anxiety

This article discusses some possible uses of D.A.P. , Dog Appeasement Pheromone, for dog behavior problems that involve fear or anxiety. Some of the material is from a lecture at the 1st Annual Behavior Symposium at UC Davis Vet School by Dr Jacqui Neilson DVM, a Board certified veterinary behaviorist who did her residency in Behavior at UCD and is now at the Animal Behavior Clinic in Portland Oregon. Additional discussion by the page author, Pam Green, is included.
A brief description of an experiment using DAP to relieve stress of kenneling during intensive police dog training has been added and results discussed.

Dog Appeasement Pheromone

DAP = "dog appeasement pheromone" is a synthetic equivalent to a pheromone secreted by the sebaceous glands around the nipples of a nursing bitch; thus it is supposed to remind a dog of that very safe, secure, happy feeling the dog had as a suckling puppy. It has been used as an adjunctive treatment in Separation Anxiety, ie being used as an addition to the standard behavioral modification protocol of gradual desensitization with or without additional use of psychotropic medications. It has the advantage of being moderately priced and no known safety or side effect issues. It is hard to see how it could have any undesirable side effects. Some recent studies described at the UC Davis Vet School Behavior Symposium by Dr Jacqui Neilson DVM , a Board certified veterinary behaviorist practicing at the Animal Behavior Clinic in Portland, Oregon, indicate that DAP may be useful in addition to standard desensitization and counter-conditioning treatment for a number of anxiety based conditions.

What follows is based on (my interpretation of) what Dr Neilson reported, but I am also adding my own comments, and I hope I will make clear to you which thoughts are mine rather than Dr Neilson's. In any case , this article is for your general information only and does NOT take the place of consultation with a credentialed applied animal behaviorist or a Board certified veterinary behaviorist. If you are having a behavior problem with a dog, please consult an appropriate professional for individualized advice.


DAP comes in two forms.
One form is a plug-in diffuser, similar to plug-in air fresheners. One plug-in will provide the pheromone to aproximately 600 square feet of living space for one month. This assumes windows are closed and there is good air circulation within that space. The plug in is probably better used in an outlet located at dog's head height or above, as the pheromone tends to drift downwards rather than to rise upwards. The plug in takes up both spaces of the ordinary two space outlet, as it needs to be in the lower space with nothing above it. You would probably be paying $30 or $40 for one unit of the plug-in plus the container of active ingredient. Refills are available at lesser cost.
The second form is a spray. This would be the form to use when there is no outlet available. An obvious example would be for use inside a car. Another might be when only occasional use is needed, eg before a grooming session.

A trade name for DAP is "Comfort ZoneTM"

The one caution Dr Neilson gave against using DAP is that it might NOT be a good idea to use it in areas where there are pet birds. Birds are so sensitive to all kinds of air quality issues, so the assumption is that an unknown air additive is UNsafe until it has been proven to be safe. There does not seem to be any problem using DAP around cats, nor any reason why DAP cannot be used in the same area that "Feliway" (synthetic feline facial pheromone) is being used. (I would assume that Feliway also should not be used in pet bird areas, but of course one generally would not want to allow cats access to such areas anyway ! I'd also think that one would not allow dogs into one's bird areas unsupervised either. Certainly my parrot loving friends tell me that dogs and parrots (and macaws, cockatoos, etc) should never be together unsupervised as each can injure the other. )


Clinical Trials with DAP


Dr Neilson reported a study "Evaluation of dog appeasing pheromone as a potential treatment for fear of fireworks in dogs" by Sheppard and Mills, published in Veterinary Record 152: 432-436 . The authors identified 30 dogs with a fear response to fireworks. Owners recorded a baseline of the type and intensity of fear in these dogs prior to treatment. Then the DAP plug-in diffuser was provided to the owners to use. Again owners were asked to record type and intensity of fear during the treatment period. Owners reported improvement in 9 of the 14 signs of fearfulness during treatment with DAP.

However there was no placebo control group, ie group receiving a dummy plug-in diffuser that did not dispense DAP. Since we know from some other studies that placebos can have substantial effects on dogs and on humans, with up to 30% of dogs and humans responding to a placebo, a comparison of observations reported by a placebo group of owners is needed to validate the study. But it does suggest that adding DAP to other treatments for fireworks fear is proabably a reasonable thing to do, probably as an addition to other treatments. (My own guesses as to placebo effects on dogs are that placebos possibly effect the dogs by altering the emotions and behavior of the owner, generally by giving some confidence and calmess to the owner, which in turn can affect the emotions and behavior of the dog ? It could be that going to the effort and expense of providing the placebo causes the owner to be more diligent about other aspects of the program or causes the owner to pay more attention to the dog. Of course it can also be that simply expecting an improvement causes the owner to imagine an improvement is taking place.)

Discussion :
One very interesting point was that although all the owners were also given behavioral advice to use in treatment of the dogs, 25 of the 30 owners reported that they did not follow such advice ! Dr Neilson did not describe the advice given , nor whether it would have required a lot of work by the owners. Now it seems to me, that since owner compliance with behavioral advice is always a big issue in treating behavioral problems, one has to wonder if this very low rate of compliance was due to the owner relying on the drug to do the work for them. It is always an issue when deciding to use a drug as to whether or not this will undercut the owner's motivation to comply with the behavioral protocol. The practice of handing out "homework sheets" with the "lesson plan" outlined day by day with spaces for the owner to record or check-off performance of each assigned task can be valuable, especially if the owner is asked to turn in copies of same at each visit.

In my own opinion, the same advice that would be given without the availability of DAP still holds true. Any dog guardian who knows that their dog has fear reactions to fireworks , as well as guardians who do not know whether or not their dog has such reactions, would be prudent to remain home with the dog on all holidays when fireworks in the vicinity are expected. It would be prudent to have one's vet prescribe an appropriate tranquilier and supply a few doses of same to have on hand in case this is needed. Adding DAP to the home starting a week or more in advance makes sense as being likely to help and extremely unlikely to hurt.
Fireworks generally occur only at times and places known in advance and generally occur only one or a very few times each year, so one can and should plan in advance. Each year fireworks displays cause panic stricken dogs to break out of their homes and yards and run away in terror. Some of these get hit by cars (usually with serious injury or death) , some get picked up by Animal Control, and some are picked up and given sanctuary by compassionate dog lovers who try to reunite them with their owners.
As a dog Rescue person, I avoid placing dogs in adoptive homes during the last few weeks before 4th of July (the big fireworks event in the USA) as I think they are better off in a more familiar environment, especially since my home is far from any fireworks displays. I always remind my adopters to stay home the first 4th that the dog is in their home in order to observe and if nescessary intervene.



Dr Neilson reported another study, "Effects of a synthetic dog appeasing pheromone on behavior problems during transport" by Gaultier & Pageat, reported in AVSAB 2003 Proceedings , pages 10-11. This study used the spray form of DAP for dogs with car transportation anxiety. This was a "blinded" placebo controlled study, with owners not knowing whether their dogs were getting the real DAP or a fake, ie a placebo. Thirty two dogs with anxiety during car travel were identified. Owners identified the behaviors that the dogs displayed during car travel from a list of 11 behaviors. For the dog's next 5 car rides , the owners sprayed inside the car with the provided spray (either the real DAP or the fake) at least 10 minutes before the car trip. Owners reported some improvement in both groups of dogs, ie placebo group as well as the real group, however the DAP dogs had significantly lower problems behaviors than the placebo group for all trips except the third one. No explanation of that third trip. The DAP treated dogs showed more improvement in somatic signs (salivation, vomiting, urination) than in behavioral signs (barking, activity).

Discussion :
Two likely complications that could arise with use in the car are (1) the possible effect of temperature and (2) the possible effects of airflow into the car from built-in ventilation system and / or from windows. Most biological materials are most effective within some particular range of temperatures, with higher temperatures tending to inactivate or degrade the biological effectiveness of the molecules. Car interior temperatures can easily get quite warm, indeed terribly hot, on warm days. One either turns on the air conditioning or one opens the windows. It's not difficult to imagine situations in which the DAP molecules are being over-heated or being rapidly diluted by incoming air. It's possible that weather conditions might thus explain the anomalous results of that third test drive. In any case , for longer trips it seems to me that further applications of DAP at intervals may be needed for better results. Perhaps some clever manufacturer will start selling an adapter to plug into the cigarette lighter so the plug-in version could be used, providing a continuous source. However if so the owner would need to remember to remove the plug-in from the car at the end of the trip and take it into the home so that it would not be exposed to extremes of temperature in the parked car.
To me, it would have been even more interesting to continue this study with another 5 trips in what is termed a "cross over" design, ie during the second 5 trips the group that formerly received the real DAP would now get the placbo and those formerly getting the placebo would now get the real thing. The former DAP dogs would have shown whether the use of DAP in earlier rides made any more lasting improvement once the switch to the placebo was made. The former placebo dogs might have provided additional evidence for the good effects of DAP if their behavior now improved when they were getting the real thing.
I would also have liked to know if further improvement would have occurred if the DAP were continued for a greater number of car trips. In any case, this study shows that DAP could be a useful addition to other treatments for anxiety based car problems.
I'm considering using it on a current foster dog who tends to vocalized during car trips in a way that could get very annoying to driver and other human occupants of the car; his vocalizations sound to me as if they were anxiety based. (I can't do this during summer, because my car lacks air conditioning so the windows are wide open.) On the other hand this particular dog does ride silently and peacefully when he travels in a crate, so I will try to place him in a home where the family vehicle can accomodate a crate and adopters are willing to use one. I am also going to suggest trying DAP to one adopter whose dog shows anxiety when left behind in a parked car, though he is quite comfortable when his person is present in the car ; this dog may be showing some separtion anxiety at home as well when his person leaves. And I will definitely suggest it to an adopter whose dog tends to vomit in the car. In both cases I have also suggested and described a desensitization program designed to get the dog more at ease in the car.


other possible uses of DAP

Thunderstorm Terrors

The first use that suggests itself would be use of the plug-in form as an aid in reducing thunderstorm phobia. Unlike fireworks, thunderstorms are not "scheduled" events with a time and location known well in advance, but in most areas the season for such storms is well known and predictable. Thunderstorm phobia does not respond well to the normal fear reduction technique of Desensitization and Counter-conditioning because many aspects of the fear-inspiring stimulus cannot be identified or cannot be reproduced in a controlled decreased intensity. Desensitization to the loud noises does not seem to have much sucess. It is believed that storm-shy dogs respond first to the drop in barometric pressure that preceeds a storm. Some researchers believe that build-up of static electricity in the dog's coat is part of the problem and some report some rreduction of anxiety by wiping the dog's coat with anti-static wipes such as "Bounce" (sold for use in clothes dryers to prevent static cling). Some researchers report that some dogs cope with storms by getting into a bathtub or shower so as to ground themselves against the plumbing outlet and thus the plumbing pipes. One could of course help a dog to discover this method by guiding him into shower stall or bathtub. Guardians of storm shy dogs often keep prescribed tranquiliers on hand to use when a storm is predicted or when it arrives. Installing a DAP plug-in diffuser in the area of the home that the dog has already chosen as a place of refuge during storms would thus seem to be something to be used in addition to any other treatments.

Dr Neilsen described a study of use of ClomicalmTM and ZanacTM, both drugs that act by enhancing the neurotransmiter serotonin, as a treatment for storm phobia. "Use of clomipramine , alprazolam and behavior modification for treatment of storm phobia in dogs" by Crowell-Davis et all in JAVMA vol 222 # 6, March 15, 2003, pp 744-749. Forty dogs with confirmed storm phobia were identified and prescribed a regime that included clomipramine (ClomicalmTM) , alprazolam (ZanacTM) and behavior modification over the course of 4 months. Of the 40 dogs, 32 completed the study and of these 94% were reported by the owners to show an improvement of behavior.
(I don't know whether or not this was a placebo controlled study. for teh owners to report behavior during storms , either the owner must be present or surveillance cameras must be used. The owner's presence, of course, can greatly affect the dog's behavior and experience of anxiety.)


Grooming / handling problems.

Another possible use that would suggest itself to me would be for dogs with a grooming or handling resistance. These would include dogs who protest or resist having certain body parts handled (eg feet) by struggling or threatening by growling or worse and whose behavior is suggestive of an anxiety component. Likewise dogs who resist some aspect of grooming. For those dogs which I have dealt with that have had such problems , it usually seems to be a combination of not respecting the person and not trusting the person who is doing the handling or grooming. "Not trusting" implies some kind of fear or anxiety component, while "not respecting" implies some lack of obedience training and/or lack of regarding the person as having a higher social rank than the dog. In the past I have used some form of desensitization program in which the dog is restrained from biting, often by initially using a grooming muzzle, and handled and groomed in ways that are painless and comfortable and ultimatly pleasant to the dog. Sometimes initially the touching is done very softly with tools that keep the person's hand further away from the dog's mouth, ie out of danger. The goal is for the dog to learn that he cannot effectively prevent being touched or groomed by struggling or by threatening, but that he does not need to do so because the touching is completely harmless and , eventually , that the touching is actually enjoyable. For dogs with dislike of having the feet handled or groomed, one aims to get the dog to enjoy having the feet massaged. To whatever extent DAP really does cause a dog to feel more relaxed and more safe, use of a DAP plug-in in the dog's main living area and grooming area and / or use of a DAP spray before and during grooming should have a beneficial effect. It could make sense to begin by installing a DAP diffuser in the home and begin by doing various "non-confrontational dominence" programs (also called "nothing in life is free" programs) by which the person requires the dog to show some deferential behavior (eg sitting on command) in exchange for the person providing any resource or activity that the dog values (eg food, petting, going for a walk, etc) for a few weeks before beginning to work on the grooming problems directly. Of course for those of us in Rescue work, dogs often arrive in such terrible physical condition that it is not possible to delay grooming and other handling. The vast majority of rescued dogs do allow immediate grooming and other bodily care, probably because they do sense that they can trust and respect the person who is fostering them.


closing thoughts

At this point the assumption is that DAP has the effect of causing a dog to feel safer and more relaxed and perhaps happier than otherwise. Since dogs cannot use sign language, speech, or writing to tell us what they are thinking and feeling, it is impossible for us to be certain. (Indeed it is impossible to be certain about the true thoughs and feelings of another human being, despite speech, because as we all know humans can and do lie.) We can only judge by body language, and in a clinical setting by blood levels of stress hormones , mainly cortisol. But at this point it does seem that DAP can be a useful tool for anxiety based problems. While it would be foolish to rely on DAP in place of other treatment modes, it can make sense to use it in addition to other modes when anxiety or fear are thought to be part of the problem. It is low cost, easy to apply, and seems to have very little risk of doing harm or of making the behavior worse. Meanwhile clinical trials continue. Clinical trials are generally the best evidence as to whether and how well a treatment works.



a new development : DAP delivery collar , "The use of DAP collar to reduce stress during training of police dogs, A preliminary study", by S. Schroll, J. Dehasse, R. Palme, I. Sommerfeld-Stur, G. L÷wenstein, reports in an on-line veterinary journal an experiment in Austria using DAP collars to reduce stress in dogs being kenneled at night during an intensive 15 week police dog training course. The dogs were raised from puppyhood in their police officer handler's homes, so were well bonded to their handlers. During weekdays of the training course, the handlers and dogs are together during the day for training from 8 am to 4 pm, then are together for the next few hours for any chosen relaxation (walks, massage, whatever), then from 9 pm to 8 am the dogs are kenneled in kennel runs while the humans are housed separately but on same premises. Typically the dogs have shown a lot of stress during the night and bark and howl a lot. So the experiment was with 9 dogs under this regime, 5 of the dogs receving DAP® collar (CEVA France) and the other 4 dogs receiveing placebo collars (DAP collars from which the DAP had been exhausted and deactivated). The experiement measured body weight and cortisol content of saliva (which is a measure of physiological stress) before and during the training course. The amount of nighttime barking and howling was also noted. Results showed for the DAP dogs and for the placebo dogs only negligible vocalizations at night. The DAP dogs did not lose weight and the placebo dogs did, with statistical tests showing p = 0.069. The difference between DAP dogs and placebo dogs in saliva cortisol during the second week had statistical significance p = 0.016. The p measure is the probability that the observed differences are due to chance rather than to a real inequality. Scientists consider p = .05 or less to be significant and p = .01 or less to be highly significant. "Significant" means "not by chance" but does not indicate whether the difference observed was a large one or a small one.

Discussion : I notice that the report says nothing about differences in saliva cortisol during the other 14 weeks of the study. So it really sounds like the really interesting observation is that having half the dogs wear DAP collars reduced stress barking and howling for all of the dogs, which is very different from previous training courses where none of the dogs had DAP collars. This was dramatic enough to suggest that having DAP collars on 5 the dogs had a calming effect on all 9 dogs. The differences between the DAP dogs and the placebo dogs seems not very impressive. So what is causing this ? Possibly the placebo collars were not as totally inactivated as the experimentors thought ? That is possible given that dogs can detect amounts of scent material so dilute that the material cannot be detected on gas chromatograpy. Possibly the presence of 5 DAP-calmed dogs had the effect of greatly reducing stress for the other 4 dogs? Given that I have seen newly rescued dogs brought out of highly stressful situation (the animal shelter and whatever their previous home might have been) often seem to calm down surprisingly soon after being brought into a foster home where the humans and the resident dogs are mostly calm individuals, I would find the notion that calming half the dogs in a group also results in substantial calming of the other half to be not an astounding or unbelievable idea.

What particularly interests me is that these collars are available (in Europe). Because the collar is worn by the dog and provides DAP to the dog virtually "right under its nose", the collar source system would have application in many situations in which the electric outlet plug in delivery system and the aerosol spray systems would not be available or would not be effective. For example the collar delivery system would be applicable to dogs who are anxious in the car and could even be effective if a window were open. The collar system would be applicable to dogs who are anxious in public and/or outdoor situations. Whether the collar or any other DAP delivery would be an effective means of combatting anxiety for a given dog with a given problem still remains to be seen, but without a means of delivery, that question cannot be answered. The collar system extends the range of problems and situtations in which use of DAP is possible.

Now as for the Austrian police dog training program, it seems to me that an even better solution to dog and handler stress would be the simple one of having the dogs sleep in the house in the same rooms with their owner-handlers, which is probably what they have been doing at home since puppyhood. The dogs could be fed in their crates or kennel runs while their handlers eat in the dining hall, or perhaps a New Skete type of dining situation with dogs lying under the table would be appropriate.


Related topics :

site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 4/26/04/td> revised 5/03/06
return to top of page return to Site Index