When you live with and love a nervous, overanxious dog, you’re willing to do whatever it takes to make her more comfortable in her skin. For my 3-year-old Vizsla, Finley, this has meant tons of training, behavioral modifications, wearable calming devices, relaxing music for pets, and all kinds of Western medicine. Some of these have yielded measurable results, but many haven’t.
Well before I ever thought about acupuncture for my dog’s behavioral issue, I saw an acupuncturist myself for physical discomfort. I was happy with the results, so I was more than willing to sign up Finley for the pin-cushion treatment, too.
We met with Dr. Rachel Barrack, a licensed veterinarian certified in veterinary acupuncture and Chinese herbology, who makes house calls in the New York-metropolitan area. She treats horses and small animals like cats and dogs who are suffering from degenerative joint disease; neurological, cardiovascular, and respiratory diseases; as well as gastrointestinal and behavioral issues. Many of the pooches she works with are looking for relief from arthritis, the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy, disc disease, and various musculoskeletal issues. She’s seen it all, including anxious pups like Finley.
Finley gave Dr. Barrack her usual greeting of overexcited barks, leaps for kisses, and then cuddles and in-your-face attention on our living room couch. Dr. Barrack was happy to oblige as she took a full health history, asking me questions about Finley’s physical well-being and overall temperament.
Although Finley is a on-edge pooch, I was probably the most nervous one in the room. I simply couldn’t imagine my dog sitting still and allowing herself to be poked with thin, stainless steel needles throughout her head and body. As Dr. Barrack explained it, the needles are inserted to stimulate specific points located along 14 major channels that carry blood and energy in the body. The physiological response that results can relieve pain, stimulate the immune and nervous systems, and cause a whole bunch of other positive health effects. While Western medicine can handle acute problems, Eastern — including acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy — is better at chronic conditions, without any unpleasant side effects.
Dr. Barrack was especially good with Finley, giving her fur a gentle squeeze so she couldn’t feel the needles going under her skin, reading her mood, and giving her breaks when she needed them. To help, she had me hold Finley in the sort of big bear-hug around the neck that I always see vet assistants and technicians do when we’re in an exam room. I was shocked with how confidently and deftly Dr. Barrack inserted one, two, then three … up to eight needles in my easily spooked pet.
We took a pause and, for a moment, a flash of calm swept over Finley’s face. Her ears relaxed, her brow was at rest, she even yawned. But if you sneezed, you would have missed it. Suddenly, Finley started resisting, and with one big puppy shake, she loosened a bunch of the needles. Not one to be discouraged, Dr. Barrack turned to aqua-acupuncture, a slightly different technique that involves injecting saline in the points rather than letting needles rest in them. This seemed to work better for Finley, who was still a very good sport considering it was her first session being poked and prodded and being able to understand what was going on.
Before concluding the session, Dr. Barrack showed me some acupressure points on Finley’s chest and behind her ears that I could press to help her relax. She also left me with an herbal remedy as part of the integrative treatment.
I’ve been giving pup the pills for two weeks now, and while I can’t expect a big turnaround after one acupuncture session and a handful of supplements, I’ve found Finley calming down a little more readily at the end of the day, curling up on the couch next to me, and waiting for her nightly acupressure massage.
If I were in a position to have Dr. Barrack come to our house on a weekly basis – sessions start at $200 – I wouldn’t hesitate to enlist her services. Chronic behavior issues like anxiety can be particularly tough to treat, but in Barrack’s experience, many animals see an improvement in three to five sessions. And considering how quickly Finley usually warms up to people, I’d bet she’d go into full-on relaxation mode by the fourth or fifth visit.
Visit Dr. Rachel Barrack’s site Animal Acupuncture for more info.