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Placebo Effects In Dogs

Guest k9soul

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I thought this was a really interesting blog entry on Patricia McConnell's site. To read the whole piece, you can go here: http://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/placebos-and-dogs-really-yes


The particular pertinent part though was this:


“Severe cases of separation anxiety often require the use of medications in addition to a behaviour modification programme. Once the desired effect is achieved, the dose of the medicine may be gradually reduced and finally merely the procedure can maintain the effect. However, so far the administration method of the medicine has not been considered as important. Our results suggest that applying a specific regimen, that is, administrating the medicine always with the same environmental cues, for example with the same specific food type and with a set ritual, the real medicine can later be effectively replaced by placebo. As the anxiety relieving effect of placebo conditioning in dogs is of great applied importance, more research is needed to get a better perspective on the most efficient aspects of the treatment and the situational context that contributes to the manifestation of the placebo effect.”

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It is definitely unfortunate that the word "placebo" has become synonymous with "quackery" or "lies" or "fake medicine." It would be great if they could come up with a different term and not use the term "placebo." Since it is a conditioned response, I think that would be a better term for it (unless we want people to disregard it as just more "woo woo" or "magical thinking" on our part).


It is interesting that it works with animals as well as people. I had never thought of that, but it does make sense. If ringing a bell can cause dogs to salivate, then learning that they can be calmer in a situation given a certain association to feeling better after a certain routine is set up does follow. It has been shown that drug addicts can easily overdose if they administer even the normal amount but the situation is different (location, company, etc.) because their body doesn't properly prepare for the "hit." So a positive outcome would be great - get dogs to know that they can be calm, and wean them off of the mood modifying drugs carefully as long as the routine is set up properly. Sounds like another great tool in the animal behaviorist or trainer's toolkit.


(And that issue actually has a few articles that I find to be intriguing, so I'll have to read them as I get time. The journal is full text in the ScienceDirect (Elsevier) database for any of you that work at academic institutions with a subscription to that journal package!)


Thanks for linking to this! I used to read her blog all the time but have wandered away from it these past few months.

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