Spritzing dogs with a "pig perfume" helps prevent them from barking incessantly, jumping frantically on house guests and from engaging in other unwanted behaviors, according to new research.
The eau de oink, aka "Boar Mate" or "Stop That," was formulated by Texas Tech scientist John McGlone, who was looking for a way to curb his Cairn terrier Toto's non-stop barking. One spritz of the pig perfume seemed to do the trick in an instant without harming his dog.
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"It was completely serendipitous," McGlone, who works in the university's Animal and Food Sciences department of the College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences, said in a press release. "One of the most difficult problems is that dogs bark a lot, and it's one of the top reasons they are given back to shelters or pounds."
The key ingredient is androstenone, a steroid and pheromone produced by male pigs and released in their saliva and fat. When detected by female pigs in heat, they seem to find the male more attractive. (The females assume a mating stance.) One can imagine that dogs spritzed with the scent should not hang around amorous female pigs, but other than that, the product seems to work, according to McGlone.
Androstenone smells pungent and is not very appealing to humans, but it can have an effect on mammal behavior, he said.
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He and his colleagues tested the product on four different groups of barking dogs in separate kennels. The researchers were looking at not only the possible effectiveness of the key ingredient, but also if the spritzing itself (sound and liquid around face) dumbfounded the dogs.
For the study, the first group of dogs simply had a person with another dog stand in front of the kennels. The second group of dogs was sprayed with a placebo that made a startling spritz noise. The third group of dogs was sprayed with the noise and a lower concentration of androstenone in isopropyl alcohol. The fourth group was sprayed with a higher concentration of androstenone in isopropyl alcohol that also made the spritz sound.
In the first group, 25 percent (3 out of 12 dogs) stopped barking. In the second group, 44 percent (4 of 9 dogs) stopped barking. In the third group, sprayed with the lower concentration of the pheromone, 78 percent (7 of 9 dogs) stopped barking. In the fourth group, sprayed with the higher concentration of androstenone, 100 percent (6 of 6 dogs) stopped barking.
"We sprayed it in their nose or toward their head while they were barking...barking and jumping, running back and forth," McGlone said. "This whole behavior stopped. You could almost see them thinking, ‘What was that?'"
The good news is that the product had no impact on the heart rate/cardio function of the dogs, which was the main side effect that they were worried about. Androstenone, in addition to being a pheromone in pigs, appears to also be an intermone, which refers to a product that is, McGlone explained, a "pheromone in one species and has a behavioral effect in another species, but we do not know if it is a pheromone (naturally produced) in the other species."
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He indicated that the product stops cats in their tracks too.
McGlone, though, quickly added, "It's best used as a training tool rather than a circus act to stop animals from doing what they're doing."
He's now testing pheromones released by dogs, cats, pigs and horses to see if any might be useful in commercial products. Other researchers continue to look at human pheromones as well, hoping to create the perfect Love Potion #9 and other hopefully beneficial formulations.
Photo: A pig gives a dog some love. Credit: ThinkStock