If you have a dog who is reactive, aggressive, anxious or fearful and you have met with a vet, trainer, or both, regarding this, then the matter of medication may have come up. There are a lot of different medications out there today, similar to what humans take for these issues. So how do you decide if it is worth trying one of these medications for your dog?
I have come up with 5 questions that I find are helpful to my clients while they are deciding whether or not to try medication for you their dogs:
1. Has your dog been cleared medically of any, and all, possible health concerns associated with these behavioral issues? And is he healthy enough to take medication?
There are some health conditions that can cause behavior problems. Hypothyroidism is one for example, but the best thing to do when you notice behavior changes in your dog is to bring him to the vet. Don’t just let your vet do his normal check-up, but instead explain the behaviors you have seen, with as much detail as possible. When did the behavior change, has it worsened, and are there other symptoms you are noticing such as loss of appetite or irregular bowel movements?
2. Are you working with a trainer who understands, and is certified in dog behavior, and are you committed to your training and behavior modification program?
Medication will not cure a behavior issue on it’s own especially if your dog has gotten the chance to practice and rehearse this behavior, even if it was started by anxiety, once you cure the anxiety, the issue may still be a habit for your dog. The example I find is most easy to understand is that people can sometimes start biting their nails because they are nervous, but then after a while, they will bite their nails even when they are not nervous, simply out of habit. Changing habits is hard! You will need to be prepared to work to change your dog’s habits each and everyday he is on the medication, other wise it is really pointless. It will also be important to be working with a trainer who works with science based methods, and is certified to handle behavior modification. The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) is a great organization that certifies animal behavior consultants for dogs, cats, horses and even birds. If you are considering starting you dog on medication perhaps consider reaching out to one of the trainers in your area, you can search on their site. (https://iaabc.org/consultants)
3. Do you have support from a veterinarian who can prescribe behavioral meds?
You will of course want the support of a veterinarian. Putting your dog on medication is not a small matter, and while it is sometimes necessary, it is vital to be sure you are checking your dog’s blood work regularly and making sure the medication is not adversely affecting his health.
4. Does the behavioral issue affect your life everyday, at least once?
Is the issue so bad that you see it everyday? If it is lunging and barking at other dogs, does it happen on every walk? Do you find you don’t want to walk your dog because of this? If it is anxiety, does your dog deal with this anxiety daily? Is he stressed when you leave, and you have to leave him 5 days a week to face this stress? If this is the situation you are facing, then medication could really help both you and your dog to feel better. If you are facing this problem every single day, then give your dog and yourself some relief! Think about how quickly many people take a Xanax before getting on a plane, and barely even think twice about it. If we can offer our dogs, and ourselves, some relief, then why not at least give it a try?
5. Have you received complaints from neighbors, your building, or other threats to your place of residence, due to your dog’s behavior?
If you are at risk of being evicted, or even fined for a noise complaint, than it is really a no brainer. There is simply no reason not to give medication a try if it is going to make your living situation more pleasant and less at risk. Especially if you have answered “yes” to questions 1 through 3, then you are set up well to give medication a try.
Just like people who truly need them, these medications really work. Dogs are complex, highly intelligent creatures, and because of this they can also be highly sensitive. Some dogs have complicated pasts, and we don’t even always know the extent, if we rescued the dog later in life. Behavioral medications such as Prozac, Clomicalm, and Anipryl have all been proven to be affective in dogs when paired with a behavior modification program. If you have been living with a dog who suffers from behavioral issues and you have felt like medication is not necessary, but you answered “yes” to at least 4 out of the 5 questions, then I hope you will reconsider. There is no reason to feel badly, or responsible, a lot of dogs, and people need medication, if it will help improve your quality of life, it is well worth a try! Please contact a certified trainer in your area if you need help with this.