Is your dog’s behavior a matter of quirkiness or a need for medical intervention in the form of medication?
Determining whether a dog really needs medication is serious business and requires help from a combination of your veterinarian and a certified animal behaviorist. Plus, before medication, it’s essential to first, ensure your dog is getting enough exercise, which will increase the positive impact of the neurotransmitters in his brain. And second, make sure your dog receives training from a certified behavioral consultant.
If we look at some behaviors, in general terms, that may benefit from medication, they include:
- Severe separation anxiety where the behavior ends up hurting the dog and/or destroying things in the home.
- Noise phobia, where thunderstorms, fireworks, and even everyday neighborhood noises, like the garbage truck cause fear and anxiety.
- Overall anxiety and fear for odd, basic normal things, which can either cause extreme timidity or unexpected aggression
- Obsessive-compulsive type behaviors such as foot licking or pacing.
Let’s look at some examples of dogs I’ve worked with who ended up needing medication to help them feel better as well as modify their behavior so that good things happen.
Take the case of Sophie. She is a tiny, 14-pound Boston Terrier who I worked with in the home and in a class setting. She was rescued at age 9 months from an Amish puppy mill and was terrified of noise, new people, and the man of the house. At home, she basically terrorized this man to the point where he was held hostage in various rooms while she barked, screamed, growled, and ultimately bit him a bunch of times. On the other hand, she was extremely bonded to the adult human female of the home.
I went to Sophie’s home several times and taught her owners positive reward techniques for Sophie’s various triggers, such as when the man went through the baby gate to leave the kitchen, and when he was cooking in the kitchen – 2 of her major meltdown times.
Her owners asked me about putting her on a medication, specifically Prozac. Sophie went on Prozac and together with behavior modifications by her owners, things improved somewhat, but her owners were concerned about having her on Prozac long-term. They decided to wean her off, using the process recommended by their vet. It turned out that the less Prozac, the more aggressive she became.
The poor little dog could not control what was going on in her brain. She was put back on Prozac and she improved once again. However, a major caveat. Prozac was no magic bullet for Sophie, and she still needs lots of exercise and a commitment by her owners to continue working on the behavior modification techniques we discussed.
Enter Flash. His name fit this boy perfectly because he was everywhere. Another adopted soul, he evidently came from an abused situation and was now a pure and complete wreck in new situations and with strange people in the home. I also visited the home to work with Flash and his owners, and he was a wild thing when I first arrived, but after some calming exercises, he settled beautifully. Then I urged his owners to bring him to class. They did, and he basically exploded! He was a wreck and could not focus on anything for the first few classes.
Before the class, I talked with his owners and said that Flash might benefit from some calming medication, and I specifically suggested trazodone to take the edge off. They spoke with their vet about this, and he was put on a low dose of the drug which did indeed take the edge off. He began to focus more in class though he remained an “everywhere” sort of fellow.
However, Flash remains very afraid of the vet, and has demonstrated some aggressive behaviors to cope with his fear, so much so that the vet will now only treat him in the parking lot.
A third case involves Buster. Buster, a 9-year-old male Husky whose person was interested in taking classes with Wags to Rich’s from a recommendation from a friend who had used our services. While talking on the phone we couldn’t decide which class would be best since she has been to many other trainers, and nothing seemed to have helped as of yet. So, we agreed on a meet and greet at the training center.
When Buster came into the room he cowered all along the back wall and urinated all the way into the corner of the room and he was so scared he couldn’t even look at anyone even though they were 50 feet away. The owner of this poor boy said he’d been like this since he was just 8-weeks old, which clearly indicated to me that there was something going on in his brain.
I asked them if they’d tried any medication, to which they answered no. So, they went to their vet and asked about putting him on Prozac. This they did, and 4 weeks later, that previously fearful dog came into the same training center and greeted everybody there with a wagging tail and body, excited to be there.
The only downside here was that his owners said they felt terrible that their boy had suffered needlessly for 9 years.
When it comes to medication, please know that this is not the magic bullet that will solve all your problems. There are so many reasons why dogs behave the way they do, and each dog deserves humans who will take the time and employ the resources to understand him before thinking medication will just be a quick fix. It won’t.