Is Medication Necessary for Your Dog?

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.

The Nose Knows

The nose knows, and nothing could be truer about our canine buddies. Consider the following.

  1. Fact: In addition to its amazing smelling function, a dog’s nose is also his breathing mechanism.
  2. Fact: Dogs’ ability to smell is 100,000 times greater than that of humans.
  3. Fact: Dogs can tell when and where things happen through their noses.
  4. Fact: Some breeds do not smell as well as other breeds.
  5. Fact: What dogs can do with their noses is incredible!

Dog Noses Have a Greater Smelling Capacity

Here’s why dogs have such exquisite smelling abilities. Their noses have 300 million olfactory receptors while their human friends (us) have just 5 million receptors. Dogs also have a “second nose” which is located near the roof of the mouth. This organ transmits different signals to the brain, resulting in a keen sense for finding mates as well as for puppies in finding the source of their mother’s milk. In addition, would you believe that a dog’s brain handles olfactory signals 40 times that of the same function in the human brain?

Double Duty: Smelling and Breathing

That’s right. A dog’s nose can perform the amazing duty of breathing in, out, and smelling at the same time. Here’s how a dog’s nose works. The nasal system opens into the two nostrils which are the openings to two chambers that take in smells separately. The particles originated by the smells become trapped in the mucus in the nose. These are then dealt with by the receptors which then send identifying messages to the brain. While this is happening, some of the inhaled air goes to the dog’s lungs, allowing him to breathe. As the dog breathes out, new odors enter the nose, and the processing procedure begins again.

Who, What, When, Where, and How

The reason dogs are such good trackers is because of their noses’ ability to detect even the slightest odor amid a host of other odors. Their noses are 1000 times more sensitive than our noses and could detect a packet of sugar or something similar that has dissolved in an Olympic swimming pool. As trackers, they can smell the slight reductions in odors that mark the passage of time. Between this, and their ability to figure out which direction something has gone, they beat a human’s tracking ability, hands down.

Breed Differences

All dogs have excellent olfactory capabilities, but some are better than others. The brachycephalic, otherwise known as short-nosed breeds, just don’t have the same long nose as other breeds. Among breeds with short noses include:

  • Pugs
  • Boston Terriers
  • Boxers
  • Pekingese
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
  • English bulldogs
  • French bulldogs

The Incredible Things Dogs Can Do with Their Nose

These are just a few of the things you may or may not know that dogs can do with their noses. Some of these things are the result of training and some are not.

  1. Dogs can detect human illnesses such as cancer.
  2. Dogs can warn people of impending seizures.
  3. Dogs keep owners safe by warning them of dangers such as fire and intruders.
  4. In Italy, the Lagotto Romagnolo dog breed is used to sniff out valuable truffles.
  5. Light, skin-colored noses are less preferred in breeding circles for several reasons, including that they are more prone to sunburn than black noses.
  6. Every day when he goes out for his walk, a dog is bombarded with a huge array of new odors, which become his “smellscape.”
  7. Dogs can identify a single drop of a liquid in 20 Olympic-size (2500 ft3) swimming pools!
  8. Dogs are happiest when their noses go to work.
  9. Dogs are often used for police work, including sniffing out illegal drugs, weapons, and bombs.
  10. During thunderstorms, in addition to the noise, the main reason dogs become frightened is because of the smell of metal that is the result of the storm’s electricity which releases ions into the air.

Taking Care of Your Dog’s Nose

It’s pretty clear that your dog’s nose is an incredibly valuable organ, and as such, it requires lots of tender loving care. Thus, if you notice any of the following, contact your vet right away.

  • Change in hair or color of the nose
  • Reddening of the skin
  • Scabbing
  • Mucus or bloody nasal discharge
  • Scarring
  • Solid masses or growths

About Jumping Dogs

How to Stop Your Dog from Jumping

Your brand-new sweater is ruined, your neighbor’s child was knocked to the ground, and you don’t dare have guests come to your house anymore. All of this, and more, because of your sky-high jumping dog. Fortunately, this is one canine issue that can be easily solved.

Why Do Dogs Jump?

Simply put, dogs jump for joy, so a jumping dog is a happy, enthusiastic creature. If you own one of these pups, you know that jumping is an incredibly annoying dog behavior. On the positive side, it is your dog’s way of enthusiastically greeting and saying, I love you. The more exciting and expressive the event, such as when you come home from work, the more emotional the scene and the higher the jumps.

Why is Jumping an Inappropriate Behavior?

Besides ruining your new sweater, here are a few more of things the inappropriate jumping behaviors can cause:

  • Soiling of clothes by muddy paws
  • Knocking over people including children, the elderly, and others who are unstable on their feet
  • Scaring people who are afraid of dogs
  • Instigating another, jealous dog, to fight
  • Hurting their own joints from constant jumping

It’s All About Attention

Unfortunately, the more attention your dog gets when he jumps, even if it is negative attention, the more he’ll keep doing it. For example, if you push your dog away when he jumps on you, he may think you’re in for a great and fun game of wrestling. The more you push, the harder and higher he’ll jump. Even when you yell at him, he knows he has your attention. Likewise, even if you step on his paw or knee him in the chest, which hopefully you do not do, he is succeeding in getting what he wants – your attention.

Four on the Floor

In other words, keeping all four paws on the floor describes what you want from your dog: a calm, non-jumping behavior, with all four of his feet planted firmly on the floor.

When your dog launches into his crazy, “I haven’t seen you in forever” jumping behavior, remove all emotion from the scene. Approach him calmly and quietly. In addition, don’t pet or otherwise touch him, don’t yell at, or reprimand him, and ultimately, don’t pay any attention to him at all until he calms down.

Treats, Treats, and More Treats

Instead of looking for your attention as his reward, the secret to success is to redirect him to focus on treats, and I’m recommending high-value, yummy, to-die-for treats. Timing here is essential. Make sure he gets a treat even before he can think about jumping on you. Think of it like this, he is being guided to a positive (non-jumping) behavior instead of being scolded or pushed, and therefore getting your (negative) attention. Still, he gets what he wants – YOU. With this positive approach, your dog is being trained to want to do something because by doing so, really great things happen.

Consistency is Key

In your home, everyone needs to be on board with how to work the four on the four rule. The same goes for when you have guests over. Make sure you have stashes of treats all throughout your living space, so it’s just a matter of a quick grab when it appears the conditions are ripe for jumping.


Here are the specific steps on how to train your dog not to jump.

When You Are Working with Your Dog

When you begin the no-jump training with your dog, the secret is to set up staged practice sessions before he even has the chance to jump on you. With this approach as your starting point, follow the steps below.

  1. When the situation occurs when your dog would normally jump on you, enter the room in a relaxed, quiet, calm manner. Don’t be loud or quick-moving.
  2. Especially as you begin this training, ignore your dog until he is completely calm before proceeding.
  3. Don’t touch your dog in any way: no pats, pushes, or other physical engaging action.  
  4. Ask for a sit and reward him with yummy goodies when he does.
  5. If he jumps, disengage, walk away, and go through the steps again.

When Guests Come to Your Home

Stage this practice lesson with someone you know and repeat it until your dog learns not to jump on strangers and guests.

  1. Have your actor person come to and enter your home.
  2. Throw some treats on the floor as soon as the person enters the house.
  3. Keep tossing treats as the person comes up to your dog and pets him while he’s eating the treats.
  4. Keep repeating this process, slowly extending the amount of time when the person comes up to and greets the dog.
  5. Be sure to keep throwing treats down the entire time.
  6. Gradually you can feed fewer treats and he should still behave the way you want.
  7. If he doesn’t, then go back and begin the process again.

To make this work, you need to carefully time when you throw down the treats. It needs to be a quick action. If you miss your timing, and your dog jumps on the person, instruct them to walk away and you stop throwing any treats. Pretty soon he will realize that four on the floor brings good things, while jumping brings him nothing.

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