Behavioral medications can help fearful dogs. So why the reluctance on the part of pet owners to use them? I will share what mine was.
1. Medications can have side effects that will affect the health of my dog.
2. Medications are a cop-out.
3. I didn’t want to ‘medicate’ my dog.
While there are shy or fearful dogs that can learn new behaviors and change how they feel about things that scare them, without the benefit of medications, many more continue to struggle and suffer. This struggling and suffering could be reduced through the professionally supervised use of behavioral medications.
As for my concerns-
1. Yes medications can have side effects. However the behavioral medications available for dogs from veterinarians have been researched for their safety and efficacy. Many others, while not specifically labeled for use with dogs, have also provided relief. The the list of side effects can be daunting on any medication available today, even routinely used over the counter products.
The side effect of fear is stress. Long term stress has its own long list of health damaging side effects with no benefits. Check out these videos of Robert Sapolsky to learn more about the dangers of stress. For my dog I decided that the risks of ongoing stress outweighed those of the medications which have helped him. A blood work panel should be performed before starting any drug regime with your dog.
2. My non-fearful dog with a heart condition was given daily doses of heart medications prescribed by a cardiologist, they did what they were designed to do and improved her quality of life. I didn’t feel as though I was copping out by using them. Another of my non-fearful dogs with low thyroid, gets two tablets a day and has since grown a thick coat of fur, stopped suffering from skin infections and has increased energy. This wasn’t a cop-out either. My fearful dog with neurochemical imbalances in his brain deserves the same consideration.
3. The misconception that behavioral medications act as sedatives to ‘calm’ a dog down, are just that, a misconception. Though sedation may be a side-effect, it should be short-lived. Do your homework on how behavioral medications can help your dog’s brain improve, making it easier for them to learn new responses to fearful provoking stimuli. From Leashes to Neurons by Karen Overall DVM is available through Tawzer Videos. In it Dr. Overall explains how behavioral medications work and why she views them as a powerful tool in the rehabilitation of fearful and aggressive dogs.
There are a variety of other non-medicinal approaches we can take to help our fearful dogs, and I recommend that owners learn about these as well. Many can be used in conjunction with prescription medications, but check with your vet if you have any questions or concerns.
I have seen the most progress in my fearful dog Sunny through the use of medication. These medications are also the most cost effective product I have purchased, which may not be a selling point for some folks, but it sure helps when you are caring for multiple dogs. It can take time to discover the medication and dosage which provides the most benefits to your dog.
Behavioral medications, namely the SSRIs, TCAs and benzodiazepines are not cures for fearfulness, but along with a playful training program, they sure aren’t cop-outs either.