Medications for Fearful Dogs
The topic of using medications to help a fearful dog can bring up some strong reactions in folks, both for and against. It makes good sense to learn about how the medications available today work and how they can help a dog, rather than just dismissing them outright. Not all fearful dogs need medication to help them feel less stressed or to aid in the learning of new behaviors, but for the ones that can be helped in this way, the meds might just feel like a godsend to both an owner and their dog.
There are a variety of alternatives or supplements to medications available. I encourage owners to do their research and learn about; body wraps, DAP, Ttouch, acupuncture, herbal supplements, etc. The use of any medication or alternative to medication must be used in conjunction with a behavior modification training program. My decision to use a behavioral medication with Sunny came after realizing that ‘anything’ that I could offer him that would lower his stress level was ultimately going to be beneficial to his health and behavior.
Medications like Prozac and Clomicalm have been tested on animals, specifically on dogs, and are used by humans. People report that they ‘feel’ better, and since we can only guess how animals feel based on their behavior, we’re probably safe in assuming that they too ‘feel better’ by the positive changes in their behavior that we see when they are on medications. More research and studies need to be done on the efficacy of the many alternatives, but there is plenty of anecdotal information provided by pet owners that indicates that they too can help our dogs ‘feel’ better.
For my dog I took the following into consideration:
- cost of a treatment or therapy
- amount of time needed daily to devote to the treatment
- ease of use or application
- trainer recommendation
- vet recommendation
As much as I’d like to say that cost does not matter when it comes to the health of my dogs, it does. While there were supplements that appeared to provide my dog with some relief, the cost became prohibitive because my dog needs help every day, all day. A bottle of ‘Composure’, recommended by my vet, would have cost me hundreds of dollars a month to provide him with the dosage he’d need on a daily basis. I am able to purchase his prescription for Prozac for under $10 a month. I have no reason to believe that one was going to be ‘safer’ or healthier than the other.
I have begun acupuncture treatments for Sunny after reading studies about the use of acupuncture to help people with PTSD. The acupuncturist recommends at least four treatments before deciding whether or not it is having the desired effect. Depending on where you live, the availability and cost of acupuncture will vary. It’s worth a try and I hope it helps, but even the acupuncturist agreed that medications which provide relief to an animal should be continued. I have tried body wraps and Ttouch but either have not been persistent enough, am not applying them properly, I’ve not seen any appreciable gains in Sunny’s behavior by their use. This does not mean they are not helping, something may make Sunny feel better but not change his behavior noticeably, so I’ve not eliminated them from the work I do with him.
The ease of application is important to me because I have 4 dogs, and something of a life to lead aside from their care and training. Any treatment or technique that I don’t think that I can realistically add to my day is not going to happen and so is not likely to work. I suspect that the amount of time I’ve had to devote to Sunny’s rehab may be more than what many dog owners have and may be reflected in the quality of our relationship, and the improvements in his behavior.
In Pam Dennison’s book Bringing Light To Shadow she shares details of the work she did with her fear aggressive dog. It’s an informative story, but I found myself thinking that Sunny was doomed if his rehabilitation was going to rest on me having the same skills, time and resources as Dennision had. I do what I can, how and when I can, the addition of meds may lower the bar for what is needed from me on a daily basis in order for Sunny to improve. Rather than think of them as a cop out, they give Sunny a nudge in the direction we’re headed.