Just Say “I’ll Think About It”

vintage image of pharmacist with death in the background

Concern about the use of drugs is not new

In the 80’s there was a campaign to keep kids off of drugs and the mantra was “just say no to drugs.”  I thought the better advice to give kids about what they should or shouldn’t do when it came to their physical and mental health was “just say I’ll think about it.” I would apply the same advice to people with fearful dogs and the consideration of behavioral medications. Think about it.

It’s not easy to think, really think about whether or not to consult with a vet about behavioral medications that could help our dogs by lowering the level of anxiety and stress many are experiencing on a daily basis. We leave important pieces of information out, specifically the very real risk of NOT using medications to address anxiety in our dogs. We tend to put a lot of weight on the possible side-effects of medications and fail to consider the impact chronic stress and anxiety has on our dogs’ health and quality of life. We have a knee-jerk distrust of big pharma which we consider is out to suck our wallets dry by selling us unnecessary meds and hold the marketers of sugar pills and unregulated and untested remedies in high esteem.

It’s difficult to acknowledge and assess the baggage that we carry in regard to the use of behavioral medications, for people or dogs. For many of us it’s about how their use makes us feel. It feels not quite right to us and we come up with excuses and reasons to justify those feelings. Meds are a cop-out. If only we did something else they wouldn’t be needed, and we just need to figure out what that something else entails. They are an indication of laziness on our part. The need for meds means we failed our dog, we weren’t good enough. Few of us are willing to accept that and so we keep looking for alternatives that will make us feel more successful.

The other problem we run into is that we put more merit into anecdotal information about untested or unproven remedies than we do into the data and research available regarding the efficacy of meds. Someone’s cousin’s dog was put on an anti-depressant and their behavior got worse. If we are reluctant about using meds we will latch onto this information like a tick on a warm body. With no other information other than that statement we will write off meds as an option for our dogs. If someone’s sister’s best friend used a homeopathic remedy and saw improvement in their dog we’ll race out to the local shop to buy some. And this is where our thinking is cloudy.

In any group of dogs, some will get better and some will get worse whether we do anything specific or not. If a dog who was likely to get better is also given a magic potion (many of the products that are available have never been tested let alone shown to be more effective than a placebo) you can guess what will be credited with their improvement–the potion. I would surmise that when we start to think about how to help our dogs we are often changing more about how they are handled and managed than simply adding a few drops of something or other to their water bowl. We are likely increasing the odds of them improving because of these changes in management, and the drops are credited for it.

Two years ago my border collie Finn was diagnosed with lymphoma. I did some online searching for information and met with an oncologist. The prognosis for this disease if left untreated isn’t simply not great, it’s bad. But there is a well established protocol of chemotherapy that could increase his chances of surviving beyond the time the disease would kill him. Given all the factors; the type of cancer, his otherwise good condition, his age, the availability of treatment, credit cards, etc., we decided to treat him. He’s still with us (and even I can’t resist superstitious thought-touch wood). Don’t feel bad about the struggle to think critically about the use of traditional medicine to help our dogs, Even smart guys have a hard time with it.

If you enjoy thinking about the best ways to live with and train dogs you might enjoy my latest book Does My Dog Need Prozac?


9 comments so far

  1. Melody Wahl on

    I have tried Prozac and drugs on my fearful dog, but I did not like how she looked on them. Due to her age, 9, I have decided just to continue to keep her away from triggers to keep her comfortable. I have accepted that she will never be comfortable around people but she gives me so much love and happiness that her little problems are worth working around. 🙂

    • fearfuldogs on

      We are responsible for our dogs. If along with a vet we decide that management is a better option, at least we have considered our options. It’s good of you to do what you are doing to give your dog a life in which he is chronically stressed.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It’s very kind of you to look for options to give your dog a better life.

  2. Anu Roots on

    Hi Debbie,
    Just ordered your new book and I can’t wait to read it. I’m sure it will be every bit as helpful and encouraging as your first one.

    Over a year ago I had a phone consultation with you about my fearful Papillon boy, Remy. At the time I was just starting to consider using meds in addition to all the training I’d been doing with him.

    Just as you said in today’s article, I felt that using medication for my little dog was a cop out, and tantamount to admitting that I was either a lazy or incompetent trainer. I’m neither, and so realized my bias was based on ignorance. And that it shouldn’t be about me. My focus had to be what was best for my dog.

    Since that consult with you I’ve finally found a medication that has radically improved the quality of Remy’s life. First I tried valium which didn’t help at all. I tried a course of trazadone next for Remy, but that was another disappointment.

    Third time was the charm – paroxetine. The vet told me to stick with this for several months before we declared this prescription a winner or loser. She also made it a point to tell me not to expect any changes at all before Remy’d been on paroxetine for at least six to eight weeks. I said okay and started another log taking notes about this new medication.

    At exactly seven weeks into paroxetine’s trial run I started to see positive changes in Remy. I remember this vividly because though they were subtle, the changes in Remy’s demeanor were nothing short of remarkable to me.

    He hid less behind my legs when we stopped on walks. He started being curious, which he never was before. He developed a real appetite for the first time.

    Initially, I told no one, including my husband, that I’d started Remy on meds.
    Valium and trazadone had both been failures, and I was feeling very discouraged at that point. I didn’t want any peanut gallery input, no matter how well meaning.

    More telling, if Remy was truly acting less anxious, my husband would notice. He’d confirm my observation that Remy’s behavior wasn’t just my wishful thinking. And that’s what happened.

    Along with his medication, I continue to train Remy every day. Now that food interests him in a way it never did before, I can use his favorites as training bribes, lures, and rewards. I know that Remy’s meds don’t replace training, only that they make him more able to learn.

    I wish I’d thought about starting Remy on his meds sooner, but am glad I managed to pry my mind open enough to try them when I did.

    Thank you, Debbie for your must-read blog, priceless advice and cheer leading. I’m sure I’m not the only reader you’ve enlightened about considering meds for our anxious dogs.

    Looking forward to reading your next book!
    Mom to brave Remy

    • fearfuldogs on

      I am so glad you shared this with me. Thanks! It’s always great to hear about the progress folks are seeing with their dogs. It’s not easy to work with these dogs so I can appreciate the efforts you’ve made. Keep it up! The progress doesn’t ever need to end.

  3. KellyK on

    I really like this. We really do have the idea that “natural” is always safer and more effective than “artificial,” despite evidence to the contrary in specific cases—and despite the fact that arsenic is natural and Tylenol is not.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Right. And too much Tylenol can kill you too.

  4. ariana olenska on

    I had a dog with serious issues (i.e. I think he had the canine version of mental illness – which of course exists). I begged for meds.. and couldn’t get any.

    I know have adopted a senior who is such a gentle soul, but has severe separation anxiety, and fear of being touched by strangers. Not being around them,, he can walk through a crowd with ease.. but a hand reaching toward him.. he will snap. (he is a big dog). Of course we are working on desensitization.

    Prozac is cheap, the side effects are minimal (for most) and if u don’t like them, u just stop. I was grateful I didn’t even have to ask, the vet suggested it!. I will use whatever I can to help make him more comfortable and happy. 1. I currently cannot leave him alone at all (I live alone) I live in an apartment building.. even though we are working with behavioral techniques for the separation anxiety, in my living situation, I don’t have the luxury leaving him an increased time and not being sure if he barks. We already have 1 noise violation. The next is da boot.

    While I can monitor people and keep them from touching him.. we can’t control the universe 100%.. he has never tried to actually bite.. but if that one time happened, that would be the end!

    I will try prozac, and if that doesn’t help.. anxiolytics for when I need to leave him.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It’s great that you’re open to considering medication. They currently are among the best technology we have to help them (along with good training and counterconditioning).

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