Using Drugs to Help Dogs Learn

I have been working with a small dog and his “parents” to help this little one be more comfortable with anyone approaching him or picking him up. He is also concerned about riding in the car. He will shake like a leaf on a regular basis especially when one walks in his direction, and will shake throughout the process of being handled and picked up. He is also very overwhelmed when my dogs, which he feels comfortable with, play with their large orange ball. In this instance I think it has to do with erratic movement since I also witnessed him shake in fear when I was stretching on the floor with Deuce and Rio playing with me and their toys.

It is hard to know exactly why this pup has such fears. Most likely he was never properly exposed to being picked up or even handled in general. My guess is that this poor fellow was kept in a place where he was not exposed to gentle and ongoing handling or even no handling at all. It is also possible that the environment was a stale environment where he was not appropriately exposed to noise and erratic movements or changes in the environment that would teach him resilience to “bounce back” from change.

Stories like this one are abound. There is unfortunately no shortage of dogs that lacked the proper socialization when it mattered most: from birth to 18 weeks of age. Whatever the dog has not been exposed to in a positive way he will be potentially concerned or plain afraid of. And for the rest of this dog’s life, the people in their care will be playing catch up.

I have worked with a fair amount of dogs that have generalized fear or anxiety. I think my current board & train is one of them. One of the things I noticed besides the triggers I described above is that he has a difficult time learning. This is one of the hallmarks of dogs that, in essence, are too concerned to learn. In cases extreme as these I recommend my clients look into medicating their dogs.

I have had very good success in helping dogs learn new skills that they can employ when in the presence of what concerns them by combining psychotropic medication and behavior modification. The right medication will help the dog learn. Once the dog’s confidence has improved and now with new ways to respond to what concerns him the chances for a better quality of life for the dog and its people increases. Sure, one can argue that medications have side effects, but we must also keep in mind that living in constant fear or anxiety also compromises one’s quality of life.

I am not a vet nor do I choose to “practice” medicine so I will not give particular advice on which “med” is the correct one to use. The best approach here is to discuss with the veterinarian as to possible medication.

However, not all vets are up to speed with medications for emotional issues such as fear and anxiety. When this is the case it is best to consult with a behavioral veterinarian. These vets have special training and can prescribe the right medication and dosage. A word of caution: in my experience many veterinarians are still taught to understand behavior issues from the outdated dominance/alpha leader perspective. A perspective I do not subscribe to or endorse.