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Does My Dog Need Meds?

Updated: Jun 3

Clients often ask me if their anxious, fearful, or aggressive dog needs prescription medication to cope. Sometimes, they ask about things like CBD, too. (I have yet to see CBD work for anxious dogs, and one of the studies sometimes cited to me was not done as a double-blind, meaning we can't know there was no placebo effect.) Other times, clients have no idea their dog is experiencing atypical stress levels. Stress can be expressed with what we call "fight or flight" as well as "freeze" or "fidget." (Fidget is humping, jumping, zooming, arousal biting, and "wild" behavior.) I suggest a discussion with a vet, ideally a vet behaviorist, and I can provide data points to help them make decisions.

  • I might list body language and behaviors I see in response to identified triggers.

  • I might note how persistent and proportionate the response is to the provocation (see Suzanne Clothier's excellent article below about the 3 Ps!)

  • I might take some videos to help the vet see what we see at home, too.

  • I might note that avoiding triggers is impossible (e.g. separation anxiety where people work outside the home, or reactions to loud sounds or strangers or other dogs while people live in a city)

Sometimes, the vet will suggest a long-term, daily prescription. Sometimes, they will suggest a short-acting medication that may be sedating. Sometimes, they use them in combination. It's not something that a trainer can decide for you, ethically or professionally.

Here are some excellent resources you could use as you consider what's right for your dog:

I have witnessed medication's life-changing, life-saving effects for dogs who need it, particularly when we find the right med at the right dose and give it time to work. If you have a dog experiencing fear, anxiety, and stress, especially exhibiting aggressive behavior, I urge you to contact your vet to discuss options. If your vet is not comfortable working with behavior, that's okay! Vets are sort of like your PCP, and they should refer to specialists when needed. They may refer you to a specialist called a veterinary behaviorist (list of our local options here), and we also have a local vet offering behavior consultations you can check with if you can't make the drive to PA or DC or VA. Your vet can also arrange to consult with an online vet behaviorist if that's preferable.

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