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Your Pet and Behaviour Medications

This documentary shows two extreme sides of the controversy over whether we should or shouldn’t use behaviour modifying drugs in pets. I would like to review this documentary to point out some things that are very important. My stance is that the most important thing is to have a behavioural consult, diagnosis and a specific and very thorough plan to deal with behavioural problems. Play therapy as shown is a wonderful tool and very fun for the pet and the owner. I don’t feel that there are many situations where drugs are necessary and it is important to understand they aren’t a magic cure and they are not without risks. Even if the pet is treated with medications, owners still need to do behaviour modification exercises and to need to manage the problem for life… Please watch the documentary if you like and read my comments.

Documentary on Pet Pharm… behaviour modifying drugs in pets..

Note.. the video that starts playing will be the most recent one.. scroll down the page and click on the “Pet Pharm” video and it should play.

Timmy (white poodle) –

Very loving and dedicated owners but they are really not helping this issues. They are constantly rewarding the behaviour by picking him up and holding him and giving him attention when barking.

Look at video on Podees Agression on You Tube to:

This same method could easily be used to teach this dog to walk happily on leash.. Other behaviour modification exercises such as training the dog how to be quiet and bark on command would help greatly. See my article on ‘Barking’, ‘Leadership Training’, ‘Fun Things to Do with Your Dog’, ‘Prevention’, etc.

Jake – very dangerous situation.

The owner is doing some very good things that I do want to give them credit for.. seeking help, instituting safety measures, discussing with their veterinarian and making informed decisions. I do want you to watch how the owner is using dominance theory training.. yelling at the dog and using a harsh tone of voice. This type of training has been shown in research to increase aggression. This dog needs positive training methods. The Halti is a good first step. The trainer was not showing working with the dog so I don’t know what type of methods he is promoting. I don’t know if he is giving the owner good advice? In any case, the Leadership Training, increased exercise and play, and a well designed behaviour modification plan might work for this dog. The wife doing the Leadership Training exercise would help set up a good relationship with this dog. I would also have a basket muzzle on this dog 24/7 even on the other side of the baby gate and even with the muzzle constant supervision! There is a lot of risk in this household with a small child present. This child could get hurt or killed even through that baby gate. Personally, I think this dog should be rehomed in a household with an owner willing and committed to safety and retraining and with no children. The other thing that most behavioural textbooks stress with aggressive dogs is that the only way to 100% prevent future bites is euthanasia. While I’m not promoting that this dog be euthanized, I think that this is a statement that needs to be emphasized!

Zeke – the hound dog..

these owners deserve a lot of credit for really researching this decision but they really need to be doing retraining exercises. Leadership training between the male owner and this dog would do wonders! Changing to a basket muzzle would allow them to reward desirable behaviours and the dog wouldn’t have to be separated for feeding. Also I would like to make some comments about aggression and medications. There are very few situations where I would consider medicating aggressive dogs. Sometimes the pet’s anxiety is inhibiting their bite reflex and if the medications make them more confident, the aggression could worsen. So more work and studies need to be done and the decision to use medications in these dogs has to be made very carefully with safety recommendations in place and with rechecks and monitoring done very carefully.

Priscilla - Cat with Anxiety.

Full medical work-up should be done… in one photo of this cat you can see that her pupils are different sizes. This could mean that the cat has a medical issue and if this has not been fully investigated, it should be. If no medical cause is found then options for this cat including interactive play sessions, changing the environment, or rehoming in a single cat home. I applaud the owners for the brave decision in the end as this will certainly help this cat but I think there are less drastic solutions for others in this situation. Again, as I don’t know all the details of the case it is possible other solutions where considered without my knowledge.

On this video, also notice when the cats are together you can see the male cat staring boldly at Priscilla. This is an aggressive act towards Priscilla and behaviour modification to deal with this cat’s aggression seems to be totally overlooked. See information on ‘Fun Things to Do with Your Cat’, ‘Preventing Behaviour Problems’, ‘Multi-cat Homes’, ‘Introducing a New Cat’… these all deal with this type of problem!!

German Shepherd with anxiety: this exercise is a simple leave it exercise that is recommended by behaviourists and was taught in the manner class I attended at Crocus Obedience class. This can be an extremely good exercise for many issues if done correctly. Self control and relaxation can be taught. Similar exercises can be used to teach give and to teach dogs not to guard (but don’t try it without full details as you may get bit).

Take home messages:

  • Yes many dogs are euthanized for behavioural issues and most of these issues could be dealt with.
  • Anthropomorphism (attributing human form or personality to pets) is a huge problem and huge cause of issues. The biggest issue I see with this is people trying to comfort an anxious pet. Because pets don’t understand our language, they understand our tone of voice and body language, misunderstandings are easy. Comforting an anxious pet (like what the owners are doing with Timmy) makes the pet think that this is a desirable behaviour and increase the behaviour! This works with humans who understand our language but dogs understand our body language and energy so our concern about them and our petting them while they are anxious only encourages this behaviour.
  • Pet clothing is a huge industry and dressing pets is another form of antrhopomorphism. While I think pets in cold climates may need protective gear to keep them warm they don’t need or want full wardrobe. They aren’t babies! Some people say that their pets love being dressed up. This is a perfect example of how we attribute human feelings to dogs. These dogs often seem to enjoy it, but I suspect they enjoy the attention that they receive while being dressed up. My dogs are happiest with dirty feet, muddy paws and when they just rolled in something foul. So although I bathe them when necessary and my small dog has winter wear I still give them opportunities to satisfy their need to be dogs. We need to respect their dogginess and kittiness.

I have two dogs that had behavioural problems. For Buddy, who had severe separation anxiety, I did use a medication called Clomicalm. It wasn’t until this medication started working that my behaviour modification plan really started progressing. I had him on medication and then weaned him off after 5 months. He has never required medication since. Looking back, I was just learning about behaviour modification at the time and there are definitely things I could have done better that likely would have helped him progress quicker but I still think that his anxiety was so high that he would have had trouble relearning new behaviours. I really think medicating was the right choice for him.

Cody, on the other hand, had severe aggression that seemed unpredictable. His aggression was worse than what I saw with any of the pets I viewed on this video. He had bit a young child and he has bit both my husband and I before I figured out his triggers. He has not bit anyone in quite a long time and I used behaviour modification exercises, leadership training, play, mental stimulation, and positive obedience training in his rehabilitation. Although, I felt his behaviour was due to anxiety, his biting was also a learned behaviour and I was concerned that medication might disinhibit his biting and actually make it worse. His rehabilitation took a long time and again, in hindsight, I know I made some mistakes but ultimately, I feel we have had a great level of success with him. In this situation I think not using medication was the right choice for him.

Remember too that either way, both dogs will need to be managed for life or problems could recur!

I think these two examples illustrate that there isn’t a black and white answer for this question. These are complex problems and a veterinary behaviourist or a veterinarian that has studied and learned about behaviour should be consulted and owners should make fully informed decisions and continue working to improve these behaviours through retraining exercises. The decision to use medications should be well thought out. Another option is to work with a dog trainer that has experience and uses positive training methods.

If you have any comments on this article – click here (go to my email)

If you have questions about your own pet and want to ask a question – click here (go to Q & A part)

Thanks for your interest.

Dr. Liana Mawer