There is an ever growing trend that shows little sign of slowing down in the US. Drugging the sh*t out of dogs to try to ‘fix’ anxiety or behavioral issues.
If you currently do this, this post is not to attack you as I am sure you were following guidelines of a veterinarian or even some ‘behavioralists/trainers’. Please read forward with an open mind and consider your options. Xanax, Flouexetine, Lorazepam, Paxil, Zoloft…Unfortunately, we are seeing it all heavily prescribed to dogs these days. Let me make a broad statement. 99.9% of dogs should not be getting this stuff. All too often I see these drugs dolled out without asking ‘Have you trained the dog?…Have you given them proper mental and physical enrichment?…Do you have systems of structure that make them feel secure?...Are you working with a skilled professional trainer?'
Here is the point in my rant where I will say I am definitely not a veterinarian. I never went to school for dealing with cutting or poking dogs for their well being. But, I will also say, veterinarians are not behavioral psychologists (or nutritionists for that matter but that’s another rant). I respectfully ask that we all stay in our lanes. Can’t train a dog out of a broken leg…can’t pill pop a dog into being emotionally stable and confident. Now Trazadone is a drug that can be given as needed for extremely stressful situations. For some dogs this may be a great option if you must put the dog through an A typical situation but this should never be thought of as a daily maintenance drug.
All these other ‘maintenance drugs’ given to level a dog off, boost confidence, reduce anxiety etc are misguided in this trainer’s opinion. SELDOMLY a dog may have a genetic neurosis that can benefit from these drugs. But that neurotic behavior is irrational and incessant : chasing shadows, chasing tail, pumping feet etc. Even these behaviors might be a self rewarded pattern from not enough stimulation/enrichment in life. Hard to say in many cases. But let me make this clear: Your dog that has received no formal training/structure that seems ’stressed’ despite your efforts to love, nurture and hug them does not need drugs. They need proper training and mental enrichment. The position I take is not illogical…it is also not new. How many kids have been medicated into oblivion because they were not designed to sit in a boring classroom a certain way all day? Kids need structure, guidance and proper mental/physical enrichment. Suppress them too much or don’t show them a structured day and they will fall apart. Some more than others. Dogs are no different.
What IS different is what a dog needs to fulfill that enrichment. Each dog/breed is a bit different but what is universal across the board is that a dog needs some measure of expressing a predatory sequence (hunting, chasing, play and eating). They need air and water. They need some sort of familiar social aspect (pack) and most importantly, they need to feel secure. Watch this video on WHY DOGS DO for more info.
The primary reason I see dogs stressed (and then inappropriately medicated) is that they are more or less lost in this modern world. They have no idea what their job description is and their brand becomes being unsure while either running away from unknowns or pushing them away with defensive aggression. They also seek ways to find order in chaos by exhibiting irrational control behaviors : resource guarding, possessing handlers, possessing toys, incessant barking, jumping on strangers, mouthing/herding people or vehicles etc. The control of these situations has become self rewarding to their detriment…and cortisol increases.
Humans do this too. Global pandemic hits = we panic buy toilet paper. Not super rational all things considered…but it felt good to at least control something to feel order/in control in an otherwise chaotic situation.
I'm getting a bit frustrated by the medication trend to say the least. At RYP we strongly encourage clients to try and phase these maintenance drugs out of dog’s system before we start training. I want to work with a brain not influenced by chemicals and go from there. Rarely do clients have an issue with this suggestion as they often say ‘it really wasn’t doing anything anyway.’ This is my personal opinion and style...I also like a dog thats raw fed. Closer to nature we keep things the better.
To me, drugging has become a way to skirt dog owning responsibilities and accountability. It has also become a way to supplement a dog trainer’s limited tool kit. Trainers/Behavioralists that do not understand the full spectrum of operant conditioning will only focus on treats/rewards...when a stressed dog has no interest in said rewards it is sometimes suggested to drug the dog to calm them to get them level enough to be interested in food... Look, I’ve been lost in the backcountry of Montana before. When that insecurity sets in, I have no interest in taking a breather to eat a cliff bar. Medication is not the solution in these moments…finding the path is. Feeling secure, understanding what to do and feeling a sense of security CREATES a calming effect that then opens up mind for longer term rewards like food, tone, touch and play (which we all love using as part of the training process here at RYP).
Collectively, we as dog enthusiasts: trainers, veterinarians, handlers etc need to recognize the existential needs of these super rad beasts. Ideally, handlers should understand the nuance of behavioral psychology, learning languages and the role they need to play in their dog’s life for good training culture! *Soft sales pitch - we teach all that here at RYP or you can self study concepts on our video learning learning portal Work Your Pack: HERE.
At the very least we all need to understand that offering drugs as the FIRST option for anxiety/behavioral issues is bananas.
The dog wants to hunt, problem solve, chase things, be apart of something (with you) all while feeling secure in this modern world. Do your best to recognize that and learn how to channel that before considering drugs and chemicals.
Your dog will thank you. Big pharma won't.