When and Why I Recommend Drugs for Help With Your Dog’s Behavior
Sometimes Aggression is More than We can Handle.
Have you ever taken a drug?
Have you had sore muscles and taken a Tylenol or Ibuprofen?
Have you ever needed antibiotics?
Have you needed medication because a part of your body wasn’t performing the way it should; for instance your thyroid or some other system?
I, personally, have needed medication on occasion.
I take over the counter pain medication when I am sore, I take over the counter cold and flu medication when I am sick and occasionally I have taken prescription medication.
I have been on antibiotics on occasion throughout my life.
Once my eardrum ruptured and I had a fever of a littler over 105 degrees; and another time I had such a severe reaction to bug bites that my leg swelled over twice its size and I needed both antibiotics and steroids.
If I hadn’t had medication, there are a few times I am unsure that I would have actually survived.
The most simple of things can kill people and animals in the wild.
And, most people have no problem taking medication or putting their dog on medication for “physical” issues.
Many dogs need thyroid medications or other medications for a lifetime to regulate their system.
Yet people fight and fight and often refuse to put their dog on medication for behavioral problems.
Can You Imagine
Can you imagine a world where people with mental illness were denied medications that could help them feel better?
Many of these mental conditions, such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and multiple personality disorder cause a marked increase in aggression if they are not treated.
A Department of Justice Report found that
- of spouses killed by spouse – 12.3 percent of defendants had a history of untreated mental illness;
- of children killed by parent – 15.8 percent of defendants had a history of untreated mental illness;
- of parents killed by children – 25.1 percent of defendants had a history of untreated mental illness; and
- of siblings killed by sibling – 17.3 percent of defendants had a history of untreated mental illness.
A 1998 MacArthur Foundation study found that people with serious brain disorders committed twice as many acts of violence in the period immediately prior to their hospitalization, when they were not taking medication, compared with the post-hospitalization period when most of them were receiving assisted treatment. Important to note, the study showed a 50 percent reduction in rate of violence among those treated for their illness.
For more on this fascinating human study click here
Most of us advocate treating people with mental illness (including depression) with medications that will help them feel better about life and their surrounding and cope with their mental illness.
Although thankfully, I have never suffered from a severe mental illness; I have had some bouts with serious depression (and *interestingly to note everyone in my family has had depression at some point or another and found relief from prescription medication).
After all, I think most of us can agree that depression is a physical and chemical imbalance; and NOT an inability to choose to change how we feel.
It used to be that depressed people were told to just “feel better” or “try harder” but it has been proven over and over again that clinical depression cannot be so easily “fixed”.
I Think it is Interesting to Note
And, I think it is interesting to note, that we as humans, realize that dogs suffer from the same basic health conditions we suffer from:
- Thyroid disease
- Cold or Flu
- Old Age and the mental conditions that go with it
But again, we never take the time to pause and think that if they too, suffer from the same basic health conditions we have; why would they not suffer from some similar mental conditions?
We can’t sit our furry friends down and ask if they “hear voices”
But, I think it is fairly clear to witness that they suffer from phobias and severe anger management or rage syndroms.
Yet, owners always want to opt out of medications for what we consider “behavior problems”
I almost wish we COULD diagnose them with mental illness so that people could empathize with even their own animals instead of judge.
We don’t want them to have to be on “medication for life” much less behavioral medication but if their kidneys begin to shut down we have no problem giving them medication to help ease their “physical”pain.
The unfortunate part is I believe many mental illnesses (depression is certainly included here) also brings severe and sincere physical pain and limitations that then make the illness or “behavior” worse until treated.
If You Wouldn’t Deny Your Dog Health Medication; I Don’t Believe that You Should Deny Your Dog Medication that Will Improve His Behavior and Mental Wellness.
That is not to say that I think you should run to your vet if your dog is ignoring your commands or is rambunctious often.
I believe that medication should only be used in the most severe cases; especially aggression.
- Severe dog Aggression (where the dog in question desires to kill dogs)
- Severe People Aggression (where the dog in question has a desire to bite anyone who gets into his space)
- Child Aggression (where the dog wants to chase and bite or even kill children, often this is children under a certain height and sometimes occurs even when a baby cries).
- Severe Prey Drive and Aggression (these are often the dogs that get into a pack and wreak havoc in a neighborhood seemingly hunting anything that will run)
- Severe Separation Anxiety (these dogs will literally hurt themselves trying to escape the home or environment)
Can you imagine living a life where every day you have an extreme desire to physically fight with people or even a sincere desire to kill when you are enraged?
I can’t imagine that this is a healthy or happy mental state and in my opinion certainly is not a “behavior problem” that can be fixed with some obedience to task.
However, I believe some people can be treated with medication AND behavior modification and counseling etc. Not everyone with “homicidal tendencies” eventually kills someone.
I also think that behaviors like:
- Fur pulling (some dogs literally pull their own fur out of their tails and other areas).
- And self-harming (some dogs will lick themselves until they wound themselves through the skin, muscle and if left some down to bone). We once saw a Greyhound who had licked his front leg to the point we could see his radius and another dog who had chewed off and eaten a couple of toes…
can be helped with medication and behavior modification (think of it as “therapy”).
But, we think of the latter two examples as “health” and not behavior or mental illness in animals, yet when people do this it is considered mental illness.
As soon as we think about putting an aggressive dog on medication people want to put on the breaks because, I suppose they don’t see the physical damage.
I see the physical damage.
I see these dogs exhausted, torn or unable to decide between behaviors and pushed to debilitating aggression due to a probable chemical imbalance and lack of treatment.
But the physical damage (death) usually doesn’t come until these dogs have to be euthanized because of their “behavior” or aggression.
I can’t imagine living in a world where people are executed because their mental illness was not treated effectively.
Don’t get me wrong, I do think that euthanasia is appropriate in some severe instances of aggression; because again I don’t think that these dogs are happy or healthy and some are simply unmanageable. Most people don’t want to take a dog that had killed other dogs or people.
But, I think, many can be saved; and many dogs could be find recovery if we step in prior to the aggressive “event”.
Yet, as with addiction or other severe mental illness recovery and maintenance of behavior does not equal CURED.
But many could be controlled if their families notice early, seek help, accept medical advice from a veterinary behaviorist, stick to a strict behavior modification program and realize the dog’s life behaviors will need to be maintained and controlled (again there is no miracle “cure” for people or dogs).
So if your trainer, behaviorist, or vet recommends some drug therapy for your dog with “behavior problems” consider how you would feel if you or others in our society were denied medication when needed!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.