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Should You Put Your Anxious/Aggressive Dog on Medication?

Written by: Scott H
Scott Haiduc is the Director of Publishing for iHeartDogs, iHeartCats and The Hero Company. When not working, Scott spends his time on the farm, taking care of his animals and crops.Read more
| Published on August 16, 2014

If you have a fearful and/or aggressive dog, you may be wondering about putting her on medication. But you may also be wondering if it really works, will she have to be on it for life, and whether or not you can actually change your dog to say, enjoy having strangers come into her home. I watched a poor dog change drastically from medication, without seeing any real benefits. In fact, the dog was on so many meds it had a hard time in training because his energy level was so low.

There are a lot of differing opinions on this topic and no way we can discuss them all in one article. However, we are going to touch on some of the big questions answered by a veterinarian and a dog trainer. Just remember the best thing you can do for your individual dog is to seek professional help (both from a veterinarian and a dog trainer), ask a lot of questions, and make sure they are working together to do what’s best for your dog.

The Veterinarian

Dr. Cathy Alinovi, DVM, is a vet at Healthy PAWsibilities where she works with a trainer on tough dog behavior cases.

When should dogs be put on medication?

If your dog is fearful due to the human interaction he's had  in this past, just drugging him is not going to change that. He is going to need training and time.
If your dog is fearful due to the human interaction he’s had in this past, just drugging him is not going to change that. He is going to need training and time.

Before prescribing medication, the reason for the anxiety should be explored.. For some dogs, it’s as easy as diet change to real food. For other dogs, neurotransmitter testing reveals a brain imbalance that can be treated with supplements. Some dogs do need anxiolytics but they don’t always have to be Prozac; some herbal formulas can work well too. I use Shen Calmer or Heart Fire Flare-up for many of my patients.

For the dogs with the brain imbalance, is that genetic then? Will training/behavior modification help or is there “no hope” expect some sort of drug or herbal remedy?

Brain imbalance is a lot like humans with ADHD or bipolar disorder – partly genetic and partly due to environment. For some dogs, behavior training can help, but for others it takes neurotransmitter testing and medication to balance the brain (a lot like humans, but rather than Ritalin, getting to the reason for the imbalance). It’s treatable but people should be patient and be consistent.

Are the drugs a permanent “fix” or are they just so you can train the dog, with the goal to wean them off? I realize it will vary from dog to dog. But let’s say for a nervous dog vs an aggressive dog, is there a difference in what the point of the medication is?

If you change nothing but give medication (be it herbs or Prozac) then nothing will change. If you also upgrade to real food and start behavior training then there is a possibility of weaning off the medicine.

Can drugs really help a true aggressive dog (which is probably not seen as much) or do they work better for fear aggression and other nervous behaviors?

The big thing with truly aggressive dogs is to do everything. I work with a great dog trainer at my clinic who is awesome with dogs with behavior issues. We work together – and find most of the issues are diet and owner mistakes. The owner mistakes are usually inadvertent miscommunications with their dog. If a dog is truly aggressive, medication won’t help the issue – these dogs need dedicated owners who know how to handle their dog and prevent problem situations

The Dog Trainer

Karen Scoggins is the Founder of My Perfect Pet Food and a dog trainer.

Do think there is a time/place for owners to put their anxious/fearful/aggressive dog on drugs? Do you think they help or hinder?

Drugs or medications are prescribed in order to produce a desired effect in the dog’s temperament or behavior.  As with people, there may be situations where the use of drugs or medications may be beneficial to chemically alter the dog’s state.  However, before making the decision to administer drugs or medications, pet owners should consider natural alternatives that may exist to achieve those same results with greater long term health benefits and fewer health risks.

What are the Alternative you recommended your clients try?

1. Exercise.  Exercise is often an effective tool in lessening anxiety and stress.  A good hard workout may produce the same ‘altered state’ in the dog’s system as a light sedative, leaving the dog feeling more calm, relaxed, and ideally even ready for a nap.  A dog with pent up energy may seem agitated or stressed, when in fact what they really need is a good run and a little fun before being asked to calm down and rest for the afternoon/evening.

2. Diet.  A healthy, natural diet that is nutritionally balanced and contains foods that are easily digested can also promote a calming effect throughout the dog’s system.  Experts agree that a child who has had a healthy breakfast before going to school is more alert, has a great learning capacity, and generally behaves better than a child who is hungry or not feeling well. The same applies to the dog.  Natural foods are easier for the dog to digest, and a balanced system producing less tension internally will manifest fewer symptoms of stress externally.

3. Training.  While exercise and diet are important elements, they are not substitutes for a consistent training program.  Consistency is the key.  A dog that is encouraged to demonstrate a certain behavior by one member of the family, but then punished for that same behavior by another, is likely over time to become confused, frustrated, stressed, and may demonstrate these in the form of anxiety, fear, or aggression.  Inconsistency in training and setting of clear parameters for the dog often leads to stress and frustration in the dog owner, which is often expressed verbally (and often loudly) to the dog, further increasing tension that could be avoided through consistency and discipline.

When do you make that judgment to try a medication?

Bottom line, there are situations in which drugs and medications can be beneficial to the dog’s health and family harmony, but they should never be used in lieu of natural means to achieve the same results.  Maintaining a healthy exercise, diet and training regimen requires discipline and commitment, but the benefits will be enjoyed by the family for the life of the dog.  When an issue exists that is beyond what can be addressed through proper exercise, diet or training, then it is time to call on the health care experts to determine the proper diagnosis and medical treatment plan.

Natural Supplements

Dr. Alinovi mentioned herbs as one addition to training and other methods for treating dogs with fear or anxiety. Cynthia Harp, owner of  My doTERRA®, has a few recommendations you can ask your vet about in regards to natural alternatives to medications.

For separation anxiety and fear:

  • Serenity, blend of: lavender, sweet marjoram, roman chamomile, ylang ylang, sandalwood and vanilla bean.
  • Balance, blend of: spruce, rosewood, frankincense, blue tansy already blended with fractionated coconut oil.

About the Author

Based in Wilsonville, Ore., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and works as a full time trainer. She is the founder of, A Fairytail House, a unique all-positive all-sport dog training facility that helps rescue dogs in her area and provides free seminars and training classes for the community. In her spare time, she trains and competes in herding, agility, obedience, rally, and conformation with her Shetland Sheepdogs. She smartly married a Veterinary Technician, who helps keep the fur kids happy and healthy, and provides a quick resource for articles.

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