Behavioral Medication for Your Dog

How the right behavioral medications can help your dog.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #120

“Medications” Aren’t All Tranquilizers

Many people say, “I don’t want to drug my dog,” and usually what they fear is that meds will make their friend sleepy, lethargic, and dull-witted. This fear may be a hangover from the bad old days a couple of decades ago, when behavioral medication mostly did mean tranquilizers.

It’s true that some meds can be sedating. Usually, though, this is a side effect that diminishes over time, or it’s associated with certain meds given as needed for specific situations. For example, many dogs do well with benzodiazepines for thunderstorm phobia, and an effective dose may (that’s “may”!) make your dog not just relaxed but sleepy. In a couple of hours, the effect wears off and your dog is back to normal. And, p.s., she didn’t just spend the entire storm shaking, panting, drooling, and trying to dig her way into the bathroom floor.

Dogs Can Be Calmed Without Being Sedated

Also, there’s a big difference between calming and sedation. I’m thinking of one of my clients, a barky, jittery little dog whose anxiety was alleviated by treatment with an alpha-adrenergic agonist, a class of medication that decreases heart rate and blood pressure. One day her guardian didn’t get home in time to give her her medication far enough in advance of our appointment. This little dog always worked with me eagerly and learned fast. Not that day! She seemed antsy and distracted and barely responded to my cues. As her medication kicked in, though, she paid more and more attention to me. Soon she was the alert, focused little learner I knew.

What About Side Effects?

Other clients worry about immediate and long-term side effects.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).