How to Give Your Dog Pills

The easiest way to get a dog to take pills is to hide them in food. But if your dog sniffs them out, you need fancier tricks. This week, 5 tips to get your dog to take medications voluntarily (and by force).

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
6-minute read
Episode #137

What If Your Dog Won’t Take Pills Voluntarily?

If your dog won't take the pills on her own, here are the most important points to remember before you force-pill your dog. 

  1. Be direct
  2. Follow expert advice
  3. Warn your dog in advance
  4. Lubricate the pill
  5. Give your dog a treat

Let's talk more about these different steps.

1. Be Matter-of-Fact

Dogs are experts at reading our body language. When you need to pill your dog, keep your movements relaxed and your breathing calm. If you talk to your dog, use a low, soothing voice and speak slowly and gently.

Chasing your dog, cornering her, and looming over her are surefire ways to tense up the situation. Approach from the side, instead. Small dog? Put him on a raised surface with secure footing.

2. Watch Instructional Videos

Of the several videos I watched, I best liked this one, featuring Dr. Douglas Chang of Aloha Animal Hospital Associates. His model dog may be more relaxed than most, but that allows him to demonstrate the technique clearly and slowly. And I like Dr. Chang’s gentle, quiet demeanor.

In this video, a Chihuahua who’s obviously uneasy (watch the whites of his eyes, and see those lip licks?) gets a pill from a vet, while a second person restrains and gently strokes him. The little Chi isn’t having fun, but the gentle handling helps make the best of a not-great situation. Notice that although the assistant restrains him, he’s not being squashed.


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).