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

Yet another alternative is to use a pill gun, which works like a syringe to place the pill at the back of your dog’s mouth. Pill guns are a safer option if your dog may bite.

Rehearse mentally before you go live. You could even practice on a stuffed dog – that may seem like overkill, but the calmer and more confident you are, the less stress you’ll convey to your dog.

3. Use a Warning Cue

A warning cue is just that – notice to your dog that you’re about to do something she isn’t wild about. “Pill coming!” might be a good choice for medication. If you use a warning cue consistently, your dog will eventually learn that it predicts having her mouth opened for a pill. And what is the point of that? you ask.

If you always give your dog a special pill warning cue before you give her a pill, and if you give the cue only at that time, she will learn that she doesn’t have to worry about you approaching her at any other time, and she can relax. 

4. Help the Pill Go Down Easier

Coat the pill (or gelcap) thinly with butter or soft cheese. This isn’t to disguise the pill as a treat, since you already know that doesn’t work for your dog. It’s to help the pill slide down and to protect the pill’s own coating in case you don’t get your dog to swallow it on your first try.

Have a syringe of water or plain, unsalted meat broth ready in advance. As soon as you’ve given the pill, squirt the broth or water into your dog’s mouth. Aim from the side, not the front. Swallowing the liquid will help keep the pill from sticking on its way down.

5. Give Your Dog a Special Treat When You’re Done

After all, why not? He just put up with something unpleasant you did to him. Also, if pill-getting is always followed by a super-special treat, a game, or a walk, he may even begin to associate your pilling him with that good consequence. And I hope he feels all better soon!

Special thanks this week go to my friend Jessica, who is a vet tech at a specialty animal hospital and supplied or refined many of the pointers. You can follow The Dog Trainer on Twitter, where I’m Dogalini. I’m The Dog Trainer on Facebook, and you can also write to me at dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com. I welcome your comments and suggestions, and I may use them as the basis for future articles. Thank you for reading!



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).