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Animal Behavior

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Over the last two decades, the role of the domestic dog has undergone significant change. Dogs who used to live in a house with family members around all day, every day—and who had a big backyard in which to play and chase rabbits—may find themselves in an empty house 8 to 10 hours a day and being taken on a leash to a place to eliminate. Some dogs have a difficult time adjusting to this lifestyle, and many behavior problems occur because dogs are on their own and entertaining themselves inside the house. Other problems arise because dogs are more intimate members of the family than they were before and share closer quarters with their human families. Still other problems occur because of the difficulty dogs have adapting their natural behavior’s to the limited environment of the modern urban home.

Behavior problems arising from the limitations imposed by the modern urban environment can be complex and difficult to treat. Anxiety is often a factor. In such situations, medication can help with treatment success.

Is Medication Necessary?

Some pet parents don’t want to give their dog behavioral medication. They’re not comfortable treating behavior issues with drugs and would rather resolve the problem through training and behavior modification. This reaction is understandable. However, some problems can be resolved more quickly and with less distress (for the dog and the pet parent) if behavior medication is added to the treatment plan.

However, with many problem behaviors related to fear, medication is necessary to reduce the dog’s fear to a level that allows treatment to begin. Please see our article, Desensitization and Counterconditioning for information about these effective treatments that are commonly used for fears, phobias, anxiety and aggression.

Which Medicines Are Best for What?

Which Medicines Are Best for What?

Five types of medicines are usually used to treat behavior problems in dogs. These are benzodiazepines (BZs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). The following is a table that shows different behavior problems in dogs that have been successfully treated with behavior change training and medicine.

Behavior Problem

Medicine Type

General Timidity and Fear of New Things

Thunderstorm or Noise Event Phobia

Distress at Being Left Alone (Separation Anxiety)

Compulsive Behavior (repeating the same short
response or sequence over and over again)

Excessive Licking

Medicines for the Treatment of General Anxiety

Some dogs suffer from a more generalized form of anxiety that leaves them nervous in many everyday situations. Benzodiazepines are not a good choice for everyday, ongoing treatment, so they aren’t appropriate for dogs with generalized anxiety. These dogs do better with treatment that can be continued for a period of time rather than given in anticipation of frightening events. The medicines that help dogs with general anxiety problems are TCAs, MAOIs and SSRIs.