Long ago, in a land far, far away, there were humans and wolves, and the two had little to do with each other – until one day they did. did, which ultimately led to the evolution of the domestic dog, or Canis familiaris.
Today, researchers are scrutinizing the mysteries of the dog’s brain and discovering surprising complexities, and that they have full and complex emotional lives almost as rich as ours. And, as we just found out, almost as problematic.
The case in point was one of my old dogs, Sammie, a sweet, sweet girl I adopted when she was one year old. Years later, we were out for a walk when a woman with another dog approached in the opposite direction. It had never been a problem, so I barely paid attention – until Sammie suddenly lashed out at the other dog, growling and cracking viciously.
I was flabbergasted by this behavior, which continued unabated. I have seen vets, tried all forms of behavior modification, and even took her to behavioral specialists, to no avail. We never understood what triggered this sudden outburst of aggression towards the strange dogs, or how to deal with it.
There is now another option that would have been unthinkable at the time: psychoactive drugs like anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants and tranquilizers.
Before you dismiss all of this, consider the research showing that while abnormal behavior in dogs can have a physical cause, it can also be the result of a mental disorder. These problems can be rooted in genetics (overcrossing and inbreeding), the environment (poor socialization, abuse or deprivation) or fear, whether it is aggression or extreme passivity.
In humans as well as in animals, fear and anxiety are perfectly rational responses to dangerous situations, whether it is an attacking saber-toothed tiger or an aggressor. The problem arises when we humans or animals experience unreasonable fear or anxiety.
In the case of the family dog, this is when you need to call in the experts. Don’t get ripped off by someone calling themselves an “animal psychologist” or “dog whisperer”. Look for a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) or Certified Veterinary Behaviorist (DACVB).
In addition to specialized treatment, the professional may also suggest things like providing toys and games to keep your puppy mentally stimulated, giving him more exercise, setting up appointments to play with other dogs, or even. take him to obedience classes (these are also actions you can take on your own that will improve your dog’s quality of life, whether or not he has serious behavioral problems).
Ultimately, this expert may suggest drug treatment. So here’s the $ 64,000 question: should you give your puppy Prozac?
First of all, know that your dog is not going to turn into a zombie or a fool with any of these drugs. If he does, the vet will help you adjust the dosage.
Second, understand that drugs are not a silver bullet. They can help, but they won’t instantly turn Fearful Fido into a relaxed, jovial, and perfectly confident social butterfly. That said, medication can offer real relief to aggressive, anxious, fearful, antisocial, obsessive, and traumatized dogs when nonmedical solutions fail.
Above all, don’t give up on your dog. There may not be a quick fix that will solve all the problems or solve all the puzzles of canine behavior, but as a sage once said, where there is life, there is hope.
Joan Merriam lives in northern California with her Golden Retriever, Joey; Maine Coon Cat, Indy; and the unwavering spirit of his beloved Golden Retriever, Casey, in whose memory this column is named. You can reach her at [email protected]