Updated: Feb 27, 2020
By Jess Mogielski
If you had asked me a year ago - even a month ago - whether or not I would ever put my dogs on medication, it would have been a resounding and simple no.
I have always been a firm believer that training and behaviour modification are the key to controlling an unruly dog. So, when I came to the realisation that maybe, just maybe, my dog might need the help of the canine psychiatric variety, it hit me hard.
For a long time I felt like a failure - I could help others with their dogs, became the guru amongst my friends and family, and could confidently handle the most outrageous of dogs. Yet, somehow, the most impossible task for me was my own boy waiting at home.
We worked so hard, and really did make so much progress despite setbacks such as being attacked by another dog, medical issues and personal troubles. My boy stood with me, and for a while I think his behaviour fell to the back burner.
I resigned myself to have an ill behaved dog, one who paced and panted, jumped on guests and constantly whined because he didn't know what else to do. If I brought both of my dogs out with friends instead of just my girl, he was met with 'oh, why did you bring THAT one?'
I always said it was like he wanted to listen, he knew what to do, but he couldn't focus. He didn't have the self control. He would almost give me a look as if to say, I'm sorry mum I know I shouldn't, but I really have to! And that's where, one day, it clicked. I'd gone through boot camp after boot camp, done the tough love and the positive reinforcement.
But one day I was speaking to a friend about children with ADHD and high anxiety, and how they have issues listening or learning and I caught myself describing my dog. It seemed ridiculous to think my dog had compulsive or attention issues, but the more I thought on it, the more awful I felt. If it was my child showing signs of high anxiety or compulsive disorders, I wouldn't be spending years training the behaviour out - I would get them psychiatric help.
So we made the appointment. When I walked in, I felt ridiculous admitting that maybe, for once, this was out of my pay grade. The dog expert was out of her expertise.
I had both of my dogs - same age, same breed - in the clinic office. The vet pointed out that after 5 minutes in the office, the non-affected dog was laying patiently on the floor while we talked. My boy was pacing from door to door making stressed out noises and pawing at the floor. The vet explained that many people mistake their dog 'not learning' or 'being stupid' for their inability to really take in their training - when in reality it's more akin to medicating an ADHD child. Bring the stress and anxiety level down, and their brain can focus on the task at hand and really understand. We spoke about how he's living now - constantly over-aware and on edge, overstimulated and unable to catch a rest.
The irony isn't lost on me - I am on anxiety medication. I remember, after the first few weeks thinking, wow, I feel so much better, why didn't I do this sooner! Now, I'm looking at my dog and thinking, oh no, you're going to feel so much better, I'm sorry I didn't do this sooner!
I think it's important to realise that sometimes, medication is the answer. I was so scared of being that person who 'medicated their dog for no reason' that I buried all the signs that indicated my dog may need professional help.
Just like the stigma for humans, I think dogs mental health is sorely overlooked. As dogs can't sit us down and tell us, hey, mum, I'm feeling a bit anxious today.
Am I admitting that I am totally pro medication? No, probably not. Is it worth a shot if it might help my boy relax and enjoy life? Of course! I think, for now, my mind is open - and I am much more willing to do what it takes to help my boy move forward...