Here’s a great article on the complexities and ethics of diagnosing and treating psychological problems like separation anxiety, canine compulsive disorder, phobias, and rage in our pets. This isn’t light reading, but wow, is it interesting!
How have we gotten to the place that so many dogs are on medication for psychological issues? Probably because so many people want a dog that doesn’t act like a dog. Dogs bark, they’re social beings and miss their families, they get bored without something to do. Also, the unhealthy environment we live in full of stress, not enough time with loved ones, and short on inspiration is the same one our pets inhabit.
The experts interviewed in the article agree that there is no magic pill and that any medication will work better combined with behavior modification and training. Ian Dunbar, the well respected vet, animal behaviorist, & writer, thinks drugs should only be used in the absolute worst cases. He proposes that almost any problem can be solved with behavior modification through training and the underlying tenet of that training is to ignore the bad behavior and reward the good behavior. (Read more about this approach.) In fact, Dunbar is working on an interactive treat dispenser that will monitor behavior in dogs home alone and reward calm behavior, but will withhold treats when the dog is barking, for example.
The article also looks at the sticky questions of consciousness and emotion in animals. And what it means to diagnose and medicate animals whose reality we can’t really fully understand. It’s true, diagnosing psychological problems in humans is different than diagnosing our pets.
The article isn’t anti-drug and it does a good job of looking at the questions around this issue. It’s definitely worth checking out.