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Positive Dog Parenting

by Rolan Tripp, DVM and Susan Tripp, MS/P

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Putting Treats into Medical Treatment

 

Pets need medicine but don't want always want to take it. According to Dr. Marty Becker, one poll showed that only 10 percent of cat owners and 30 percent of dog owners succeed in medicating their pets correctly. That means prescriptions sent home by the veterinarian end up in the cupboard rather than inside the pet. The pet owner may be too embarrassed to go back to the veterinarian and report failure to give the medication.

When pet parents are unable to give medications, at precise intervals, for as long as the veterinarian has prescribed, the pet's recovery may be compromised.

What NOT to do?

Do not ambush (surprise) your dog by prying his mouth open and trying to shove the pill down his throat. From your dog's point of view, you have just become somewhat of a threat. The dog will not know how to predict when you will suddenly "attack" in this manner. When prying your dog's mouth open comes out of nowhere, you risk a negative emotional impact on the dog and your relationship.

What TO do?

Although pet medications can now be disguised inside of tasty coverings called "pill pockets" some pets are savvy enough to find the pill and spit it out. Some medications can also be compounded into flavored chewable tablets or liquids. Although a step up in making medicine taste better, some pets will still reject the flavor or texture of these mixtures.

If your pet is fussy, a good strategy is to use the pet's favorite food in a 3-Step approach.

Try a 3-Treat approach:

  1. Give your pet the first, small piece of food (kibble size) with no pill inside. Show your pet a larger piece of the food (1/2 slice of bread, 2 oz of meat,1/2 hot dog size)
     
  2. Then, with one hand give your pet the second, small piece of food with the pill inside.
     
  3. Immediately, offer the third, larger piece of food with your other hand. The goal is for the dog to gobble down the smaller second treat to get to the larger third treat.  You want your pet to swallow the second treat rather than inspect and spit it out after realizing the pill is inside. Many dogs learn how to spit out the pill and swallow the treat.  

Teach a 6-Step "swallow" cue:

If the 3-Treat approach does not work then take a more direct approach. Do not resort to ambushing your dog with brawn. Instead, engage your dog's brain. Help your pet to learn that taking medications has a big pay off. Make sure you stay positive and relaxed. If you are tense, your dog is more likely to become tense. Dogs read our body language.

  1. Bring out your pets favorite food.
  2. Cover the pill in tasty, slippery butter.
  3. Then, show your pet the pill and the favorite food.
  4. Give the pet the cue word, "swallow" as you gently open the pet's mouth and put the buttery pill on the back of the tongue.
  5. Gently close the mouth and rub the pet's the neck as you encourage, "swallow" in a calm, happy tone.
  6. The second after the pet swallows the pill, begin profuse praise and deliver the big "pay out" of the pet's favorite food. 

Be Patient

Don't expect your pet to understand the "swallow" cue right away. Dogs need repetition to understand new words and routines. Therefore, follow the 6-Step routine EVERY time you need to give your pet a pill. Your pet will learn to accept the drill to get the pay off. Giving your pet clear routines helps your pet cooperate and trust you. The relationship is enhanced by helping the pet understand you are taking a leadership role but doing so in a predictable, gentle manner.

Make it Special

What's important is to use a food treat that is novel and highly desirable from your pet's point of view. Consider Farmer John's Liverwurst, hot dogs, cheeses, breads, peanut butter, or any cooked meat. Find out what makes your dog do back flips and use that treat for the least desirable actions you ask your dog to do.

Remember, the pet is always wondering, "What's in it for me?"  Answer that question in your pet's mind when you want your pet's cooperation and you are likely to get it. If your pet is not food motivated then pick another big pay off like a new toy, a long massage or an interesting excursion.

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