Dealing With Dogs that Fear People


The Really Difficult Case Of Fearful Dogs

When a dog’s fear of people is so extreme that desensitization is virtually impossible, it may be time to consider fear and anxiety-reducing medications to facilitate a desensitization program. Medications that may be beneficial include clomipramine (Clomicalm®), buspirone (BuSpar®), fluoxetine (Prozac®), amitriptyline (Elavil®), or a beta blocker [propranolol (Inderal®)]. While not a complete solution to the problem, these drugs can help greatly in retraining fearful dogs. The psychological advantage they provide the dog is worthwhile if only for humanitarian reasons. In some cases drugs work so well that the dog is virtually fearless while on medication. This is the time to arrange many positive interactions with strangers so that the dog can learn that they mean him no harm. When medication plays a role as important as this it should be continued at an effective level until the dog is entirely comfortable with exposure to strangers. Then the dose of medication can be reduced incrementally while, hopefully, the newfound confidence remains in intact. The latter process is termed “pharmacological desensitization.”


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