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Medication for aggressive dog?

Species: Dog
Breed: White shepherd/lab m
Age: 2-5 years
Hi! We adopted a 2.5 year old male white shepherd/lab, Denver, almost a year ago. At the time, he had already had two homes and been returned to the shelter from both, but we were told it was just that he was too large and active. We now are sure that it was because of his aggression. Denver loves us and our other dog. He can be very affectionate (although he never cuddles with us or typically keeps to himself) and he loves to play with us and go for walks and car rides. Despite the fact that he clearly loves us, our friends, and family and seems like a very happy dog, Denver can unpredictably be very aggressive.

His aggression has decreased dramatically since we got him, but it is still definitely there. When we first got him, if we walked into a room straight toward him, he would run out and jump up and bite us. When he bit though, he did not chomp down as hard as he could. It was almost more of a frantic barking and snapping at us. Now, attempting to bite is more rare, but he still does at times. More often he growls as if he would bite, but stops and puts himself in his "time-out" spot. It happens most often when we walk past his dog bed or approach him when he is under a table or behind a couch. We also know that if we tried to reach down and pet him unexpectedly, he would probably take our hand off. We have noticed a recent increase in aggressive behavior and the only change in his routine that we can think of us is that he has had a little less outdoor activity. He is very friendly and sweet with people he knows, but whenever a new man comes to the door, he growls and tries to bite him. He has no problem with women though. Occasionally, he will growl when he thinks someone is going to take his toy or bone, but that is not common for him. We have tried training him ourselves using treats, spraying water, and "time-outs". It wasn't that we were lazy or didn't want to spend money on training-we were terrified to bring him anywhere. Training him has definitely made a huge difference, but we are still worried about him biting someone. Especially since a few times he has just freaked out and tried to bite for no reason at all. We are wondering if he might have a chemical imbalance or anxiety disorder and if he might benefit from medication. Does it sound to you like he might have some sort of medical problem? Thanks!

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Thanks for your question! And thank you for adopting Denver. It is often difficult to rehome dogs with behavioral problems, so without kind people like you dogs like Denver would often be euthanized.

I have a few thoughts on Denver's situation. First of all, is he neutered? If not, then neutering him will make a drastic difference in his aggressive behavior.

You have touched on a key factor in dogs with aggression problems - exercise. Usually increasing exercise will make a great improvement in bad behavior. I have some clients who take their dogs to "doggie daycare" twice a week where the dogs get to run themselves ragged and get rid of excess energy. This has really helped with behavioral issues.

A personal trainer may be able to help with specific training for the type of aggression that Denver has. I do sometimes set up programs for my clients to teach them what to do in particular situations when dealing with aggression, but it is really more than I can get into over the internet. Usually I will talk for 1 - 2 hours with my clients when this type of issue is being dealt with.

However, to answer your more specific question, yes, there is a good possibility that Denver could benefit from medication. If this were my case I would likely be talking to you about using a drug called Clomicalm or possibly Prozac. Medication works best when used along with training as well. To get some medication you would need to set up a consult with your veterinarian. I think it is definitely worthwhile!

I hope this helps!

Dr. Marie

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.