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  • Writer's pictureKari Bastyr, MS, CDBC, CPCN

Dog Training: My Dog Refuses to Take her Pills- Help!

One of the worst things in the world is to have a sick dog who refuses to take her medication. Often there is a loss of appetite, or for a lot of dogs, they don't like the taste, or just have 'outsmarted the system'. If you haven't had to give your dog pills yet, now is the time to start training them how, and that it's fun! The method is the same, although counter-conditioning will inevitably take longer. But don't wait until your dog is sick... Put pill-taking on cue and reward it when your dog is a puppy!

Once your dog is sick, it's too late to teach them. But you can still work on making it a pleasant experience, and maybe even increase the likelihood he will enjoy taking his medication. When my dog, Paisley, was a puppy, I worked on the behavior 'Do you want your pills?" every day, and then when she was older, all I had to say was 'Let's get your pills!' and she would run to the kitchen. I used peanut butter on a spoon (xylitol-free), and it worked fabulously. It's sticky enough that most dogs can't spit out the pill, and it creates a positive association. When she got sick, it was not difficult at all to give her the 3 giant capsules she had to take. She loved it.

To do this trick, I stick the spoon in the peanut butter jar and get about 1.5 TBs of PB. Then I push the pills into the PB. Then I turn the spoon upwards with the PB facing up towards the ceiling and towards my dog and I let her lick it off. She licks the PB with the pills and doesn't even notice. Once the pills are down the hatch, I give her the spoon for her to finish, just like when I got the beater from the cake mix when I was little.

Peanut Butter and Baby Food

However, if you can't use peanut butter, or your dog doesn't like it, there are a few things you can try.

  • Cream cheese

  • Easy Cheese

  • Braunschweigert meatballs

  • Banana chunks

  • Cottage cheese

  • Marshmallows

  • Small hamburger meatballs (raw or cooked) one no pill, then one pill, then one no pill quickly one right after the other (3 treat method)

  • Laughing Cow soft cheese, or other soft cheese

  • Wet dog food (pate style, not the stew type)

  • Turkey Vienna sausages

  • Salmon or beef steak 

  • Pill Pockets or pill wraps

  • Bugles corn chips with butter, PB, or cream cheese on top

  • Stashios Wrap-Ups

  • Bread with butter or jam

  • Lunchmeat

  • Scrambled eggs

  • Hot dog chunks

  • Happy Howie's Meat Roll

  • Cooked penne pasta

  • Melted cheese on crackers

  • Ice cream

  • Yogurt

  • Baby food

  • Canned pumpkin

  • Watermelon or other fruit (minus the seeds)

  • Sticky rice

  • Mashed potatoes

  • Raspberries

Birdie's Favorite: Bananas!

Once you find something your dog loves, don't stick with it too long. The goal is to mix it up so your dog doesn't associate what you are using with pills. Keep in mind that the pills will most likely have a bitter taste, and dogs' noses are very strong so she will know the pill is near. But, remember we are trying to create a positive association with taking pills overall, and trying to do it before your dog is sick.

If your dog absolutely refuses, you can talk to your veterinarian about getting the medication compounded into a liquid, a liver treat, or some meds can even be compounded into a 'MediMelts' pill you put in the dog's tongue and they disintegrate quickly so they can't spit them out. There are some meds that can be compounded into a gel that is smeared on the inside of their ear, but these are less common.

Whether you just need to find a higher value hiding place, switch things up, or focus on counter-conditioning, it is possible to teach your dog to at least tolerate taking medication. But hopefully you can make it a positive, enjoyable experience so she won't mind and will actually be excited.

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