We all want our dogs to be forever healthy. But things happen and sometimes we need to give our dogs pills. While many dogs will just eat them with their food or wrapped in a treat, that is not always and option, especially for dogs that are suspicious and find a way to spit out the pills. Here are some tips on how to teach your dog to accept pills and reduce the stress for all concerned.Lesson 1: Teach your dog or pup to catch a tossed treat.In many cases, unless the pill tastes bad, a treat catching dog can be tossed a pill... treat, treat, pill, treat, treat... and they never know they had a pill. You can start with dropping piece of popcorn. It falls slow enough for them to focus and adjust to catch it. Toss it up in the air first to give the dog more time. Once they master the mouth-eye coordination for that, try some soft lobs. My dogs have always done better catching the "line drive" throw over the lob, so give that a try too. It's all about timing ;-)
Lesson 2: The "drop the pill down the throat" technique. This is the one that gives people trouble, but it doesn't have to. If you MUST get the pill in the dog, this is the way to do it. No chance of it getting caught in their jowls or being spit out.
Start with forming your hand into a "U" shape and placing it gently over your dog's muzzle for just a moment. Many dogs don't care for this at first, so don't worry if they shake your hand off or move away. It helps to tell them exactly what you want to do first and reward their cooperation well. This is one instance where I really like the Bridge & Target method because the bridging helps the dog stay calm and focused. If you are right handed, have your dog sit in front of you facing to the right and slide your left hand over the muzzle.
Great. When your dog can be calm and relaxed for the hand over muzzle for 5 seconds, proceed to use your left thumb and index or middle finger to gently lift the dog's lips. Your hand just slides the lips up to expose the gums. There is a space just behind the canine teeth (the "fangs") where your finger will rest. Practice this step several times until your dog is comfortable having you raise his lips.
With your left hand over the muzzle, lips lifted and finger and thumb in the space behind the canine teeth, use your right hand to gently open the lower jaw. This works best if their nose is lifted slightly (you'll want to be able to see down their throat). Place the thumb of your right hand on the little teeth in the front and apply just a little pressure. Your are asking your pup to open his mouth. Do just a little at a time and reward all cooperation. Work to be able to open the mouth and look in for 5 seconds while the pup remains sitting.
So far, so good. Now you have a dog that will willingly let you look in their mouth and you keep rewarding this cooperation with treats. Now comes the hard part for you! Place a small treat in your right hand before your attempt to open your pup's mouth. This treat is going to be the "pill" you give your pup. Now open his mouth and drop the treat as far back in his throat as you can. Then close the lower jaw and stroke the underside of his throat until he swallows. Yeah! Reward with a few more treats. Often, that's all you need to do... drop in the pill, swallow, treats.
Lesson 3: The advanced "push the pill down the throat" technique. Practice this step too just in case. Rather than dropping the treat in the back of the throat, move your whole hand into the mouth space and place the treat at the back of the throat. Press your finger gently on the tongue near the back to trigger the swallowing. This way you know for sure the pill has gone down and there's no chance of them chewing it or spitting it out. Reward with treats and play.
I know this seems like a lot of work, but trust me, if your pup gets sick and need medicine, you will be glad your did this work. Solo took several supplements each day following his attack of pancreatitis. Most went in his food dish, where he gobbled them up. But some had to be given on an empty stomach. He knows the cue "get your pill" and will sit calmly on his own while I administer the pills. He doesn't fight it at all. Without having done this work it would take at least two people to force a pill down him and that would be incredibly stressful for us all. A little work as a puppy made this simple handling no big deal for him and he truly believes that everything I give him is a cookie. :-)