In some cases, no matter how slowly you go and how patient you are, a dog’s genetics or unfortunate experiences prior to coming to live with you may keep her debilitatingly fearful of some thing, or things. If it’s the sound of a household object, you will probably be able to work around it. But if it’s car rides, or people — that is, things in life from which you cannot keep her completely hidden — a prescription from your veterinarian for anti-anxiety medication may be in order. No one wants to give a dog behavior-modifying medications. But they are a reasonable last resort if a pet has been unresponsive to systematic desensitization and having the dog as a member of the family has become too difficult as a result.
Among the available drug therapies: tricyclic antidepressants, which stabilize a dog’s mood and make her feel better about herself by increasing brain levels of serotonin and norepinephrine; fluoxetine (Prozac), which has fewer side effects than tricyclic antidepressants; and buspirone (Buspar), prescribed specifically for anxiety. Most of these medications require a month or two to start showing effects. If a fear is overwhelming, a frontline drug such as diazepam (Valium) or alprazolam can be used while one of the others gets up to speed in the dog’s body.
Whatever medication you may use, keep working on putting systematic desensitization into place — and then dispense with the drug once the dog becomes acclimated. If at all possible, the drug should just be a tool to allow the dog to calm down enough to react positively to the behavioral technique.