How To Teach Your Dog To Take Pills

by | Canine Health

One of the biggest challenges a dog owner faces is to teach your dog to take pills, happily and willingly. At some point during every dog’s life, it’s likely it will need to take pills, such as antibiotics, supplements or pain medication.

Teaching a dog to take pills is easy if you start while they are feeling well. Thus, you can incorporate a quick “pill” lesson into your daily routine by giving practice “pills” each day. This will teach your dogs to take food treats from you quickly, without suspicion or skepticism. Do this training regularly to gain your dogs’ trust and ensure they will not be suspicious of anything you offer them. As a result of this training, medication time will go smoothly and easily and you will dramatically increase the likelihood of successful treatment when your dog is ill.

What you need to teach your dog to take pills

  1. Delicious treats, large and small. Find treats your dog loves!
    • small treats, like Zukes Mini Naturals, cut up chicken, steak, liver, pork or fish) to represent smaller pills
    • larger treats, such as Charlee Bears or small biscuits
  2. Carriers or coverings to put the “pill” in. Find carriers your dog thinks is delicious. Good options are
    • cream cheese
    • canned cat or dog food
    • chicken hearts
    • liverwurst
    • hotdogs
    • Pill Pockets, if your dog loves them, but you may not love their ingredients, they can be expensive, and many dogs don’t like them as much as other options.
    • We do not recommend is peanut butter because it tends to stick to the roof of your dog’s mouth, increasing the likelihood he will remove the covering and find the pill.


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Three steps to teach your dog to take pills

Step 1: Your Name=Your Treat Teach your dogs that when you say their names, they will get a treat. If you have multiple dogs that get along, teach them together when you can create an atmosphere of healthy competition. When trained together, dogs quickly learn that their name means the treat is for them AND if the treat falls on the floor, another dog might scarf it up. Thus, they are more likely to gulp down their treat as soon as it is offered rather than risk their buddy getting it. (Obviously, don’t use this method if you have an aggressive dog that might fight or bite you or the other dog during training. In those cases, do what you can to apply these methods safely for you and your other dogs.) Step 1 training goes as follows:
  1. Train either before breakfast or dinner or both.
  2. Get out some fake “pills,” otherwise known as treats. Use large and small treats but make sure they are those your dogs love!
  3. Say one dog’s name.
  4. Give that dog a treat.
  5. Say another dog’s name.
  6. Give that dog a treat.
  7. Repeat several times with big and small treats until your dogs are responding positively (eye contact, opening its mouth) when you say their names.
Step 2: Hide the “Pill” When your dogs are responding eagerly to their names, add the carrier. Hide a treat in a carrier, like cream cheese or another favorite. Repeat the above sequence but now with a treat covered with cream cheese or another delicious carrier. Don’t forget to say each dog’s name before giving them their hidden treat. Watch this video to see what this training looks like.
Now your dogs should be taking the hidden treats eagerly when you say their individual names, without hesitation or suspicion. If they aren’t, keep looking for “pills” and carriers that your dog loves. If he remains reluctant even then, cut back on his food for a few days so he’s really hungry when you do this training. Download the handout below to help with your training. Step 3: Giving your dog the Real Thing, pills. When it is time to give your dog a real pill, the routine is a bit different but the transition should be relatively simple if you have taken the time and consistently trained your dog properly.
  1. Prepare 4-5 good treats covered with your dog’s favorite carrier.
  2. Say your dog’s name.
  3. Give a covered treat.
  4. Give three more covered treats, one at a time but quickly.
  5. Next cover the actual pill with the carrier and give it to your dog.
  6. Immediately offer your dog another covered treat or two so he swallows the real pill quickly.
  7. Congratulate yourself! You did it!
As you can see, with a little consistency and preparation, you can easily teach your dog to take pills! If your dogs are older, it is not too late, but now is time to get started. No matter the age, start with Step One and follow through until you are comfortable and confident that your dog will take “pills,” real or fake, whenever and whatever you offer. Trust me, it will be worth the effort when the time comes to administer important medication and it goes smoothly and without struggle. Good luck! You have got this!

Download our print-friendly guide on Teaching Your Dog to Take Pills

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