Sunday, September 29, 2013

Firing on All Cylinders

When our behaviorist suggested that we make the switch from Clomicalm to Prozac, we had the option of doing a slow wean or a fast wean.  Not knowing what the medication was doing for Abby, we had opted for the slow wean since we felt we had time to transition her onto the Prozac.  We began on September 5th, and within a week had already noticed some slight changes in Abby's every day demeanor.  Don't get me wrong, she still is the sweetest girl in the world.  But her ability to live with change in an ever-changing world had obviously been compromised.  

About a week into the decrease my husband had worked from home and found that Abby had been nuisance barking a bit more at things every day.  I suppose on some level I wasn't surprised as we had noticed something similar when we tried to decrease the Clomicalm once before under the advice/judgment of our previous veterinarian.  The second week while working from home he noticed even more barking in combination with an inability to settle down.  My realizations that things were changing were a bit slower in coming, particularly since we had avoided most of the world during our walks. 

Then I had several walks in a row with Abby that made me realize just how much had changed for her with just a 5mg decrease twice daily.  Abby has always been one to notice other dogs, and during the worst of her fear reactivity would seem to react to most dogs.  However, she is now reacting to every dog.  And by reacting I mean that she is pulling, bouncing, barking, growling, panting, etc.  If before she could tolerate a dog from 150 yards away, she now would be panting at the same dog from 200 yards away.  And it wasn't just dogs.  She was reactive towards people walking past, joggers, people on bicycles, and inevitably even cars.  Sounds that my husband would make from the other room in the house, or me from the kitchen, immediately caused her hackles to raise and for her to bolt from her bed in a full Hound howl.  It is clear that the Clomicalm does quite a bit for Abby so that she can be calm in her world.  

So we are now in the fast wean process, and I'm noticing a bit more barking today as she is home with me.  She is able to enjoy some quiet nap time, but periodically will hear something that I don't hear and have difficulty not barking at it.  Though I queue her to "leave it" there are times where there are quieter barks here and there.  So presently we're on 5mg of Clomicalm twice daily until 10/3/13 and then we'll decrease to 5mg once daily for a week.  She'll then be off the Clomicalm for 3 days before beginning the Prozac.  

Everyone cross your fingers that the next few weeks fly by for her and that it goes relatively smoothly.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Road Less Traveled

When we first embarked on our journey with Abby a little over three years ago, I had no idea the things that I would come to learn.  First and foremost, I've learned more about trust from one little yellow dog than I ever could have learned in a lifetime.  Her ability to put total faith in us for everything amazes me.  She trusts that we will always be home, that we will always do what is in her best interest, and that we will never ask more of her than she is capable of.  The ways I've defined bravery and courage have changed in some ways.  As I watch my reactive dog try to live in a world that makes no sense, I'm often humbled by how far she has come since the early weeks of chaotic walks in which every sight and sound seemed to be overwhelming.  And most importantly I've learned about unconditional love.  My husband and I like to believe that people who say dogs don't know emotions have never had an Abby.  Every single thing she does is so fueled by love that you can truly understand why she does the things she does.  

Along the way you learn the basics that apply to most dogs.  You figure out how to potty train a dog, and the proper equipment to use when walking your furry companion.  You learn about the newest toys to stimulate your dog mentally, and exhaust them physically.  You develop a sense for what toys your dog will rip to shreds in under 5 seconds, and which ones she won't play with at all.  

But people with a reactive dog begin to learn a whole new language.  You learn to read your dog's signals.  We've all heard that dogs can communicate with their body language, and those who live in a land of reactivity will find themselves reading the subtle queues of not only their dog, but of all of the dogs you're likely to encounter in your every day activities.  You learn where to walk, what to avoid.  You learn that your dog probably hovers a bit above threshold as compared with most other dogs, and that certain things can cause a reaction where they never effectively return to a calm state but an even more elevated state than before.  And for some of us with reactive dogs, you learn that sometimes you and your dog need a little bit of help.  For most this comes in the form of finding a trainer and confidant who helps to guide you on the adventure of raising a reactive dog.  And for some of us, there is the type of help that comes in the form of a prescription.  

I've never been shy about saying that Abby is on a prescription medication for anxiety.  At first there was some shame in admitting to this, either because most people aren't aware that such a thing exists, or because I felt judged as an owner - as if I was not enough of an awesome pet parent to do things on my own.  Whatever the reason, I think sometimes people have a hard time admitting that maybe your pet needs a little bit of help to allow them to relax enough to be receptive to all of the wonderful things you want to teach them.  That certainly was the case for Abby.  Abby's trip has been a difficult one with stumbling blocks along the way.  But through it all I would not change a single thing about the road we've been on and we're at with her presently.  

And so it is with that that I tell you we are starting a new fork in the road.  Today marked our annual recheck appointment with our vet behaviorist.  It is a time where we all come together to talk about Abby and what she's been up to behaviorally within the past year.  Much like with our own physicals with our physicians, it is also a time to assess the course of treatments we have been doing to see if they're helping or not making any impact.  We have always had discussions over what the medication is doing for Abby and what relief and benefit she receives from it.  However, recent production issues with Novartis have had a direct impact on the availability of her medication, Clomicalm.  For the past year we have been utilizing a compounding service for giving her a twice daily dosage of Clomipramine.  However, even the generic has gone up to such an egregious price that it has left our behaviorist questioning the ability to receive the medication long-term.  

So what does that mean for Abby?  It means that we are slowly going to lower her dosage of the Clomipramine with the end goal that she will be weaned off of it, and then we will begin a new medication that is more widely available with a good success rate, Prozac.  It is a scary thought, the idea of your pet coming down from a medication that had such great success.  But with it comes the opportunity to truly assess your pet's behavior and discover what benefit they're truly receiving from it.  The coming weeks will probably see more blog entries as I attempt to document and assess the changes we may see in Abby's behavior as a result of this change.  But I feel confident in the work that Abby has done and our ability to know our dog and her behavior that we'll be able to monitor the changes we see and work with our behaviorist to tailor this change to her needs.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sometimes it is OK to Say No

Do you remember when you were a kid and you had that relative or friend of the family that your parents made you give a hug to?  You know the one I'm talking about.  The one who wreaked of perfume or cigars and would squeeze your cheeks.  Sometimes they'd ask you to pull their finger or make them their favorite cocktail.  I had several of these relatives that weren't my favorite, and no matter how prepared I thought I was for these interactions, there were times when nothing could have prepared me for what was about to come.  The story I'm about to share with you is absolutely mortifying, and I swear there is a point to it. 

One year my family decided to have Easter dinner out at a restaurant.  I don't remember what age I was exactly because I've tried to erase most of this day from my memory.  But I do remember that I was at that awkward stage where clothes fit differently and suddenly you have bumps and curves that you swear everyone can see.  When you're a girl who hates dresses, the idea of being in one for Easter is bad enough.  Being in one when you feel awkward about your body is even worse.  So when my father's aunt held me at an arm's length in the middle of a crowded restaurant after the obligatory kisses and hugs and announced loudly, "Oh my gosh, you're getting little bazooms!" you can imagine the horror that went through me.  In my mind everything stopped and panic set in as I waited for the reaction of strangers around me. 

Humiliation aside, almost every dog goes through a similar experience in their lifetime.  Anyone who walks a dog outside knows exactly what I'm talking about.  The moment where someone wants to greet your dog.  There are many people that have dogs who thrive on this attention.  But there are some dogs that have problems greeting others.  Maybe they lack manners and they jump on someone who is in their vicinity.  Maybe they do well once someone ignores them long enough, and settle down to give a sweet greeting.  And maybe the idea of someone staring at them and touching them freaks them out.  Think about something that makes you uncomfortable when you meet someone.  Maybe they stare at you too intently, or perhaps they step into your space too much or are too touchy-feely.  Not only do you have things that make you uncomfortable, your dogs do, too.  And while you have the ability to make excuses and leave a situation, most likely your dog doesn't.  If your dog is uncomfortable, or if a situation presents itself that you know will make your dog upset or uncomfortable, say no.  It really is OK! 

But surely everyone who asks to greet a dog should be able to, right?  Nope. 

I used to be the sort of dog owner who cared about what other people thought of me.  I was worried about the interactions that Abby had with people and how people would perceive us.  I worried that if Abby jumped and barked seeing another dog in the neighborhood that it was a reflection of me and my training.  I was worried that if Abby seemed fearful of children in the neighborhood that people would worry about her being in the neighborhood.  And I worried that if Abby didn't say hi to someone that wanted to say hi to her that it would leave them disappointed.  And inevitably I thought about these interactions and I realized that the opinions of others after these interactions didn't matter to me.  The only thing that mattered is whether or not Abby trusted me to keep her safe. 

Abby may not be able to turn to me and say in my language, "Hey, I'm uncomfortable in this situation," or "This person makes me nervous."  But with time I've come to know the things that make her nervous (children, things with wheels, more than one person wanting to greet her, more than one dog, etc.).  These are scenarios that will in most instances not be successful, and by successful I mean interactions where my dog seems relaxed and is soft in her posturing.  If I can avoid these scenarios I do.  Either we change our route or I try to give Abby enough space where she can tolerate those things.  But sometimes things happen and you're suddenly confronted by things out of your control. 

Last month I was out for a nice walk after work with Abby.  My husband was going to be a bit late getting home, and I decided to enjoy the first bit of nice weather with a longer walk.  The after work hour can sometimes be challenging as people let their dogs out, but often times those people are letting their dogs out on quick walks and so the trails in our development are virtually empty.  We went through one trail that opened out onto a side street, and we began to walk back.  I could see a child that appeared to be about 4-5 years old, and she was out with her mother playing on their lawn.  As soon as she saw me and Abby she screamed "Puppy!  Puppy!  Puppy!"  And with that she took off at a full run towards us as the mother yelled after her to stop.  Now there are a few things I know about my dog.  She's petrified of children, and she's petrified of people of any age running *at* her.  When you combine both of these things it was not going to be a successful interaction.  I instinctively turned with Abby and started to walk away.  The mother caught up to her daughter, picked her up, and apologized.  She then asked if her daughter could greet Abby, to which I said no. 

Did I feel guilty?  Did I feel like I let this child down?  Nope.  Not even the slightest.  Chances are that at some point there will be a dog she'll get to pet and that dog will be fine with her enthusiasm.  But if I had tried to let this exuberant child greet Abby and Abby was uncomfortable, would I have felt guilty?  Absolutely.  Because not only is it unfair to put Abby in this position, each interaction I force her to have further diminishes the faith that she has in me to take care of these situations that make her uncomfortable.  By taking charge of who she greets, I take away the anxiety over what is going to happen when she sees people or dogs coming towards her.  When I take that pressure off of her, her ability to handle escalating situations is greatly improved because she's not already amped up at the idea of whether she'll have to hi to someone.  She can simply trust that I'm going to take care of whatever is coming towards us. 

And for those wondering, the mother was not upset when I wouldn't let her daughter greet Abby and completely understood my reasons for making that choice.