Archive for the ‘Medications for fearful dogs’ Category
Yes, yes I know, people use too many drugs. People think drugs are the solution to everything. Drugs have side effects. I won’t dispute any of those statements, but at the same time drugs can save lives and the side effects of some conditions are worse than the possible side effects of some drugs.
The reasoning that one should try alternatives to drugs first, makes sense, sometimes. But sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes we should address a disease or condition immediately with drugs. Delaying treatment can allow the problem to get worse, making it more difficult to treat with or without the recommended medication. This doesn’t mean that we should use medications as a first choice in all situations, but sometimes the dog would be better off if we did. In the case of fearful dogs, the sooner we can get a dog to perform new, appropriate behaviors, and reinforce them, the sooner we’ll be able to help them gain skills for being more comfortable in their world. Often medications can help facilitate this process.
Understanding how medications can help a dog with fears, phobias and/or anxiety is key to the process of deciding whether to use them or not. I hope you can join me for this live webinar with Linda Aronson DVM. Dr. Aronson is currently lecturing at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. We will talk about the medications available to help our dogs, how they work, how they should be used, possible side-effects and there will be time for questions.
You can register and find out more information here.
I am grateful to all of you for your continued readership. Your comments and feedback provide me with the reinforcement I need to continue to learn and share information about how we can make life easier and better for our beloved, anxious and fearful dogs.
As a pragmatic New Englander whose views on life & the universe were tempered by years of living in northern California I am able to admit that with this work I feel I have found my calling or bliss, take your pick. It certainly took long enough!
In lieu of resolutions, the following are the ideas I have, in varying stages of development, for 2013 and beyond.
1. Fearful Dogs’ Blog- keep posting!
2. Get more people to ‘like’ the Fearfuldogs.com Facebook page. I want more people to have access to information about how fearful dogs learn and Facebook seems to be a good vehicle for that. Plus, I confess, I am envious of people who have thousands of ‘likes’.
3. Publish Does My Dog Need Prozac?, a collection of posts from this blog. It is currently being edited!
4. Continue writing the next book on my list detailing the steps that can be taken, from first meeting to rehoming, to help fearful dogs become happy pets. It will pick up where A Guide To Living With & Training A Fearful Dog leaves off.
5. Offer high quality webinars for people learning to handle fearful dogs. The first one is scheduled for February 19, 2013! I will be joined by Dr. Linda Aronson who will talk about the use of behavioral medications to help dogs suffering from fear, phobias and anxiety. Pretty darn excited about this one.
6. Be available for seminars and presentations about fear based behavior challenges. I am especially interested in getting information out to pet owners, foster care givers, rescue groups and shelters. I know that the information I share will increase the chances of adoption success for many fearful dogs.
7. Create a fun and informative program about animal training and behavior for our local community access television station. I’ve got the go-ahead from the station and have lined up some fabulous folks for interviews.
8. Travel to Puerto Rico with a group of trainers and dog lovers to share information about reward based training methods. I’ve made more progress with this after speaking at an animal protection symposium in San Juan. Any readers in Puerto Rico who are interested in helping with this, let me know!
9. Publish A Guide To Living With & Training A Fearful Dog in Spanish and German. Translations are on their way!
10. Don’t start smoking, drinking too much or making a habit of eating maple walnut pie for breakfast.
11. Late breaking opportunity! I have been invited to host a radio show about dogs.
I have also set-up a page where you can purchase a discounted hard copy of A Guide To Living With & Training A Fearful Dog. It will be live until January 31, 2013. Happy New Year to you and yours!
Does My Dog Need Prozac? is the title of the second book I am working on. It is a collection of posts culled from the early years of this blog. The answer to the book’s title, in the case of my dog Sunny, is yes, yes my dog does need Prozac or in his case another anti-depressant and anxiolytic administered twice a day. Coming to the decision to give him meds was not made quickly or recklessly. I regret that I didn’t make the decision to use them sooner. Here are some things to consider as you make decisions for your dog’s mental health.
Quality Of Life
Most of us are fortunate in that we have rarely, if ever, experienced the amount or level of distress many of our dogs are living with 24/7 or 14/6 or 8/3. How many hours and how many days a week is ok with you for a dog to experience fear or anxiety? How many do you think is ok with them? A dog who is routinely frightened by things is not only experiencing that fear, they are living with the anticipation of it occurring again, and again.
What limitations does a dog’s fearfulness put on their life. A dog who has to leave the room when the vacuum comes out is probably not missing out on the finer things of life, but what about a dog who can’t walk down the sidewalk, or get into a car, or greet another dog happily? What about a dog who startles when a piece of paper falls off a desk, scurries out of the kitchen when the stove opens or the microwave chimes? How about a dog who has to leave the room when your husband or teenage son walks in, or sees a shadow on the wall? That we may not know what it feels like to be that scared does not negate or lessen what they are going through. Nor does it lessen the negative impact chronic stress has on a dog’s health.
Seek Out Professional Help
Talk to a veterinarian or a veterinarian behaviorist and follow the protocols outlined for the dosage and timing of any medications you give your dog. Be aware of possible side-effects and how they are commonly addressed. Some side-effects are expected and go away as a dog’s body and brain adjust to the medications, others may indicate the need to change quantity or the type of med being used. Let your vet know you may be contacting them as you start using medications. Don’t rely on a blogger, or your cousin who makes herbal lip balm, or a dog trainer who took a massage class, to give you advice about what is best for your dog.
Medications Don’t Fix Fearfulness
Don’t expect a dog who is afraid of strangers to stop being afraid of strangers just because they are on drugs. What you can expect to see are changes, often quite subtle, in their behavior. A dog may be willing to come into a room they never entered before, sniff something they previously avoided. Be prepared to reinforce these behaviors, and make sure you aren’t punishing the dog by overwhelming them when they do display a willingness to engage with something.
Make notes about your dog’s behavior. Look for patterns and trends. Have they done something 2 or 3 times they never did before? Was it something you liked or something you didn’t?
People often describe negative behaviors they observed in their dog which they blame on the medications, and stop using them or recommend that others don’t use them. Medications change brains. We can’t know how they make a dog feel or how they change a dog’s perception of the world, or their tolerance for stress as they begin to experience the effects of the meds. Rather than trying to test the effectiveness of a drug make your dog’s world smaller for several weeks while their bodies and brains adjust to the medications. Don’t put them into situations in which a decrease of inhibition can get them into trouble.
It Doesn’t Have To Be Forever
Trying medications for several months and discovering that they are helping is better than not trying them and not knowing if you are doing everything you can for your dog. In some cases the improvements while on medications are significant enough that the dog no longer needs them. For other dogs, not being on medication decreases their quality of life.
It’s In Our Hands
It’s up to us to educate ourselves about the use of behavioral medications for dogs suffering with fear, phobias and anxiety. We are the ones who are responsible for creating a life worth living for our dogs.
Given the recent news about antidepressants and the ‘placebo effect’ I thought I’d go there first before folks get themselves all in a lather about those medications and their usefulness treating dogs with fear, phobias and anxiety disorders.
That there are other ways to treat mild depression other than medication is not news. Research demonstrating the ‘placebo effect’ in patients suffering from depression dates back to the 1990′s. That antidepressants have been and continued to be used to help modify behavior in dogs is also not news, nor should it be discounted as the flood of critics of big Pharma (of which I wouldn’t label myself a fan) and medication add the newest studies to their quiver and take aim at medications being used to help dogs.
More accurately the ‘placebo effect’ should be called the ‘placebo effects‘. Placebos don’t all work in the same way. Research into the neurobiology of placebos have been able to identify changes in brain functions. Placebos can work because they help lower the anxiety a sick, or depressed person is experiencing. The possibility and expectation of being healed, along with the attentions of a healer, can be very soothing. Kissed any boo-boos lately to stop the sobbing of a child, hurt and scared by their injury? This lowering of anxiety sets a chain of biological responses in motion, ultimately leading to the patient feeling and being better. That anxiety plays such an important role in healing should be noted by those of us living with fearful dogs. Unfortunately for us and our dogs the attention we give them often contributes to their anxiety rather than lowers it.
Along with the lowering of anxiety there is also the anticipation of a reward, in this case the reward of feeling better. Those of us who use reward based training understand how powerful the ‘expectation’ of a reward is. Our brain’s reward system goes into action even before we receive a reward. The chemicals released in our brains when we anticipate a reward help us begin to feel better. Essentially we create the reward ourselves. The difference between humans and dogs is that we know that the pills hidden in the cream cheese are going to make the dog ‘better’. The dog may not even know they are there at all and does not understand the association between pills and what she experiences in the future.
Placebos also work because medications have taught our brains and bodies how to feel better. If we have daily headaches and take aspirins and an hour later we feel better, we might also feel better if after enough experience with real aspirins we take pills that look like aspirins because our brains learned to do whatever aspirin does that makes us feel better. The medications ‘taught’ our brains how to make the changes necessary for relief. How to apply this to our dogs is a challenging proposition.
A common belief held about placebos is that if they work as well, or can work with a significant portion of the population, it must mean that the drug it is being tested against, doesn’t work. That placebos can work as well as an antidepressant in some people does not mean that the drug is not working at all.
We want to be aware of the potential side effects of taking a medication compared to no treatment at all. Risks needs to be weighed. That the early vaccine for polio caused polio in some instances was not a case against vaccines, but one for a safer vaccine. That the risk of being vaccinated against polio by a safer vaccine was less than the risk of contracting polio is evident today in the absence of polio in most developed countries. The interesting side effect of this success is that there are some who did not grow up during the polio epidemic, and have no experience with the risks of the disease, and eschew the use of vaccines.
If people can grow it or make it we can figure out ways to abuse it. We can use use the things we make or grow inappropriately and suffer and die because of them, or at best, gain no benefit from them. Before you toss the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to using behavioral medications, including antidepressants and anxiolytics to help our fearful and anxious dogs, do your research. That there are other ways to treat fear and anxiety in dogs is not a reason for an owner to discount the use of medication for their dog.
We need to lower the constant stress and anxiety our dogs are experiencing in order for them to be able to learn new skills and responses. If you are not able to do this by managing their environment and teaching them skills that help them cope with the stress they do experience, consider the harmful effects of constant stress on a body and brain. When you don’t see results from alternatives to medications don’t wait for gangrene to set in and lose the limb- talk to your vet about the drugs available to help your dog.
I figured I’d start the new day, for those of you who went to bed, with a video showing fairly typical behavior for a dog who did not experience novelty as a pup. Sunny has lived in our house for 6 years. The behavior you see in this video is caused by a change in the environment. In this case a leather bag I am drying by the fire. His tolerance to changes like this has improved by early deprivation is often irreparable.
Puppies need exposure to non-threatening novelty in order to develop the resiliency to cope with all that the world will throw at them.
I am now passing the plate and inviting you to make a donation to help an animal you’ll never meet.
Stress wreaks havoc on brains and bodies. The list of signs of how stress affects mammalian brains is long. These signs include physical changes; headaches, nausea, body aches. Emotional changes such as; depression, anxiety, agitation. And cognitive changes; confused thinking and poor memory. People can talk about how they feel and what they are experiencing. Our dogs are limited in how they can communicate how they are feeling. It’s up to us to pay attention to their body ‘language’ and use the species correct interpretation of their behavior.
When is the last time you entertained the thought that a stressed out dog might have a headache? They too can have headaches and feel generally lousy. What about a dog who is stressed and experiencing confused thinking? Can we allow them this possibility and rather than respond with frustration and anger for their ‘disobedience’ consider how we might lower their stress to help improve their behavior? When someone tells me that their fearful dog doesn’t play two thoughts come to mind. Either the human’s definition of play is different from the dog’s. Play doesn’t have to be romping and tussling with another dog, or chasing a frisbee. Play can be the willingness to engage in training, running, exploring. Or the dog is depressed and scared. We don’t play either if we’re depressed or scared.
Lower stress however you can. Speak to a vet about behavioral medications to help with this if you do not see positive changes in a fearful dog’s behavior. The longer you wait, the longer a dog suffers.
Obsessive compulsive disorder is considered an anxiety disorder in people which can be triggered by traumatic events. There can be a genetic component to OCD. This video was taken while I was volunteering at Camp Katrina in 2005 after the hurricanes. This dog had been rescued from the New Orleans area and sent to the Every Dog Needs A Home Sanctuary in Gamaliel AR, via Camp K. At the time it was believed that Tammy and William Hanson, operators of the Gamaliel property, were running a legit sheltering operation. When HSUS was finally allowed onto the property they found 477 dogs, my fearful dog Sunny was among them. Approximately 200 of the dogs on the site arrived at EDNAH after the storms.
When ‘real’ rescue groups, including Camp Katrina, realized that the Hansons were hoarders they took their dogs back. Sunny was likely born at the site but a volunteer managed to get Tammy Hanson to agree to relinquish him along with the hurricane rescues that had been transported to her property. The dog in this video spent 5 weeks confined outdoors in a travel crate or cage. He had not displayed any compulsive behaviors prior to being transported to EDNAH. The behavior he is displaying in this video went on all day, the dog only stopping when exhausted. Months later when I asked about this dog I was told that he was put on medications to help stop the OCD. I don’t know where he is today.
Stress, anxiety and fear affect dogs. It should be our goal as caretakers of these compromised dogs to provide them with an environment in which they feel safe and physically comfortable. We should do what we can to lower their stress and anxiety levels. The use of behavioral medications to achieve this goal should be among the first, not the last, options we consider. Many of the dogs coming out of puppy mills and hoarding situations are experiencing levels of fear we have never experienced ourselves, luckily for us. Don’t wait until a dog scares someone, bites them, or develops damaging and difficult to change inappropriate behaviors. Help them. Now.
I am tempted to say ‘work with the dog you have until you have the dog you want’, but realized that not only might it be a bit trite, the outcome of working with the dog you have, may not lead to having the dog you want. On the other hand, it might end up that you want the dog you have.
The latter, and a smidgen of the former have been the case for me. In some instances a dog only needs the opportunity to learn and grow to become the dog of our dreams or expectations. This is true of adolescent dogs who test their owners’ patience and training skills. And we know from the population of dogs found at shelters that dogs in this age group are often not the dogs their owners wanted.
I was speaking with a trainer friend about a client I was going to meet to help her find ways to work with her fearful, and sometimes aggressive, mastiff. My friend made the point that it may be necessary to ‘normalize’ behaviors for owners in relation to their dog and breed characteristics. In the same way it is ‘normal’ for an adolescent dog to behave like a knuckled-headed brat, it is also normal to have a dog bred for guarding be suspicious of new people or animals entering their territory. It doesn’t mean that a dog bred for particular traits cannot learn to be tolerant, flexible and compliant in relation to those traits, but in some cases, if the training for this did not begin early in their lives, or fear is added to the mix, it might require an owner to reassess their expectations for the dog.
In my mind I have a picture of what a confident, fearless but not reckless, dog looks like. I have lived with many. When I watch my dog Sunny I can see behaviors which do not fit with this picture. A dog with the right balance of caution and inquisitiveness will explore their environment. They may startle at novelty but within a short period of time (seconds in most cases) should approach and assess the new object or person. Any overt displays of aggression or wariness should end as soon as the neutrality of the novelty is established. Even after living in our home for over 5 years Sunny will often avoid or move away from novel objects placed in his environment, objects which other dogs barely notice. However his negative responses to novelty are not as grand as they were and he may also tentatively approach and check out new objects.
I had to ‘normalize’ Sunny’s responses to novelty in my own head. He behaves the way a dog that was not exposed to novelty as a pup, and perhaps one on the more wary end of the genetic spectrum, might behave. As much as I want him to stop being this kind of dog, I cannot force him to. What I have been able to do is give him skills for dealing with situations that cause his heart to start beating faster, whether it means going to a place he feels safe, or running to find a frisbee and even sitting quietly until the needle is withdrawn from a vein.
Sunny makes me work harder than my other dogs when it comes to getting behaviors that I want from them. I don’t need to work to get my border collie Finn to be happy and confident with new people. Indeed I have had to work with him to tone down his exuberance when potential frisbee tossers appear on the scene. For years I have lived with Bugsy an old cocker spaniel that I will, with some embarrassment and regret, admit that I have done little to no training with. Bugsy just seemed to seamlessly fit into our lives. He’s got his quirks, but none were enough to warrant effort on my part to change, instead I accommodated them.
I never would have thought I’d want a dog like Sunny but one evening in a training class, watching other owners with their dogs Sunny gave me the head toss that had tagged along with the click he got for eye contact and I thought “I wouldn’t trade this dog for any of the dogs in this room.” Both Sunny and I have been able to change and that’s a big part of why I want the dog I have.
In some cases there’s not much choice involved. If I am stepping off the curb and see a car speeding toward me out of the corner of my eye it’s not in my best interest to think too much about what I should do or how I should do it. By the time I come to a conclusion I will likely be a statistic. If my nervous system is working optimally in that situation it will have triggered my muscles to get me back onto the curb post haste.
The behavior we see in fearful dogs is often due to the response of their nervous system responding to a threat, not because they have taken the time to weigh their options. When we are working with our dogs it is up to us to provide them with conditions under which they can think and make choices, and not continually provoke them into jumping back onto the curb.
I think about ‘behavior’ as a way we solve problems. If I need to pay the mortgage every month I have to figure out how to behave in order to do so. I’m sure there are people who would continue to get up early in the morning, sit in rush hour traffic and spend the day in a factory, office, school or other place of employment, even if they weren’t going to get a paycheck at the end of the week, but I feel safe in betting that many would not. Going to work solves a problem. Some people solve the problem of providing a roof over their heads or acquiring food or something else they feel they need, by picking up a gun and robbing liquor stores. This solves the problem of getting money, but it’s generally frowned upon.
When we catch someone behaving out of accordance of rules we’ve established we punish them. The robber goes to prison. Recidivism rates in the U.S. do not indicate that this method of changing behavior is very successful. Sixty seven and a half percent of prisoners released in 1994 were rearrested within 3 years. And just because someone wasn’t apprehended for 3 years doesn’t mean they waited that long to commit crimes again, nor does it include numbers of people who were not caught.
When our dogs behave in ways we think are inappropriate we can punish them, but this does not help them solve the problem they were responding to to begin with. If we want our fearful dogs to change their behavior we need to provide them with acceptable alternatives that not only make us happy, but work for them. If a dog learns that growling and snarling effectively keeps scary things away from them, simply punishing them for this behavior only solves the problem for us, and like a jail sentence, the result is often temporary. Not only does the dog still perceive that there is a problem, but the effects of continuing to suppress, through violence or the threat of violence, a dog’s behavior to protect themselves, is potentially dangerous. If growling ceases to work to make scary things go away, a dog may up the ante by biting.
After having their behavior suppressed, an animal can react in a way that is out of proportion to whatever is provoking the response in that particular instance. In humans we see this in women or children who respond violently toward someone in their life who has abused them. Victims of this sort of attack often suffer what seems like ‘over kill’? I recall reading about a woman who stabbed her husband over 50 times and I had to wonder, didn’t the first 20 do the trick? In the research done in animal behavior we know that reactions like this are not unusual. How many dogs who are defined as ‘dominant’ are only responding to being subjected to painful or threatening control of their behavior by their handlers?
If we can come up with behaviors for our dogs to perform that are appropriate from our point of view, but also help solve whatever problem the dog perceives, we not only have a win-win situation, but the likelihood that our dogs will be willing to practice and be able to replace their old behavior with this new behavior increases.
I wrote the first blog post in December of 2008. OMG. 2008.
2. What was your original purpose for starting a blog?
I think that the title of the post says it all: How To Be Friends With A Fearful Dog
3. Is your current purpose the same?
Yes. My purpose remains to be to provide people with information about the most effective and humane ways to interact and work with fearful, shy and/or anxious dogs.
4. Do you blog on a schedule or as the spirit moves you?
I’m a ‘as the spirit moves me’ blogger. The spirit however seems to move me once or twice a week. I know media ‘experts’ will say to blog on a schedule but it just doesn’t happen for me. And if I do write a post I’m so excited about it I can’t wait and schedule it for a later date. I have to post it.
5. Are you generating income from your blog?
I do not have any paid advertising on the blog.
6. What do you like most about blogging in general and your blog in particular (bragging is good!)?
The pet bloggers’ community is a fabulous one and I have been thrilled to meet so many wonderful writers and animal advocates by being part of it.
I am ALWAYS thinking about how to help fearful dogs. I live in a rural area and spend most of my day with dogs, with few people around to share my thoughts and ideas with. And even if there are people around most of them are sick of hearing me talk about little else besides working with fearful dogs. I suspect even my dog training friends feel this way as well. Blogging gives me the opportunity to explore the ideas I have during my daily walks or training with dogs. It has sanctioned all of my ‘talking to myself’ behavior.
7. What do you like least?
Finding typos &
grammatacal grammatical errors.
8. How do you see your blog changing or growing in 2011?
I am planning on moving the blog off of WordPress to its very own domain. Anyone with experience doing that, please let me know!