Archive for the ‘Medications for fearful dogs’ Category

Staying At The Party

I received this message on Facebook. I thought I’d share it and my response.

“And while I was writing this in response to someone’s question … I was booted from that group nice Let me tell you what happens every time I state something I believe… I’m abused. I’ll be part of a discussion and before you know it I’m getting bombarded with nasty emails and become everybody’s example of ” what not to do” you’d think instead of ridiculing me for some of my beliefs there’d be someone curious to know how I came to those beliefs… You think I enjoy being hated by my peers? Trust me I don’t but there’s no way around it. When i pose the question ” is it possible to get 100% reliability recall using all positive ” I’m actually hopping to learn something… I’m not looking for a fight. My dogs are reliable with recall , and as a result they have lots of freedom . However the only way I can ensure reliability is with remotes.. Even though the remote NEVER goes past 1. (The lowest setting ) it’s still technically still a shock. I can’t imagine getting 100% reliability without the remote as backup. However if there was a way I’d absolutely change my opinion and switch over.. It’s not about ego for me it’s about making my dogs as happy as I can nothing more… Sorry for the babbling.”

I’m not sure why I have received this message from you. I don’t know you and so wonder if it was meant for someone else, is spam or trolling. But I will take it at face value, on good faith, and will attempt a response.

A question that comes to mind is why you persist in behaving in a way that culminates in a consequence you profess not to like or Lampshade-headwant? Are you honestly seeking answers to your question about training reliable recalls without aversives? Are you an e-collar advocate out to espouse its benefits anywhere, to anyone, at any cost? If it’s the latter I return to the first question. Do you also go to dinner parties and try to convert people to your religion or diet regime, continuing even as other guests pick up their drinks and scurry away from you? Either you want to be at the party or not.

There will be different cultural “rules” at different parties. Frat house parties will allow for certain behaviors that a party with the table set with 3 forks and 2 different spoons would not. I for one would not go to a frat party and try to get the guests to put napkins on their laps before they eat their pizza. Nor would I put the table center piece on my head at a formal gathering regardless of how funny I thought it was. Not if I wanted to be invited back anyway. If I felt that not being able to put the table center piece on my head cramped by artistic freedom or inner child, I would have to seriously consider my choice to attend such parties and the judgement I was using to come to that decision. If I felt very strongly about dining etiquette practices for Delta Phis (or whatever the heck those frats are called) I would consider how well my approach to disseminating information was working or likely to work. Obviously not very well if I was having the door slammed shut and locked behind me after being pushed out of it. If you are indeed looking for answers and not advocating e-collars you probably need to look at how you are saying what you are saying if so many people are missing your point.

The question you are asking, regarding achieving 100% compliance is a disingenuous one. There is no 100% in behavior. We can only predict the likelihood that we will see more or less of a particular behavior based on the consequences for the animal. The makers of e-collars are aware of this and many include a “bump” button that will raise the level of the shock (or stim if you prefer) a set number of levels. If the dog does not respond to level 10, hit the bump button and they get level 30. If we could get 100% at level 10 why the need for a bump? What happens when we don’t get 100% at level 30? Onward and upward?

I would also need clarification as to whether we are talking about using an e-collar for training or management. Many trainers and most pet owners are using them as a management tool, not a training tool. If what you mean to say is that you use an e-collar to replace a longline or fence, I think we should make that distinction. There is no 100% even if an e-collar has been used in training (or for management, dogs are learning when being managed). Any behavior, in the absence of a historic reinforcer or punisher is subject to extinction. The trainers who I have seen who use e-collars more effectively and humanely than most (and there are unfortunately few of them around if what is routinely posted online is any example), rely on positive reinforcement to build and maintain behaviors, i.e., they don’t need to use shock to teach or maintain the behaviors they’ve taught the dog. Many trainers and owners can’t get a reliable recall from their dog because they have failed to provide or stopped providing positive reinforcement for the behavior. They may be “rewarding” the behavior, but they are not reinforcing it and they don’t understand the difference.

I recently attended a training seminar and had the opportunity to learn from people who train birds. The birds are fully flighted and many are taken outside for exercise and enrichment. Flocks of parrots without a bit of hardware on them (nor were they trained using any), and not starved, are allowed to fly around as they like. When they are cued to return to their handlers they do, close enough to 100% of the time for the handlers to continue the practice. Pretty impressive for a creature not touted as “man’s best friend,” the animal who is saddled with an increasingly available array of equipment in order to teach or maintain behavior.

The other fly in the ointment as far as 100% goes is handler error. Batteries go dead, contacts aren’t made, remotes are turned off, a behavior occurs and by the time the handler reaches into their pocket the opportunity for training is long gone and they are instead merely providing a consequence to whatever behavior happens to be occurring at the time they press the button. It may suit their needs or not, but it’s not good training. I also have to question an e-collar which is designed so that level one works for a dog. One would assume that using the lowest level of shock possible to get what they need would be preferable. If there is no lower setting available how can they be sure they are doing that? I can’t help but wonder why the commitment, in the face of social media shunning (if that’s as aversive to you as you seem to trying to say), to promoting an aversive with a high potential for misuse as a training tool, or advertising the use of one?

If you are looking to learn how one achieves high levels of compliance without the use of an e-collar I would look to people who are training dogs to perform at competitive or professional skill levels, trainers like Denise Fenzi and Steve White, to name only two of the many who are out there working with dogs. The way it is done is by arranging antecedents, managing the economy and providing positive reinforcement as consequences in a skilled manner.

Please do not feel that you need to respond to this post publicly. My goal is not to single you out, insult or shame you. I just thought that it was a worthwhile question to answer, even if you were only trying to “get my goat” or sell something. Ultimately we all have to make choices about what we are willing to do to an animal to get the behaviors we decide we need or become skilled enough to get using the least amount of invasiveness.

Because Why?

I don’t want to come across as someone who trolls the internet looking for other people’s websites, blog posts or videos to criticize. More often I try to ignore most of it. Sometimes it lands in my lap. The link to the video included in this post was shared with me by the manufacturers of a new product designed to eliminate anxiety in dogs. I understand why they’d send it to me and I’m always happy to learn about new products to help the population of dogs I care a lot about.

The first image in the commercial for a calming coat is of a trembling, scared chihuahua used as an example of the dogs the product can help. I understand why they’d do this, but I had to work to not start getting pissed off about it. Princeton is not just feeling camera shy, Princeton is scared. I get it. We all get it. While we’re getting it, and they’re getting footage, Princeton is scared. Why is it ok to scare a dog in order to sell a product? We don’t push old ladies down a  flight of stairs in order to film a commercial for a distress call product to use after they’ve fallen and can’t get up. We don’t sneeze on people to give them the flu so we can get shots of them for a nighttime flu-relief medicine. But for some reason it’s ok to put a dog in a situation that scares them so we can get the images we need, to sell something. Even if what is being sold is of value–people have been using wraps, ace bandages and tight T-shirts on dogs for years to help with anxiety–it only seems to lessen the disrespect for the victim (the real-life animal actor) slightly in my mind.

As the commercial continues a claim is made that the product works because it “simulates a mother dog holding its young.” Seriously? Have they ever seen a litter of puppies being held by their mother? I know that we live in a world in which one can say practically anything they want about dogs and be believed, but this is creepily Orwellian. The myths that dogs need pack leaders, feel shame after peeing on the rug, you should correct dogs by grabbing their muzzle because that’s what mothers do, have just been joined by “mother dogs hold their puppies.” In internet-speak my response is WTF?

I also take umbrage with the assertion that dogs who need daily medications or treatments will no longer need them if they wear the coat. Body wraps do not work for all dogs. If they do, fantastic. If they don’t, it’s better for a dog to remain on daily medications and treatments that are working. My comment (which has since been removed) on their youtube page did not question the efficacy of their product, but rather the claim as to why it worked. I mean come on, “hold its young.”

I asked them to provide me documentation regarding this assertion. I was told that it was tested and veterinarian-approved. OK, that’s great, I don’t want that test info or the names of the veterinarians who have approved it, I wanted to know where they got the information that young dogs are soothed by being held by their mothers. Bottom-line is that there is information out there that supports the use of compression for ramping down nervous systems. With a little homework they could have found it but instead resort to the all-too-common tactic of “making sh*t up about dogs.”

I notice that they didn’t use Princeton as an example of their product working its magic. Though he appears later in the commercial notice his tightly tucked tail, one of the easiest pieces of body language there is to judge how comfortable a dog is. Unless when being held by their mothers puppies also tuck their tails (I just made that sh*t up). The company sent me info about their product and my feedback to them has simply been met with repeated claims that research proves it works. My issue with their advertising is not that their product doesn’t work, but their claim regarding WHY it does.

People should stop thinking they can keep making sh*t  up about dogs and it’s ok.

*Thanks to a reader for pointing out that one of the dogs has an electronic collar on. Aversives are contraindicated for anxiety.

Does My Dog Need Prozac?*

The subject of using medications to treat dogs with fear and anxiety issues is a controversial one among pet owners and trainers, and one I frequently feel inclined to address in regard to working with fearful dogs. Drugs have been a blessing and curse for humans. They can both save and destroy lives. Deciding to give a scared dog medications is often a struggle for owners. An incomplete understanding of why they are being used is often at fault.

There is an immediate emotional response to the idea of giving a dog a medication for a behavior issue, and for some people it’s a bad response and for others it’s more neutral. There are few pet owners who thrill to the idea. That some people mis-use medications with their dogs, and by this I mean that they assume that training challenges, or the failure to provide a dog with enough stimulation and enrichment on a daily basis will be remedied with a pill, does not take away the benefit these pills can have for many dogs.

A common misunderstanding about the use of behavioral medications is that they are being used to sedate a dog, this is especially the case when a dog is fear aggressive. Owners assume that the dog will be “doped-up” and spend the rest of its life in la-la land, unable to function. People often worry about potential side-effects of medications, but have given no consideration to the impact chronic stress (which a medication might alleviate) has on their dog. And if a medication does not prove to be effective or there are negative side-effects the option always remains to stop using them. There are a different medications available, and one might work better for one dog compared to another.

colored pills spilling out of a bottle

If you step on a rusty nail and suffer a deep puncture wound, even if you develop an infection there is a chance you will survive. Antibiotic medications will likely play a role in this. If you wait too long to take the drug the infection may progress to a point where the drugs are not effective or your life can be saved, but not your leg. While we are hoping that our dog’s problems can be addressed with soap and water, a kiss and a bandage, the infection may be setting in. We know what normal, healthy dog behavior looks like. If you are unsure as to whether or not it’s time to stop hoping the problem will resolve on its own find a trainer** who understands the challenges of working with fear-based behaviors and talk to a vet or vet behaviorist to explore ways you can ensure you save the leg.

**Any trainer who recommends the use of force, coercion or punishment to help a scared dog “get over” their fear should be avoided. At no time during training should a dog be handled in ways that are designed to elicit fear in your dog.

*This is also the name of my upcoming book.

Giving My Dog A Life

lifeGiving My Dog A Life

Please feel free to “like” my latest Facebook page and post your own pictures of the good life you give your dogs. Let’s stop shaming dogs and give them a life!

Alternatives to Alpha

Alternatives to Alpha

When we know better we do better. It’s about time that more people knew better. More voices are helping to get the better information out there. If you still think that dogs need pack leaders, and that you must use dominance in order to live happily with your dog, this free webinar is worth every second. 

Can you let go of out-dated ideas that you may be hanging on to?

So You Want To Be a Dog Trainer

So You Want To Be a Dog Trainer

There are plenty of options out there for online or DVD dog training courses. Knowing what you are getting is important because there are currently no guidelines for who can offer you certification to hang on your wall declaring you a dog trainer. And more importantly is there are no guidelines for the content of the information you will be receiving. 

The Academy for Dog Trainers is headed by Jean Donaldson. You may be familiar with her books; Dogs Are From Neptune, OH BEHAVE: From Pavlov to Premack, MINE: A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding, FIGHT!, The Culture Clash, and others. Her course provides a variety of media formats for learning including; DVD’s, books and other printed resources, weekly webinars, and 24/7 chat groups. The information is based on the science of animal behavior and learning and years of experience working hands-on with thousands of dogs in and out of the shelter setting.  

If you are looking to become not just a good dog trainer, but a great dog trainer, make sure you are starting with a solid foundation in modern training methods and up-to-date information on dogs and behavior. When you achieve certification from the Academy you can feel proud and confident that you are making decisions for your clients based on accurate and humane practices for behavior modification. 

*Disclaimer: I received a scholarship from The Academy to participate in a course. I was not asked to write this post, nor did I ever feel as though I was expected to. 

Webinar-Medications To Treat Fear Based Behavior Challenges

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.

Being scared is no way to live.

Being scared is no way to live.

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.

Happy New Year!

3 happy dogs facing the cameraI 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 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!

Choosing To Use Medications For Fearful Dogs

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.

Keep Track

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?

Small World

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.

Placebo effects

colored pills spilling out of a bottleGiven 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.


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