Monday, September 26, 2011


The overall stress level in my house lately is just ridiculous. The fighting, the barking, it's just insane. Friday night Jun and Elo got into a fight over nothing. It's not unusual for them to get into fights, but most of the time they break it up fairly quickly and nobody gets hurt. When they don't, Jun ends up with a hole in her face, and the one she ended up with on Friday was the worst she's ever had. Bad enough that I took her to the emergency vet. They recommended antibiotics but said stitches weren't necessary unless I wanted them for cosmetic reasons. I did, but I didn't want to pay what it would have cost, so we left with our antibiotics.

This morning Lok wandered near Jun and she proceeded to bite him in the face 3-4 times. Thankfully she has great bite inhibition, so he wasn't injured. But I hate when Lok gets picked on. He never deserves it. Of course Jun's "fight" with Lok drew Elo's attention and he decided to join in. Thankfully I managed to separate them before they got to each other.

And the barking. OMG. The second I step out of sight to leave for work Jun starts in. As soon as the door clicks shut, Lok starts in. And as soon as Lok starts barking, Elo starts howling. It is ridiculous. Insane. I feel bad that Lok and Jun are upset and that they all have to listen to each other. And I'm sure the collective stress level is just adding to the individual stress levels. It's a vicious circle and I can't seem to keep ahead of it.

And I am not sure what Elo's deal is. He is just wild lately. I think I've been spoiling him, so it is back to boot camp until he remembers how to act like a trained dog.

Jun is on the second attempt at Clonidine. The first time she seemed to be having an agitation response so we lowered the dose (I was out of town for a weekend) and now are building it back up. She is at the same dose where we left off last time and so far seems ok. Yesterday she was very sleepy. We did some CC yesterday and got extremely lucky to find a lone soccer player in an empty park. This scenario (one person, lots of upredictable movement) would have been a HUGE issue for her in the past, but she was only mildly concerned, then unconcerned. In the past we would not have been able to get far enough to calm her and would not have been able to move closer. Yesterday we closed the distance by half. In addition, two people walked by on the walking path at the edge of the park (another huge trigger) and barely got half a glance. It was a pretty big deal, but I'm not getting my hopes up. As I mentioned, she was very sleepy and not really herself. That is not the long-term effect I am looking from from a drug. If the sleepiness went away and the increased threshold stayed, that would be amazing, but we will see.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Follow-up with the behaviorist - Part 3

Jun is weird. She has always been a big barker, but there was a period of several months after I got her when she stopped. Previous to that, her barking was for attention. It was loud, annoying, and persistent, but it wasn't crazy. I distinctly remember when the behavior in the video started. In fact, I blogged about it here when it started happening, and have blogged at length about the things I've tried to get her to stop since. (Search "barking" if you care. It's half my blog content, I think!) All my strategies have worked temporarily, then stopped working.

The last thing I tried was keeping her in the bathroom when she needs to be confined, instead of in the crate. It also worked. Then stopped working. She started out just great and was totally quiet in the bathroom. It was awesome to be able to get a break from her and not have to put on her bark collar or listen to her barking, pacing, whining or spinning. I could sit down and watch a movie!! I actually started using this strategy intermittently before our first behaviorist appointment. Afterwards, Dr. Reichl wanted me to use the bathroom full time and not use the crate at all. I was hesitant but agreed, and the main reason I was hesistant was because I was pretty sure that after awhile the bathroom wouldn't cut it anymore and then my new-found peace and quiet would be ruined. Sure enough.

So what to do now? She barks in her crate, she barks in the bathroom, and she barks in the car when it's moving. Both Dr. Reichl and Dr. Duxbury believe it's related to separation anxiety and confinement anxiety, and it seems weird to me that it the behavior would be isolated to such specific situations, but I have no better explanation so, ok. Since Jun will chill (she usually sleeps by the door) if I just leave her loose in the house for a few hours, Dr. Duxbury thought maybe we should dispense with confinement altogether. And here is where I decided I really liked Dr. Duxbury---I agreed that may work, but expressed my concern that since every other strategy has worked and then failed I was worried that eventually she'd start to get nervous left alone loose in the house. And then I wouldn't be able to leave her ANYWHERE at all. And Dr. Duxbury listened to my concern, took it seriously and agreed!!!!!  So we are keeping that possibility in mind for the future, but right now we are looking to the drugs to provide some relief from the anxiety, and then hopefully the barking as a result.

So I am to do "crate games" with Jun and Relaxation Protocol in the crate and the bathroom and do things to associate those two places of confinement with good things and not always with me leaving.

The other comment Dr. Duxbury had was that she wonders if Jun is having limbic focal seizures brought on by stress--cause apparently the "staring at the wall" routine is not normal dog behavior. She wants more video to compare the episodes and wants to run it by a neurologist! Not sure if anything will come of that, but I thought it was an interesting idea.

Follow-up with the behaviorist - Part 2

I've been doing BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training) with Jun, usually once a week, for three months now. In that time I've made some adjustments, so that what I'm doing is really not BAT at all, but more of a hybrid of a lot of different methods for working with fearful dogs. A typical BAT session is done without treats and involves approaching and retreating from a "decoy" many times in a single session. So, if the decoy was a person standing still at 50 yards, the dog and handler would walk towards the decoy until the dog is somewhat uncomfortable, but not over threshold. The handler then waits for the dog to offer a calming signal (generally a look-away, or sniffing the ground), marks, and rewards the dog by turning and walking away. The reward for behaving appropriately in the presence of the scary thing is that the dog gets what they really want--increased distance.

Jun was LOVING the increased distance part, but never really wanted to approach. And though she was "doing" everything right, she was not feeling any better about it no matter how much we worked. So I've made several modifications that seem to work a little better for us.

First, I'm using treats. BAT says it’s ok to use treats sometimes, but to give them AFTER the retreat. For Jun, this just made her even more happy to get the heck out of dodge and she started offering her calming signals earlier and earlier (when she was well within her comfort zone) because she knew that when she did, not only would she get to leave, but she would get a treat as well. So I broke the rules, and I now give the treat at the end of the approach after she offers her calming signal and she gets nothing for the retreat.

The second thing I’m doing differently is using mild tug games. Jun was not having any fun with BAT and our trainer suggested using some type of play to get her to loosen up a bit and not be so serious about the whole thing. At the same time, it’s important to be careful with this because play increases arousal and arousal can turn into reactivity. So I had to make sure not to get her too revved up. I played around with this for awhile and figured out that it works best to use intermittent play during a BAT session where she is well under threshold. If she is feeling nervous about a situation, it is harder to get her to play and when I do get her playing it is more likely to be an aggressive type of play punctuated by hard stares at the decoy vs. a soft, relaxed play. I’ve found that the best game to use is a combination of “tag and run” (I touch her lightly and then run off) with a tug on her leash.

Dr. Duxbury agreed that these were good modifications to the BAT protocol for Jun’s situation and said that I should continue doing what I'm doing. We looked at two videos that highlighted the difference between the two approaches.

In this video, I am using my modified BAT. You can see how much more loose and happy Jun gets after a little play. She is pretty relaxed and focused on me during this session. I am walking forwards until she starts feeling slightly nervous about the decoys, rewarding a look-away with food and then retreating. Here, our decoy is two people, standing still and facing here. This is a low-difficulty situation for her.

Contrast with this next video in which I am using traditional BAT in a high-difficulty situation. The decoy here is a single person over 200 yards away, but he was moving a lot, running, and doing weird things like high kicks (we just used some random guy who happened to be at the park). You can see how Jun is not engaging with me at all and is giving more hard stares at the decoy. She is really nervous here.

I told Dr. Duxbury that if I had it to do over again, I would not have even tried to do any BAT in this situation, and would have just done straight classical counter-conditioning. Feed, feed, feed, then put her away. Movement is much more important to Jun than distance is and when a person is moving around a lot there is really no way to keep her well under threshold (though she’s not barking/lunging, she is very nervous). Dr. Duxbury is hopeful that the meds will help raise Jun’s threshold, so I can do BAT with her in more difficult situations.

Follow-up with the Behaviorist - Part 1

Jun had a follow-up appointment yesterday, though we switched to a different behaviorist. She has been on sertaline and trazodone for about three months now, and it's time to make some changes. The Sertraline does not seem to be doing anything for her, though the Trazodone has gotten us some peace and quiet in the house. She is not pacing nearly as much and is not as clingy. She will go lie down on her own at a distance from me on a regular basis. However, she is still barking in her crate all the time and outside the house the drugs don't seem to have made much of a difference in decreasing her anxiety around people.

We talked about three things: changes to her meds, the BAT protocol I've been working on, and what to do about the barking. And since this would be a really, really long post, I will break it down into three. First, the meds, and this will be really short.

Dr. Duxbury though paroxetine may be a better fit for Jun than sertraline, so we may try that in the future. But first Duxbury wanted to try adding clonidine to what she is already taking. We are going to Chicago for a disc dog competition over the weekend, so we will start that next week when we get back. Dr. Duxbury explained the reasoning and it made sense at the time, but I can't remember all the terms she used so I won't try. She did say she was pretty optimistic that it would be a good fit for Jun. Since we only want to change one thing at a time, after she has been on clonidine for awhile, we will probably try to eliminate the sertraline, and then potentially the trazodone.

Awhile back I bought two pill boxes for both Lok and Jun (one each for AM and PM). Lok was on about 7 different meds at the time and it was beyond what I could keep straight when I was doling out meds at 5am. Now Lok is on only two (zonisamide for seizures and fluoxetine for anxiety) as well as an herbal supplement--milk thistle--for his liver. Jun is on four--proin (urinary incontinence), and sertraline, trazodone, and clonidine for anxiety.I just get their doses ready for the whole week at one time and it makes it a lot easier. And can I just say how happy I am that Elo is healthy and sound, mind and body, and is not on ANY meds!! (Please stay that way, buddy!)