Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011 Wrap-up and 2012 Goals

Well, I didn't set too many goals for 2011 at the beginning of the year. My disc-related goals were to add distance to my long throw and get better at "just playing" in freestyle. And I actually accomplished both--though neither ended up doing me much good. Lok got sick in July and spent all my money, so I did not get to travel to many Quads this year and I didn't even get to play in our local long distance competition. 

Jun and I had the best freestyle we have ever had this season. I decided to get rid of vaults since she had so much trouble with them. I focused on keeping sessions very short, not drilling, not getting frustrated, going onto the field to just "jam" as often as I went out with a training plan and focusing on smooth sequences and highlighting our strengths vs. trying to throw everything we could "sort of" do into the routine. And it worked! She was drivier than ever this year, played happier, jumped higher, flipped better, and we were more connected. However, I retired her from disc at the State Champs in September. She ran off the field and went after a person during our last freestyle round and I now know I just can't trust her in that situation. I don't think I blogged that at the time. I was pretty upset, since I have now retired 2 out of 2 disc dogs at the age of 3. She may come out of retirement if I can get a handle on her issues, but I am not currently counting on it. For her sake I need to think of her as retired, rather than taking a break, since if I think of her as taking a break (like I did for most of the summer) I am sure I will try to play her again before she is ready. She may get to play in smaller, local, well-controlled comps. But we will not be playing out of state anymore. I've made peace with it now. There are lots of other things I can do with my dogs (that I am better at anyway).

My other 2011 goal was for Elo to get his CGC. That didn't happen. But we did get closer to functionality!

Which brings me to the rest of 2011, "The Year of Behavior Modification." In January I decided Jun's fear issues had gotten so bad that I needed to actively try to fix them. We met with a trainer who put us on a behavior modification plan. We focused a lot on calming and relaxing and Jun started to do pretty well. And then Spring hit and all of our progress seemed to disappear. So in May we decided to go to the UofM and start working with a behaviorist and get on meds. Seven months later, we are still trying to find the right med combo for her. Currently she is on 75mg of Trazodone twice a day, off Sertaline entirely, and just started on 25mg of Clomipramine twice a day. Overall, her pacing and clinginess have drastically decreased, making her much easier to live with in the house. We have gone through several behavior-modification plans to try to work through her fear of people and hypervigilance, but have not made much progress. Currently we are taking it very, very slowly, introducing her to new people every weekend through disc play but not requiring (or even asking for) any interaction, and taking her to a couple of classes a week to keep people in her life so she doesn't get even more sensitive to them over the winter. Hopefully between meds and b-mod we will find some solutions for this issue in the new year. I'm not asking for much, really. I'd like to be able to take her for an on-leash walk around other people and have her relaxed and happy.

Elo took a reactive dog class and worked on looking at other dogs in public and has improved greatly! At the beginning of the year, Elo could not tolerate tag sounds, barking, dog smells, or the sight of a dog no matter how far away it was. He can now handle dog sounds and smells most of the time and is doing SO MUCH BETTER with being in the presence of dogs! I am so proud of how far he has come! Surprise dogs are still a big issue, but I can get him very close to stationary or slowly moving dogs and he can even do parallel walking at about 10 yards! So maybe a CGC is in the forecast for this year!

We did a lot of work on obedience and really improved both dogs' heeling in hopes that someday they might be able to actually compete!

Lok made it through 2011, and that is saying something! Managing his health issues is an ongoing challenge, but he remains reasonably happy and content, for the most part. He never got past the first steps of IYC that I posted about a couple weeks ago. We started over at the beginning every day for 5 days, and he re-picked it up every day, but never seemed to remember the next day. And then he had another round of seizures and his mental capacities regressed. I still should do training with him, cause I think he likes it, even though some days he doesn't understand sit. So I think that will be my goal for 2012. Train Lok three days a week and take him for a walk (if he wants to) once a week.

As for 2012 goals for the other two, I am not sure. I'd obviously like to continue to improve Jun and Elo's functionality, though I am much more certain of making progress with Elo than with Jun. Fingers crossed that we'll hit upon the magic drug combo for her. I'd still like Elo to get his CGC--but not only that, I want him to get it in a location where he's never worked before with other dogs he's never met before (yes, I am an overachiever). We will keep working towards that.

I plan to continue to work on obedience skills in case the dogs can ever compete. Other than that, I don't have any major goals for the year. The dogs are in several classes right now and I hope to keep that up, since it gives me things to work on with them.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Jun Goes to Reactive Dog Class

Last night Jun and I started a reactive dog class. She has done really well in Nosework for the past two weeks--very relaxed and happy--and this week even walked by two standing people on our way out without so much as a sideways glance. I was a little nervous about starting this new class, but turns out I had nothing to worry about. It is perfect for her and she did so well!

While there are only a few people in Jun's new class it is different from nosework in that they don't necessarily sit still all the time. But I went in with a plan to treat it very much like nosework. Mainly, I was not going to do any overt behavior modification. No LAT. No auto-watches. I think she has a negative CER to these techniques since we have never really been able to work them sub-threshold. She would be free to look at people at much as she needed to, but I would only reward when she was engaged with me and calm. We would start with crate relaxation, just like nosework and then see where it went from there.

She relaxed very nicely in her crate. While there are other people around,our spot in the building is shaped in such a way that we are able to keep them completely out of view if we want to. When she was relaxed I brought her out into our little private corner and we worked on a Nina Ottoson puzzle. In typical Jun fashion, she approached it with brute force, but thought it was pretty fun! It kept her occupied and took her focus off the other people who she knew were there even though she could not see them. After that we did some walking around in our area. There was some agility equipment and other things to sniff and explore. I didn't ask anything of her, just kept the leash loose and rewarded when she was calmly looking at me. We were out where we could see a person and she showed some slight nervousness and offered a few autowatches, but I just backed her up a little and then rewarded calm attention. After a few minutes it was back in the crate for some more relaxation before she got too overwhelmed. The next time I brought her out we worked Its Yer Choice, which was also very effective in keeping her mind occupied. We also took another little walk around our area and this time she was very calm. I did not ask for any obedience behaviors but just rewarded what she offered.

This is the first time since starting to work on her issues that Jun has been completely calm working in the proximity of people! Granted we are taking it VERY slow, but we are not doing any overt b-mod so she is basically just learning on her own that people around can be an ok thing and that nobody will ever touch her.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Jun Update

Last time I posted about Jun's progress we had decided to wean of Clonidine. After doing so, I am 100% confident it was the right decision. Jun is much happier and more herself off of it and also much more "even." She is able to relax without being sedated.

After a week of doing behavior logs on just Trazodone and the small amount of Sertaline she gets (so small that it probably isn't doing anything for her), we increased her Sertaline by 50%. I only made it through 6 days of behavior logs on this new dose before I made the decision to reduce it! She was having the same agitation response she had to it  the first time we tried to increase it. I emailed Dr. Duxbury the logs and my notes and she agreed that it is time to get Jun off Sertraline altogether and try something else. It's been 3 days off and Jun is still unable to relax (and annoying the hell out of me) but she should be fine by the end of the weekend.

So I will be weaning Jun off Sertraline for the next two weeks and then we will be trying Clomipramine (brand name Clomicalm for animals, commonly known as Anafranil for humans). Interestingly, this is a drug commonly used to treat OCD. I am really interested to see what effect it has, if any, on Jun's sterotypical behaviors, such as tail-chasing and pattern running, and whether it affects her crate barking at all.

Dr. Duxbury is very happy with the results so far of our new behavior mod program, and Jun is doing really well in nosework! At our last class she was a lot more confident and paid less attention to the other people in the room (who have been really great about not watching her while she takes her turns)! I think she is starting to figure out the structure of the class and to understand that while she is working, nobody is going to bother her. At least, I hope that is the case. One of my biggest goals for Jun is building her trust that I won't let anybody touch her if she doesn't want them to. I think/hope nosework class is helping her start to understand that.

Lok Can Learn!

Lok has been doing amazing lately! I've seen so many changes in just the past couple of weeks! He seems less depressed and more engaged in life, and I am wondering if it is the result of increasing his fluoxetine? We increased it probably about 6 weeks ago in an attempt to get rid of some lingering anxiety-related behaviors, so this would be about the time it would be kicking in.

For example, instead of hitting his nose on the step of the deck when I am bringing him in, he's been responding to the cue "upstairs" and lifts his head and feels for the step with his foot. The other day he actually jumped right up onto the deck without even being cued, like he used to do! He has been trotting along when on leash instead of having to be practically dragged at a snail's pace. He has jumped onto my bed three times in the past week, which he has not done since before his surgery last summer. He has been spending more time out in the main portion of the house "with the family" instead of spending all his time holed up in a bedroom by himself. He has been spending slightly less time sleeping. He has been soliciting attention from me. He has picked up bones to chew on. He has solicited play from Elo. And this morning I only had to ask him once to get him up from where he was laying!! These things might not seem like much, but they are signs of LIFE from a dog who has been little more than a shell since coming home from the hospital last summer.

The day he jumped up onto the deck was the day I started working on some exercises from an online class with my other dogs. And that simple act caused me to think--hey, maybe I will give this a try with Lok too! Lok no longer responds to the large majority of what I say to him and seems not to remember most of his commands. I haven't been able to successfully teach him anything since I can't remember when. But two nights ago, Lok LEARNED! And last night, I got it on video!

One of the biggest obstacles to training for Lok since going blind (other than a complete lack of confidence) has been not knowing where the treats are or where they are going to come from. He spends more time sniffing around for the treats than thinking or listening for what he is supposed to do. This game is teaching him that if he ignores the treats they will come directly to his mouth! If he can get this skill down, maybe I can start from scratch and gradually build his other behaviors back up! I am not sure what he is still capable of, but the past two nights have encouraged me to start working with him again and see what he can do!