Friday, July 27, 2012

Happier at Home

Jun had a follow-up with Dr. D. today. I'd like to report that it went amazingly and Dr. D. confirmed that she's well on her way to being a normal dog. But that's not what happened. In the eight months since we saw her last, Jun has made progress. Clomipramine has been great for her. She's been calmer, happier, and more normal. Only . . . at home.

In the past 8 months I took her through a nosework class and a reactive dog class. Her drugs have calmed her enough that she's been able to learn some tools that help her cope better in public. She has a "look at that" cue that can take away the suprise of a person in the environment. She knows how to deal with a person by giving me eye contact. She trusts (at least more than she used to) that I'm in control and I won't let anyone touch her. I can walk her down the block and back in our neighborhood. We can get past people at a certain distance in other places, if we have to. I can't remember the last reactive episode she's had (to a person, that is, dogs are another story now). I've even brought her out to group events a couple times recently at parks where there are lots of other people and she's done well. She seems to tolerate groups better than individuals.

But here's the thing . . . all these things she is now capable of are still stressful for her. Most people who don't know her can't tell and look at me like I'm crazy when I say she's nervous or stressed or doesn't want to be petted, but *I* know and it's not fair to her to ask her to deal with things that stress her out when those things are not necessary. Not to mention I live with the consequences for a week or two when she gets stressed in the form of more barking, more pacing, more clinginess--all her old behaviors.

At some point in the past few months I figured out that leaving the house more than once a week is too much for her--that is JUST leaving. Not leaving and seeing people, not taking a major trip. I'm talking about walking down our street. Once a week (or so), if we get lucky and don't meet anyone, I can take Jun for a half-a-block walk and have a happy, calm, relaxed dog at my side who can respond to cues and take treats nicely. If I try to do the same three days later, I have a dog who needs multiple reminders not to pull on the leash, takes treats with a hard mouth, and takes obedience cues as a sign that danger is afoot.

So we quit. We're not actively doing behavior modification. I really don't think it's even possible to make progress working once a week. And how do you desensitize to "life"?? If we go out, I bring treats. If we see people we practice LAT, or maybe BAT if the situation is right and she's tolerating it well. I will keep taking her out into normal life situations as she can tolerate it, even into mildly-stressful situations, and maybe she will improve. And maybe not. That's ok too. It kills me a little bit to write that, but not as much as it kills me to see my dog stressed and unhappy. She is happier at home, so she will be the best damn home-frisbee-obedience-agility-nosework dog that ever was. And hopefully sleep peacefully every night.


  1. Out of curiosity, what is Jun's story? Where did you get her?

  2. She was a foster for a year through MN Border Collie Rescue, starting at the age of 8mos. Multiple failed placements, then I realized she was right where she was supposed to be. She's always been crazy, but her anxieties developed slowly and got really bad about a year and a half ago. Blog posts for the past couple years kinda fill in the details from there.

  3. I'm at the same place with Dobby right now. It takes large amounts of drugs to get him okay being out of the house, and his seizure issues compound the problem. Playing at home and sleeping peacefully at night are the best gifts I can give him.

  4. She sounds just like Classic. Serious hugs to you and Jun. We are at the same point, not actively trying to make things better but using our behavior mod tools to make things manageable. LIke you said, maybe one day they will be better, maybe they won't be.

  5. Seriously? I find that working short bursts 'out' and then lots of home time is a great way to not overstress the dog.

    This may mean one outing a month, even. If you are comfortable with that.

    Dogs hold the lessons really well. It's amazing how much of our training/ conditioning they will retain from session to session, even if the sessions are far removed in time.

    Go at your own pace. If it's time for a hiatus, by all means take one. But don't discount your dog, either.

    Life is never a race.

  6. Jenn, I'm not sure where you get the idea that I am discounting my dog. You don't know her, even if you had read all of other posts about the work I've done with her for the past couple of years, which I doubt you have. That is exactly the point, Jun does not "hold lessons" at all. I cannot even set up a proper lesson for her because just going out of the house is stressful, without any particular triggers at all. I DO understand counter-conditioning. I have another difficult reactive dog, Elo. He DOES improve. AND holds lessons even if I haven't worked with him for an entire season. We can quickly get back to where we started. Jun has made perhaps a millimeter of progress compared to his yards in the past two years. It's not about discounting my dog. It's not about me not wanting to train. It's about HER comfort level and me deciding not to continue to push her past her comfort level to try to make her something she will likely never be. Please don't judge. There is more to life than your own set of experiences. This dog stumps vet behaviorists. She's not normal--even for a reactive dog. And like I said at the end of my post, I WILL keep taking her out and trying to make her experiences positive and hoping she learns something from that. But I needed to change my expectations so that if she doesn't I don't get upset.