Words for Maizey: The Happiest Kind of Update.

I haven’t posted any words in so long it’s hard to know where to start. How ’bout with Maizey?

She’s doing fabulous. She’s as stable as she’s ever been and better in many ways. This comment from one of our Instagram pictures sums it up well, “She’s looking very lovely lately. You can tell from the softer expression she has. Calvin was the right move!” Thanks Misskodee, I am very proud of my girl, wether it has anything to do with Calvin or not, she’s certainly happier in general!

She’s still on 10 mg of Fluoxetine. We find her Thundershirt and Composure liquid very helpful. She takes Clonidine for the really bad days. Twice this month, but only once last month so that’s a huge improvement from last year at this time.

Biochemically I don’t know what the change is, other than time on the meds and our Real Life is significantly less stressful in many ways. Training wise we still work counterconditioning and desensitization to her triggers when I can pin them down. It’s extremely hard to desensitize to rain on the windows or wind, but we use the chicken rains from the sky method and it’s slowly helping. We haven’t worked on the dog reactivity at all. One change for the worse is she’s shown a slight in inclination to human reactivity at the park. We have used lots of mat work to condition safe spaces for her to retreat too all around the house. Her stroller is now a piece of furniture in our house. Not the most normal looking “chair” but it gives her a Calvin free zone and safe place that can go wherever I go. We minimize stimulation as much as possible on the bad days. Closing blinds and playing Through a Dogs Ear to cut down on the outside sounds that trigger her. Her recovery time is down to hours instead of days.

Writing it that way it may sound as if she’s deprived, but she’s really not. We have fun together at home, she plays with Calvin and Magnus now. She even asks to play with toys sometimes, though she doesn’t seem to know quite what to do with them. Silly goose! We train lots of tricks. She can be outside now without being over threshold. Even her recall from the front yard and off the neighbors pit bulls is about 90%! That’s something I am so proud of. She also shows some ability to leave the cat alone, which used to be a major trigger. I know she has more thinking brain than fearing brain when she can call off those hard triggers and recover quickly.

She doing so well I’m considering taking the next step to desensitize her to being at work. We finally have a trainer I feel understands us enough and that I trust enough to start working on some other issues. After a loooong talk (Thanks Jamie!) we decided she won’t be able to make progress in training the reactivity until I can manage my worry and anxiety of taking her to the training room with me. So our next step is as much about desensitizing ME.

I guess there’s no one biggest thing that has made a difference, but for me the thing that’s most helpful is having the knowledge and tools to help her when it does get hard. She’s always going to have hard days, but now we both have enough training to handle it and recover.

My main message to people with fearful dogs is this: It starts at home. You are your dogs protector, advocate, doctor and trainer. You MUST make their homes a safe, trigger free zone. If you can’t create an environment for their bodies to recover from stress they will never be able to desensitize to their fears. Don’t push them, be patient. Protect them, speak up for them! Don’t let people approach them, be willing to change your environment, close the blinds, play the music loud, don’t let them go out in a yard alone, do whatever it takes to help them have at least one safe space, even if it means being that crazy lady with the dog stroller. Don’t ask too much of them just to fulfill your needs or wants. The rewards are worth it! Your fearful dogs’ journey is a serious of small climbs and an occasional fall. Love them through it, don’t give up! but most of all protect them!

Next up: The Magnus update. Get ready for this. . . it’s been a scary, strange and miraculous few months!


Happy Maizey and Healthy Magnus

If you read last June and July it’s all about limps and anxiety. Ironically this April and May would have been all about limps and anxiety too, but a totally different story. This years story is about progress and recovery.

June 25, 2011

June 25, 2012

May 15, 2012

These photo’s from last year clearly show that Maizey was feeling stressed even in the front yard. As I read through posts from last year my sadness and frustration all came back to me.

This year is is a totally different story, as I think the photo’s show. She still has a long ways to go, especially when it comes to other dogs, but her general level of anxiety is much, much less. Hooray! Her recovery time is better and even on high stress days she can still enjoy getting out for a short walk as long as she has her stroller.

Last year she couldn’t even be in the front yard without her stress level sky rocketing, this year she’s not only enjoying being out there, she’s doing so quietly! Since we’re not fighting with the anxiety I started using timeouts for her barking at the fence and she almost never does now. A funny side effect is that when I say, “That’s enough”, her timeout warning cue, Magnus comes running. He thinks it’s good recall cue since if she comes off the fence with the warning she always gets a treat and of course so does he. That boy just cracks me up.

I’m worried about fireworks season coming up so we’ve added Amitriptyline to her Fluoxetine. We did a two week trial which wasn’t long enough to tell anything so we’re trying another two weeks. I hope to be able to use it on an as needed basis, for just the most stressful times. We’re still using Composure Liquid and it’s a life saver. For the first time I feel hopeful about my girl.

I appreciate how many tools we have in our anxiety tool box now. Not only is her stress level lower, but we have many more skills and resources to draw from on the bad days. As a trainer it’s something I’m always advocating for shy dogs- train a variety of skills and try a variety of supplements so when you need it you have options. One thing that was so frustrating last year was not having enough things to try when things got tough.

On top of all that good news Magnus is doing great! His back is all clear, we’re back to training, I even let him zoom at the park the other day. It was his SI joint that was out, but now I think this all started last June with a pulled hamstring. That’s the only thing left that’s sore on him now. So were still seeing Tena, the physical therapist who he LOVES. Now that we’re actually down to what we think was the original cause of all his back problems I hope we can clear it up for good.

As if all that good news weren’t enough I passed my CAP 1 certification. I can’t remember if I really posted about this, but before Magnus got hurt I was taking a class to earn a certification for Kay Laurence’ Clicker Trainers Competency Assessment Program. When his health fell apart in March we had to put taking the assessment on hold until he was healthy again. I’m happy to say the delay between the class and the assessment didn’t hurt me as I passed with distinction. It’s a huge honor to be able to take this class in person, there are only a few assessors in the states. I’m very pleased with passing and even more pleased with how great a team mate Magnus was.

It’s nice to have good news and happy pictures to post. And now in a bit of shameless self-congratulations I have to post a copy of my CAP certificate.


Spring Walks

We took a lovely, although unusual, walk yesterday and lest you all think all the dogs do is be bored anymore I thought I’d better post some pictures.

Things are rolling along here, work is busy, busy. Real life is. . . Real, with a capitol R. Magnus is doing pretty well. We haven’t had an appointment with rehab therapist in almost two weeks now. She felt he was doing well enough to cut back to every other week. I’ve been a bit worried about his eyes. We don’t have a recheck for another few weeks but if they keep looking like they do we might be headed in sooner than that. Oddly enough, he was the cause of the unusual aspect of our walk.

Magnus' best imitation of a speed bump in the road

He hates to be hot. When he gets to hot he will just lay down and refuse to move. It’s a little funny, but just a little. It was the longest walk we’ve taken and his back seems fine, but I when he pulled his lump in the middle of the trail routine I was a little worried we’d pushed it too far. Maizey has been walking more on the last two walks so I put Magnus in the stroller. It was pretty funny actually, I thought he’d hate it, but he just rode along like a pasha being escorted to his castle. Of course the Princessface had to ride in style too so they both ended up in the stroller.

I tried to tell them it was humiliating to take two dogs for a “walk” where neither of them were actually walking. They didn’t care. So I kept teasing them yesterday I was going to go out and get a “real” dog who could keep up with me. I don’t really care though and man am I getting good exercise pushing all that extra weight around!

I’m a bit concerned that all our winter of limited activity has made Magnus’ stamina be weak. I sure hope at one point we can take a walk without worrying so much. Until then I guess I have a another reason to be glad I have the stroller. I’m seriously considering investing in a bike trailer. If he’s going to want to ride some then I want to actually get some exercise and that we we could go farther.

While I’m concerned Magnus’ stamina has decreased, I think cutting back the length of our walks and the methodical way we’ve been increasing just 5 minutes ever two to three days has helped Maizey’s stamina increase. She’s doing really well that way. Spring is proving to be a stimulating time for her and I’ve increased her Fluexetine back to .75 mg a day. If we need to go up one more time we will. There is just more sensory input in spring and as usual she’s found several things more triggering. It’s been super rainy, the neighbors building projects, all compounded by the windows being open more when the weathers nice all set her off. Last night she retreated to the bathroom for the first time. I sure hope we don’t seen a huge dive from her like last year. We’re headed to the vet on tuesday to see what we can do preventively. I’ve been playing Through a Dog’s Ear for her. I can’t tell it has a huge effect but it makes me sleepy so it can’t hurt!

So life’s rolling along, in more than just the metaphorical sense. I’ve got the puppy bug and have been dreaming of what it would be like to have a third dog. I’ve had three dogs before and know it’s much more work. I also know it’s much more love and fun so I’m thinking seriously about it. For those of you with three dogs what’s you’re greatest challenge and your greatest joy? I read a poem about Cav’s the other day that said one is never enough- I guess they’re kinda like potato chips!

Can't you just picture a little black and tan face with these two? I can!


A Year Treating Anxiety. . . What Now?

Maizey turns three next week which makes it a year since her anxiety became an every day issue. We spent the first 6 months trying natural remedies and training, all to no avail. In July when things really became acute I started considering medication and then on July 21 we started Prozac.

In the last 6 months we’ve worked hard to stabilize her with the meds and training. We’ve successfully used Relaxation Protocol, a Thunder Shirt, and just added Composure Liquid to our bag of tricks. We’ve seen some progress, although living with her on a day to day basis it’s hard to see sometimes. Looking back to July I know we’ve come a long ways. She no longer seeks refuge in the bathroom or closet every day, we’ve been able to get out for walks a bit more, had some trips to the park and some nice hikes. We even spent an hour training up at our training center last night with no apparent ill effects.

She’s recovering from the set back we had in November which was so severe I just couldn’t even bring myself to blog about it. But we continue to struggle with the stress colitis, which is a fancy way of saying too much stress plus too many treats equals horrible diarrhea. There are some triggers I see no progress at all with. The other day on our walk a dog passed us and I found myself saying, “Well that reaction wasn’t that bad, just your garden variety, normal reaction, no out of control shrill screeching barking.” Sigh. It doesn’t say much about our progress that I have classified her reaction level as “normal” and “severe” and am, of course not happy, but resolved and accepting of a normal reaction. Basically she’s not where I’d like her to be after a year.

This week has been another week of ups and downs. On wednesday we did our first BAT session. When asked how it went all I could say was, “Uneventful. Exactly how it’s supposed to be.” When done right, so the dog stays under threshold, BAT can seem incredibly calm. Which is what I love about it. I have hope it can help her eventually, but am not expecting anything miraculously fast.

At Dr. Kanda's. See the lip lick and tension in her jaw. Not a happy puppy.

We have seen two vets over the last year and are now working with a new vet. We’ve looked into adding Chinese herbal medicine back into her plan of treatment and were considering using homeopathic remedies. On Thursday Dr. Kanda called me to tell me the homeopathic vet didn’t feel too hopeful that she could help Maizey. I appreciated how honest both Dr. Kanda and the vet she consulted were. She seemed to feel there’s just not a lot more to add to what we’re already doing, or have tried. We may try to wean off the Prozac and try Paxil or Clomicalm instead. I haven’t made a decision on that, it’s always scary to switch meds. Her basic answer was I need a veterinary behaviorist, but we don’t have one in the state. She’s putting out some feelers to see if she can find someone to do a phone consult with.

I was going to take Maizey through the Feisty Fido class, which is our reactive dog class. But after seeing Maizey while we did BAT our trainer said she doesn’t think Maizey can handle the stress of that class so we pulled out of that. We may go through it later, but it makes sense that she can’t work on the dog reactivity if she’s too stressed out in general every day life.

All of this adds up the fact that I just feel I’ve exhausted our resources and I find myself questioning my expectations. This is my Princessface and I want her to be happy all the time. After spending 45 minutes with us Dr Kanda said, “This is not how a Cavalier is supposed to be. They’re such happy little dogs and she’s just so. . . not.” It broke my heart. Still she’s not always miserable like she was that day at the vet.

Last week while I was ranting on about what to do next my husband broke in and said, “What if she just needs to be an at home dog? Is her life that bad?” It’s not. Her everyday life is not bad now. I need to start appreciating how far we’ve come instead of worrying about how far we have to go.

Carrying her on a walk. You can see the worry around her eyes and the tight jaw.

It’s not like I expect her to be a performance dog. It’s okay if she can’t go to classes, but I’d like for her to be able to take a walk without begging to be carried and comforted or getting diarrhea. That doesn’t seem too much to ask for my girl. I’d like her to be able to be home with a minimum of stress and reactivity. As you can see from that picture of me carrying her we haven’t got there yet. But if she needs to mostly be an at home girl I’m okay with that as long as she’s happy.

Still I find myself asking what is realistic for her? Is this the point where I say, this is who she is and as long as she’s ok on a day to day basis that’s good enough? Today one of the best mom’s I know told me before she would discipline her son she would always ask, “Am I going to do this for his benefit or for mine?” Although a different context I think I have to start asking myself a similar question. Am I pursuing a life Maizey is capable of living? Am I chasing all of this for her benefit or for mine?

At the end of it all I guess I’m asking at what point do I say this is who she is for now? I feel like for a year I’ve been chasing a level of healthiness for her that I’m now not sure she’s capable of achieving. But that feels like defeat, like I’m making excuses and accepting something thats not good for her.

I’m not saying we won’t keep training and treating her anxiety with meds. Improving Maizey’s quality of life will always be a priority to me. I guess all of this is my long drawn out way of saying I think the recovery I’ve been hoping for may not be possible. At least right now. I think my hopes have been too focused on the life I want to live with Maizey and not on the life that’s of most benefit to her. Now my focus needs to change.

I’ve always made Maizey Promises, so for now the Maizey promise is I’ll take you where you want to go, let you go home when you’re ready, I’ll try to alleviate triggers and we’ll keep working together to have the happiest life you can. If at any time you don’t want to do together what I want to do that’s okay. You can be you.

What do you all think? Is there a point where you accept the limitations and live with the level of anxiety that’s there or is that defeat?


Loose Dogs Are NOT Maizey’s Friend

There really is nothing ambiguous about this sign:

Unfortunately it seems dreadfully difficult for anyone to follow that rule.

If I saw someone pick up their dog and start walking briskly away from me while loudly saying three times, “Get your dog! My dog’s not friendly!” I would not allow my off leash dog to chase after them.

I would not merely keep sauntering along while my Ridgeback looking mix ran towards the shrilly barking dog. Of course if my dog didn’t have a recall at all my dog wouldn’t be off leash in the first place.

Needless to say I was not happy tonight at the park when that happened to us. We’ve managed to get Maizey out quite a few times with out a run in like this, but today was just not going our way.

I know off leash dogs are something we all fight with, but when you have a pup with issues who is in “rehab” it’s even more frustrating. Of course right after we settled down from the big dog there was another lady running with an off leash Schnauzer that also clearly didn’t care that her dog was off leash. Both of these people were carrying their leashes! Umm. . . it doesn’t count if the leash is not attached to the dog! Thankfully the Schauzer kept it’s distance, but Maizey reacts at dogs that are very, very far away so that didn’t really help her.

It’s not like I enjoy hollering at people as they approach us in the park, but really! I mean this was a big dog with it’s hackles raised. It didn’t look mean, just aroused. It would be hard for any dog not to be aroused with the racket my Princess of the Shrill Bark raises. I felt like I was pretty mean, but my husband said I sounded like an “assertive dog trainer”. I thought that was pretty funny.

After the dogs were gone I was very thankful for the RP and LAT work we’ve done. These were the steps I took after the dogs were away from us:

I was carrying Maizey (the only way to get her away when she’s reacting). Magnus was on leash so I was telling him leave it and lets go. When I had a free hand and the dog was headed away from us I opened bar the treats to Maizey. I basically just threw a handful on the ground for Magnus to find and then just let Maizey start eating a handful out of my hand.

When she was not barking I started Look At That with her.

When she could LAT with our barking I put her down at which point she started reacting again so we went back to open bar.

My husband went and grabbed her mat and so I asked her to settle in RP mode. As she quieted down we started LAT with me on sitting with her on the ground. As she got calmer I stood up and went into RP stance. Then I basically combined a LAT with RP mode until she seemed calmer and the dogs were all out of the park. After that we went back to the area where the Ridgy mix had approached us and both dogs got very sniffy so I let them get their sniff in and we jollyed our way back to the car.

I don’t think it was the worst encounter we’ve had. We both accessed out skills pretty well and now I have some new ideas for some new skills we can use. Best of all she seems okay tonight. She’s been a little spooked tonight, but she’s sleeping in her crate with the door open now.

The difference in her since we started the Fluoxetine three months ago is amazing. She’s back to my happy girl who wants to meet everyone and she recovers faster and faster from triggers. I don’t regret putting her on Prozac, I only regret I didn’t do it sooner.


Relaxation Protocol Day 11 Session 2

Since I still need to do a Monday Miles post this is the cliff notes version for RP today.

We redid day 11 but I didn’t disappear from view. I went to the front door and knocked where she could see me.

Tomorrow I’ll disappear from view by going out front door, but keep the criteria low by not knocking. Hopefully I’ll end up being able to go out the front door, close it and use the knocker.

In session one of day 11 I thought the neighbor dogs going nuts when I knocked on my front door may have bothered her, but tonight I think it bothered me a lot more than it did her. I feel terrible for them, they are totally unsocialized Pit Bull’s that never get out of their dog run, but sometimes the barking at things in my house gets a little trying.

I apologize for my off tune humming. It wasn’t that I was just feeling musical tonight, but I read a thread on the Control Unleashed Yahoo Group about adding very soft counting or humming to RP. The counting, or humming becomes another cue for relaxation to the dog. I chose humming since it came more naturally to me and I figured would seem more natural to other people that may hear me when we finally take this gig on the road.

It went better today and i was thrilled with her calm state all day. She spent the night at my moms last night and I expected her to be pretty close to threshold recovering today, but she was fine.

I’m really thrilled with how much the Fluoxetine has helped her. We raised the dose to 7.5mg a week ago and I don’t notice too much difference, but she is still doing so much better.


Small Improvements After Three Weeks On Fluoxetine

“Where’s your other little dog?”

I hear this question all the time since I can’t take Maizey with me as much. Sometimes I think people think I just love Magnus more, which of course isn’t true. What they don’t understand is what it’s like to live with an anxious dog.

Well meaning people suggest Maizey just needs more exercise. They’re right, she does need more exercise, but it’s not as simple as people think. How do you exercise a dog that can’t get to end of the driveway without major stress and can’t get three houses away without reacting? It’s pretty difficult.

She’s always been a world class puller on the leash. One time someone asked me, “Why haven’t you taught her not to pull? I wanted to be like, “Train her not to pull?!? That never even occurred to me!” I restrained myself. If you’ve followed us for long you remember the hours of loose leash walking we did after her knee surgeries. Now I know she pulls as a result of being too stressed out. She can’t think and her brain and body are flooding with stress chemicals that drive her into overdrive. She actually has a beautiful loose leash walk when she can think.

What happened two nights ago illustrates another reason getting out and about is hard for an anxious Princessface. We ran to the corner to get a movie and I let both dogs hop in the car with us. Normally I’m the strict momma that never lets the dogs ride not in crates, but this was a rare occasion the crates weren’t set up so I held Maizey. She feels safest being held so I figured she’d be okay. We weren’t even gone ten minutes and I didn’t get out of the car. In ten minutes I saw lip licking, yawning, tense jaw, shaking, and overall tenseness in her body. I could feel her heart beating in her chest the whole time.

She had been very relaxed that day, not one bark all day, but after we got home? Ten minutes of barking. Barking at dogs outside, kids outside, Mehusbandy moving around in the other room, barking at I don’t even know what. She just can’t recover like she used to.

Our part time girl Chloe has major stress in the car. As soon as you hit the freeway she starts shaking, but as soon as you get out of the car she shakes it off and you can’t tell she was ever stressed. Maizey just doesn’t have this ability to recover. It could take her hours to lay down and sleep after a short episode of stress like tonight’s.

Until now. After three weeks on Prozac (Fluoxetine) I’m seeing a difference in her. It’s a welcome relief. One difference is her ability to recover. After ten minutes of barking she is now sleeping next to me on her relax mat. That’s a quick recovery for my girl.

Other differences are showing up too. She’s able to keep her brain in gear at things that would have sent her over threshold before. She never hated the vacuum, but in the last few months she would go crazy barking at the vacuum. I’ve had to crate her in another room to keep her calm.

"I don't even get mad at my brover when he tugs on my ears!"

Last week I vacuumed the whole house without one bark. We’ve continued counter-conditioning with the vacuum. When the vacuum comes out so do the treats and I toss them away from me so she has to do some hoovering of her own in the other room. Now she comes running for the fun vacuum game again.

She and Magnus haven’t been able to play hardly at all over the last three months since she would go over threshold, barking and barking at him within the first few seconds. Last week they played for over three minutes with not one bark!

I was really worried how she would handle this weekend and the yard sale. I knew I would be busy and moving things around tends to really set her off, but she did great! It wasn’t stress free. By Saturday afternoon she was pretty close to threshold, but while we had a bit of slow time at the yard sale, I let her come out and sit with me for a bit, then she just settled on the porch and hung out for about half an hour.

The front yard is another place I see improvement. It has been weeks since I could even let her out there. She would bolt out the front door straight to the front fence and bark, bark, bark. On Friday night while we were getting ready for the sale I put her on a long line, put her relax mat next to me and she chilled out quietly with us for over an hour. Twice she went to the fence and I just took the end of the long line and walked back to her mat and she came with me and laid down.

There are other differences too. She hasn’t retreated to the bathroom near as much, she initiated play with a toy all on her own, we even had fireworks again last week and she didn’t get as scared as usual.

We still have a long way to go and I’m going to talk to the vet tomorrow about raising her dosage a little. I’m happy her ability to recover is better, but I’d like to see her be able to get the point where a ten minute car ride was fun, not stressful. We’ll keep up with the training were doing and hope for more improvement. In the mean time I’m happy to see my happy girl feeling more like herself!