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?


It’s All About the Cavaliers

Those of you following us on Facebook will remember when I started puppy dreaming over this black and tan boy. I know if I get another Cavalier it will be a black and tan and it was almost unbelievable that this boy would show up in my state. We rarely get Cav puppies in rescue here and black and tans are extremely rare in rescue anywhere. So when he showed up I naturally started dreaming.

Many people thought I was crazy for passing him up. I know that it seems crazy to pass up the chance to rescue my dream dog without having to fly across the country like I did for Magnus. The thing is I have very strict rules for myself about when I can get another puppy. Also it’s just not the time for me to bring a new puppy into the house. It wouldn’t be fair to the puppy or to Maizey and Magnus. The other reason is going to shock all of my Cavalier loving readers. . .

I am fascinated my other breeds. I was considering. . . a different breed. GASP! I know! You can hardly believe your eyes!

I love my Cav’s but I have concerns. As they get older I know I’m in for heart murmurs among other expensive and emotional illnesses. Grooming two Cav’s is really a lot of work. And I never have got over missing having a big dog.

Then I met my first French Bulldog a few weeks ago. I really started thinking maybe this was my big dog feel in the convenience of a small body. They are really cool dogs and have less health problems than Cav’s. So I started doing my research and contemplating a new breed.

So back to the little black and tan boy. . . He got adopted and it took the dream off the table. The coolest thing is that the people that adopted him are bringing him to puppy class at work. Plus in his class is an 18 week old Frenchie. So today I went on a mission of exploration. I figured if I went to their class I could see side by side where my heart really was. Am I a total Cav girl? Or do I want to start over with a new breed?

Any guesses as to the answer? Well, the little Frenchie boy was super sweet! He was a lover and very smart. But. . . that black and tan boy stole my heart!

I can’t even tell you why. All I know is every time that sweet, soft boy scampered into my lap I just melted. I pretty much turned into a gooshing, gooey, cooing girl. It was embarrassing! But it was a good thing to do, it settled in my heart where my true love lies. For now, it’s all about the Cavaliers!


My Favorite Training

The value of planned training sessions can not be underestimated. But these are rarely my favorite training sessions.

My favorite sessions are the ones like tonight with Magnus. He went to my human class with me for an hour and half. Even that’s some good training. Tonight I used a piece of paper for him to park it on since I didn’t take a mat. He has to greet people without jumping. He has to be quiet and settle while I listen. He gets plenty of leave it practice since there are usually drinks and purses and what not on the floor by people’s chairs. All in all it’s good practice, but no fun for him at all.

Since he was such a good boy and it was too dark to be safe for a walk we went to our little park. We ducked into the park to play fetch and have a quick run, but it turned into a great training session!

We’ve been working on his stays. He’s doing really well, but we still don’t have much duration. We’ve worked more on distance since he needs to have a 20′ stay for the CGC. The stay was pretty much the last thing we needed to get solid and now I think we’re pretty much ready to test the CGC.

I keep getting off the subject. . . back to tonight. We were just playing fetch and goofing off, but I thought I’d see if I could proof his stay with a toy. He does a really good job of sitting and waiting before I throw his toy, so I started really easy with putting him on a sit-stay and set the toy right in front of him then released him with an “okay, get it!” He broke the first time, but after that we kept working the duration of how long he sat and how far and enthusiastically I tossed it. By the time we left he was doing really well.

It’s not like that’s all that impressive, but it reminded me how much I love our impromptu and real life lessons. I tend to get bogged down in the details and neither of us has as much fun. When I keep it light and playful he really does better. He’s always needed shorter sessions than Maizey and tonight reminded me of how much he needs to play to stay in the game.

Granted I’m not looking for obedience level precision, but I still think I have pretty high standards. I get a lot better work out of him when he doesn’t think we’re working. Plus we both just have a lot more fun!

So what about you? What kind of training do you find best for you and your 4legged friend? Do you use more formal sessions or do you enjoy informal training?

For me tonight’s 4legged lesson is: Keep it fun! Training happens all the time and for my boy the more fun the more learning he does. It’s a lesson I suspect applies to all of us!


Relaxation Protocol Day 1 Session 2

One of the many theories about Maizey that was presented to me last week was based on the level of neediness she has for me.

She never wants to walk with anyone else, she needs to crawl into my arms and bury her head in my neck when she’s stressed, and on her worst days will even lay on my feet, moving as I move just to stay touching me. So the theory is that she feels insecure in her own skin. That she doesn’t trust her own decisions and needs to look to me to solve all her problems.

These tendencies could be from a genetic predisposition, I know her mom has a tendency to be anxious. It could also just be her personality, as a puppy she was always very clingy.

The proposed solution was to let Maizey work with other people. Let her walk with someone trustworthy, be handled at a class by someone else while I watch, basically give her some independence.

I can see aspects of this theory that could be true, and some parts that seem not as likely, but it did reveal something about me. I am a total control freak when it comes to my Princessface.

I mean off the charts, micro-managing, don’t even trust Mehusbandy or my mom to take her for a walk, train her or protect her, Control Freak. This level of protectiveness can not be good for any living being, let alone a little dog that is genetically inclined to anxiety in the first place.

So tonight we did an experiment with her RP. Mehusbandy ran through Day One with her while I was in the other room.


What I Noticed
As far as her lack of true relaxation she looks basically the same as yesterday. I’d say she’s still in work mode. No surprise there.

I thought she’d be much more worried about looking for me, but I only noticed two times she actually oriented in the direction I was. One at 1:13 and one at 3:40.

Yesterday she settled on one hip, while today she stayed in an upright down the whole time, but that could be the difference in how my criteria for mat work is to be settled on one hip.

A couple things were not related to relaxing, but very amusing to me. One was how she offers a head bob at :20 seconds. That is her offer when she’s going to do her “be sleepy” trick, laying her chin in the ground. The other is when Mehusbandy takes three steps the right and he ends up walking behind her a little bit and she stays on her mat. I was really proud of her!

And that is today’s 4legged lesson: sometimes the little things count a lot. This is not a new 4legged lesson, but it’s one of my favorites. There is no achievement too small to celebrate with your pups, appreciate them for what they’re good at. They don’t judge us on what we can’t do let’s afford them the same courtesy.


Tuesday Totals and Spring Flowers

It was another banner Walking Challenge week with 1,430 miles as a final total. Great job everyone!

This weeks’ 4legged Walking Challenge lesson comes from Bert and Vicky. Bert explains, “. . . We only got 6 miles this week but we learned a very important lesson. WE had the time to do all 10 miles but if we had done that we wouldn’t have gotten the special one on one time we had with My Vickies mother.

She had seen all the great pictures of where we had been walking and called My Vickie and asked to come along. We couldn’t cover as much ground as we would have if we had gone a long (just me and My Vickie) but we would never have had such pleasant walks and wonderful conversation either.

My vickie and her mom are very close and so this time together was way worth the sacrifice in miles.”

We’ve enjoyed many walks with lots of different friends and though we may not cover as many miles, or do as much training, but we have a wonderful time! I find walking with different 2legged and 4legged friends keeps things fresh and helps get me out there on those days I may not want to as much.

Maybe inviting someone new on one of your walks would be a nice way to keep things fresh for you too.

We have another new member this week. Lydia has a set a goal of seven miles a week with her new 4legged friend Adonis, a Pit Bull St. Bernard cross. I hope walking together will be a good relationship builder for them. Welcome to the Challenge Team Adonis!

Magnus and Maizey want to tell you about our favorite walk from last week. We finally made it into the hills for a hike and it was gorgeous!

"We took our Crazymomlady for a hike to see wildflowers!"

"It was so bright and hot I could hardly keep my eyes open!"

"So we cooled off in the river."

Then we zoooomied for recalls!"

"By the end I was tired and DIRTY!"

"Come back tomorrow to see if my Crazymomlady remembered to pack ME for our trip!"!


What’s Wrong With Thinking?

Does your dog think? To some it may seem their dogs only think of how to get in trouble!

I keep jokingly saying of Magnus, “Why did I teach this dog to think?”

He is not afraid to try anything! He is on top of, under, over, inside, outside, around and all over everything. Apparently teaching him he doesn’t have to be afraid and is capable of anything really just taught him there is nothing off limits to him.

Kitchen table? “What Crazymomlady? I figured out how to get up here, why shouldn’t I do it?”

Bathtub? “Oh you don’t want me to get in the shower while you’re in there? Why not?”

Under the couch? “What do you mean I don’t fit under there anymore? I can just dig a hole in the floor and then I’ll fit!”

You get the idea. This boy has decided he has a brain and he knows how to use it. Well, at least he’s learning how to use it. I hope.

I may find it trying to keep up with this little guy, but most of the time I just love to watch him figure things out. I know he can learn what’s a good choice and what isn’t, we are just in the period of his life where he’s figuring it all out. We’re in the, “manage what I don’t want while he learns to choose what I do want” phase.

It’s actually my favorite thing about clicker training. Every time you mark a behavior you teach a dog what behavior is beneficial for him. You teach him to think, to be discerning and make a choice.

While this is one of my favorite things about positive reinforcement, I know it’s the least favorite thing of more traditional trainers. Today I was looking at a site for a dog training school and the criticism was made that clicker trainers leave the dog to figure things out for themselves, creating stress for the dog.

So thinking is a bad thing?

I don’t get it! This statement was made in the context of using a shock collar to “explain” to the dog that he had no choice.

Now I don’t want to get into a big debate about shock collars. I don’t choose to use that method on my dogs and wouldn’t suggest it for someone else, but while we’re on the subject of choice, I respect that is their choice.

But this statement really bothers me. I mean what’s wrong with thinking anymore?

For me teaching my dogs to make choices that makes them peaceful, productive members of a predominantly human community is inspiring. It’s exciting and joyful. It’s fun and thrilling.

For me to force my dog to make the choice I want, especially by methods that cause pain, is taking choice out of the matter completely. Obey me or be caused pain, is not a choice.

So I ask again, “What’s wrong with thinking?”

I’m afraid as a society we are becoming too non-thinking. We see examples of it everyday and I’ve probably been guilty of it myself, the attitude of “my way or the highway.” I might have what’s the best way for me, but it doesn’t mean it’s the best way for my neighbor, my friends, the stranger reading this, or even for my dogs.

Maizey has been instrumental in teaching me this. My “way” of training was not good for her. I started out using methods I was familiar with at that time and looking back I used some methods I would not use again. She clearly let me know, “This doesn’t work for me. This is not the inforamtion I need to know how to chose what you want.” She let me know it, by never choosing the choice I was trying to explain to her. She showed me I had to look elsewhere, learn more, and most of all think more.

She keeps showing me an amazing ability to figure out how to choose what I feel is a better choice, she shows me a willingness to choose that when it’s in her ability to do so. She shows me she knows how to think, and it’s not stressful for her.

Today brought me a new 4legged lesson:

A thinking dog is a beautiful thing. When my pups use their brains to make choices that benefit our community, that too it’s a beautiful thing. When they make choices that aren’t beneficial I know I need to give them more information to be able to make a better choice.

Sue Ailsby says her training philosophy is, “A philosophy which asks that I do no harm. That I listen to the trainee and respect her opinions. I discovered that listening, respecting, and doing no harm is an AMAZING training philosophy, and an even better training method. When you listen to a dog, the dog listens back!”

I agree and subscribe to that philosophy whole heartedly. It’s my determination to listen to my dogs, give them the information they need to make beneficial choices, to “do no harm”, and always enjoy my thinking 4legged friends!


Here Nor There

We’re still here. I promise!

I’m sure it appears we have abandoned blogging for good, but we’re still our here learning the 4legged lessons each day has for us.

It seems when Real Life strikes it strikes with a vengeance and this time it seems have struck the words right out of me.

Please don’t give up on us, in time I’m sure we will be back to our usual, wordy, long, drawn out, normal posts. . . in time.

Meanwhile please enjoy this hello from the ‘M’ pups: