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Inside Quest’s Head

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Quest

Ever since Quest was a puppy I have been trying to find out what makes her tick. Long before her first birthday, I knew that Quest was a “special” dog.  Her ever-present anxiety and over-the-top, super-charged reaction to other dogs have been an ongoing issue for the past seven years. Although Quest has been seen by numerous professionals, including two veterinary behaviorists, progress has been frustratingly slow.

Last year Quest was seen by Dr. Karen Overall, who agreed with Dr. Nick Dodman’s diagnosis of social phobia. If you recognize those names, it is because both individuals are well-known and highly regarded in the field of animal behavior. Desperate for answers, I had turned to the experts. I was thrilled when Dr. Dodman provided me with a diagnosis for Quest, but my joy was short-lived when I realized that a diagnosis does not always provide a solution to the problem.

Prior to seeing Dr. Overall, Quest had been prescribed various medications for her fearful behavior. Unfortunately, none of the drugs proved to be beneficial. Dr. Overall suggested Gabapentin for Quest and she has been taking it for a little over a year now. To date, it has helped her more than any of the other previously prescribed medications. Trazodone was added a few months later to maximize the effect of the Gabapentin. Although the medications have decreased Quest’s anxiety, management continues to play a vital role in minimizing Quest’s reactive behavior.

Evidence that the medications are relieving Quest of some of her anxiety have been observed. Quest will now usually leave the front window of our living room, while a dog is passing by, if I offer her a few pieces of kibble. Prior to the medications, filet mignon would not have gotten Quest away from the window.  Spotting a dog, Quest would bark, jump, and bounce off of the window while remaining completely oblivious of my attempts to distract her.

While the medications have also removed Quest from her former hyper vigilant state, neighborhood walks are still challenging. Rather than constantly scanning for threats, Quest now only becomes fixated if she spots a moving object in the distance. If it is a dog, our worst case scenario, I try my best to keep Quest sub threshold. Again, management is critical. If possible, we “get out of dodge”.  Unfortunately, we are not always able to escape and reinforcements must be called in for backup. In this case, a squeeze tube of peanut butter, baby food, or some other delicious concoction.

This video was made last October after Quest had been on her new medication for a few months. You can observe Quest’s reaction to a dog being walked across the street from the sidewalk where we are walking. In this type of situation I would normally turn around and go in the opposite direction, but my goal that day was to see if Quest’s reactivity level had decreased. Although Quest appears to be “all fired up”, her behavior is an improvement over previous episodes. In the past, she would spin in circles once she reached her threshold. While she did bark and lunge in the video, she did not spin. Also noted, but not included in the video, Quest turned away to eat kibble I had tossed on the ground while the other dog was still in view. Yes, I believe that Quest’s behavior shows improvement.

Since Quest was a puppy I have been trying to figure out what is going on inside of her head. Is there a reason why she is so fearful and hyper-reactive? If so, is there something that I can do to help her? I have an idea, but it is a long shot. Maybe, just maybe, I have finally found a way to reach Quest.

Drug Free Doggie

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Aspen

Aspen

It has been just over a year since I brought my Min Pins to veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Karen Overall, for a consultation. The primary reason for our visit was Aspen’s aggressive behavior towards her littermate, Malibu. It had been going on for long enough and I was worried that it may lead to serious consequences.

Aspen was prescribed Fluoxetine, the generic form of Prozac.  After taking it for a few months with no change in behavior, I weaned Aspen off of the Fluoxetine. Dr. Overall suggested we try Trazodone, and I agreed. After a few weeks, I began to think that maybe the Fluoxetine had been working because Aspen’s aggression seemed worse. The Fluoxetine was started again and the Trazodone was continued.  In early winter, Aspen began exhibiting strange behavior upon awakening. She would wake up in a highly anxious state, shaking and appearing to be very frightened. I spoke with Dr. Overall and told her that I believed the Trazodone was causing this behavior. Aspen had never had this problem prior to taking the Trazodone. Aspen was weaned off of the Trazodone and has had no further occurrence of the odd behavior. Perhaps, it was caused by a combination of the Trazodone with the Fluoxetine. The Fluoxetine was continued for about two more months and then stopped because I observed no change in behavior.

Back at square one, I consulted again with Dr. Overall in late winter. Rather than try another medication, she thought a new food may help Aspen and recommended CALM. I was on board with the idea until I researched the manufacturer, Royal Canin. There were too many negative reviews and claims of pets getting sick while eating that brand of food. Dr. Overall had a second choice, Purina’s EN, if I was still willing to change Aspen’s diet. I admitted that I was apprehensive about introducing a new food to Aspen because of her history of HGE (hemorrhagic gastroenteritis).

Anxitane, a supplement that can be purchased over the counter, was the next suggestion. I was familiar with this product because it had been prescribed for Quest a couple of years earlier(with no success). Although Dr. Overall admitted that she didn’t have much confidence that Anxitane would be successful, she still felt that it was worth trying. Unfortunately, Aspen’s tummy did not tolerate the Anxitane, and it was discontinued after two tries.

Aspen is no longer taking any medications. She is still “growly” towards Malibu, but no worse than before. I had really hoped that a medication would “take the edge off” and help Aspen relax, but when it comes to medications, I have learned that I shouldn’t ever set my hopes on any improvement, let alone a miracle cure.

Dr. Overall recently stated that Aspen’s behavior may have neurodevelopmental origins. That is not to say that this is a hopeless case or that exploring other medications would be a futile process, but it definitely makes it more challenging. Finding a promising medication for a dog of Aspen’s size adds to the difficulty, noted Dr. Overall.

For now, I am choosing to keep Aspen free of medication. Fortunately, her issue is not so severe that it is deemed a dire situation by myself, or more importantly, Dr. Overall. I do not need to crate and rotate, use barriers, or any other forms of management to keep my dogs separated.  While Aspen and Malibu are not best buddies, they are able to be in the same room, on the same sofa, and remain civil more often than not. For that, I am very thankful.

My Normal Dog

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Malibu

One-third of my dogs are normal. No, I do not have a houseful of crazy canines, just three. Well, make that two, because I recently learned that one of them is normal. I did not know that Malibu was normal until Dr. Overall, a veterinary behaviorist, informed me of the surprising news. Not only is Malibu normal, she may be “both valuable and not as common as people think”.

After observing my Min Pins for several hours, Dr. Overall confirmed Quest’s prior diagnosis of social phobia. She also had the opportunity to witness Aspen’s aggression towards Malibu, the primary reason for our consultation. Between Quest and Aspen’s theatrics, Malibu presented herself as the most normal dog in the room. Additionally, upon witnessing Malibu’s interactions with Aspen, Dr. Overall deemed Malibu to be a “contextually appropriate dog who does a very good job of both reading signals and signaling appropriately.” Evidently, those abilities do not come naturally to all dogs.

Considering the fact that I had previously believed myself to be the pet parent of a three pack of crazy, I should have felt ecstatic. But instead of embracing this unexpected news, I focused on the reality of the situation. Malibu may appear normal in one capacity, but in many other ways she is definitely on the far side of normal. Malibu has her own issues that have plagued her from puppyhood. She can be quite reactive in certain situations and is the most timid of my three Min Pins.

In fact, if you put my dogs in a line-up, I am not so sure that impartial observers would pick Malibu as the normal dog. They would not select Quest for obvious reasons, but they may believe that Aspen is the closest to normal out of the pack. Aside from her aggression towards Malibu, Aspen is pretty close to perfect.  Sure, she has a penchant for barking sometimes, but it is usually manageable. Aspen is the most social of the three and adapts to new environments with ease.

A realist, I know that my Min Pins may never be normal dogs and that is something that I have learned to accept. That does not mean that I have given up hope of rehabilitating my crew. My goals still include reducing my Min Pins’ reactivity, alleviating Quest’s fearfulness, and curbing Aspen’s aggression towards Malibu.

Through a Dog’s Eyes

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Christmas is a magical time of the year.  The sights, sounds, and fragrances of the holiday envelop us in a warm embrace, but are probably quite confusing to our canine companions.  If my Min Pins could voice their questions, here are a few they might ask. “Why is there a tree in our house?”, “Why am I being dressed in silly costumes?”, “Why is Mom taking my picture while I wear these silly antlers on my head when it is obvious that I am fooling no one into thinking that I am a reindeer?”, “Why are sirens blaring in the neighborhood while a chubby man in a red suit waves from a fire truck?”

On a recent neighborhood walk, a strange scene appeared before two of my Min Pins and I could imagine the thoughts that must have raced through their heads as they tried to figure out a perplexing mystery.

I adore how Aspen glances back at me as if to say, “Do you see what I see?” The girls were definitely more curious than reactive while staring at the holiday figures displayed in the yard.

They may have been wondering, “Why are dogs standing motionless in a front yard and not trying to detach themselves from the sleigh to which they are harnessed?”, “Why can’t I smell those dogs?”, “Why aren’t they looking at me?”, “They certainly look like dogs, so why aren’t they acting like dogs?”

A special thanks to Malibu for sparking the desire to write this post. She was walked first and had the same reaction to the lawn ornaments, but I did not have my camera with me.  Hoping to capture a moment of wonder, I brought it with me while walking Aspen and Quest. Not only did I succeed, but for just a few seconds, I saw Christmas through a dog’s eyes.

 

Party Time

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Happy Birthday to my Min Pins!

 

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Waiting for Cake

 

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Happy 7th Birthday – Aspen, Malibu, & Quest

 

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QUEST

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ASPEN

 

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MALIBU

 

All paws up to The Barkery, in Tewksbury, MA.  According to the girls, their doggie birthday cake was delicious!

 

 

Oh What Fun

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Every December, a canine holiday photo shoot is at the top of my to-do list. The goal is always the same – to capture the perfect image for our Christmas card. My Min Pins are troopers, holding their positions while I make silly noises that encourage the trio to look directly at the camera.

Since I used individual shots of the girls for last year’s card, I wanted a group picture this year. Santa suits, reindeer antlers, and other festive apparel has been worn in past years, so this year the girls wore new pajamas from Auntie Sheila.

The shoot went well and the crew was eager to pose for pictures. It probably helped that I had yummy treats on hand to dole out as needed. A couple of minor issues cropped up, but were easily managed.

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Malibu refused to look at the camera for a few minutes because that would require getting too close for comfort to Aspen. Always ready to deflect potential aggression from her littermate, Malibu has mastered the art of using non-threatening body language to appease Aspen, thereby avoiding a confrontation. Fortunately, Aspen interpreted Malibu’s calming signals and behaved herself during the session.

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Wanting to try something new and creative, I wrapped some holiday lights around the girls. At first, Quest wanted nothing to do with this crazy idea and removed herself from the group.  Once she realized that the lights were nothing to fear, she returned to her center position.

Almost ninety images were taken, and the very first one is the picture I selected for our 2014 holiday card!

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Happy Holidays!

Leave it to a Min Pin

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Miniature Pinschers are notorious for their Houdini-like escape skills and last week a fine example of this talent was televised for the world to see. A Min Pin named Timmy stole the hearts of viewers during the National Dog Show which aired on Thanksgiving. The tiny dog did not win the competition, but created more media buzz than Nathan, a Bloodhound, who was named Best in Show.

During the Toy Group segment of the competition, Timmy slipped off of his lead and ran to the center of the ring while another dog in his group was being gaited. “An intruder has crossed the ring”, chuckled one of the commentators who appeared to take great delight in this unexpected event. The handler of Timmy was less than thrilled as she walked across the ring, scooped up the naughty dog, and carried him away.  As the horrified handler left the ring with Timmy secured in her arms, a commentator made a spot on remark, “Living with a Miniature Pinscher is comparable to living with a two-year old child”.  Just to remind you, I have three of these dogs!

Pinscher Pinches Spotlight at National Dog Show

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