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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

Something Wicked This Way Comes

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Halloween is almost here and something wicked this way comes.  The cackling of a witch is not what I hear, but a much more menacing sound. It is the growl of a Min Pin.

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Aspen

Some may think it is cute when a tiny dog growls, but I can assure you that it is not. For it is often a precursor to more aggressive behavior.  A growl was the first sign of inter-dog aggression in our home.  I cannot remember exactly when I first heard this sound, but it was around the time of the pups’ first birthday.  Aspen would growl at Malibu for no apparent reason. Sometimes it appeared to be resource guarding of toys or preferred seating, but other times it seemed totally random.

Playful pups, or a warning of potential problems?

At three months – Playful pups, or a preview of future problems?

For the first few years, that is all it was, growling. Over time, Aspen’s growling transitioned to lunging and pouncing on Malibu. Trying to protect herself from an attack, Malibu will shake Aspen off of her back. Then the two of them will be standing on their hind legs in a face-to-face scuffle.  The entire episode, from start to finish, lasts less than ten seconds. Fortunately, this scenario is not a regular occurrence, and I am hoping that it never becomes one.

When Aspen began showing aggression towards Malibu, unsolicited advice given to me early on with the pups began creeping back into my thoughts. Seeking information about mouthy puppies, I had visited several online forums shortly after bringing the pups home. The mouthing was not addressed at all; instead I was warned about aggression among female littermates and encouraged to rehome two of the puppies. I was told that female littermates have a tendency to fight, and that those fights can be brutal, even deadly.

Physically, none of my Min Pins have been injured thus far and I would prefer to keep it that way. I admit that I should have sought help much sooner, but as we all know, hindsight is twenty-twenty. Had I known a growl would lead to more…

Desperate for advice on inter-dog aggression, I scheduled an appointment with a vet behaviorist.  I decided against returning to Tufts University, where I had taken Quest for her hyper-reactivity, when I learned that another highly-regarded behaviorist was only a couple of hours away.

In early summer of 2014, I took my entire crew to meet with veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Karen Overall. My Min Pins were six years old at the time of our visit.  Prior to our consultation, I was required to complete a lengthy survey and submit videos of our home environment, daily routines, and, if possible, the problem behavior.  A clear representation of Aspen’s behavior towards Malibu was captured, providing Dr. Overall with solid evidence of the drama that unfolds inside of our home.

We spent several hours with Dr. Overall discussing Aspen’s aggression towards Malibu, Quest’s previous diagnosis of social phobia, as well as the general reactive behavior of our Min Pins. While we were with Dr. Overall, Quest had her anxiety on full-display and Aspen picked a fight with Malibu. Both events provided Dr. Overall with a front-row seat to the primary issues in which I have been struggling to find solutions. As for Aspen’s outburst, Dr. Overall stated, “Aspen is pretty serious in her threats, but is not as overly aggressive as she could be – she is so explosive that we are lucky she doesn’t bite.”

Dr. Overall relieved me when she added, “Since Aspen’s behavior has remained the same over the past few years, and not escalated to more serious aggression, it most likely will not worsen over time.”  Of course, there are no certainties, but I did feel better after hearing Dr. Overall’s view on future episodes of inter-dog aggression in our home.

I was not surprised that Dr. Overall felt that both Aspen and Quest would benefit from medication. Gabapentin was prescribed for Quest and Fluoxetine for Aspen.  Several adjustments have been made over the last couple of months. Trazodone was added for Quest and seems to be helping her. I will update Quest’s progress in a future post.

After being on the Fluoxetine for a little over two months, I weaned Aspen off when I saw no improvement in her behavior. She then began taking Trazodone which helped less, making me realize that the Fluoxetine may have been working. Aspen is now taking both Fluoxetine and Trazodone. It is too soon to know if this combination of drugs will help, but I have learned to take things one day at a time.

Shortly after our consultation, I received a detailed plan that included a diagnostic summary for each dog, medication information, highlights of our discussions, protocols for behavior modification and relaxation, and much more. This plan has become my handbook as it is now an essential component in the rehabilitation of my dogs.  Dr. Overall continues to oversee the well-being of my dogs. No drug or dosage change is made without her guidance.  Dr. Overall also views the videos that I send and responds promptly with a detailed behavioral analysis. This feedback helps keep my dogs’ progress on track and headed in the right direction.

Protocols for deference, breathing and relaxation, programs created by Dr. Overall, were included in the plan for my three dogs. The goal of these protocols is to create calmer, more relaxed dogs by teaching them that they have some control over their reactivity.  Other protocols focus on inter-dog aggression, “special-needs” pets and behavioral medication. It has not been easy fitting these programs into an already hectic schedule, but I am in it for the long haul.  These programs will be practiced with my Min Pins for years to come.

Dealing with my crew’s reactive behavior has been a walk in the park compared to handling inter-dog aggression in our home. To a degree, reactivity can be managed by avoiding certain places or situations. Further, through various channels, I have learned how to handle my reactive dogs. It continues to be challenging, but I have gotten a lot of hands-on experience over the past few years.

Inter-dog aggression is a complicated problem with no easy answers or quick fixes. I cannot explain why Aspen is aggressive towards Malibu, and will probably never know the cause of her behavior.  Dr. Overall feels that it may be genetic or due to environmental stress that was placed on the litter in their first few weeks of life.

When I look at Aspen, I don’t see a “bad” dog.  I see a sweet, affectionate dog who, for lack of a better expression, is unbalanced in some capacity through no fault of her own.  I remain hopeful that medication will help decrease, or even eliminate, Aspen’s aggression towards Malibu.  Whatever the outcome, I am dedicated to helping Aspen learn how to control her impulses and  confrontational behavior.

Almost 5 yrs. old - Not snuggling anymore, but willing to sit close together.

Almost 5 yrs. old – Not snuggling anymore, but willing to sit close together.

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At three months – I loved how the crew would snuggle together as only puppies do.

Quest Part 2

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Reactive Rover Camp with Pat Miller & staff

After spending three days at Pat Miller’s Reactive Rover Camp in Maryland, I returned home with Quest feeling more hopeful about her rehabilitation than ever before.  Our camp experience had provided me with an invaluable opportunity to observe Quest as she remained calm near other dogs for the first time in her life.

But home is nothing like the safe haven of Peaceable Paws, and I found it impossible to find a place free of stimulating distractions in which to practice our recently honed skills. At camp, Quest was destined for success due to the tightly controlled environment that enabled her to remain below threshold.  Unable to recreate the camp setting, my hope for Quest’s progress soon faded.

From post-camp updates, I learned that two fellow camp participants not only lived close enough to practice together, but had access to a secure location in which to meet. I posted requests to see if any past campers lived even remotely in my area, but none did. Quest was able to make amazing progress at camp in three days, and I cannot even imagine how she might be today if we were able to work with Pat Miller on a regular basis or schedule set-ups with other campers.

Six weeks after Reactive Rover Camp, I scheduled an appointment for Quest with the holistic veterinarian.  I was ready to see if medication could help reduce Quest’s reactivity. Medicating Quest was the last thing I wanted to do, but knew it may be necessary to help her focus and learn new behaviors. At this point, I felt like we had nothing to lose and everything to gain. After another NAET session with the holistic vet, Paxil was prescribed for Quest.

Apprehensive about giving Quest anti-anxiety drugs, I emailed Pat Miller to hear her thoughts on this type of canine medication.  She stated that she would absolutely use meds with her pets if necessary.  Pat’s opinion was important to me, but so was that of a veterinary behaviorist. On a whim, I emailed Dr. Nicholas Dodman of Tufts University, providing him with a brief overview of Quest’s behavioral history and inquiring about the safety of Paxil. I was surprised when he returned my email in less than five minutes, assuring me that the medication and dosage were fine for Quest.

Quest began taking the medication and I patiently waited to see any sign of improvement. I was told that it may take up to eight weeks before I noticed anything. Well, that time went by with no change in behavior. The doctor prescribed a new medication. Another waiting period, with no improvement. For about a year, different drugs and dosages were tried, but none reduced Quest’s reactivity.

By now, Quest was about three and a half years old.  I decided it was time for her to see a veterinary behaviorist.  In August of 2011, Quest and I flew to Boston and met with Dr. Dodman at the Foster Hospital for Small Animals on the campus of Tufts University. After a lengthy consultation, I was told that Quest suffers from social phobia.  Finally, a diagnosis!

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Quest with Dr. Dodman

Medication was prescribed and I was encouraged to continue with our current behavior modification plan. In addition, Dr. Dodman felt that Quest should be walked with a Gentle Leader because it would give me greater control of her during episodes of reactivity.  Wearing a Gentle Leader was a concept that Quest was familiar with and dreaded. I had used it on and off with her and removed it permanently while attending Reactive Rover Camp.  At camp, we were given the assignment to list everything that stresses our dogs and  avoid those things if possible. The Gentle Leader was included at the top of my list for Quest. Wanting to follow Dr. Dodman’s advice, the Gentle Leader was re-introduced to Quest.  Keeping Quest from lunging and spinning is much easier while she is wearing the Gentle Leader, but I hate seeing her so miserable when it is secured on her face.

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Quest is not a fan of the Gentle Leader.

Unfortunately, the medication prescribed by Dr. Dodman was another shot in the dark. As with the holistic vet, Dr. Dodman tried several different combinations of meds, but no improvement was observed.  Quest turned four and was as reactive as ever.  Were we ever going to find something that would ease her fear and anxiety?

In the spring of 2012, Quest and I returned to Boston for another meeting with Dr. Dodman. After reviewing the drugs that had been tried with Quest, Dr. Dodman admitted that her lack of response to the meds was atypical. Over the next few months we tried a few other medications, with no luck.  In the fall, as Quest approached her fifth birthday, I made the decision to wean her from medication. Since she began taking it, at no point had I observed any improvement. Back at square one, the disappointment and frustration I felt was overwhelming.

Quest’s extreme reactivity was not the only issue that I had been dealing with for the past few years. Trouble had been brewing in our home for some time and reached a boiling point.  Quest’s behavior became less of a priority as my worry and concern shifted to a more serious problem.  I had always felt that Quest’s behavior was the biggest challenge I would face with my Min Pin crew, but I was wrong.

 

Note: I will be updating this post with the names of all medications that were prescribed for Quest.

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