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Let the Games Begin

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Miniature Pinschers are well-known for their high energy, perpetually-in-motion personalities, and my girls are no exception. When my crew was about six months old I realized that I needed to find activities that cater to their active lifestyle. Paging through a dog catalog, I spotted an agility starter kit that included a tunnel, bar jump, and some weave poles. It looked interesting and fun so I ordered it. Maybe it would provide an outlet for my girls’ boundless energy.

Since it was summertime I was home every day and the girls and I would spend most of our time in the backyard. As soon as the agility set arrived I wasted no time setting up the equipment. No coaxing or training was needed for the tunnel. What puppy doesn’t love running through a tunnel?

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Aspen & Malibu

It was no surprise that the girls were good at clearing the bar jump that came with the set. Min Pins are natural jumpers and have the ability to leap incredibly high.  Being careful and using good judgement when encouraging my girls to jump over the bar, I kept it very close to the ground. After all, they were still puppies.

The weave poles were the only part of the set that I would need to teach. There are various ways to teach weave poles, but I was new to this sport and not familiar with any specific techniques. I used my own approach, one I call the Cheerio method. I taught my girls how to weave by luring them in and out of the poles with Cheerios. The girls picked up this new skill quickly and before long they were weaving through the six poles without needing the lure of Cheerios.

The following spring I was curious to see if there were any agility classes nearby. The closest facility was about forty-five minutes away. I wished it were closer, but decided to register for a beginner class anyway. Which Min Pin would be enrolled? Quest was too reactive to be in a class setting with other dogs and Aspen had recently experienced a health issue, so Malibu was the lucky dog.

I was excited to attend the first class and hoped that Malibu would not be reactive towards the other dogs. There were about five dogs in the class, including Malibu. The instructor began class with some targeting and focusing activities. I wanted to begin working on the agility equipment, but realized that I needed to be patient.

For the most part, Malibu was fine with the other dogs which was a huge relief. As long as I kept some distance between her and the other dogs, she did not seem to be stressed by the environment. I was disappointed when our time was up and looked forward to the next class.

That first class was the beginning of Malibu’s agility “career”. We have had ups and downs and made lifelong friendships with other agility enthusiasts that we have met along the way.

 

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Malibu and her best agility buddy, Charlie

 

 

 

 

Rule Breaker

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There are those that follow rules and those who break them. Malibu seems to be saying, “I’m next, Quest. Get on line behind me!”

Back to the Drawing Board

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Quest

 

A few months ago I consulted with Lydia Hiby, an animal communicator, with the hopes of getting some long-awaited answers about Quest’s hyper-reactive behavior. Unfortunately, I am no closer to understanding Quest than I was before. I had truly hoped that Ms. Hiby would provide me with significant information, the missing puzzle piece, that would shed light on Quest’s behavior, but that did not happen.

Ms. Hiby’s recommendation of herbal remedies for Quest’s issues was something that I had not anticipated, but worthy of consideration. I had some knowledge of valerian from my ongoing research about canine anxiety, but was unfamiliar with milk thistle. I wasted no time investigating that particular herb.

According to the Whole Dog Journal, milk thistle is “best reserved as a treatment for existing liver disease, rather than being used by itself in a healthy dog.” The article goes on to state that long-term ingestion of very high doses will eventually suppress liver function. Well, that is problematic. First, I do not believe that Quest has liver disease. Although Ms. Hiby felt that Quest’s liver is “out of balance”, that does not mean that Quest has anything physically wrong with her liver. With no symptoms, I cannot bring myself to schedule a veterinarian appointment for Quest and ask the doctor to check Quest’s liver based on an animal communicator’s intuition. Maybe I am more of a skeptic than I thought. Secondly, if I decided to have an open mind and give the milk thistle a try, without a veterinarian on board I would have no way of knowing the proper dosage to give a 6 lb. dog. Milk thistle was officially off the table.

As for the valerian, I wanted to check with Quest’s veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Overall,  and get her opinion. Since Quest was currently taking Gabapentin I knew that care must be used when combining herbal treatments with prescription medications. Dr. Overall informed me that she used to recommend valerian for anxious dogs years ago before today’s commonly used drugs were affordable, but she never saw the effect that is observed with pharmaceuticals. She added that a drawback to using herbal remedies, like valerian, is that we don’t know how much of the main ingredient is in any of these compounds. So, valerian was off the table, too.

Although I did not feel that it was safe to follow Lydia’s advice about the homeopathic remedies, my conversation with her did prompt me to seek a change in Quest’s current medication.  After consulting with Dr. Overall, Quest was weaned off of the Gabapentin and began Clomicalm(clomipramine). Clomicalm, like many pet medications, was adapted from a human drug. It is categorized as an SSRI(selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), and similar to the human anti-depressant, Prozac.

Quest was on the Clomicalm for a couple of months and exhibited the same level of anxiety that has always been present. Dr. Overall recommended increasing the dosage, but there was a conflict. Quest was due for a dental cleaning which required anesthesia. Quest’s regular veterinarian was not comfortable performing the procedure while Quest was taking Clomicalm, even though Dr. Overall gave her approval. With safety being my top concern, I weaned Quest off of the Clomicalm so that she could have the dental cleaning.

Quest has been drug free for over three months now. I decided to take a “wait and see” approach before beginning the Clomicalm again with the recommended dosage increase if needed, or asking about trying a different drug. Lately, I have heard Quest gritting her teeth, a sound I have not heard in a while, and have also noticed a bit more nibbling on her front legs. Sigh.

It would be so much easier to make a decision if Quest could speak. I would ask her, “How is your anxiety?” “Was it better when you were taking medication?” “Which medication helped you the most?” “Please tell me what I should do.” Since Quest is unable to answer those questions it is up to me, and me alone, to decide how to proceed.

Communicating with Canines

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Quest – November 2015

It’s hard for me to believe, but my girls are fast approaching their eighth birthday. Aspen has made the most progress over the years, but maybe she was the least reactive to begin with. She still barks a lot, but I am able to manage that behavior. Malibu is reactive to other dogs if they are too close, but her reactivity has also improved since puppyhood.

Quest is my Min Pin who I continue to worry about. Although she has been seen by two of the top rated veterinary behaviorists in the country, her issues are still present. Diagnosed with social phobia, numerous medications have been prescribed for Quest over the past six years, but they have yielded limited success. Management has been crucial in helping Quest remain sub threshold. Her latest regimen of Gabapentin and Trazodone was given for a little over a year. Although progress was observed, I did not feel that it was enough to remain on the medication. Quest has been nibbling patches of fur off of her front legs which can be indicative of anxiety.  If the medication was truly beneficial, Quest would not be exhibiting that behavior. In addition, Quest continues to have “meltdowns” on a regular basis.

Thinking “outside of the box”, I decided to explore the idea of animal communication. Feeling like I had nothing to lose, I began researching individuals who claim to have the ability to “communicate” with your pet via a telephone consultation. After learning about this concept, I was more optimistic than skeptical, and eager to proceed with a fresh approach.

If you research the topic of animal communicators, a handful of names rise to the top. Based on client reviews, I selected Lydia Hiby to communicate with Quest. Her fee was $40 for a fifteen minute phone consultation. Once the appointment was scheduled, I prepared my questions and installed an iPad app that would record the conversation. Full of anticipation, I anxiously waited to speak with Ms. Hiby. Long-awaited answers may be just a phone call away. Finally, it was time to dial her number.

After brief introductions, Lydia started the conversation by asking about Quest’s breed and color. Lydia then began to describe Quest’s “Bohemian”(yes, she used that word)personality. When she stated that Quest is a calm dog who prefers a laid-back lifestyle, I began to think that this whole animal communication idea may not have been the best investment of money. Fortunately, as our discussion proceeded, most of my skepticism was brushed aside.

Once Lydia’s monologue about Quest was finished, I began to ask my burning questions. First and foremost, “Why is Quest so reactive towards dogs?” Of course, this question is in complete opposition to Lydia’s belief that Quest is a peace loving, tranquil canine. Lydia stated that Quest’s “defensive” behavior may have been learned from her mother. This response makes sense because when Quest and her littermates were about a week old, their mother’s leg was broken in a fall. I often wondered if this event had any significance towards my crew’s reactive behavior.

I also asked Lydia if she knew why the medications that we have tried with Quest have not been successful. She responded that if Quest was truly anxiety ridden, one of the medications should have helped her. Since the medications have had limited success, Lydia felt that the issue is not brain-related. Instead, Lydia felt that Quest’s liver is out of balance. This weakness causes Quest to go from 0-60, from a mellow dog to a reactive one, in the blink of an eye.

While a few other topics were discussed, Quest’s reactivity was the focus of our conversation. Lydia provided me with the names of two remedies that may benefit Quest. She suggested valerian for relaxation and milk thistle to balance Quest’s liver.

Now that I have had time to reflect on my conversation with Lydia, do I feel that it was beneficial? Honestly, I don’t know. Time will tell, I suppose. I will be thrilled if Lydia’s suggestions help Quest become a less anxious dog. What I do know is that I do not want to look back and have any regrets about things that I failed to try. Skeptics may say that animal communicators and psychics are cons who read you like a book and tell you what you want to hear. But what if they really do have the gift of being able to communicate with your pet. Isn’t it worth a phone call? More

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.

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