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New Beginning

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Despite our disappointing first trial, I did not want to give up my hopes for competing in agility with Malibu. Our previous instructor had not instilled confidence in Team Malibu. On the contrary, she stole our confidence and left me feeling doubtful about our future in the sport that I had quickly grown to love.

After leaving Cindy’s agility class, I decided to register Malibu in a class taught by Ann, Aspen’s instructor. Aspen and Malibu would be in separate classes, not just because Malibu had more experience, but I did not want to deal with the stress of having both dogs in the same class. I also enjoyed the one-on-one time spent with each dog.

It was fantastic to have Malibu in a class with an instructor who was fun and positive. Her style was never intimidating or authoritative and I didn’t have to worry about Malibu being alpha rolled or verbally abused. Unfortunately, I could see that the emotional damage from Cindy’s treatment was already done. Malibu appeared less certain of her abilities and lacked the enthusiasm that she once had while running an agility course. I felt incredibly guilty that I allowed Cindy to use punishment-based methods on my dog.

Managing Malibu during Ann’s class was easier even though she was still dog reactive. I had learned what worked best for Malibu and that was space. Providing Malibu with distance between herself and other dogs allowed her to feel more relaxed and less threatened.

We soon began entering AKC (American Kennel Club) trials. It did not take long to realize that AKC trials were highly charged environments where I could feel the tension in the air.  At trials I could never let my guard down and remained focused on Malibu the entire time. Although the indoor trial locations usually had crating rooms, I crated Malibu in the car while we waited for our run to avoid adding to her stress.

We NQ’d (did not qualify) over and over at our trials despite doing a great job in class. Our Standard runs were mentally hard for Malibu. She would frequently avoid contact obstacles and the chute (AKC no longer uses this piece of equipment for safety reasons).  Our JWW (Jumps with Weaves) runs were not as bad, but Malibu was still not focused enough to show her potential.  I realized that even though Malibu was an agility rock star in our backyard and had solid runs in class, the trial atmosphere added additional layers of stress that may prove to be too much for Malibu.

In February 2011, almost two years after enrolling in our first agility class, Team Malibu earned its first Q (qualifying run) in JWW at Dream Park in South Jersey.  It was an amazing feeling.  This achievement, that at times seemed unattainable, filled me with incredible joy. I was extremely proud of Malibu for her commitment and dedication.

 

I left the trial that day with renewed confidence and excited that we were finally on our way. Team Malibu had jumped a hurdle, both literally and figuratively, and was ready to move forward in this fun and addictive sport.

 

 

Game On

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Malibu’s agility class experience was problematic almost from the very beginning. In my article, Bad Dog, I detailed our first class and instructor. When I look back at that time, I always feel a sense of “if I knew then what I know now”.  As soon as I began to have doubts about Cindy (our instructor), I should have left that class. Instead, I allowed Cindy to bully Malibu for months.

About six months after Malibu began taking agility classes with Cindy, I registered Aspen for her first class at the same facility, but with a different instructor.  Ann was a kind and patient teacher. She did not favor certain dogs or grab dogs and alpha roll them in an attempt to dominate them. I instantly wished that she had been Malibu’s first instructor.

From a very young age Aspen was an ideal agility dog. Fast and fearless, she had no issues with any obstacles on an agility course. “She’s very athletic”, commented Ann as Aspen flew over the jumps with ease.

Unlike Malibu, Aspen was not reactive in class which kept my stress at bay. Although I did not have to micromanage Aspen as I did Malibu, I did have to deal with a different issue. Aspen seemed to enjoy running agility courses, but she also showed great interest in going off sniffing and exploring the building. At times, I became frustrated. Here I had a dog with huge potential, but she would sometimes prefer to sniff. I was familiar with displacement/avoidance behaviors that dogs may exhibit when they are stressed, but it truly appeared that Aspen took great pleasure in the joy of sniffing. Unless I was able to get Aspen to remain focused on agility we weren’t going to get very far.

During this time, Malibu was still taking classes with Cindy. Things had not yet come to a head. By now, Malibu and I had been taking classes for almost a year and thoughts of entering our first competition began to enter my mind. A CPE (Canine Performance Event) trial was coming up in a few months and I decided to enter. About a month before the trial, I severed ties with Cindy. She had finally gone too far and I was finished with her and her delusions of dominance.

The day of the CPE trial arrived and I was both excited and nervous. No longer taking classes with Cindy, I was a bit on edge when I spotted her at the trial. She was not competing, but present to support another student from my former class. We did not speak to one another which was probably for the best.

After the judge’s briefing, I walked the novice agility course with my fellow competitors. It was a simple beginner course that appeared easy since our practice courses were typically on the challenging side. Not wanting to miss my turn, I kept a close eye on the running order as I anxiously waited to run the course with Malibu. Watching the dogs before us run the course I was confident that Malibu could successfully complete the course. Then, something happened that changed my mind. The dog running one or two places ahead of us stopped and urinated on the course. I had a feeling that this would be trouble for us, and it was.

It was finally our turn to enter the ring. Malibu began the course and was doing a fantastic job until she got near the spot where the dog had urinated. (Ring crew had diluted the grassy area with water as is customary when a dog eliminates). Malibu became distracted, and like a magnet was drawn to the area. Ugh! I couldn’t believe it and was so disappointed. Since Malibu stopped running and went “off course” we had officially NQ’d (did not qualify).

Unfortunately, this was to be the first NQ in a long list of agility NQs for Team Malibu. Not a quitter, I knew we needed a fresh start and planned to enroll Malibu in one of Ann’s classes.  Her personality and teaching style would be a better fit for us.

Although our first competition was not a success, I enjoyed the trial atmosphere and looked forward to competing again. But which dog would be ready, Malibu? Aspen? Or, both?

Tiny World

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Having a reactive dog changes your world. It makes your world smaller. Having more than one reactive dog makes it smaller yet. You find yourself living in a tiny world, one in which you are forced to micromanage every trip away from home. Places that are perfect for dog walking have to be avoided, or at the very least, visited during off hours. Even then, a constant state of vigilance is required in order to prevent  encounters with other dogs.

When I first found myself in the situation of raising a trio of reactive dogs, I thought that I could “fix” the problem. Eventually I would find the right veterinarian, trainer, book, or program that would put all of my Min Pins in a row. Well, here I am, nine years later. Not a lot has changed.

After acquiring my Min Pins I truly believed that they would be able to do everything that I did with my first Min Pin. Vacations and trips were always packed full of dog friendly adventures with my beloved Twinkie. I had envisioned similar experiences for these girls and was heartbroken when I realized that was never going to be a reality.

One-dog outings are the best option because even my most reactive dog, Quest, is much more manageable when she is not accompanied by her pack. With full-time jobs, my husband and I usually do not have enough time for anything but group outings. With the exception of neighborhood walks, almost all other trips include everyone. That being the case, we are extremely limited in the places we can go.

 

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Spring 2017 – Enjoying a rare day trip

 

To add to the frustration, one of our most frequent walking areas seems to have outgrown our welcome. A nearby church parking lot, one of our two safe havens, is no longer the dog-free environment that it was for the past few years. More people have discovered it and are enjoying it with their dogs on a regular basis which means that we must remain on high alert whenever we are there.

Not all of my dogs are reactive. Aspen “outgrew” her reactivity years ago when I began using desensitization and counter conditioning. Living in a tiny world, Aspen draws the short stick because she is my one dog who can go anywhere without a problem. Although she is a “barker” at home, her behavior is excellent when out in public and around other dogs. Whenever our walks are cut short or derailed in any way due to the reactive behavior of my other two dogs, I always feel bad for Aspen. She deserves more, and with the exception of rare solo trips, her world is much smaller than it needs to be.

 

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Spring 2017 – Church Walk

 

As disappointing as it is, living in a tiny world is not the worst thing in the world. It took me awhile, but over time I learned to accept the situation. I know that I will always be limited as to where I can take my dogs and I am finally ok with that.

Turbulent Tummies

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Aspen has blood coming out of her butt. I had just come out of a Starbucks about thirty-five minutes from home when my husband called to deliver this alarming news. Trying to remain calm, I told him that I would be there as quickly as possible and to have Aspen ready to go the emergency veterinarian hospital. It was Sunday, of course, and our regular vet was closed. The drive home seemed endless and I tried to avoid imagining worst case scenarios which proved to be a difficult task.

When I arrived home Aspen was no longer bleeding and seemed fine which slightly eased my worries. The hour-long drive to the hospital appeared to be a carefree ride in the car for Aspen as she showed no signs of being ill.

At the hospital Aspen was examined by a vet and a blood sample was taken. In a short amount of time our eighteen month old dog was diagnosed with hemorrhagic gastroenteritis.

Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, also known as HGE, is an acute illness that can become life threatening in a short time if not treated immediately. The chief symptom of HGE is bloody diarrhea, ranging from bright red drops to a “raspberry jam” consistency. Dogs suffering from HGE may also exhibit vomiting, with or without blood, and lethargy.

Although HGE has been diagnosed in large dogs, it is more commonly seen in toy and small breed dogs. Veterinarians are not sure what causes this illness, but theories include bacterial infections, parasites, food allergies, and/or stress.

Fortunately, Aspen’s HGE was caught in a very early stage. Since that first episode, both Aspen and Malibu have had multiple bouts of HGE, with some cases being mild and others more serious. Several cases have required overnight hospitalization, but usually an IV fluid treatment and medication is all that is necessary. Metronidazole is prescribed and given for a week or two.

At some point in time, it was recommended that we change Aspen’s diet to Hill’s Prescription i/d.  This particular food is given to “promote gastrointestinal health”. A couple of years later, after another HGE episode, Aspen was switched to a different Hill’s formula. Believing that her HGE may be caused by a food allergy, Aspen’s vet prescribed z/d, which is hypoallergenic. We gave it a try even though I did not feel that the HGE was caused by Aspen’s diet. If the food Aspen was eating was causing the issue, she would have had symptoms more than a few times a year. Finally, we returned Aspen to her original diet, Wellness.

Despite the clinical symptoms of HGE lasting only a few days, a couple of Aspen’s bouts led to significant weight loss over the months following her illness. The reason for this is unknown.

The last HGE episode that required a visit to the vet for Aspen was about a year ago. The vet recommended that Aspen remain on the Metronidazole indefinitely, but I was not in agreement.

Seeking a second opinion I scheduled an appointment with a veterinarian gastroenterologist. The doctor provided me with additional information about HGE and stated that she does not consider it a disease, but rather a symptom of a disease.  Lab work was ordered to rule out Addison’s Disease and Maldigestion disorder. Test results were negative and Aspen was diagnosed with chronic, intermittent colitis. Like Aspen’s regular vet, the specialist  recommended that an antibiotic be given indefinitely.

Tylan was prescribed rather than Metronidazole with the goal of using the lowest dose needed to avoid symptoms.  In June of 2016 Aspen began taking two Tylan capsules a day. By December of that year she had been weaned to one capsule every third day. That did not last long because Aspen’s symptoms returned and the dosage was increased to one capsule a day. Last month I lowered the dosage to one capsule every other day.

I recently began giving my dogs probiotics with the hopes of preventing future episodes of HGE. Not everyone agrees that probiotics are worth the expense, but some tout the many benefits of giving them to our pets. “Boosting your dog’s immune system is probably the most important role of probiotics”, states Dogs Naturally Magazine. They add that, “A good balance of probiotics helps reduce inflammation throughout your dog’s body and that lowers their susceptibility to chronic disease.”

Although HGE can be a serious and life-threatening illness, I have been fortunate enough to identify its earliest symptoms in my dogs and seek treatment. Not knowing the exact cause of HGE is frustrating. Perhaps there are multiple causes, not just one. The important thing is treating it when it does happen.

Update – August 11, 2017

Quest, my Min Pin who has never required medical treatment for HGE, spent a few days in an animal emergency hospital last week. The diagnosis: hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. What began as gurgle guts and attempts at grass grazing on a Saturday morning transitioned to bloody diarrhea and vomiting in the predawn hours of Sunday. Off to the hospital we went. Initially, Quest was given fluids and sent home with Metronidazole, Panacur, and cans of Hill’s i/d.

By Sunday evening Quest was sicker, having episodes of bloody diarrhea every thirty minutes and exhibiting pain, so we returned to the hospital. Quest was admitted as we tried to figure out what caused her to get sick. She was sicker with HGE than my other two have ever been, and once again, we had no answers.

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Visiting Quest in the hospital

Fortunately, Quest appears to have completely recovered from this mysterious illness. She completed her medications earlier this week and has resumed her regular diet.

With Quest’s recent ordeal, I have more questions about HGE that will go unanswered. In addition, I now firmly believe that genetics plays a role in this illness. Aspen and Malibu have been dealing with HGE for years, but somehow Quest was able to avoid it until now. My husband and I often joke that Quest has a cast-iron stomach, but I guess we will not be saying that anymore because Quest just became a member of the HGE club.

Team USA

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Team USA

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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