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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

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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