Home

Inside Quest’s Head

Leave a comment

image

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.

Quest Part 2

Leave a comment

 

rr camp

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!

DSCN0551

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.

DSCN1762

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.

%d bloggers like this: