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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.

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.

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