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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.

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.

Quest Part 1

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Quest

Quest

Weighing less than seven lbs., Quest is my tiniest Min Pin, but don’t let her size fool you.  She is a firecracker that goes off with a “Bang!”  A complicated canine, Quest is an extremely hyper-vigilant, reactive Miniature Pinscher.  My journey with Quest has been challenging, to say the least.  Countless times, I have thrown my hands up in the air as a sign of defeat, but I will never give up trying to reach Quest.  A realist, I know that Quest will never be “bomb proof”, but hope to teach her that the world is not such a scary place.

I recognized that something was different about Quest shortly after acquiring the puppies. Beginning with “sit”, I began teaching basic commands to the pups within the first couple of weeks. While Aspen and Malibu were fast learners, Quest took much longer to grasp concepts, and it was about six weeks before she had a solid sit.

When the pups turned five months old my husband and I began to see signs of reactivity during neighborhood walks.  In a short amount of time, it became too difficult to continue walking all three puppies together. Over time, individual walks, desensitization, and counter conditioning helped reduce Aspen and Malibu’s reactivity to a manageable level. Although identical methods were used with Quest, the results were not the same. The d/cc did nothing to reduce Quest’s reactivity, and she would bark, lunge, and spin whenever she spotted a dog.

There was no denying that I was in over my head. Quest was clearly a special dog with issues that I did not know how to address. By now, the dogs were almost two years old and no progress had been made with Quest.  Beyond frustrated, I continued searching for ways to alleviate the anxiety and fear that accompanied Quest whenever we left the house.

Although I like and respect my dogs’ veterinarian, I decided to take Quest to a holistic vet to see if there was anything he may be able to do to decrease her anxiety.  At our initial appointment, Quest had her first NAET (Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Therapy) session and continued to have this form of treatment at each visit.  While I don’t feel that NAET benefited Quest, my online research showed that others (canine and human) have had improvement in both physical and behavioral conditions after receiving this form of therapy.  Bach Flower therapy was also recommended, so I purchased various combinations of this liquid form of flowers.  A chart illustrates all of the Bach Flowers and the specific behaviors that may be improved through their usage.  Either I ordered the wrong formulas, or this too was another step in the wrong direction.  After several weeks with no improvement, the doctor began Alpha- Stim treatment and let me rent a unit for use at home. Yet again, I was disappointed at the lack of results.  Low Level Laser Therapy was the last holistic treatment that Quest received before I decided that this vet may not be able to “cure” Quest as I had desperately hoped.

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Alpha-Stim Therapy

Quest turned two years old and continued to be a puzzle that I could not solve.  I was excited to learn about a Reactive Rover class that was beginning soon at a dog training facility about an hour away.  Wasting no time, I signed us up immediately.  Every Sunday for eight weeks Quest and I attended class with about five other reactive dogs and their owners.  Desensitization and counter conditioning were the main techniques taught by the instructor and was a reinforcement to the foundation work I had previously done with Quest. Teaching calming behaviors to our dogs, including mat work and Relaxation Protocol, was another aspect of the class.  Being the only small breed dog in the class, Quest was dwarfed by the much larger dogs.  The barks of her classmates matched their sizes, some being ferocious and scary!  This was the first time I appreciated Quest’s less intimidating bark.

Unfortunately, Quest did not do well in her Reactive Rover class.  She barked a lot and truly demonstrated that she was indeed a reactive rover.  Most of the other dogs were not quite as vocal as Quest and seemed to show improvement over the two months.  Again, I was frustrated at our lack of progress. The instructor annoyed me during the last class when he stated, “You must be rewarding Quest’s barking for her behavior to continue without improvement.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but later understood why Quest was not successful in that environment.   She was either on the verge of, or over threshold, the entire time we were at class.  A dog like Quest cannot learn in that kind of environment. I was expecting something from Quest that she was simply unable to give.

For Quest to overcome her issues she needed to be exposed to dogs in an environment that could be tailored to her specific needs.  Further “reactive dog” searches led me to Pat Miller’s website.  I learned that Pat Miller would be conducting a Reactive Rover Camp in late  June at her training center in Hagerstown, MD.  The description of the camp appeared to be exactly what I was looking for in my endeavor to help Quest. First and foremost, Pat’s training methods were based on positive reinforcement. Further, every detail, from arrival to departure, was carefully planned in order to keep the campers (human and canine) as stress free as possible. A required reading list included authors Karen Pryor, Jean Donaldson, Patricia McConnell, Pam Dennison, and, of course, Pat Miller. A diligent student, I completed the homework prior to camp.

Over the course of three days, Pat provided camp participants with invaluable lessons on everything from behavior modification to emergency escape plans. Pat proved to be a top-notch instructor who utilized various formats to educate my fellow campers and me on how to rescue our reactive dogs from the fears that have taken over their lives.

“Don’t give pennies when you need dollar bills”, Pat advised us during one of our camp lectures.  Since hearing that tidbit of information, I have utilized it on a regular basis when training my Min Pin crew. Whenever you “up the ante” with your dog by training in a distracting setting, or even teaching a new trick, you need to reward behavior with treats of the highest value. Therefore, don’t give plain, boring kibble when you need a juicy filet mignon!

Field work was my favorite component of Reactive Rover Camp because it allowed Quest (and me) to practice real-world situations while remaining sub-threshold.  That was a first, for us!  For our final camp activity, Pat had all of the campers and their dogs walk figure eights around an arena.  Quest’s participation in the walk was nothing short of amazing. She remained calm even though we were surrounded by dogs!  I cannot thank Pat enough for designing a program that allows dogs like Quest to achieve success in such a short amount of time.

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Reactive Rover Camp with Pat Miller and staff

As camp concluded, Pat stated, “Quest started on Friday as perhaps the most reactive of the crew, and ended up a superstar!  Attending Pat’s camp not only enhanced my knowledge of d/cc and supplied me with management skills, but also empowered me with a much-needed boost of confidence and gave Quest the chance to shine.  The Reactive Rover Camp experience was the best thing I have done to help Quest thus far in our journey. I returned home from camp with a renewed sense of commitment towards Quest’s road to rehabilitation.

To be continued…

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