Holy moly, I don’t want to tell my husband anything about this! We made it through our Veterinarian Behaviorist appointment last week and he wasn’t able to make it. I had a very dear friend who owns a dog-training business, come with me. She was my second set of ears.
I did have some homework before the appointment. I had paperwork to fill out regarding Jedi’s history. They asked me to have all of his medical records sent to them and to bring video of Jedi reacting. Well, wasn’t able to get video of Jedi reacting. My friend was surprised that I had procrastinated (we both like to be very prepared), but she agreed the night before to arrive early to help me record it. Too much going on the last few weeks, I just couldn’t get it done.
I had decided today was going to be different though. I was not worried about getting the video, how we would get in the place or what was going to happen. I feel like that adds to our team’s stress level. No, today, we were winging it! Here we go!!
When we arrived, there were dogs everywhere. I kept Jedi in a down stay on the back seat. The office is attached to a regular vet clinic, so teams were coming in and out of the building. We parked as far away as we could. I saw my friend and waived to her. I got in the back seat with Jedi for a minute, until she came over. I got out of the car and called Jedi out to greet my friend. He hesitates often when I ask him to get out of the car for me, even if I have steak. If there is a reward like getting to see an awesome person, he hops right out. Thanks dude!
We headed toward a grassy area to potty Jedi, we ducked behind two large industrial garbage bins. When we were ready to shoot some video, all of the dogs disappeared! I swear we were on candid camera. We stood around for a while; we saw lots of cars, a runner and a bicycle. Jedi just ignored them. Good boy!!
Soon, it was time for me to check-in. No video, so I got Jedi in the car. I sat in the back seat with him, while I detached his leash from his harness. Right on cue, a dog walks behind the car. It surprised us all. Jedi with his insane hearing noticed it first. He came flying right at my head, his face bouncing off of mine. That was best spot to get a good view of the strange dog. I was able to move out of his way, without incident. Winging it right…heh, heh, that was a close one. My friend still had my phone and luckily caught his response.
After the dog passed out of sight and Jedi was calming down, I gently took his collar. I slowly moved him down on the seat and quietly asked him to stay. I gave him lots of treats; we played touch, while my friend went to check in for us. I threw out a few calming signals and he finally let out a big old sigh. Let it go buddy. We didn’t have to wait too long, before someone came out to get us.
Jedi flew out of the car and tried to pull me into the building. I made him stay with me, not in a strict heel position; I just wanted him to remain connected with me. We made it to the room, without incident. Jedi was not surprisingly, very stressed. He was pacing, going to person to person, breathing fast, was flashing whale eyes, alerted to all movement and every little noise. I asked if I should put him in a down stay, to help him calm down. The behaviorist just wanted me to let him explore. Now, I believe she wanted to observe his natural behaviors in a new situation.
The behaviorist asked all about Jedi’s history. We spent a lot of time going over her list of stress signals. When and in what situations did he show these signs? Boy, did I have much to say about everything on the list. She got down to the goals section. I had a few things written down for us. She approached the subject very carefully. I laughed and told her, those are actually just dreams, not goals. We discussed the idea that a huge part of living with a reactive dog, is doing what the dog needs you to do.
She explained where she was coming from. When she sees what people have written under goals, she usually has to have a long discussion about giving them up and doing what is best for your dog. While for me, letting go of those goals, hopes and dreams was quite a journey. I assured her not to worry; I had released all of my expectations for Jedi.
Now she wanted to see how I was handling him when he reacted. We went into a nearby room. They had various real-life looking stuffed dogs stored in there. Jedi and I hid behind a barrier, while they setup a scenario. I must say we are professionals at hiding behind stuff.
Flashback: One day we were trapped at a park, I had both dogs. Our house was for sale and someone had booked a showing. It was fairly early in the morning on a weekday; I thought we would be safe. There were suddenly dogs in every direction. I noticed there were some houses backed up to the park, with some trees between them and the park. I tried to get behind the trees, to sneak back to our car. There was no way through! We went back to where we got in. Every time it looked like the coast was clear, another dog came out of nowhere and back behind the trees we went.
I thought we might die behind these trees, suddenly someone yelled something to us from her deck. I apologized and explained why it looked like we were playing Charlie’s Angels in her back yard. She was very nice and let us continue to sneak around in there. Of course, I made this into a game for my dogs, hiding treats all about and having them do tricks for treats. Yes, we are VERY good at hiding.
The life-like stuffed dog was in place, facing us and leashed to the assistant. We moved from behind our hiding spot. Jedi saw the stuffed dog and on cue, started to go reactive! My timing was bad on that pass, but I did get him right back. This was probably because the dog wasn’t moving, why do things have to move anyway, right? It was still too much, so we hid again. Hiding score = 100%. We are awesome!!
To reduce the pressure, we turned the dog so it was facing away from us and toward the handler. Out we came, for another pass and Jedi was stellar! He was showing whale eyes, as he tried to peek over there, but didn’t leave the food and stayed with me. She wanted to make sure we were making eye contact, so I hid the treats behind my back. Same results, yes! I was able to get him back pretty easily. I made sure I was the shiny object in the room. Like always, we had fun with it. Of course, he figured out right away that the stuffed dog wasn’t trying to stare at us or come over. It wasn’t much of a threat. The behaviorist liked what she saw, so we headed back to the first room to finish up.
When we returned, she mentioned medication would be a good option for him. It might help reduce his anxiety. At that point, I looked her straight in the eye and asked if she thought it would be best for Jedi to just stay at home for the rest of his life. I told her, I would do it, no questions asked. There can be so many emotional parts of this journey that require a good hard look. She said, let’s hold off on that for now. She asked a few more questions and proclaimed, “You are the perfect owner for Jedi. Thank goodness you have each other.“
I was taken aback. I had no idea she was looking at it from that angle. Of course we are prefect for each other, why wouldn’t we be. It shook me for a second, but I am sure she has to tell people this dog and human combination, might not be a good fit.
It was music to my ears to hear her say that, it has been a long, long journey for us. No worries, no tears were shed. Even though my real intent for this high drive and energy dog was dog sports. All kinds of dog sports! He was a good match for me; he was able to keep up with me. He loved training; I always make training feel like a game for us. There were days, when I had to really enforce that off switch. I had to make him be still and relax. It never came easy for him. I will give it up for him.
The last thing was blood work. It was optional, but I decided to go ahead and do it, just to rule out thyroid. He had never been checked. I got the results and everything is normal.
So, what did the behaviorist tell us? She told me the treatment summary plan would be very short. She said keep doing what you are doing (we are using the CARE Program for Reactive Dogs) and we will put him on medication (Yes, mentor, you were right from the very beginning). She also wanted us to continue to strengthen our watch and hand touch commands.
Oh, how I didn’t want to tell my husband these words. He wouldn’t be very thrilled, because of the pile of money that it took to get this result. I am taking something different from this experience. I honestly figured that is what we might hear. I figured meds were our next move, but I want to have someone experienced facilitating his medication. I know some meds make things worse and I wasn’t prepared to play around with that.
I don’t regret spending the money, I will use it as piece of mind that we are right for each other and we are heading down the right path. For some it takes many experiences to solidify this in our own heads, I personally have struggled with believing in myself in the past. I really felt like I have worked on that a ton, since I started blogging.
Jedi may never be a predictable dog. He may never do well in group classes. That is ok, this is the dog sitting in front of me at this moment. He does love to work, that IS SO JEDI! As soon as he is settled on his medication, we will give K9 Nose Work a try. There is a wonderful trainer in the city, who was recommend by the behaviorist. She works with reactive dog teams.
Nose work is a team sport, with no other dogs in the ring. Many people have had success in helping their reactive dogs, through nose work. One of my goals remains to teach a class for reactive dog teams. One that utilizes different dog sports, in a controlled environment. I truly believe this is a perfect way to help each team create a solid working relationship with their dogs. I believe there is a great need for this.
We started Jedi on 10mg of fluoxetine for 1 week. Since he tolerated it, we just moved him up to 20 mg per day. I was a little concerned, because he has a very sensitive stomach. A few days after we moved up to 20mg, he did start to refuse his food occasionally. I am going to buy some yummy Honest Kitchen mix-ins for him. They helped when we first moved and he had a hard time eating.
Here are just a couple of observations we have made so far. Jedi has been seeking extra attention from both my husband and me. He may have trained me last night to sleep on the floor with him for the rest of his life. I occasionally lie on the floor with him at night, because it is the only way to get him to go to sleep, if his stomach is upset. My husband thinks he just wanted some extra attention last night and I played right into it. Dang it!! I am so gullible.
Kiska our almost 7-year-old Akita girl likes to alert us when she thinks something is amiss. She heads for the window and Jedi almost always beats her to it! Well, he has actually ignored her a few times and remained peacefully laying in his spot. Typically, he never misses a beat on that one…ever!
I also noticed the other day how focused he is on her when that happens. If I call him, he looks to me and back to her a few times, before he comes to me. I decided to work on that. Now if he gets up, I call him over to play a game of touch with me.
The behaviorist changed our game up a bit. Now, I have cheese in my closed fist when I present my hand. As soon as he touches my hand, I open it and he gets the reward. By having the treat right in your hand, he gets the reward very quickly. It builds the behavior faster, without any timing issues. He seems to play with a little more pizzazz, if that is even possible for an over the top drive dog.
He is also showing a few more very small signs of anxiety. As I am typing this, he heard a truck beeping, it sounds like it is backing up and then going forward again. It has been happening for about 5 minutes. He is walking in circles around my chair. Out comes the cheese, we played another game of touch. He is relaxed and is now lying at my feet.
He is also a anxious licker; his legs and feet have NEVER been cleaner! I am not going to play into it; I will just be a good leader for him and calmly give him something else to focus on. I will keep him very quiet for the next few weeks, while he adjusts. This is such a good thing, since I sprained my ankle yesterday jumping off of a tractor at the State Fair. I taped it up and am prepared for an active recovery! I will hopefully not have much to report in the next few weeks.