Find a Different Way

We are currently sitting outside while my brother-in-law is cutting wood, making us a shelf for our patio. There was once a time where just seeing him would cause Oreo to fly into a barking panic and hearing the noise of a saw would send her into a fit. 

However, we have to find a new way to do things so that our anxious dogs are no longer worried, but calm and relaxed. For example, Oreo use to back up and bark excessively out of fear when she saw Chris (brother-in-law). This would happen if we greeted him inside.

 Instead, we tried the greeting outside, by doing a quick sniff, turning and walking with him. This technique seems to work with most people, sometimes even strangers. Many times we think, “Well this is how my dog is supposed to act, why aren’t they listening?” Or sometimes we give up all together and avoid what we think scares them. Reactive dogs think differently, so we should too. Having a reactive dog can be difficult, but it’s much easier if you find a different way.

Caught in the Rain 

  

We got caught in the rain! It’s a typical summer day sunny with a few clouds then-boom-Instant downpour! We tried to take cover under a few trees but Oreo wanted to get home faster, so we ultimately got soaked! 

What else is up today ? Well it’s my first day off for summer break (I’m a teacher) yay! 

We spent some time outside- me weeding the garden and Oreo:   

Watching and hanging out in the screened-in patio. We don’t have a fenced in yard so it’s a good place to lay down for her but be outside and contained (she has allergy issues with laying in the grass too much). Enjoy your day and don’t get stuck in a rain storm! 

Four Years!!

I can’t believe it’s been 4 years since my first post on here! I started this blog as a way to deal with stress when I finally found out the name for what was happening with Oreo- reactivity. We’ve been through many tough times and have come a long way. Now I mainly post on here for updates and to share hope for others with reactive dogs.   I still train Oreo, but do much managing and take many previous skills she learned and apply them every day. Four years ago, I would’ve never imagined I would be cleaning Oreos teeth, ears, feet and even grooming her myself! I also never thought we could go on long walks without her freezing, shaking in fear, or losing her cool. We’ve come a long way since she was attacked and the future can only get better! 

GO TO YOUR BED!

Remember when you were a kid, got in trouble and your parents told you to “GO TO YOUR BED (or room)!” Well, instead of a negative thing, sending your dog to their bed is a very positive trick, giving your dog confidence, routine, and a calm corner to relax.

I am revisiting an old trick I haven’t practiced in a while-sending my dog to her “bed”. This can be very important for all dogs, especially fearful dogs. There are many dogs who need a “cool down” or “calm” area, away from kids, stress and distractions. There are many dogs that can be possessive of space-they don’t like when you are too close walking by or need a space where no one can bother them when they are tired. Perhaps they need a space to go when the door bell is suddenly rang by someone delivering a package. Dog beds can be used as a safe space, a place to rest, to eat bones, and to practice routine.

Oreo, my reactive dog does not enjoy guests unless they are close family she is very familiar with such as my parents or sister. If someone like a delivery man approaches the door the usual reaction is barking and pacing. My goal is to give her something to do-SOMETHING ELSE besides reacting in an undesirable way. This can be very helpful if you have the bed behind a dog gate, once your dog goes in there to their bed, you simply treat, close the gate and answer the door.

Does your dog jump up, beg, or stare you down while you are eating? Mine doesn’t always, but after some trips to her grandparents house where they fed her some food from the table, she developed some habits which are fine, but can be solved with a dog bed. Instead of staring at us, she will learn to go lay down on her bed and relax, that will keep her calm and she will be rewarded with a treat there, but not from the table.

Do you have kids or even a spouse or friend who makes you nervous around your dog? Well, if you are nervous that your dog will react the wrong way-think of how your dog feels! A simple way to solve this problem is to teach anyone who comes into your house that the dog bed area is off limits-a dog gate would even be better so they CAN’T get to them. If you are nervous or you see your fearful dog is nervous-send them to their bed. They will feel more confident for completing the trick.

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Okay, enough with the many reasons, let’s learn how to send them to their bed. There are two different ways.

Way 1: 

1. Decide on what you would like to call your trick-“Go to bed,” “Go to mat,” “Go to cushion” and so on. We always taught her bed is when she travels into our room at night, and my husband’s name is Matt-so that won’t work. We picked “Go to cushion.” Go near the dog bed and say “Go to bed,” and place a treat there or lure your pup with a treat.  Use a clicker or a word maker like “Yes!” when your pup is on the bed (release the treat if you are holding it for your pup to eat).

2. Encourage your dog to lay on the bed by saying “down” or whatever word you use for that trick. When they lay down click or say yes and treat. It’s best to teach them to lay on the bed, this way they can relax and you may want to continue to teach them more to the trick-like staying on the bed for periods of time.

3. Continue practicing having your pup on the bed by saying, “Go to bed” before they actually are on the bed. Use a treat to lure them and they will associate the bed with the signal “Go to bed.”

4. When they seem to get this, start asking them to “Go to bed” without the lure sometimes. Eventually, with practice you can fade the use of luring, and treat after they do the trick. They will no longer need to even know you have a treat. You can practice this from short distances and work your way up to more challenging tasks like having your dog “Go to bed” when you are in any area of your house. Eventually you can have them “Go to bed” with many different distractions happening at once.

Way 2:

1. If you like shaping or “catching your dog in the act,” this is the way for you. When you see your dog do anything near the dog bed (look at it, step on it, sit on it, stand on it, get near it) you click and treat.

2. You continue this “game” until your dog starts to realize good things are happening near the dog bed. Eventually your pup will realize being on the bed is when brings treats. You can continue shaping to add a sit or lay down.

Whatever way you chose, the trick not only helps your dog stay calm, but can help keep your dog safe. I will continue working with my pup on this and let you know how it goes! If you have taught your dog this trick, how did it work out?

What Reactive Owners ARE…

I wouldn’t say Oreo is “rehabilitated” or “normal” in any way. I’d definitely say her stress levels are way down & our family has it’s own happy “normal.” Oreo now has the tools and knowledge to deal with stressful situations and I know not to put her in them (or how to do a U-turn and escape them)!

It can be VERY stressful (especially in the beginning) with a reactive or scared dog. Not only stressful for you, but your dog is suffering. After reading some posts on forums, blogs and conversations with new or ongoing reactive dog families, I find it’s important to keep things in perspective. Reactive owners are many things…

  1. RESOURCEFUL!!  Find a positive trainer to help you. Trust me, if you find a great one they make all the difference. They are not only a teacher for your dog, but for you.
  2. SPECIAL!! Reactive dogs take SPECIAL owners. DEDICATED owners. Owners who have strength, patience, and are willing to LEARN.
  3. TRUSTING!! If you aren’t sure if your dog is reactive, do some research. Reactive owners need to TRUST THEIR GUT. Sometimes families and friends might think you are crazy. They think you are obsessing over your dog. They might say something like, “Your dog will be fine, bring them to the party.” Well, YOU KNOW WHAT’S BEST. When reactive dog owners DOUBT something, THEY STAY ON THE SAFE SIDE.
  4. SMART!! If your trainer is booked for a while, or you’re saving up to bring your dog to lessons, READ SOME BOOKS. I recommend this. I trained my dog by reading many books, then brought her to a wonderful reactive trainer who wrote some of the books. This enabled me to have some understanding and be ahead of the game. BOOKS DO NOT REPLACE A TRAINER. The advice/training saved my dog’s life. Even the vet said that Oreo would be dead if she weren’t with me. I don’t think of it as just me…
  5. ORGANIZED!! IT TAKES A CITY, not just you to help your dog. Get in touch with a trainer, work with your vet. Sometimes medications can help to improve training, especially if you are training with a professional and your dog hits a road block. Get your FAMILY ON BOARD. Everyone has to learn and train with your pup.
  6. FUN!! HAVE FUN. Sometimes with reactive dogs we forget to have fun-especially when we are in the training mode. Your dog can get better, but it is hard work. Once you start training your pup the fun can begin. There are plenty of games, tricks, and fun things you can do with your reactive dog. Reactive owners like to have fun, don’t lose that joy in the stress.

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If you’re just starting out it can seem like your are climbing Mount Everest, but with dedication and time you will be building an unbreakable bond with your pup and they will teach you more than you ever dreamed.

Books I suggest reading:

  • Scaredy Dog by Ali Brown
  • Focus Not Fear-Training Insights From A Reactive Dog Class by Ali Brown
  • The Cautious Canine by Patricia McConnell
  • Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas
  • Bringing Light to Shadow by Pam Dennison
  • Help For Your Fearful Dog by Nicole Wilde

Talking Their Language

Whether you have a reactive, hyper, calm, people-friendly, dog-friendly dog, it’s always important to talk their language. They don’t always understand what we say, in fact they only understand a few words we teach them. It’s important to understand what they are telling us.

 

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Eyes up, looking at you, bottom sitting: please give me that treat, toy, food, or attention! If you train a lot it could be a sign for, “I’m ready for training!”

 

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A very obvious sign of discomfort is licking the lips or nose. Dogs can do this for many reasons, including yummy food left on their nose. However, if they didn’t just enjoy a meal or treat they are sending a clear message-please back away/leave me alone/I’m uncomfortable. Oreo uses this language a lot. She does that when I’m taking pictures, when seeing a stranger, dog, or anything that makes her uncomfortable. If this doesn’t work, she will usually try to turn away, or move away. It’s important to pay attention to the smaller signals such as licking the lips-otherwise dogs can escalate to showing their teeth, growling, snapping, or even biting. They have  many ways to tell us they are uncomfortable/scared/or want to be left alone, we just need to listen.

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A dog who is staring or at attention is alert and sees something interesting/scary/etc. You may see your dog’s tail go rigid and up in the air frozen. You may also see your dog lift one paw in the air. This mean your dog senses something. In my case, this usually means something scary or super exciting is near. This could end up being a squirrel to chase, or a person/dog nearby. In the first picture Oreo is looking for a chipmunk in the woods-she hears the pitter patter of leaves. In the second picture, Oreo is ready to attack something super scary for her-the vacuum! She is saying I’m scared and I’m going to attack if you don’t move away! The signal of freezing, paw up, still tail up in the air, or staring helps me be ready for stimuli. I make sure I have my treats out and on alert for any loose dogs or brace myself for a squirrel chase!

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These are my sister’s dogs. The play bow, or running side by side is usually a sign of-let’s play!! If you look, the dog on the right seems to be shifting his weight to move away, and his tail is a little stiffer in the air. This is because he’s saying-leave me alone-I’m old and tired little puppy! However, the pup on the left is saying come on-play with me!

 

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Whale eye-notice her eye is very large-it’s not the cute puppy eyes that want food. Whale eye is when you can see the whites of your dog’s eyes. Usually this happens when your dog keeps their head in the same position but follows you with their eyes. Whale eye=stress. If your dog is showing the whites of his or her eyes it means they are stressed or uncomfortable. Oreo uses this many times too. I’m very thankful she communicates well now, and I can read her signals. In this picture she is uncomfortable because I am getting close with a scary camera. She is trying to tell me she is stressed. Oreo uses this many times when she is super tired/grouchy or feeling sick. If I want to play/pet her and she’s feel lousy we know she will watch us this way. If you have a food/space/toy/bone possessive dog, many times they will continue eating/playing/etc but watch you as you walk around or near them. Definitely back off & if you don’t have a positive trainer for that situation, make sure you get one!

Other ways our dogs communicate:

Yawning-if it’s in the morning-they are probably tired/waking up, however, yawning is usually a way for your dog to calm down. If she is stressed when we are walking, this will help calm her down. However, if your dog is doing this while you are doing something new, or are too close-this is a signal they are stressed.

Sniffing-maybe there is something interesting to smell, but if you are in a street or somewhere where your dog is sniffing incessantly it means I am ignoring what is stressing me out (usually a dog for Oreo).

Ears flat laying on head- This is a sign your dog is very stressed or scared. Oreo tends to only do this at the vet.

Shaking- I am sick or very scared.

Head turns or looks away– I want peace-I’m moving away from what is scary or stressful, please leave me alone. Oreo will do this sometimes with other dogs, but many times does it when she is very tired at night. Her thyroid is a continuing medical condition we are monitoring, but her levels cause her to be grouchy & very tired sometimes. When going to pet her in the evening, if she wants to be left alone, she turns her head away. It’s very smart of her & since she knows we listen to her it’s an easy way for her to tell us she’s uncomfortable.

Shaking whole body as if shaking off water after swimming (but not wet & didn’t go swimming)– I’m releasing stress! Oreo does this during our walks when she is stressed-I definitely reward this motion as she is trying to calm herself.

Panting- If it’s not very hot-then your dog is stressed. This happens on the way to the vet-Oreo pants very loudly.

Wagging tail-this can be complete opposites. Your dog could be very anxious, or very happy. Researchers now say that the direction of the tail wagging will tell you which one. They are saying that if the tail is wagging to the left the dog is anxious, to the right it means they are happy. I haven’t seen this, but I do read other signals with tail wagging. There have been times my parents thought Oreo was happy to see some neighbor or stranger because her tail was wagging, only to find if they brought her close she started jumping and trying to nip their shirt and barking. I personally think it’s hard to see the direction of the wag, so I look for panting, ears down, crouching, and other signals to show she is stressed. I fortunately know her so well I usually know when she is wagging her tail when she’s scared and take her out of the situation or give her more space. If you have any doubt-back out! Better safe than sorry.

Growling- this is a signal you need to take seriously, if you ignore this signal which means I’m really stressed-leave me alone, then it can escalate to snaps and bites. Oreo actually started growling at 8 months and we knew she was genetically reactive & pursued an excellent trainer.

Snaps-You aren’t listening-next step I’m biting. If you have a dog that snaps I recommend finding a positive trainer. Oreo did this when she was younger before we enlisted the help of a reactive trainer. We didn’t know when she was stressed and what was bothering her until we learned her language.

Biting-You didn’t listen, I was really scared/uncomfortable and asked you to leave me alone, but you didn’t.

Many times dog owners state that their dog was always so friendly and loving, but out of nowhere it bit their child/neighbor/friend, etc. Even friendly dogs who never show any snapping/biting/or growling can be pushed over the edge when they are being teased/tortured/or put in a very scary or uncomfortable situation. It is important for people to pay attention and listen to their language. We don’t speak the same language, but like meeting a person who speaks another language, their are signals or signs we can read to find out what the other person or canine is trying to tell us. Listen to what your dog is telling you.

 

 

 

Brushing a Reactive Dog’s Teeth

As you know, reactive dogs are afraid of many things. Oreo is afraid of ANYTHING new. I reward her when she explores new things without growling, barking, etc. However, if you put anything new near her face, she’s very likely to back away, run away, or if continuing to put it near her face, snap at you. Why worry about brushing your dog’s teeth? Dog’s teeth need to be brushed just like ours do-they get tartar and have problems. If you’ve ever had to get your dog’s teeth cleaned-it’s also very expensive. Recently the vet mentioned Oreo is getting tartar so I need to brush her teeth. Whether your dog is reactive or not, steps should be taken to familiarize your dog with toothpaste and a toothbrush. (*FYI-don’t use regular toothpaste, there are special dog toothpastes. Don’t use adult toothbrushes either, stick to children and soft bristled.)

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Here are some tips that helped Oreo love toothpaste & her toothbrush:

  • Most important FIND A TOOTHPASTE FLAVOR THEY LOVE!!! I can’t stress this enough-I have tried a few brands/flavors with Oreo and she hates certain ones and tolerates others. However, the CET Poultry flavor-she LOVES! I pull that toothbrush out and her tail wags and she runs towards me-sometimes she is licking it so much it’s hard to get to her teeth to brush!
  • Take baby steps-Don’t thrust the toothbrush at your dog’s face right away.
    • First familiarize your dog with the toothpaste. Put some on your finger and see if your dog likes it. If not, try another toothpaste. If your dog won’t take from your finger or let you near them, don’t worry about brushing their teeth right now-work on building a relationship and working with a professional positive trainer. If your dog won’t let you touch and manipulate their muzzle and mouth-work on that (touch their mouth, lift a lip-click treat! Teach them good things happen when you are touching their face/mouth.)
    • At this step you can either skip to the next step, or if your dog really doesn’t like things near/in their mouth, use your finger or a finger brush (you can find them at pet stores near the toothpaste-they fit over your finger). This will familiarize them with brushing their teeth without sticking a toothbrush in their mouth (it could be scary!)
    • Next you can put the yummy toothpaste on the brush and let your dog lick it. Depending on how scared your dog is you may want to do this a few days so your pup knows the toothbrush brings good things. Some dogs may need more time for this step, while others don’t.
    • Use the brush in your dog’s mouth to brush the outer sides of the teeth-don’t brush hard, be gentle. Do this for weeks. You may want to treat your dog in the beginning to reward them. Don’t keep the brush in their too long-start small at first-a few seconds if that is suitable for your dog. If your dog is happy, continue longer but stop in the beginning to reward them.
    • If your dog isn’t comfortable with you opening their mouth wide, and clamps their mouth shut when brushing their teeth, work for weeks (or days) on opening their mouth (NOT FORCIBLY).  Treat your dog when you put your hand on their snout (not over their nose-behind it). Work your way to opening their mouth gently and treat them each time. When your dog is comfortable this is when you can brush the inside of their teeth (I haven’t worked up to this yet with Oreo-but am working on it now).

It’s really up to you-how to pace introducing the toothbrush and toothpaste & how often you can brush their teeth. It is recommended that this is done daily, but if not a few times a week. Just remember-baby steps-for some people their dogs will love it right away-for others you may work on it for weeks or months-or perhaps never perfect it. However, remember your dog needs their teeth brushed so it’s important to work on this with your dog. Do you brush your dog’s teeth? How often?

Planning a Vacation With a Reactive Dog

Planning a vacation with a reactive dog isn’t always easy, but there are some tips I will share that helped us have a wonderful vacation with our reactive pup, Oreo.

  • First, rent a cabin/house instead of a condo or hotel room if possible. This will ensure less noise and intrusions.
  • When renting a place make sure it is reactive dog friendly, by that I mean make sure it meets your dog’s needs. Sometimes rental companies or owners don’t disclose to you right away that your dog has to be in a crate when you leave, or other dog related issues. Oreo is deathly afraid of crates, therefore we did some serious house hunting before we found the right one. Read the contract carefully.  If it’s in the contract you must follow the dog rules.
  • Bring your dog’s favorite things! Anything that can make your pup more comfortable is great. I brought Oreo’s favorite toys, her bed and food bowls.
  • Make sure to bring something to keep your dog busy if you are away. We were away for many hours at a time exploring the Smoky Mountains and Oreo was free walking through the house. I brought her kong and another toy stick I could stuff with treats. I made sure they were extra special treats like pieces of cheese.

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  • Make the trip a vacation for your pup too! Don’t forget to walk/run around with your dog and explore new areas. However, make sure you watch for other dogs/people or whatever your dog is afraid of. We stayed in the yard and walked around the “neighborhood”, which wasn’t crowded. Also-I brought some special new toys for her-ended up she didn’t really need them since she loved the place-but it would’ve been handy in case she was stressed.
  • When renting a house, make sure it is semi-private. You don’t want to be worrying about your dog barking & stressing while you are on vacation. Find a place where you aren’t right up against a neighbor. Maybe they have a fence, maybe a large yard. In our case we had a house at the end of a road. The other houses weren’t so far away-probably only 50-80 feet away. However, our deck we sat on faced the quiet woods. There were bushes and trees between some of the houses. This ensured we could all relax in quiet and she couldn’t look out windows and see other people/dogs.

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  • Bring something to calm your dog down-just in case. I brought Oreo’s ThunderShirt. I used it when we first got there-but she didn’t really need it anymore-she loved the house. In fact-she behaved better there-super quiet with not many people or animals to drive her crazy!
  • This probably goes without saying-but if you are vacationing with other people-make sure your dog is comfortable with them-otherwise leave your pup home.
Oreo loved hanging outside on the deck in the quiet.

Oreo loved hanging outside on the deck in the quiet.

We went to the Smoky Mountains for the week with my parents & Oreo. I was very worried so I over packed dog supplies. I prepackaged all of her food in portions with her medicines to make it easy. We made sure to walk her and spend time outside with her. Every time we left I left the tv on for noise and put some treats in her Kong. She hardly barked the entire time and didn’t seem stressed at all! Don’t forget if you are driving a far way (we drove 10 hours!) make sure to stop at plenty of rest stops to take fido out and give him/her water. If you plan, you can have a fun trip with your pooch!!

Here are some pictures from the vacation.

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Attack Allergies!

It can be an endless struggle to fight against an invisible enemy-allergies but by taking the steps to to identify what is causing the allergies this will help your dog (see previous post- Allergies-Get to the Root of the Problem ).  I’ve been there-my dog HATES the vet, literally pulling back to hide under the car when it’s time to go in. So instead of bringing her to the vet to identify what is causing the allergies, I tried many different things from over 10 different types of food to hundreds of dollars worth of allergy treatments including shampoos, wipe pads, sprays, and medicines. Eventually, it only got worse and she was to the point where her skin around her eyes was bleeding from scratching so much. Not only was she in pain, she was lethargic, grumpy, and growly (who could blame her?). After identifying the causes, I was faced with medicines and different things I can do to help her.

What did my normal vet recommend? She recommended Benadryl. Does that work for some? Yes! I would talk to your vet about dosage.  However, this seemed to do little to help her allergies. The vet then recommended switching to another allergy medicine like zyrtec. This also didn’t work for us. Some vets recommend steroid shots or pills, but my vet never recommended them. However, my vet is not an allergist or any kind of specialist so I decided to take her elsewhere. I am very happy with my vet for all the things she does, but they don’t recommend many medicines or therapies outside of the “norm”.

Here’s what worked for us:

  • Baths-It was recommended to bathe her at least once every 2 weeks. Do I always do that? No, but I do notice when I don’t, her itching increases. If your dog doesn’t like baths, use treats and food (special ones like yummy hot dogs or steak).
  • If your dog has pollen or grass allergies-wipe her/him down when you come inside the house with a wet towel or wipe. Wiping the paws and anything else that touched the grass is best-this will help eliminate pollen from spreading in your house.
  • Supplements. I ended up going to a specialist who does conventional and holistic medicine and the supplements definitely helped. I will refrain from mentioned exactly what the supplements are because each dog is different and needs to see a vet for recommendations. However, I will tell you she does get a vitamin powder with her meals, calming pills, and different supplements to keep her immune system strong.
  • Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil-Nutiva has an excellent price for a large amount on amazon. This is great to give with food to help itchy skin and should be added a little bit at a time to get your dog use to it.

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  •  Douxo Chlorhexidine PS Shampoo and Pads. This has been SUPER great for when she is getting very itchy or has the start of a skin yeast infection or red bumps on her belly (start of bacterial infection). I use the pads to wipe her belly. The vet will make you buy a more expensive wash if you go see them, but it has many of the same ingredients.

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  • Witch Hazel-alcohol free. This is GREAT for cleaning your dog’s ears. I can’t rave enough about it. My dog HATED ear cleanings to the point she would try to bite me. This product is great-doesn’t sting and applied easily with a cotton ball. She had reoccurring ear infections and this stopped them dead in their tracks.  Sometimes it’s hard to find without alcohol (no stinging)-I use Thayer’s unscented witch hazel with aloe vera formula.

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Do I think everything will work for your dog? Maybe, maybe not. However, I am throwing this out there in case anyone was looking for help like I was at one time in my life. Dealing with a dog’s allergies can be aggravating, depressing, and tiring (think how your dog feels). I definitely can tell you the witch hazel is *my favorite product*, although the supplements definitely help. She still itches, no medicine is a miracle, but all of this has helped drastically.