Medication Mania

dog-medicine-bottleA recent post by a friend on a social media site left me wondering…what do people think about dog medications? And why do many of them think they are more harmful than helpful?

Some people still seem to be stuck in the past, thinking dogs are just entertainment to have around. Medication? No way!! People frequently laugh, giggle, or give me weird looks if I tell them my dog is on medications for anxiety/fearfulness. I always get the saying, “Oh she’ll grow out of it” or “She’ll be fine, don’t worry about it.” Well, I do worry about it…or rather I did, before we had a breakthrough with medication.

If you feel like your dog is fearful or has anxiety and you’ve tried training but hit a brick wall, there are other options. Medication is another option, but should be given after extensive training has been tried. It’s not something to be taken lightly, but it’s also not something to fear. It’s also not a magic pill.

With dogs that are seriously fearful and haven’t progressed with the help of a positive trainer, medication is something to talk about with your vet. There are many options for whom to talk to about this. The best person to consult is a veterinary behaviorist. They specialize in dog behavior issues (aggression, anxiety, etc) and medical issues. Many times an underlying medical issue contributes to a dog’s behavior. It is important to get your dog checked for medical issues before considering anxiety medication. Many times simple things such as hypothyroidism could be a cause of many different behaviors including aggression.

There are a variety of medications to treat fearfulness/anxiety. It is important you talk to someone knowledgable about them, as they are recommended for different things. For example, some are used to treat separation anxiety, while others are recommended for general anxiety, and other for aggression. Blood tests will also be taken to make sure your dog will be able to take medications and check ups for blood work may be needed later.

I am going to repeat this again-because it’s not a quick fix–first you must make sure you have tried everything you can with a positive trainer, make sure your dog has adequate exercise, and rule out any other medical problems before even considering medication. I don’t want you to think it’s a bad thing either-because it can help immensely.

For example, Oreo was getting exercise and training for a long time with a positive trainer, but her anxiety issues were getting worse. She had trouble with training activities and seemed like she “hit a brick wall” in training. We could only take her so far. We also found out she did have some medical issues, but those were being treated and she still wasn’t progressing. So we worked with the vet. We started her on a low dose of an anxiety medicine. We increased the dosage but saw no improvement (the medication does usually take weeks or a month to kick in). We decided to wean her off of it and try another. This medication helped her immensely. She was able to progress nicely in training and take walks again. It allowed her to get over that hurdle that was stopping her, the debilitating fear that everyone and everything was out to get her.

If you had anxiety and it was so bad you couldn’t live your daily life, I’m sure you would try seeing a therapist and seeking out medication if that didn’t work. The medicine would allow you to combat your fears, and one day you may be able to get off of the medication. However, not all people or dogs do well off of the medication either. Oreo is still on medicine and we aren’t sure if one day she will be able to handle life without it. Do I like that she is on medicine? No, I don’t like giving her pills, but now I’ve learned that she needs the medicine, just like a diabetes patient needs them. Without them, she couldn’t live her daily life and function. Medication is not something to be feared, but not taken lightly either. Do you homework and read up-but also don’t rule medication out. It helped Oreo’s quailty of life immensely.

Medication can be a lifeline for dogs that would otherwise be euthanized.

For people with dogs that aren’t seriously anxious in only certain situations-there are many natural medicines or remedies for you. Look in chinese herb medicines, thundershirts, chamomile, and essential oils.

Not Your Normal Dog Class…

Went to my first reactive dog class! It’s not your normal dog class. For one thing, the dogs aren’t all out at the same time. You drive there. Strategically park your car somewhere around the “farm” and walk them around, then make sure they are comfortable, set, and they can’t see out the windows to other dogs. People take turns working on their dogs specific needs.

For instance, a dog that is people reactive was taken out of the car and walked along a path, while a person volunteered to walk next to the dog and owner, feeding him treats. I was told this dog was super people reactive, and actually bit the trainer once. But now, he has made so much progress, and even wagged his tail!! YAY!!

Everyone else watches and discusses. We also sat in a circle for a super shy dog and let her eat from our hands/toss treats without eye contact. This gave the dog some confidence and get them used to people. Another dog walked on the leash while a man walked along with them 10 feet away. The owner gave treats to the dog.

The students in the class pick what they want to work on, and everyone usually gets 2 sets of practice, or more depending on how many people are there. Some of these dogs have made great strides which makes me hopeful, but every dog is different. Next Saturday will be our first go at it! Makes me nervous, but excited to know there are other people out there. It’s like a support group, but real life controlled situations are put into place to help the dog and owner!

In other news…I have seen some progress with Oreo. She has had dogs barking at her and she had no reaction! No running, freezing, or barking. She acted like they weren’t there. She also looks at me sometimes when she is scared, which is the goal! Additionally, when we were on the back porch a painter was next door and came out-she didn’t bark at all-was just looking curiously! She also saw a dog at the mailbox and no barking!! (which is usually common for her). Seeing some good things. Now..that painter man was outside the front door talking to my husband and Oreo didn’t like that, she barked, whinned, and was very nervous. Same man..different situation…different reaction…

Also Oreo looks forward to wearing her thundershirt (it seems that way). The other day she came right up to me wagging her tail when she saw it! Like she was saying pleassssssssssse. On another note I will be starting teaching again, so will be home less, and have less time to train with her, but intend to definitely continue!

Some progress…and cracked feet

Oreo’s making progress with the “Spin” trick. She is excellent at leave it, and giving me attention when I have treats in view. “Here” and “Touch” commands are going great. However, I am having difficulty with getting attention from her once I walk out the door. She can do the sit, stay, go through door, attention, tricks–perfectly inside the house, but outside the house it is more of a distraction. It doesn’t help that she was sick for a day. Now she also has small cracks in one of her paw pads, it seems to be healing though. Definitely need to stay off of hot pavement.

I recieved news that I am moving to a new school (I’m a teacher) and a new grade. This has caused me extra stress and sadness, and I think it could be rubbing off on her. This morning she wasn’t even interested in steak! I have noticed much more gas from her (smelly too! gross!). This is telling me something is going on. Perhaps more stress from weaning her off of her anxiety medicine? Or maybe the new wheat-free treats? I’m not sure yet…

She is still running from the thundershirt, but when I put it on her, she does not snap or anything. She usually lays down and sleeps. She is more anxious without the anxiety medicine, but I don’t think it is as beneficial as another medicine may be. She does frequently bark at the ceiling fan now, which hasn’t happened in a long time since she was a puppy. Not the best week, but we are making it through.

Thundershirts

I’ve undertaken something new…a thundershirt. At our training lesson last Wednesday, the trainer suggested a thundershirt and asked if I knew what it was. She was very surprised to know that I have been doing all this research. I promptly searched local stores looking for a thundershirt in hope that this will help Oreo. Thundershirts are like wraps that velcro around the dog to create a feeling of safety, security, and lessen anxiety. There are many great reviews for this product, and some not so great. Many people use thundershirts to lessen the fear of thunder (hense the name).

It was suggested that I put this on her a few times a day leaving it on for different amounts.  So…I put it on her and she stood looking at me, wide eyes, and didn’t move. It was like she was in shock. Then she looked around and wobbled a little like she was off balance. I actually believe she may be getting her balance. Some dogs do not really notice their body. They don’t know their body extends and aren’t aware of it, so that makes it scary when people touch them. I am hoping the thundershirt and ttouch will help with this.

So…she followed me around like a lost puppy dog. She stood on me, followed me to the chair and jumped up to stand on me. It was like she was in shock. To me, she seemed super anxious, although she wasn’t whining or anything, she was just looking, and not moving, very odd. So I took it off after 5 minutes so she can get used to it. Next time I tried to put it on…what do you think happened? She RAN!!! I e-mailed the trainer telling her what happened, and the trainer said that she thinks this will help so I should try to get her used to it. REALLY. That hit me. Wow, yes I am a worry wart. But considering the way she acts when I tried putting something she is scared of near her (she tried to bite, snaps, growls, shows teeth). So I confronted her. Usually not the best thing to do..but I followed my gut. She hid, but I put it on top of her and she did not resist, she did not bite, or growl, or snap.

I’ve putten it on her a few more times and she’s been sleeping on the floor with it on, I think it may be working, relaxing her a bit. She is taking treats now with it on which is good. She still will run at the sight of it. Hopefully she likes it and I’m not forcing her into something scary. I think she has a love/hate relationship with it. She loves it because its calming to her, but she hates seeing it. I think each time I put it on she is a little less scared and a little more relaxed. Hopefully the trainer is right. Not sure yet…I’ll keep you updated.