Saturday, October 16, 2010

Various treatments for West

I got a comment asking for more details on what all I'm doing (and planning to do) for West, so I thought I'd post it.

The very first (and most important, IMO) thing I did for West was to keep him WAY under threshold. This wasn't super easy when he was still very nervous of me, and I expect he's still near or over threshold much of the time when he's out chillin' with me inside. But now, when crated, he almost immediately relaxes, even if he's awake. He doesn't feel the need to leap up into a stand every time I type a letter or shift positions or bite my apple. I do think that he is under threshold most of the time now, which is SO huge. Stressed out dogs release a lot of Cortisol which changes the way their entire body functions (it's a steroid, like prednisone). I expect that's part of why West urinates and drinks so much.

The next things aren't in any particular order.

- L Theanine, a supplement marketed to pet owners as Anxitane, was started the night he arrived. I've seen great results with it with a dog I was assigned in school, and have heard others express great results. I got his from the health food store, since it's the same and far less expensive :) He's getting 150mg once a day at the moment, since that's how big the capsules are.

- Tight fitting baby tshirt. The idea behind this comes from TTouch and various research. If you've seen the new Temple Grandin movie, you'll know a bit about how this works. The idea is that the tactile sensation is calming and centering. They make vests for human children affected by autism, and ADD/ADHD with good results. Thundershirt is a brand that has a really nice, snug fitting product, marketed mostly to pet owners whose pets have fear of thunder (thus the name). They're $50, so this .99c baby shirt is more affordable :)

- Crate cover. This is partly just cause Archie is such a jerk, but if someone else needs to come in here, or when he was more afraid, I could cover West so he didn't get any visual stimuli. It's also handy so that Archie doesn't spend all his time staring/menacing him. Sigh.

- Calming Cap. I lent out my small, and haven't got it back yet, but this product REALLY works for dog with visual arousal issues. It will take him some getting used to, so if I ever remember, I'll bring my Medium out and start getting him used to that.

- Gentle Leader. This is as much for safety as for treatment. There is some theory/evidence that the pressure the GL puts behind the head may be relaxing, and I also think the tactile distraction can work similarly to the tshirt when it's well conditioned. It also gives me absolute control over where his teeth are, which, for a dog with a bite history, is very important.

- Muzzle. This is on the way. I gotta order a bunch of them, but I need to measure everyone first. I like the JAFCO muzzles best. He'll be conditioned to wearing it so that in case of emergency of any kind, he and those around him can be safe. It will also be handy later on if he gets to the point where he's being introduced to children or other higher risk individuals.

- DAP Collar. This is the Dog Appeasing Pheremone. My ex-instructor and friend was able to get one for me, and I hope to pick it up tomorrow. I've also seen really good results with these products, though I don't think the Collar is necessarily the best product for every situation. It's what's available. I'd rather have a diffuser, or have both, since the diffuser might also help Archie.

- Through a Dog's Ear. This is a music CD that contains specially selected classical music. I play it whenever I remember, it REALLY settles Archie, haven't seen super dramatic effects on West, but at least he doesn't hide like my friend's dog does!

- Enrichment. Because he's still very anxious, I want to give West things to do that do not involve scary humans. He's eating raw, so just dinner in itself is enriching (LOTS of chewing), but I also got him a handful of little stuffed toys to shred. I fill either the kibble nibble or the tug a jug, and either the linkable or the twist and treat at least once a day with 5-10 kibbles for him to play with. I let him go down and chase the chickens around every couple days. Anything to work his brain without the "OMG SCARY PEOPLE" being there too. If I was feeding him kibble, it certainly would never EVER come from a bowl. I feel quite strongly that bowl feeding is not good for anyone, especially dogs with issues. I hope to be able to sprinkle kibble in the yard soon for him to scavenge for, but at this point, he's still quite stressed outside.

- Training. Of course, there's lots of training to be done. I'm working on some impulse control stuff with him, since he has no sense of personal space. He's learning that sitting without touching me is WAY more fun than blasting into my chest at full speed. He's also learning he can't eat my cinnamon bun off the table, no matter how delicious it is. Initially, I let him get away with rude behaviour, as long as it was affiliative, but now I'm shaping him toward polite affiliative behaviours.

=Target training. I have been working on teaching West to target my outstretched hand with his nose. I hope that this behaviour will get solid soon so that I can use it in more distracting/arousing/scary situations. It can also later morph into a meeting-strangers behaviour, if that is something he needs.

=Conditioning objects. I've started with the GL, but want to condition several objects to mean great stuff. The GL, the calming cap and the muzzle are obvious choices, but a brush, a stethescope and eventually, a relaxation mat are also good ones. Mat work is something we will start soon.

=Look at That. This is a great behaviour for fearful dogs, and once West is able to focus on training more and stress less, we will start on this one.

I'm sure I've missed LOTS, but this is what I can think of off the top of my head. Notice that "going to the park and meeting all sorts of people" is very much NOT on this list anywhere. Once he's totally comfortable with my sister and mom, he can start to meet the guys around here and see how he does. Until he's totally figured out how to move himself away and control his own stress, he won't be meeting 'regular people' at all.


  1. Have you considered working with a vet behaviorist for prescription meds? Many of our rescue dogs have benefited from Prozac or another medication, depending on their particular issues. We generally work with Dr. Dodman at Tufts University since we are in New England, although they do offer consults through Petfax as well for those who don't have access to a vet behaviorist in their area.

    Anyway, it may be something you have in case you aren't seeing enough progress without.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Hi Amy,
    We have discussed it and BC has a veterinarian who, although not board certified, is very experienced and skilled with behaviour. She feels quite strongly that training and less invasive management should come first, then if you reach a plateau, meds should be considered. Given her opinion, which I respect very much, I've decided to start with the things outlined above and consider adding meds when we reach a point where improvement is no longer occuring.

  3. You don't really need a Comfort Zone collar - any bandanna or even a wrap or Tshirt will do - just spray the D.A.P. on - the spray and diffuser work well in conjunction;

    Lavender & Chamomile work also to calm the savage breast, human or canine - Flamingo Bay candles (the kind vets sell) do double duty, as aromatherapy & deodorizer;

    THE Leslie McDevitt CU program (of which 'Look At That' is just one component)

  4. Hi Megan,
    Thanks for your great post. I'm using the collar because it's the only DAP product I have access to at this time. I do know that the spray can be applied to the dog, but this is great info for anyone else who might be interested!
    The aromatherapy is a great idea. I bet I can find something fairly cheap at my local health store. Thanks for that! I'll check out your amazon link too.
    And thanks for posting the CU book link. I highly recommend the book, the seminar (Helix and Megan are coming to Kamloops soon, I think!) and the CU_Support yahoo group. A very VERY solid program!

  5. Courtenay,
    All great stuff you're doing with West; am quite impressed with the wide variety of strategies you're using.

    I have two questions:

    One: I think there was a thread quite some time ago on BC-L (border collie list) about letting one's dogs (bc's specifically) chase chickens (or other farm animals). Many said it was a bad idea since not only did it stress the animals being chased (note I didn't say 'herd')but allowed the chaser to satisfy it's prey drive without human direction. What do you think about this argument? Note - I'm not criticizing, just curious. Bottom line is you know your situation best.

    Two: What do you mean about the last thing you would do with a fearful/aggressive dog is feed him from a bowl? I don't think I've heard this before and other than the obvious issue of guarding, what is its failing (no work/thinking involved for the dog?) and how do you actually feed? Esp. if its raw and hard to offer without a bowl ... :c)

  6. See current post for answers :)

  7. As the potential adopter who looked at West when he was with FL and realized I would have been way out of my depth - I really appreciate what you are doing with him. Please keep up the posts.

  8. Thanks Ann. I hope you find the perfect little BC to fill your home!

  9. I know it's been some time since you wrote this, but in any case I want you to know that I found the information terrific and very informative. Thanks so much for sharing this with us. :)