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Discussion Starter #1
Coming off what has been a verrrrry long weekend, I decided to go ahead and post this to see what advice I can get. Bear with me while I try to organize my thoughts. :)


My aunt and uncle came to spend Thanksgiving dinner/supper with us, and ended up staying through Sunday as we had very bad weather and they didn't want to chance driving home. My brother's girlfriend came too, but she's not terribly relevant to this post as Chisum loves her and only has a very quick initial reaction when she first arrives (doesn't last long, and frankly is more centered around her duffel bag than her).


Anyway, I tried to slowly bring Chisum downstairs when they arrived, with lots of treats, but he had a massive meltdown so he had to go out to our guest house. It seemed like a good solution since the guests weren't staying long anyway, but plans changed so I had to bring him back in. Again, we worked slowly. Started behind the bar, worked our way to sitting on the couch. Lots of treats, LAT-type stuff, and talking to him calmly when he growled/started to bark. He was able to get within less than three feet of them *generally* which I was pretty happy about.


After that point, the following caused meltdowns (mini or fairly major, but not quite as bad as when they first arrived):

  • Every. Single. Morning. His biggest meltdowns occurred here. Not just barking/growling, but actually demanding to be in my arms/lap and shaking like a leaf, no matter how far away from them we were.
  • Anytime my aunt or uncle got up from where they were sitting - reactions to this went from a concerned stare to a growl to an outright bark - this was worse because my aunt walks with a cane.
  • Anytime Chisum acted like he was going to check them out, and inadvertently got too close. He would sniff, then react in a MAJOR way. I kept him leashed and away from them, but sometimes he would slowly slip over - he'd even lick a hand a few times before letting loose.
  • Anytime they showed up "unexpectedly". For example, we were watching a movie on the couch and Chisum fell asleep. My aunt had been in another room, but while he was sleeping came in and sat on a chair behind the couch. Chisum woke up, saw her (she wasn't speaking or anything), and lost it.


I kept him leashed to me all weekend, aside from when we were sleeping. It was the option that, honestly, stressed him the least. He played a couple of times, but the rest of the time seemed very stressed and concerned about what was going on, naturally.


I'm just not sure if I'm doing things right, I guess.


It seems to me that he is always "on". Many things cause a reaction from him - whether it's based in fear (usually), confusion, overstiumulation, etc. He is hyper aware of all the sights, sounds, smells, items, etc. in the house. He notices when something new enters and, while not always, he usually notices in a big way.


He HAS made some improvement. We worked with a trainer for five weeks, and are now on a break as she's trying to sort a few health issues. She never mentioned he needs meds, though she did say it was surprising that every time we showed up to train he had a major reaction. As he realized she had treats he got a bit better, but even after five weeks of work he came out of the car exploding and we spent a good 15 minutes just getting near her (an improvement, since the first session we were a good 100ft away). But we stalled there.


The school the trainer is affiliated with works with a vet who is not a certified behaviorist (there aren't any around here) but she does consult with them if need be and only takes on behavior cases. There never was any mention of having him see a vet, so I'm wondering if I'm jumping the gun by wanting to contact her.


I know there's no such thing as a "quick fix" and I know that meds wouldn't be either, I'm just wondering if something more can be done for him? He's very, very, very smart and makes connections quickly but he's also incredibly reactive and once he goes into that mode it can be challenging to get him back. Not impossible, frankly it depends on the situation, but it's often very hard.


As it is, he needs his one year boosters and we're going to have to sedate him to do so - not at all ideal, I know, but there's just no other way. I don't even think he could meet with the vet behaviorist without losing his mind.


So, thoughts? I'm sorry it got so long - I'm just frustrated so I had to get it all out. Being tethered to him 24/7 for four days didn't help either. He's such a smart, sweet little guy - he only sounds mean, he's an absolute doll - that it's hard when he kind of goes to that place mentally - that I can't share him with the world, show him off, yes, but also that he's just so darn scared. I just want to know I'm doing all I can.
 

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What a difficult situation you are in, and poor puppy. Pardon me for asking because I don't know his background, do you know the reason for his severe fear/reactivity?

ETA: Not that this is very constructive, but the ONLY time my boy has shown any fear was when my eldest daughter needed crutches for a broken ankle, her appearing on crutches caused Oscar to bark, run into his crate and pee (first and only time he has ever done that). It only happened the one time though and he quickly got used to the crutches. But I guess canes and crutches can be scary things, even to confident dogs.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
I can't say with any certainty, but I think it's genetic, and my trainer agreed.

He came from a rescue that pulled him and several others from a hoarding situation. I got him at about 8 weeks, and he had a LOT of fear and insecurity even then (far more than a typical puppy should). He was terrified of guests and even refused to interact with my immediate family for a couple of months; he also attacked my other dogs at the time - they did not provoke. So, he came with problems.

Over time he got over his 'aggressive' issues regarding the other dogs. He is now fine with them. He has never accepted guests well.

We worked on socialization and he wasn't really reactive in public until he was about 9/10 months old. It went downhill fast from there.

I loooove my trainer but regret not calling in help earlier. Generally, he's not terribly unhappy: we live in the country, so he doesn't often HAVE to deal with strangers, but if he can't he will have to remain with my parents when I move in a year. But since he's so hyper aware I'm not sure if he's more anxious than I'm picking up on all the time.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
I have a terrier mix who had some semi-fear issues when she was younger and crutches set her off too. On the whole she was a lot more confident, so she "got over" her issues very quickly once she learned strangers = playmates. *She* spent all break pestering my aunt and uncle to play with her, haha.
 

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I wonder if its PTSD, rather than a genetic? You probably won't be able to answer this question, but do you know if Chisum was dropped as a young puppy. I ask this because dogs do not discriminate between the physical and the emotional, and fear and its manifestations (territoriality, phobias, possessiveness, owner addiction, separation anxiety, dominance, submission etc) invoke the fear of falling.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Most of the dogs that were seized were described as "sensitive" or "fearful" so that's where I think there's a genetic connection. The ones that weren't were puppies - Chisum included. He was actually very sociable and "normal" when we first saw him and for about 30 minutes after. He then disengaged with us and attacked my terrier mix on the way home.

I honestly have no idea what happened to him before he came home. All I can say is that he wasn't dropped while here. He's had a safe, living environment here (even when it's hard!)

I always thought, too, that most dogs could bounce back from poor early treatment if they were stable enough mentally. I got my terrier mix at 8 weeks too and I know she had a very rough start (was surrendered because she wasn't potty trained and "wouldn't shut up") but it didn't have any lasting effects on her.

I just want to know I'm doing all I can for him, have realistic expectations, etc. I have anxiety myself and am easily overwhelmed so I constantly feel like I am failing him.
 

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I love that you've found a trainer you like and have a veterinary behaviorist lined up! That's being a great advocate for your dog. Meds can be an enormous advantage for many fearful dogs, and I hate that there's so much stigma around their use. Check out Crystal Thompson's blog posts on the subject for more insight from someone who benefited greatly from meds for her (recovering) reactive dog (Reactive Champion: Meds and Your Dog, Part I: Should You Consider Meds? or Reactive Champion: Why People are Resistant to Behavioral Meds for their Dogs... And Why You Shouldn't Be).

What I'd do today is TAKE A BREAK!!! For you and for Chisum, because it sounds like both of you have had a really stressful four day weekend. When a stressful event happens, our bodies (and our dogs' bodies) flood with adrenaline and other chemicals, if the stressful event is ongoing or repeated, then that chemical surge happens again and again (and keeps happening even after the stressful event stops, because our dogs don't know how to predict that the stressful event has actually stopped and is not about to suddenly march right back in the front door). This is exhausting, makes us totally keyed up, makes us feel like we're having an ongoing anxiety attack, and is just generally really tough. It takes days and days for that chemical backwash to drain out of our systems. Both of you deserve a nice cortisol-vacation!

What I don't see in your description of the weekend are any breaks built in (they might have been there, it's just hard to "see" over the internet!). Having strangers in the house is hard for many dogs, not just "reactive" dogs. For dogs who are scared of people, it can be incredibly challenging. Following a 5-20 minute session with 4-6 hours chilling in your room, napping and slurping on a Kong, might be one way to see more results in the long term. Full disclosure: I actually don't think fearful dogs need to be asked to meet guests at all, though I realize this was an unexpected situation. I like that you tethered him to you, and love that you offered him consistent comfort and support. You are a good friend to your dog.

As far as your trainer, I would maybe re-think having her feed him treats at all. The fact that he has a consistent "alarm" response to her until he "knows she has treats" suggest that the treats are having a masking/overshadowing effect (he may be moving closer to her than he feels comfortable, and masking his signs of fear, because he's busy letting "treats! treats! treats!" distract him). Longer distances and treats coming from you might produce better results over the long term.
 

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Discussion Starter #8 (Edited)
@SnackRat - thanks for your reply!

I haven't yet contacted the vet "behaviorist" but am wanting to do so. Your links were very helpful, but the comments were a little concerning - some of the risks mentioned like a major downturn in behavior (he's not a biter now, especially not where I'm concerned and I don't want that) and health risks are something I'm afraid of. But I guess I don't know until I talk to an actual vet.

Worst case scenario as-is: he remains here, with limited contact in regards to strangers. Obviously I want to take him with me, but overall I want to do what's best for him. I'm just not totally sure he's not anxious most of the time, and that's not good either.

Over the holiday, I do agree we should have taken more breaks and I think there were times he indicated he needed them and I didn't listen as intently as I should have. :( I felt a pressure to be where the company was and Chisum is very unhappy crated away so I made a judgement call.

In regards to our work with our trainer: you may be right about the treats. Aside from the first session (in which we got out of the car, went 100+ yards away and just did LAT while trotting around, never getting any closer): ALL of our other sessions went the exact same way:

> Drive to the park by the lake, where we met up for training

> Chisum was already nervous and upset about the ride. He does well in cars if he sits on my lap, but we really only go to a different park, so once he realized we were going somewhere new his anxiety showed.

> Chisum sees people outside the car when we park - my trainers - and flips out.
** one time she had us do a drive around and then return, thinking he'd calm down. He didn't.

> We get out of the car, he's still going nuts. We jog away. We were working on a bit of a modified BAT, where we approach while being mindful of his threshold and then reward with treats quick, one-second looks, sniffs, relaxed body posture, etc. and then trot away from the trigger.

Chisum would ALWAYS explode coming out of the car, in the exact same fashion. But after the first couple of sessions, 10-15 minutes in we were able to work and get closer to my trainer (within 10 feet, sometimes walking parallel). At that point, she introduced treats - not handing them to him, rather tossing onto the ground near where he was standing so he wasn't pressured to approach. One of these times, he saw her toss it and caught it in his mouth. THEN he seemed to make the connection that she had food. We still limited his distance, but he'd walk within 10 ft of her and she'd toss him a treat. He happily did this. After that, he graduated to doing tricks for her, while she tossed him treats. Sometimes he'd react, in which case we'd trot away and he'd beg to go back over there --- we'd go back but stop farther away, and repeat.

But, again, every single time we started over after that very first time. 10-15 minutes of insane reaction and trying to get him settled enough to begin.

The very last session my trainer was walking away and he went up to her and pawed at her leg - this is something he does when he's nervous, but curious, about something and wants to interact with it to see what happens (he does it a lot with boxes). I think with several more sessions he'd have learned to accept her, but who knows - he did eventually accept my brother's girlfriend.

I think I may email the vet tomorrow and see what she says. I'm a bit nervous - this is all new territory for me and I want to make the best possible decision I can.

And....I'm wordy again. My apologies. :)

EDIT: Oh, and we are taking a break - or at least he is! I've got finals in a couple of weeks that I need to study intensely for, so we're not going to be doing much training of any kind until those are out of the way. :p
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Well, I went ahead and emailed the vet. She mentioned on her site an initial consult that could last hours (?) as well as a behavior modification plan. Obviously that's important, but I'm hoping we can streamline some of it since he technically already has a plan in place via the trainer so we're not starting from scratch here.

I keep obsessively checking my email for a response but nothing yet.

I also feel a bit like a traitor to my trainer since she had a lot of faith in just behavior mod and never referred me or suggested meds (I was given the name of the vet early on before meeting with my trainer, from the owner of the school). I know a second opinion doesn't hurt, I just can't help but feel a bit guilty.

I will update here as well as my other thread. As always, thoughts/feedback/suggestions are appreciated!! This is such new territory for me, I kind of feel like I'm stumbling in the dark.
 

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A trainer isn't a vet, and shouldn't really give advice about meds (other than "you should talk to your vet"). So that might be one reason it hasn't come up! But any good trainer should be enthusiastic about having veterinary support for a behavior modification project. As far as meds, they definitely aren't a magic fix, and there can certainly be side-effects or other issues, but unmitigated stress can cause long-term health issues too...it's just something worth talking about in depth with your vet, not something where there are absolute answers.

I think it's always good to experiment with different protocols and see if one approach produces different results...I've done BAT, LAT, CC, and plenty of other games, with different dogs and different situations. But if the dog's behavior isn't changing (or is getting worse, or is falling into predictable patterns that include rehearsals of reactivity), some troubleshooting seems in order. I guess both of these paragraphs can be summarized as: there's nothing wrong with trying new things, and then decided to do something different based on the feedback you get from your dog. And mistakes are simply inevitable, so try not to let the feeling that you absolutely have to do everything "right" paralyze you! I tend to be guilty of that more often than not, but always see more progress when I free myself up to try (and get it not-quite-right, and try again) than when I aim for perfection.

You might try looking for online communities specifically for reactive dog owners. Not that this isn't a great community, with lots of people with experience with reactivity, but sometimes it helps to find somewhere with more traffic and more stories to read. I wish I had a good suggestion though...the fearfuldogs.com yahoo group used to be good, and I know there is a BAT-focused facebook group, but surely there are others!
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Thanks again for your response :) I appreciate the support!

I heard back from the vet. Her price seems reasonable. She suggested some non medicated options - thunder shirt and diffusers - but said that it sounds like he would benefit from a consult and possibly medication.

I honestly go back and forth. I feel we've stalled a bit with behavior mod, but I also feel like maybe I haven't tried hard enough - we're admittedly very limited on what we can do because he really can't function at all in certain circumstances. I also realize it's not a quick fix by any means, and am concerned about possible effects. Perhaps I'm too hard on myself. My parents don't have much experience with this either and tend to be more old school, so I fear I'll throw a lot at the problem and get no results or make him worse and come out a fool when I should have just let it be.

Anyway, I appreciate the readings of my rants :). I guess I won't know until I try. It probably wouldn't hurt to have a doctor weigh in as well to give me a better idea of what needs doing.
 
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