Thursday, November 11, 2010

Medication Update: 4 weeks

Maisy has now been on paroxetine for four weeks, three of which have been at the full dose of 8mg. When Maisy’s veterinary behaviorist prescribed it, she said it would take 4-6 weeks before we saw any results. Since I saw some improvement at two weeks, I was very excited to see what she’d be like at four weeks. So, for the last three days, I’ve been keeping behavior logs in order to get some objective data.

The data has been… interesting. I was expecting to see a decrease in the number of outbursts Maisy is having, but this has not happened. Prior to her appointment, Maisy would bark or growl at subtle or undetectable stimuli an average of 3.375 times a day. At two weeks, this had decreased to an average of 2 times a day. During this week’s behavior logs, Maisy’s average was 2.667 times a day.

Although this is a reduction from the baseline, I was still disappointed when I saw this. Of course, the numbers are the numbers, but I really felt like Maisy is doing better than she was, especially since it seems like Maisy isn’t as vigilant as she used to be. She might be vocalizing when something startles her, but she seems to settle down faster.

So, I went back to the original behavior logs. Although I hadn’t been scoring the intensity of her reactions, I had kept a fair amount of detail. During the basline period, Maisy’s outbursts included extended vigilance (defined as either trotting around the house scanning the room intently for at least ten seconds) 45% of the time. Two weeks ago, she demonstrated such vigilance 25% of the time. This time, she scored the same: 25%. Good.

Next, I did the restlessness test. This is where I settle down with Maisy and watch a TV program while she lies next to me. During the baseline, she lifted her head or got up 11 times in 45 minutes. Two weeks ago, the number was the same, but the amount of time she looked around had reduced greatly. This time was actually worse- 19 times. It really seemed like she was having a hard time settling down. I think this was because of when I did the observation. The first two times, I came home and immediately watched the show. Yesterday, we went for a three mile walk with friends first. I think the amount of activity immediately preceding the test affected the results. I’ll do it again in a couple of weeks and see what happens.

As for her reactivity, she’s doing well. Like I said, yesterday we went on a walk with friends. I was a bit concerned in the beginning when she rushed towards two dogs. However, she was quiet during those incidents, and frankly, I couldn’t tell if she was trying to scare them off, or if she wanted to go say hi. After that, she settled down nicely and passed other dogs, including large, dark, prick-eared dogs, without a problem.

We also had a milestone in her reactive dog class on Tuesday: It was the first time she went through an entire class without any incident. She’s come close before, with only one or two soft vocalizations during the hour, but this week, there were none. Now, granted, she was in a covered crate the entire time, but that’s never stopped her before. Even better, she was actually relaxed- she appeared to be resting instead of working for treats.

Finally, I should note that Maisy is not experiencing any side effects due to the medication. During the first three weeks, she had some harder stools than normal, but that has subsided over the past week.

Overall, I do think the medication is helping her. She’s tolerating well, and she seems more relaxed. The decrease in vigilance is pretty amazing. The medication will continue to build up in Maisy’s system, and full effectiveness should be seen between 6 and 8 weeks. Hopefully, Maisy continues to improve.


Katie, Maizey and Magnus said...

It sounds like a good walk! I'm glad you had that nice time together.

I hope the meds continue to help Maisy. I know that meds can work better or worse with changing body chemistry so I think the records you are keeping are very vital. I really appreciate how you recognized that her not settling down could be due to your stimulating walk. That kind of insight is very important with our reactive pups. It will be interesting to figure all these averages over time when compared with outside stimuli. You are doing such an amazing job, not only for your Maisy but for all of us to learn from you!

I am really interested in your reactive dog class. I may have found a reactive class for Maizey so I would like to read more about the structure of your class and what you found beneficial. Can you point me to some posts?

Crystal said...

Hi, Katie! I don't think I've written about our reactive dog class here on the blog. Maybe I can do that soon. In the meantime... what would you like to know?

I think the thing I like best about my current class is that the instructor is very respectful of Maisy and I. If I say no to participating in an exercise, she never pushes it, although she will let me know if she thinks I'm being overprotective.

Anonymous said...

Hey Crystal,
Thanks so much for keeping these logs, so helpful and informative for those of us with reactive dogs.

I have posted on my blog about the format of my Control Unleashed Class. This class is taught by Alexa and Leslie McDevitt. I am going to post a 10 minute clip from our class on my blog, sometime this week.
Kirby (

Anne said...

Sounds like Maizey is making great progress! You said you think she is part Corgi? From what I've seen in herding breeds in various training situations, and as the owner of an Australian Cattle Dog, I'd say some of the traits such as vigilance and reactivity are breed traits...sounds like Maizey has an exaggerated case of these traits(?) It is so cool that there are classes now for reactive dogs. Twenty years ago, I had a Malamute who was reactive to the 10th power, and it was scary to take him out in public. Thanks for sharing all of this great information!

Crystal said...

Hi, Anne!

Yes, Maisy is a corgi-poodle mix, and I think she has more corgi traits than poodle ones. She definitely has some herding instincts, so I think you're probably right that some of her issues are breed-related.

That said, they are extreme and interfere with her daily life and ability to function (you know, like sleeping!). Thankfully, there is so much available to us between classes and medication (not to mention books and the internet!).

Katie, Maizey and Magnus said...

Hi Crystal, sorry for the slow response. I am sort of overwhelmed in the reactive area this week and have been doing lots of reading, and not so much responding.

Before I put Maizey in this class I would like to know what those who have reactive classes find valuable about them. Specifically in the structure of the class. How many dogs? What measures are taken to make safe space for your pup? Does she interact with other reactive dogs, or are there neutral dogs brought in for the exercises? What skills do you cover?

Obviously I have more questions than answers, and if it is too complicated I am happy to follow links. I am already working through many of the links on your and others links page. But would love some specifics on classes. I really appreciate all the insight your blog and the blogs of your readers have given me.

Crystal said...

Hey Katie, no problem with the slow responses at all. Life gets busy sometimes!

I have taken reactive dog classes at two locations, with three different instructors (I took two sessions with different instructors at one place, and for the last year have been somewhere else with a third instructor). I liked both classes- I just switched because the first place wasn't offering the class for awhile, and I still needed one.

I don't remember exactly how many dogs were in the first set of classes. I think around six or eight. My current class typically has three to five.

In both classes, a lot was done to ensure safety. This included crates (everyone brought one or borrowed one) and barriers- ring gates covered with blankets, for example. The barriers are good for when dogs are out of their crates working but need reduced visual stimuli. If a class doesn't have them available when needed, I wouldn't go.

There was not interaction in either class. Neither class brought in neutral dogs. It's not a bad idea, but I think it's difficult to find a class that does, mostly because most instructors who teach reactive dog classes do it because they themselves have reactive dogs. Also, it can be taxing on the neutral dog to serve in that role over and over and over. Even if my dog was perfectly normal, I'd be careful about exposing her to barking lunging dogs on a regular basis. My one class does utilize large, realistic stuffed dogs as decoys, though.

As for skills, the two classes have been very different. The first class followed the Control Unleashed book pretty closely. Have you read that? It's a curriculum book, more or less, and suggests what to do each week.


Crystal said...


Our current class is much more relaxed. We arrive at class, and everyone brings their dog in one at a time. We spend about five to ten minutes checking in and relaxing on mats or in crates.

Then we do individual exercises- each dog gets up one at a time to do some heeling, work on perch or wobble board, go out and around a cone, practicing leave its, etc. It's really dependent on what the handlers want to do. Maisy and I sometimes do jumps. We used to do this in a box made up of ring gates, but now I'm in the more advanced class, so we don't use the box anymore.

The working dog is basically playing "Give Me a Break" from CU- learning to focus and work with the handler despite distractions. The other dogs relax on their mat or in their crate, and play "Look at That" and get counter-conditioned to loud noises, dogs moving around, etc.

Once every dog has had a chance to work (and that's usually about 3 minutes each, sometimes more sometimes less depending on how many dogs are in class), everybody relaxes on their mat again for a few minutes. We do this so the dogs learn to calm down after periods of high stimulation.

After everyone's calm again, we do group exercises. Everyone gets up and moving again, sometimes heeling, sometimes interacting with an object, etc. This increases the amount of distraction that the dogs need to work through. Again, this is short- 3 to 5 minutes.

Then we relax again. After everyone's calmed down again, we might do another exercise. Sometimes this is (individual) restrained recalls, sometimes it's sitting politely for greetings (from humans, not other dogs), sometimes it's parallel walking or doing "There's a Dog in your Face" (from CU)- it really just depends on how the dogs are doing. If a dog is super over the top, they might skip an exercise, or go in a back room or behind a barrier. The instructor is really good at reading the dogs and adjusting the exercises as needed.

We end the class by relaxing again, and then everyone leaves the building one by one.

I really like my current class. Enrollment is ongoing instead of being an every-8-weeks kind of thing. This is nice because there's no pressure to cover everything or move beyond where a dog is. Everything is adjusted for the dog, and you never feel like you're not progressing fast enough or that you can't participate because your dog didn't learn week 3's task or something. I don't think this is the norm, but I'm not sure.

If I were looking for a new reactive dog class, I'd look for a positive reinforcement trainer, obviously. No corrections, no yelling allowed. I'd want one that uses barriers, and that adjusts the exercises for each dog. Bonus points for instructors who will listen to what you say and not push when you say you feel uncomfortable about a certain exercise.

Let me know if you have any other questions. I'm sure I'm leaving stuff out. :)

Katie, Maizey and Magnus said...

Crystal, thank you, thank you, thank you! your response was more than generous, and very helpful!

I will most likely post about the details of the class for Maizey when it is closer to time for her start. Right now it seems to meet many of these criteria, with the difference that the pods they use for the reactive dogs are in the same room, but completely private. And your dog doesn't even see the other dogs if that is preferred. The class is only 4 dogs at a time, which seems very good to me.

Also about week three (of seven) they do bring in neutral dogs, but only after some progress has been made with the fake dog. I am jealous of your ongoing enrollment. That is an awesome idea. Most dogs will need more than 6-8 weeks of class to really start some new habits, so ongoing enrollment is great. Thank you again, this is awesome!

Crystal said...

Katie, I'm glad it helped. And I can't wait to read more about your guys' class. It sounds like it is set up well.