Thursday, June 30, 2011

Now I Understand

 At my old job, I worked with adults with disabilities, but many of my clients were also diagnosed with some sort of mental health condition. Today, I want to tell you about Jerry. (Both his name and the details have been changed for privacy reasons. The essence remains true.)

Jerry was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, but when I first met him, he was on medication, so I found it hard to believe that the mild-mannered man in front of me was the same man as described in his file. According to his paperwork, when his anxiety was really bad, he would become destructive and violent.

But his brothers didn't care that his medication was making him calm. He wasn't acting like the Jerry they knew, so at their insistence, the medicine was stopped. At first, everything went well. He became more talkative, and was really quite funny. As time went on, though, his cute sayings turned into perseveration. He began to pace the hallways and pick at his skin until it bled. It was heart-breaking to watch, and I'll admit I was quite judgmental. I just couldn't understood why his brothers, who claimed to love him, would do this.

You're probably wondering what all this has to do with dogs. Well, it's this: I tried the trazodone with Maisy the other day, and I hated what it did to her. For a good portion of the morning, she sat staring at me, but not really seeing me, if that makes sense. Every time I tried to interact with her, she'd blink slowly and lick her lips. She barely moved, and then only with significant coaxing. Even so, it was painfully slow and she appeared uncoordinated and clumsy. She just seemed drugged.

No matter how well the trazodone worked, I would have hated it because of that alone. Unfortunately, it gets worse. Within half an hour of taking it, she abruptly stopped eating breakfast and began whining incessantly instead. If I was sitting, she was in my lap, and if I was standing, she was curled up around my foot. For a dog who doesn't really like to touch or be touched, she was acting as though she needed to crawl inside my skin.

She refused to enter the bathroom- you know, the room where we keep the post-tooth-brushing-rawhides that she begs for every chance she gets? She seemed terrified of the tile floor, even though she's never before shown any hesitancy of walking on it (or any other tile floor) before.

Outside, she avoided locations and objects she normally loves, and she would stare and stare when she heard a noise. It wasn't hypervigilance so much as it seemed like she just couldn't process what she was hearing.

Thankfully, I knew that medication can and should work better, so I emailed Dr. Duxbury before it had even worn off completely, expressing my concern. She emailed back and called Maisy's reaction an “agitation response.” She advised me not to use trazodone anymore, and said she would phone in a prescription for clonidine instead.We'll try that this weekend.

But this experience gave me a new sense of empathy. I suddenly understood how Jerry's family must have felt. His anxiety may have been gone, but at what cost? For several hours, I felt like I'd lost my dog. Everything I love about my dog- her enthusiasm, her happiness, her energy, her intelligence- it was all gone. She wasn't acting like the Maisy I know. How must Jerry's family have felt, slowly watching their brother go from a funny guy to one who barely spoke? Sure, he wasn't injuring himself anymore, but he also wasn't doing much of anything.

I'm so glad that it's not an all-or-nothing proposition. I am thankful to have the support of a veterinary behaviorist who will help us find the drugs that work, who wants "only the best" for my dog. I am so glad that we found a long-term medication that allows Maisy to feel comfortable in her own skin, but that doesn't rob her of her personality. And I hope that Jerry's family can find that for him, too.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Recheck with the Veterinary Behaviorist: Plans for the Future

After all my blathering on, I still haven't gotten to the crux of the appointment: where do we go from here? So today I'm going to share what Dr. Duxbury and I agreed to do next.

Not ones to mess with a good thing, we are not changing Maisy's paroxetine. She will remain on a daily 10mg dose for the forseeable future. I don't know when/if we'll ever take her off it, but for now, it remains effective and awesome.

However, given how traumatic her recent vet visits were, and considering that Maisy will be staying at a boarding kennel for the first time in her life next month, we decided that we do want have a little something for special occasions.

We did try trazodone at her ultrasound, and I was unimpressed with it then. Still, that day was weird- she was already stressed from her appointment the day before, and the city was doing ripping out the sidewalk in front of our house that day. Plus, Dr. Duxbury really prefers trazodone over the alternatives (it's typically less addicting and seems to have fewer side effects, including paradoxical effects), so we agreed to give it another try, this time on a day when nothing was going on.

Based on the feedback Dr. Duxbury received from our reactive dog class trainer, we discussed the possibility of trying more conventional training classes. (I'm thinking I'll try an advanced rally class, but I might try an advanced obedience class, too- depends on what works best in our schedule, really.)

We're going to take it slow, though.

Maisy and I will remain in our current reactive dog class, but only attend every other week. Dr. Duxbury said we could start taking regular classes immediately, but I think I'm going to take it a bit slower instead. My plan is to go to the club where I plan to take classes every other week and set up Maisy's crate and do the same stuff as we do at reactive dog class: mostly chill in the crate, but have her come out to heel, work on a perch, etc., near the other dogs. I'll probably spend two to three months doing the every-other-week thing before actually signing up and attending a class.

The purpose of doing reactive dog class every other week is to give us a barometer of how Maisy is doing. If Maisy gets reactive in the regular class, but not in reactive dog class, we'll know that she's not ready for the regular class yet. If she gets worked up in the regular class and the reactive dog class, we know there's an issue, but that it's probably not related to the class schedule.

Beyond classes, though, we have two additional assignments: first, I am to condition Maisy to wear a muzzle. This was mostly my idea, but Dr. Duxbury did fit Maisy for a muzzle because I couldn't figure out what size she needed. (As it turns out, she's between sizes.)

Second, I am to condition Maisy to love being picked up. She doesn't care for this right now, but if she finds being picked up pleasant, it will make it easier to move her through crowded doorways and spaces without increasing her stress level. It's meant to be a management strategy, to prevent stress, as opposed to something I do in response to stress.

Because Maisy did so well just hanging out at the last trial, Dr. Duxbury said we could enter the next one! However, we both agreed that the best course of action is to play it by ear. I'll go, hang out, and if Maisy's doing well, do a day-of-show entry. And then, depending on how she's doing as we enter the ring, I am to seriously consider purposely NQing, and either do just one to two signs, or have a “cookie run” instead of trying to actively compete. Either way, we've been given permission to enter the ring, and I'm happy about that!

Both Dr. Duxbury and I are thrilled with how Maisy's doing. We'll return in three to six months to reassess things again, and I am very excited to see where she's at then.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Recheck with the Veterinary Behaviorist: More Videos

I hope you all don't mind more videos! The difference between the two videos in my last post is so dramatic that I didn't want to detract from them by including extra ones, but I have more that I want to share!

Bike Reactivity
One of Maisy's triggers has always been motion- whether it's a dog running or a bike whizzing past, it's usually unsettling. In the interest of full disclosure, this was one of the areas where we'd made great progress with behavior mod alone. Still, she occasionally had trouble with motion, as this video from last fall indicates:

Since adding medication to the mix, though, she's doing much better with bikes. She's still not entirely comfortable with them (notice how her body stills when she sees them, and how her tail goes up as the pass), but she doesn't feel the need to lunge at them anymore!

Encountering Novel Objects
Maisy has also always struggled with novelty and sudden environmental changes. I was fortunate enough to catch this on tape last fall when we went on our usual walk through the neighborhood only to discover a couch on the side of the road! As you'll see, she's quite cautious to approach the couch, and normal road noises (which she didn't usually find upsetting) caused her to jump.

Compare that to this video I took just a few weeks ago. In it, we encounter a large waste bin in our alley that hadn't been there before. Although she's still cautious, it's much less pronounced than it was with the couch. She approaches, checks it out, and that's that.

Strange/Trigger Dogs
I don't have any good before video, but I have two great videos of Maisy around “trigger dogs.” Maisy was pretty reliably unnerved by large, dark dogs with prick ears- Dobermans, German Shepherds, and Bouviers, for example. In fact, the first dog she ever demonstrated reactivity toward was a Great Dane, so I consider them the ultimate challenge. As it happened, I was going for a walk with a friend, and she had invited another friend with a Great Dane.

It did not end in disaster like I thought it might, although Maisy did lunge at the dog once. It felt horrible at the time, but when I reviewed the video, it didn't seem that bad at all. No barking or growling, and she recovered pretty quickly. In fact, she even laid down about 90 seconds later! She wasn't entirely comfortable (her body is tense, her tail is low, and she's panting mildly), but I still think this is a pretty big deal.

And here's a second video, about 45 minutes later. She's still alert, but more relaxed than in the previous video. She also deserved WAY MORE COOKIES for her behavior here- total mom fail. It was kind of funny, actually, because as we were watching this video at Maisy's appointment, I sighed and said, “I needed to give more cookies,” and Dr. Duxbury kind of laughed and said, “I was just thinking that!”

I am so, so proud of how my little dog is doing. She's improved so much since beginning meds that I can't believe it sometimes. We are now able to do things that I never dreamed possible- hanging out in a group? Unreal. And yet very real. Medication has changed our lives.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Recheck with the Veterinary Behaviorist: Before and After Videos

It probably wasn't fair to leave the last post hanging like that, mostly because Dr. Duxbury and I didn't really discuss the logs. She thanked me for bringing them in, but the bulk of our appointment was spent watching videos.

Because she had three students in the room with her, I showed the “before” videos that complemented the "after" videos so they had a frame of reference. I'm really glad it happened like this, because I don't think we would have watched the before videos otherwise. Why would we have? We both were there, we both remember what Maisy was like... right?

The truth is, when I watched the before videos, my jaw dropped. I didn't remember Maisy being that anxious, that vigilant, that slow to bounce back from stress. What I remember is Maisy being herself, and that she'd improved a lot through the training we'd already done.

Here's the before video. For context, this was taken at my reactive dog class last fall. We were pushing Maisy a little bit harder than usual because we wanted to make sure we got good video for the initial appointment. (I was later told that wasn't necessary, so I do not recommend you do the same thing.)

And here is the after video. There are some differences between the two videos- different location, different dog, different orientation- but not enough to cause the drastic change you will see in Maisy's behavior.

Amazing, right? Let me tell you, if I had had any doubts about whether or not medication was the right choice for my dog, well... they're gone now. Instead, I turned to Dr. Duxbury and said, “Why didn't I do this sooner?”

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Recheck with the Veterinary Behaviorist: Behavior Logs

It seems hard to believe that Maisy has been on medication for eight months now. Sometimes it feels like just yesterday that we started this journey, and at others, it feels like it was a lifetime ago. On Monday, we had Maisy's six-month recheck with her veterinary behaviorist, and once again, I must take this opportunity to highly recommend Dr. Duxbury at the University of Minnesota Behavior Department. As always, I absolutely adored working with her. She's full of great insight and is absolutely masterful at reading body language. She has tons of experience, which leaves me feeling very comfortable with her recommendations. And it doesn't hurt that I really like her.

Anyway, I have so much that I want to share about Maisy's progress, about Dr. Duxbury's reactions, and about what the future holds that this will probably take multiple posts. Today's entry will take a look at the behavior logs I kept in the past couple of weeks. (Click here to see past behavior logs.)

Usually, I keep a week or two of logs to get an idea of how Maisy is doing. Her pre-medication baseline was 3-4 anxiety episodes per day, so I was pretty excited to see how she was doing. This set of behavior logs were different, though. You see, right before I planned to start keeping the logs, Maisy ended up in the doggie ER. She then had two back-to-back appointments with a specialist, which she found incredibly stressful. I kept logs anyway knowing that they wouldn't be an accurate representation of how she's doing in general, but feeling like it was my duty. Then I remembered that I have logs from the last time she had a stressful event (five days at my parents' house at Thanksgiving), so I laid them out side by side (click the image to enlarge it):

As you can see, I have data from the day of the stressful event (in both cases, I started keeping logs in the late afternoon), as well as for the subsequent week. The initial response is the same: 3 instances of anxiety vocalizations or startles on the day of the stressful event. And, I'd say that her recovery time is about the same for both sets of data- three full days after the stressful event, although I'd definitely say there was residual stress for a couple days beyond that both times. 

I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed by this. One of my goals was really for Maisy to bounce back quicker after a stressful event, and that has not happened. In fact, now I'm not sure it can happen; I don't know that it's possible to hurry stress hormones out of the body.

However, I am thrilled by how much better she's doing in handling the stress. I mean, check out that graph! The red lines are so much lower than the blue lines! Before, over the full seven-day period, she had an average of 2.86 instances of anxiety per day. Now, that's just 1.14. Before, over the three-day primary recovery period, she had an average of 4 instances per day, and now it's only 2 per day. More than that, the quality of those anxious outbursts has changed. The intensity and duration have gone way down.

So, even though these aren't exactly conventional behavior logs, they are incredibly interesting, and I'm quite happy with Maisy's progress. I absolutely love what Paxil has done for Maisy's quality of life. Of course, now the question is... did Dr. Duxbury agree that the Paxil has been helpful? Was she as impressed by the results of our logs? I'll let you know in my next post...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sarah Kalnajs Seminar: The Canine Risk Assessment

Initially, I didn't think I'd write about today's topic, not because it isn't interesting, but because I wasn't sure how useful it would be to you, my dear readers. That's because Sunday's topic was about aggression: in puppies, how to assess them, and how to begin working with them. It was also specifically tailored for canine professionals, which I am not. I assume the majority of my readers are not, either. Still, so many people in the blogging world do rescue that I really thought this information should be out there, so today I'm going to write about Sarah's canine risk assessment.

The canine risk assessment is not the same as a temperament test. It comes after the temperament test, after you've already decided that this is a Dog With Issues, and it is meant to be used when you're trying to decide if you can rehabilitate this dog. It is meant to be an objective tool that allows a behavior consultant to make recommendations and gauge the likelihood of success. It does this by giving you a ten-point method of systematically eliciting information that will help you make your decision.

The Canine Risk Assessment
1. What was the age of onset? How long as the behavior gone on?
Generally speaking, an earlier onset and longer duration means a worse prognosis. Sarah said that early onset suggests that the behavior has a genetic component, as opposed to something the dog learned. Learned behaviors are easier to modify than ones that are coming out due to faulty wiring. A longer duration means the dog has had plenty of time to practice the bad behavior, and that those neural pathways become stronger, and the behavior more likely as a result. (See this excellent post for more on this concept.)

2. How specific is the behavior?
Here, we're trying to discover if the behavior happens only in certain settings, or only with certain stimuli, or if it has generalized and happens in respose to very fuzzy triggers. Sarah acknowledged that while it can be harder to work with a very specific behavior (because you have to set up the situation perfectly in order to do behavior modification), it is also lower risk because you can easily predict when it will happen.

3. How predictable is the dog's behavior?
This question is often directly related to the prior one. A dog whose behavior is very specific is probably quite predictable, and thus is far safer than one whose behavior has no known cause- or at least it's difficult to determine the cause. The unpredictable dog is also going to be harder to work with, and will probably have a poorer outcome.

4. Does the dog give visible or discernable warnings?
We will need to rely on our ability to read dog body language here: does the dog “warn” you that he's about to act aggressively, or does it come “out of nowhere?” In addition to considering the dog's warnings, we need to consider how obvious those warnings are- can his owners or the general public see them, or will they blithely mistake them for something else? Obviously, a dog who doesn't give good warnings, or one who doesn't give obvious ones are going to be riskier.

5. How quick is his trigger?
In that same vein, regardless of how well the dog warns, we need to consider how long he warns, too. A dog who gives a long, drawn-out series of warnings is far safer than the dog who attacks abruptly. Even the best warning is worthless if you don't have time to react to it.

6. Has the dog harmed anyone else (human or otherwise)? How severe was that harm?
This is a rather self-explanatory question. The dog who has a long rap sheet, or who has inflicted serious harm, is far riskier than one who hasn't hurt anyone.

7. What is the dog's arousal level like? Can he inhibit his behavior?
A dog who is often out-of-control or easily aroused is going to pose a greater risk than one who is able to self-modulate his responses. Of course, how seriously you take this behavior will depend on his age, size, and situation- if you have two dogs with similar arousal levels, the smaller one is probably going to be safer.

8. How likely would unintentional provocation be?
The fact is, people gravitate to small dogs, fuzzy dogs, and young dogs, and Sarah thinks this can make the situation worse. She has a point- as anyone with a scruffy little puppy can attest, it is nearly impossible to keep people away when the dog is perceived as “cute.” Unfortunately, this also means that it is far more likely that well-meaning but clueless people will unintentionally provoke the dog into bad behavior.

9. Is management possible, reasonable, and likely?
Make no mistake: these are actually three different questions. Management is an important component of any behavior modification program- you need to have a way of preventing the behavior while you're working on it. However, even if management is possible, it might not be very reasonable. Can you really expect someone to never have guests? And even if it is reasonable, not everyone is willing or able to implement the management plan.

10. Are the owners fearful of the dog?
Finally, regardless of whether or not the owners (or fosters or whoever is caring for the dog) are justified in their feelings or not, it is very difficult to make good progress when the dog's caretakers are afraid of him. If they are, rehoming the dog- if it's safe to do so- is the best option. If it's not safe to do so, there will be some tough decisions to make, including the consideration of euthanasia.

Once you've answered each of these questions, it's time to classify each as either “positive” or “negative.” Then it's time to make a decision about the dog's prognosis. A dog who clearly has more positives than negatives may be safer... or he may not be, depending on what is in his negative column. Sarah said some things may be weighted more heavily than others. For example, if a dog has only one fault, but it's that he bit a person so badly that they needed 100 stitches, it's clear that he's a high-risk dog. On the flip side, a dog with many negatives, but who has never caused harm is probably a much better candidate for rehab.

Finally, I really must stress that these are questions that are best answered with the help of a competent and qualified behavior professional. The canine risk assessment was meant for use by professionals, and I think it is vital that laypeople- from seminar junkies like me to rescue volunteers who have fostered for decades- consult with a professional. Still, it is my hope that learning about Sarah's canine risk assessment will help us laypeople see the issues more clearly, and help us identify when we might be over our heads with a dog, especially since a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sarah Kalnajs Seminar: Stress in Dogs

The second day of Sarah's seminar was largely about aggression. Again, the day was just jam-packed with video. Of course, it was largely video of scary dogs, but still: it was nice to practice all of the information on body language that we had learned the day before.

So why do I mention aggression when this post is titled “Stress in Dogs?” Because throughout the weekend, Sarah's message was that stress can lead to aggression. This is especially true when we combine chronic stress with increased arousal because dogs under regular, repeated stress never have the opportunity to fully recover.

This has to do with the physiology of stress; within half a second of a stressful thing, the dog's adrenal glands begin to produce both adrenaline (which causes “hyper-alertness” by increasing the heart rate, blood pressure, and blood-sugar levels), as well as cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone which the body continues to make long after the adrenalin rush subsides, and as a result, it can take a minimum of seven to ten days for a dog to fully recover from stress. If a dog doesn't get the chance to fully recover from stress, he will have chronically elevated cortisol levels and a drop in testosterone. This leads to fatigue, slowed metabolism, and a weakened immune system, all of which lowers a dog's threshold for aggressive behavior.

As a result, it seems to me that we dog owners would be wise to pay attention to our dogs' stress levels. Unfortunately, this can be difficult because stress is sort of a nebulous concept. Not all dogs are stressed by the same things. Similarly, every stressed dog will react differently, and will show different signs of stress. Complicating matters even further, stress-related behaviors are very fluid, and a dog's stress level can change back and forth very quickly.

To address that last point, Sarah shared what she called the “two key indicators of internal emotional state.” First, is the dog eating? If you offer the dog a treat that he normally enjoys and he refuses it, it's highly likely that he's feeling stressed. Sarah also recommended paying attention to how the dog eats. Maisy becomes frantic in her treat-taking when she's stressed, but I've seen dogs that become slow and act is if they are doing you this grand favor by taking the treat. The second indicator is to ask if the dog responding to well-known cues. For many dogs, “sit” is a great test (Sarah also suggested “shake” as a commonly known cue). If the dog is normally quite solid in his performance and is now acting as if he can't hear you, or is responding very slowly, it is probably because he's stressed. If you see indications of stress in your dog, Sarah advised that you should modify the situation or, if that's not possible, to leave entirely.

But remember- the recipe for disaster combines stress and arousal! Arousal is similar to stress in that the dog's body releases a hormone called epinephrine. This increases the dog's heart and respiration rate. So if you have a dog that's already suffering from constant, low-grade stress, it's easy to see how just a little more excitement could push a dog over the edge.

Some things which dogs often find arousing include sudden changes in the environment (such as someone coming or going), being unable to access a desired person, dog, or thing due to barriers like fences or restraints like leashes, and intense, unrestrained play. These are generally seen as good things- owners coming homing, seeing another dog while on a walk, or going to a dog park are all things most dogs enjoy. No matter how exciting these events are, they also increase the dog's arousal levels. If the dog happens to be stressed when something arousing happens... well, the end result might be unpleasant. Therefore, it seems obvious that we need to reduce the amount of stress in our dog's life in order to ameliorate the potential interactions of stress and arousal. 

Sarah identified a number of causes of stress, ranging from undersocialization or social conflict to a lack of physical or mental exercise. On the flip side, too much activity (and not enough rest) can also be stressful; dogs need 17-20 hours of rest a day, but this should come in spurts, not all at once. Another set of seemingly contradictory causes of stress is a complete lack of structure as compared to too much structure. In other words, in order to modulate a dog's stress levels, we need to create balance and stability in his life.

Sarah also recommended setting up a “safety zone.” This is an area where the dog can get some down-time. It shouldn't be a place of isolation, but it should be a relatively low-traffic area with low visual stimuli; the dog shouldn't be able to see people coming or going, nor out any windows. The safety zone should be a comfortable place with plenty of low-key reinforcement (bully sticks and Kongs instead of tennis balls and squeaky toys, for example), and a place the dog spends time regardless of whether or not you're home. Sarah also uses DAP and Through a Dog's Ear CDs in her dogs' safety zone in order to promote relaxation.

Finally, Sarah recommended teaching what she calls the five foundation behaviors: a bridge sound that tells the dog reinforcement is coming (ie, the click-treat relationship), targeting skills so that you can encourage a dog to move without having to touch him, focused attention (eye contact that is both on-cue and automatic), a do-not-proceed cue like “leave it,” and a turn-away cue that encourages the dog to move in a different direction. A sixth bonus behavior is teaching your dog impulse control. All of these skills will allow you to deal with a stressful event or begin behavior modification if needed.

By giving our dogs appropriate exercise and structure we can help reduce stress. By giving them the space to relax, we can allow them to recover from stress. And by teaching them the five (or six) foundation behaviors, we can give them the skills they need to deal with stress. This helps prevent the terrible combination of stress and arousal that can lead to aggression.

It's your turn now! I'd love to hear what you do to help reduce your dog's stress level. Maybe you do something similar to Sarah's safety zone- please share the details of your set-up! Or, perhaps you have found another foundation behavior that really helps your dog deal with stress. No matter what it is, I'm looking forward to hearing what you do to help your dog!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sarah Kalnajs Seminar: How to Greet a Dog

Megan's doing it right: She's down on Maisy's level, at an angle, avoiding direct eye contact, 
letting Maisy approach her (instead of invading Maisy's space), and petting the chest and shoulders (as opposed to the top of her head). Is it any wonder that Maisy loves Megan?

Today's post is on the proper way to greet a dog. I think most the vast majority of my readers are quite dog-savvy, but even so, it's easy skip one or more of these guidelines... especially with our own dogs, who we know well, and who we assume will always put up with our primate selves. The truth is, many, many people are guilty of greeting dogs in ways that make them uncomfortable, myself included, so today I want to share Sarah's suggestions for proper dog-human greetings.

Before approaching any dog, assess his body language. It doesn't matter how well you know the dog. He may be your dog of 10 years, or he maybe a random dog you meet on the street. Either way, you should always assess the dog's body language. Friendly dogs can have bad days, and scaredy-pups can be interested in playing with you. But you'll never know if you aren't paying attention to what the dog is saying.

If he says you can come closer, approach at an angle by arcing gently. This is polite, nonconfrontational, and shows that you want to be friends. Being direct and straight-on is bad manners at best, and aggressive at worst, so start things off right by walking in a slight curve. (Incidentally, if your dog is meeting another on leash, get them off on the right foot by moving towards the other dog in that half-moon shape.)

Stop a few feet from the dog, and assess the dog's body language again. Things can change quickly, and the dog that you thought was okay with you (or the dog that thought he would be with you), may have changed his mind. So stop and check, and be willing to forgo that meeting if that's what the dog is telling you.

If he still says he's okay with the idea of meeting you, crouch down to the dog's level and orient your body at an angle. Please note that you should not close the gap- you'll be two to three feet away from the dog at this point. Just as it is rude to invade another person's space bubble, it's rude to invade a dog's. Allow him to close that space if he wants to.

Your job is to be polite and inviting, and you're going to do this by avoiding direct eye contact, leaning over the top of him, or getting in his face. Sarah also said you shouldn't smile directly towards the dog, as he may incorrectly interpret this as an offensive tooth display. She also stressed that it's rude to invade the dog's space by thrusting your hand or fist directly into his face. This is often counter to what we're taught- after all, how many times have you seen someone do this, or been told to let a dog smell your hand? True, the dog will want to smell you (it's their strongest sense, and as such, the best way for them to get to know you), but let him do that in away that doesn't get in his space.

The dog should be the one to make contact, so let him decide if he wants to be touched or not. Do not assume that it is your right to pet him, even if he does venture near you. A shy dog might be willing to come close, but isn't acutally interested in being physical. If he wants to be touched, he'll make it obvious; dogs that are rubbing against you, pushing his face near you, leaning on you, or otherwise seeking out your loving are all fair game.

Even if the dog says you may touch him, you still need to be careful to do this in a way that he appreciates. To that end, stroke from under, not over. Dogs generally do not like having their heads touched (and let's face it, you'd probably be weirded out if someone taller than you patted you roughly on the head, too). Try petting his chest or shoulders instead. Some dogs are okay with their chins and backs, too, but you should be continually assessing the dog's body language as you're interacting with him.

Finally, even if he wants to meet you, don't force him to stay longer than he's comfortable with. If he wants to end the interaction, let him. He'll appreciate that courtesy. 

So, dear readers, what do you think? Do you ever find yourself bending the rules just a bit? Which one is hardest for you to follow, and why? Would you add anything to these suggestions? Would you remove something? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ghetto Supastar, that is what you are, comin' from afar...

It's been a hard week for Maisy and I, and as happy as I was to receive the news that she's healthy, I didn't quite realize that there would be more in store for us. You see, Maisy had to have her belly shaved in order to get the ultrasound, and she wasn't pleased about this. It must have itched, because in the first 24 hours, she had licked herself so much that there was a red, raw spot on her belly.

 This is after several days of healing.

As I consulted with my friends about what to do, I realized that I had a problem: she hates wearing things, and that's pretty much the only way to stop the licking that could lead to a skin infection. I ended up modifying an old white tank top to provide complete belly coverage, resulting in a free, light-weight solution.

It's also a bit ghetto fabulous.

Still, it was just one more stressful thing to add on top of everything else, and while I couldn't do anything about the fact that she had to go to the vet, I could have helped her by preparing her for some of it. In fact, there are many, many things I could (and should) do to help her feel more comfortable: teaching her to accept all types of restraints, including on her side and her back, helping her learn to accept having her temperature taken, heck, I could even desensitize her to getting shots.

But I'm kind of a lazy trainer, so for now, I'm going to limit my focus to wearing things. I chose wearing things as a general category because while being restrained and getting shots are unpleasant, they're also brief. Unfortunately, when a dog needs to wear something, it's typically for a longer period of time.

Here's what I think Maisy should learn to wear:

First, a muzzle. During the emergency visit, the vet chose to put one on her, a decision that I understood given the fact that Maisy's record includes the diagnosis “fear aggression.” Truthfully, I even welcomed her decision, hoping that if they felt comfortable she couldn't bite, they would not feel the need to restrain her as tightly or roughly as they might have done otherwise.

Next, things on her body. As I mentioned, right now she's wearing a t-shirt in order to prevent her from licking her belly, but I think she should also learn to wear bandages (she had one on her front leg after having an IV catheter placed on Thursday). We will also work on wearing harnesses, just in case she ever needs some kind of mobility assistance in the future.

Finally, I want her to learn to wear an elizabethan collar (also known as the dreaded cone of shame). Although I hope like crazy she will never need a surgery necessitating the use of a cone, it seems wise to be prepared for such an eventuality. We've had several bladder issues now, and it seems possible that we might need to do something more invasive in the future. Again, I hope not, but better to have a skill she doesn't need than to be missing one she does!

So how am I going to teach her to do all this? Why, with cookies, of course! There's a great video here about creating a conditioned emotional response to a head halter, and I fully intend to do variations on this theme as I help Maisy learn to cope with (and love!) wearing stuff.

We've already started with her fancy shirt: I give her freeze-dried tripe as I'm putting it on. I don't hold her down or force her into it. I don't even have to drag her over to it or hunt her down. Instead, she chooses to come to me when it's time to put it on. Why? Not because she loves the shirt (although I hope that will come in time), but because it predicts stinky, tasty treats.

Maybe once we've accomplished this we can branch out into other medical procedures. Even if we don't, though, learning to be comfortable wearing things will be incredibly helpful because it will dramatically reduce both the duration and intensity of her stress (and remember, stress stacks on itself, so several days of low-grade stress can be just as bad and one highly stressful event).

What about you? What one thing could you do to teach your dog to be more comfortable during veterinary procedures? I expect everyone will have a different answer (you know, since we all have different dogs), but I'm looking forward to seeing your responses- I might steal a few for myself!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Normal, Normal, Normal

On Saturday, Maisy went to the emergency vet because there was blood in her urine. Assuming it was a UTI, but wanting to be sure, the vet and I agreed to do a urinalysis and urine culture. The urine was collected via cystocentesis, which requires using an ultrasound to poke a needle into the bladder in order to obtain a sample.

This would have been fine except that both the emergency vet and the critical care specialist on call thought Maisy's bladder wall had “abnormal thickening,” and there were unexplained white spots in the bladder cavity. The recommendation was to see an internal medicine specialist.

So, we went to that appointment yesterday, where I learned that the culture had come back negative. There were no bacteria, and no white blood cells, and thus, no UTI. She did have an elevated pH, and she had a lot of sediment, including struvite crystals. The specialist recommended we have an ultrasound done to see what had caused the bloody urine, and so we did that today.

The results? Normal, normal, normal. No bladder wall weirdness, no bladder stones, sediment, or crystals, the kidneys looked great, everything was awesome. Our best guess is that the bloody urine was caused by irritation from the crystals- or possibly even some small stones- that were passed when I increased Maisy's fluid intake over the weekend.

I was scared.

Like Maisy, I tend to be a bit reactive, and so I was absolutely freaking out. I tried to hold myself together, and I think I did okay once I quit consulting with Dr. Google (who had me convinced my dog was going to die, indeed, had already died about three days ago). I am grateful for my friends, who offered much support, logic, and rational thought.

Maisy was scared, too.

No, she didn't know that she had already died, but both appointments were very hard on her. The appointment yesterday was the worst. She was fine when we first arrived at the hospital, but was not fond of the physical exam the student gave her (the U is a teaching hospital, so we saw a student first, and then the specialist). In fact, she was so not-fond of it that she buried her head in my armpit and stopped taking treats.

Ya'll, I can count on one hand the number of times she's refused treats. When Maisy gets stressed, she will take treats frantically, have a “shark mouth,” and dive bomb the treat bag. Not eating? That's practically unheard of, and a sign of serious stress. I felt awful, and after the student left to report her findings to the vet, Maisy cowered under my chair. Again, this is not normal behavior for her.

When the vet came in, Maisy stood up, and pressed up against my legs, but stayed under the chair. It was not easy to coax her out, but we managed to do it. Thankfully, the vet did not need to do much in the way of a physical exam, and instead spent most of her time discussing the possible causes and diagnostic steps to take. Even so, Maisy jumped in my lap, and then scrambled up my shoulders and stood behind my head. This was not height seeking. This was fear. Honestly, it felt good that she wanted me to protect her, but I felt awful that I couldn't do what she wanted and stop the exam from happening.

That feeling got worse today.

Upon the suggestion of my trainer, yesterday I called Maisy's veterinary behaviorist to explain what was going on, and how stressed Maisy was. She consulted with the anesthesiologist (in case Maisy needed sedation in order to do a biopsy), and prescribed trazodone. I'm not sure if it helped. If it did, it wasn't enough.

The first thing they did when we arrived was take Maisy and place an IV catheter for possible sedation. Despite my objections, they did not allow me to go back with Maisy, and it broke my heart to see how reluctant she was to leave without me. Normally she loves people, but she remembered these people. Poor little pumpkin, the looks she gave me were just pathetic.

They returned her to me to wait for the procedure, and she pressed up against me, panting like crazy. Her pupils were bigger than I'd ever seen them, and she licked her lips almost constantly. I felt awful.

Then they took her for the ultrasound. She wouldn't even walk with the tech this time, and they had to carry her. Again, the looks Maisy gave me had me on the edge of tears.

During the ultrasound, they gave her a morphine-derivative to help sedate her some more. The procedure took almost an hour. They said she did well, and she seemed reasonably happy to see me, but still and quiet. Even now, three hours later, she's all drugged out, sitting spaced out, swaying side to side.

She appears quite bothered by her shaved belly. She's walking oddly, sitting stiffly, and keeps sneaking peaks at her stomach to figure out what's wrong. I knew she didn't like wearing things, but I find it interesting that she seems to equally dislike not having enough on.

Maisy also seems displeased with me. When we got home, she refused to come in the house, instead sitting at the far end of the yard. I finally coaxed her in with some treats, but she chose to be in a room as far away as possible from me, one which we never use, one which I've only seen her in once or twice before. I coaxed her out with some potato chips (her favorite treat), but she then went right back in there for an hour or two. She's now sitting in the same room, but with her back to me. She only looks at me when I offer her a treat, and even then, she takes them grudgingly.

I would worry that I'm being excessively anthropomorphic, but Patricia McConnell's dog Willie recently did something similar to her following his own surgery. Thankfully, he seems to have gotten over it, and I trust that, in time, Maisy will, too.

In the meantime, I'm simply grateful that, mad at me or not, Maisy is healthy. I love her more than I ever thought it possible to love a dog.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Sarah Kalnajs Seminar: Distance-Decreasing Signals

This is the last of our body language posts, and we get to end on a fun note! Distance-decreasing signals are like they suggest: the dog wants you (or whoever he's directing his signals at) to come closer! If you see a dog doing one of these things, he's probably safe to approach. Just remember that you need to take everything in context. If there are mixed signals, it's best to take things slowly and/or keep your distance.

As always, email me if you have a great shot of one of these- especially one I don't have a picture for. I'll post it here (with credit, of course!).

Play bows
The play bow happens when the dog's front end is lower than the back end, and typically the dog will be resting on its front legs. Compare the “stress stretch” in this entry with the play bows below:

Photo courtesy of Sara Reusche.

Easy Wagging Tails
Tails are so difficult to interpret since dogs tend to wag their tails regardless of how they feel. For example, a high, fast, stiff wag signals stress or a desire for you to stay away. The “easy wagging” tail, by contrast, will appear relaxed. Typically the tail set will be lower, although this is relative to the dog's natural tail set. On a dog like Maisy, her tail set changes only by a matter of degrees. Still, there are some things to look for. First, look for a tail that is wagging the entire body: that's generally a sign that the dog wants you closer. Another good sign is a circle or “helicopter” tail.

Submissive Grin
Sarah actually isn't a huge fan of the term “submissive” (and neither am I, truth be told), but she uses it for consistency's sake. A submissive grin says “I won't hurt you, and you can come closer.” It's a closed-mouth gesture with the front teeth showing, and usually the corners of the mouth are pulled back so you can see the back teeth, too.

Submissive Licking
Again with the term submissive- presented as such for consistency's sake. This is different from stressed lip-licking because it's a little lick to the side of the mouth instead of licking the front nose/lips area.

Relaxed Posture and Soft Eyes
A relaxed dog will have very little muscle tension, and wheras hard eyes are typically quite round, these are usually more oval-shaped.

Soft eyes, ears in a neutral position, and a gentle wag 
indicate that Maisy is relaxed and enjoying our interaction.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Emergency Vet Visit

We interrupt your regularly scheduled series of blog posts on dog body language to bring you this important health update.

My parents are in town this weekend, which means that we actually Go Out and Do Things instead of our normal weekend of bumming around. I was pretty excited to learn that the Sculpture Garden is dog-friendly, so we headed over there.

Obligatory shot with the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry.

It was shaping up to be a pretty nice afternoon, strolling among the art, when Maisy squatted and peed red. That's right- several ounces of rust-colored urine came out of my dog's bladder. A few minutes later, she squatted again, and this time, there were four or five drops of blood. Thick, bright red blood.

Our Facebook followers already know that we went to the emergency vet.

I'm lucky enough to live in a large urban area with an abundance of emergency vets, so there are many options for us. We ended up going to the the U of M both because it was closest and because Maisy's been there before for her veterinary behaviorist appointments. I hoped that meant she'd feel comfortable.

I think she was.

I felt kind of silly when they were taking Maisy's history. She was being her new-found outgoing self, and I was telling them that she's followed by the behavior clinic as an aggressive dog. I denied any pain, lethargy, or behavior changes, and she was being super calm. (Okay, so yes, she took a nap at the clinic, but then she came home and played ball with my dad for like three hours. Despite appearances to the contrary, her energy level has been completely normal.)

The vet took me seriously when I said that she was almost literally peeing blood, and decided to get some urine and do a culture. Unfortunately, in order to do a culture, the urine has to be sterile. And to be sterile, it needs to be obtained via cystocentesis, where they poke a needle through the abdomen, into the bladder, and draw out the urine. Not only is this more invasive than I like to be, but it needs to be done under the guidance of an ultrasound (to ensure they're in the right spot), and the machine is in the dreaded back. I asked to go back with Maisy, but there was another dog in the back with a life-threatening emergency, so they didn't want anyone extra getting in the way. Reluctantly, I handed over Maisy's leash and a fistful of treats and sent her off. 

By all accounts, Maisy did well. They ended up muzzling her, which they were extremely apologetic about, but given her history at the U, I completely understood. I'm glad we've been playing around with muzzle training in class, but I wish we'd been more serious about it. I've shaped her to stick her nose in a (greyhound sized) muzzle, and last week I was putting pressure on her nose with it, but since it's hard to find a Maisy-sized muzzle, she'd never actually worn one before. Still, they said she let them put it on with no complaint, and that, aside from a drama-queen yelp when they stuck her with the needle, she laid very still and was a good patient.

Photo by Robin Sallie.

The urine they removed from her bladder was red and thick with sediment, and the results from the urinalysis and culture will be available tomorrow. In the meantime, they sent us home on a broad-spectrum antibiotic, because that much blood is pretty indicative of a UTI. Unfortunately, that's not the worst of it; both the emergency doctor and the critical care specialist saw some abnormal thickening of her bladder wall on the ultrasound (actually more like a lump), as well as some weird spots/dots in the bladder cavity. Since those spots are typically indicative of bladder stones, we ended up taking some x-rays to see if there were any (there weren't), so we're not really sure what's going on. It could be nothing- just an artifact of an older, unsophisticated ultrasound machine, or some inflammation from the raging UTI she apparently has. Or it could be more serious, like some crystals or stones that just didn't show up on the x-ray, or worse, a polyp or tumor. We just don't know.

The vet recommended we see an internal medicine specialist next week to discuss further diagnostics- either an in-depth ultrasound with a specialist and a better machine, or a contrast dye study to illuminate the structures better- and so we have an appointment back there on Wednesday. Add today's (expensive) visit, and an already scheduled follow-up with the veterinary behaviorist at the end of the month, and I'm thinking this is going to be one expensive month. 

Oh well. She's worth it. Even if she does give me a gray hair between now and then as I worry about what that mysterious lump in her bladder might be.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sarah Kalnajs Seminar: Distance-Increasing Signals

As the category name implies, these are things a dog does to say that he wants the other dog (or person) to back off and increase the amount of distance between them. A dog might also do these to request that the other individual move away from his “stuff” (such as his toys, food, people, or place). These signals can (and do) occur at the same time as other stress signals.

Sarah said that the specific signals used often indicates aspects of the dog's personality. For example, a more confident dog would use a bigger or more “invasive” signal, while a less confident dog would use a smaller, more passive behavior. Regardless of how the dog asks for increased space, Sarah said that there is always some hostility present when a dog uses one of these signals. If there wasn't, the dog would use an appeasement gesture instead.

As always, if you have photos or videos that fit one of these categories, and you're willing to let me post them in this entry, please send them on over. My email address is under the contact tab above.

Marking Territory
If a dog marks territory during a social encounter, it's probably because he wants some distance.

Maisy has only recently started to do this, and it's quite interesting. While on walks, if another dog begins barking at her, she will very deliberately pee on the closest thing to that dog (typically the fence that dog is behind). However, she sometimes does the foot scraping style of marking- or at least, I assume that's what's going on in this video:

Ears and Body Weight Forward
When the dog is leaning forward, Sarah said, he is directly communicating an implied threat. “I want more distance, and I'll get it even if I have to get in your face.”

Tense Body or Face
As implied, this is what happens when a dog's body or face appears tense or tight.

This isn't the best picture, but you can see that Maisy's body is tense, and that she's clearly uncomfortable with how close the other dog is. (Photo by Robin Sallie.)

Lowered Head or Neck
This signal is often indicative of resource guarding- even if you can't see what the resource might be. Further, Sarah estimated that 80% of all dogs will show some type of resource guarding. This is a staggeringly huge number, but I don't find it terribly surprisng- a wild dog would never survive if he didn't guard his precious items. Maisy herself is a resource guarder, but I've never seen her guard anything against a human. The cats are targetted frequently, and sometimes other dogs who get too close to me when I've got treats. In the picture below, Maisy has some raw chicken, and she'd really prefer not to share it.

A High, Fast, Flagged Tail
When a dog's tail is “flagged,” it means that it is raised up and over the dog's back with the tip pointing towards his head. This is a very distinctive signal in dogs that usually have a lower tail set, and it's difficult to see in a dog like Maisy, whose tail is typical curled up and over her body. What I typically see with Maisy is a tighter, tenser, taller tail, but the casual observer probably wouldn't pick up on it.

The dog may wag his tail, which further lends itself to the impression of a flag waving in the wind. Unfortunately, most people are taught that it's safe to approach a dog who is wagging his tail. This is generally true if the tailset is lower, but in the case of the high tail, it's absolutely not the case (although it's even worse if the dog goes still). If you look at the marking video above, Maisy's tailset may appear normal, but it's a bit higher than usual between approximately 9 and 14 seconds, and more telling, the wag is very tight.

Layla, the black dog, has a high, stiff tail, and it's curling over into a flag.
Her tail also has some piloerection, and though it's hard to see, there's a tooth display going on.
Photo courtesy of Sara Reusche.

Heightened Posture and Height Seeking
Height seeking is about taking and control a vertical space. A height seeking dog might jump on people, or jump up on a high surface like a table or some furniture. However, not all dogs who are jumping up are engaging in height seeking behavior.

The difference is in the intent. If the dog is jumping up because he wants to be touched or engage with people, it's not height seeking, simply bad manners or an untrained dog. (Or, in the case of my own dog, a behavior which has been encouraged- she's short, you know!) True height seeking has no affiliative nature to it. It's not about getting attention, but rather about “status” and controlling resources- in this case, access to space. One way to tell the difference is to teach an alternate behavior, like sit. If you can do this, it wasn't really height seeking. On the other hand, Sarah said that if you work very hard to teach an alternate behavior and it doesn't work, you have a serious problem on your hands.

Further, height seeking is always a symptom of a behavior problem. If a dog is height seeking, you know there is an underlying problem already present or developing. Resource guarding is very commonly seen with height seeking.

The intense muscle ridges on this dogs face suggest 
he's on that chair because he's height seeking, not just playing. 
Photo courtesy of Sara Reusche.

Muzzle Punching
Muzzle punching is when a dog uses a closed mouth to quickly strike someone else. With people, it's often combined with height seeking, and is a quick movement typically directed at the face (although muzzle punching can be directed towards other body parts, too). With other dogs, it might be a simple punch, or it might result in rolling the other dog. Either way, it's a very clear signal that the dog wants someone out of his space. I like to think of it as an inhibited bite.

Distance-Increasing Bark
I think most dog people know that barks have meanings. It's very hard to describe the distance-increasing bark in text, and in this case, you really need to get Sarah's DVD. All I'll say here is that this particular bark tends to be repetitive.

Caught in the act of barking, we can tell this dog wants some distance 
based on his dilated pupils and pulled-back ears.
Photo courtesy of Sara Reusche.

Hard Eyes
This is another one of those signals that is difficult to describe. It's like a human glare, and as such, it's one of those “you'll know it when you see it” things. Sarah said that hard eyes are often recognizable because the line between the iris and the pupil will become less “fuzzy” and more distinct.

This dog has hard eyes, but he's also lowered his head and neck, and is quite stiff. 
This indicates that he's probably resource guarding that toy.
Photos courtesy of Sara Reusche.

This is a very brief micromoment of stillness. It will last no more than one to two seconds, and if you see it, you need to back off, and you need to do it five minutes ago because a freeze almost always happens immediately prior to an act of aggression.

This video is of Maisy resource guarding. You can see the classic lowered head and neck body position, but there is also a great demonstration of a freeze. The amazing thing is that while it's only two seconds long, it feels like forever to me. If the cat had not moved away, it is highly likely Maisy would have rushed and snapped at him.

Whale Eyes
Whale eyes are also called crescent moons, and are recognizable because the whites of the eyes show. Unlike people, the whites of a dog's eyes rarely show unless he wants some distance. The whale eye sometimes happens when a dog is turning his head away from you, but is too worried or concerned to take his eyes off you, thus exposing the whites. Sarah said that dogs almost always show whale eyes prior to biting (although just because you see whale eyes doesn't mean the dog is going to bite). For example, I think these pictures look more “worried,” but of course, worried dogs will bite if cornered.

If you look carefully, you'll see that Maisy is wearing a puppy graduation hat.

Photo courtesy of Sara Reusche.

Tooth Displays
There are many, many ways that a dog can show his teeth, and often the commisures (the dog's lips) tell you how serious he is. If a dog shows his front teeth only, it's probably an anticipatory behavior. If a dog pulls his lips all the way back so that the mouth forms a sideways V, it's not as serious. Dogs that show a C-shaped pucker typically do more damage if they bite. Dogs that display an incisor only are typically making an “agonistic” (combative, fighting) display.

The black dog's mouth is showing a C-shaped pucker. 
Puckers typically have teeth showing and the tongue firmly in the mouth.
Photo courtesy of Sara Reusche.

Tap Outs
This is when a dog rolls over on his back and exposes his genitals to you. Many people think that the dog is asking for a belly rub, but what he's really doing is saying, “Please, go away.” Sarah said this is what the less confident dog will use to ask for distance. Look at the context: what is causing the dog to roll over? How does he react once there? This will help clear up what your dog is asking for.

Maisy often does tap outs during veterinary procedures, including chiropractic adjustments and massages. This confused me for a long time since it does look like a belly rub solicitation, but Maisy isn't a belly rub kind of girl. Hearing Sarah talk about tap outs really clarified what's going on with Maisy.

The dog on the ground has listened to Layla's signals: 
Layla is staring directly at the other dog, and has a high, flagged tail.
Photo courtesy of Sara Reusche.