Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: This is What Happens When Her Feet Get Cold

Monday, February 25, 2013

Why Punishing Anxiety Doesn't Work

I have asthma. This causes my airway to swell and narrow, making it more difficult for oxygen to reach my lungs. In turn, I become short of breath, my chest feels tight, and I often wheeze or gasp for breath. It’s an awful feeling.

I have a friend with a heart condition. She has poor circulation and sometimes her heart rate increases and her blood pressure drops. The end result is light-headedness and occasional fainting spells.

I have worked with people who have diabetes. You’re probably familiar with this disease in which the body doesn’t regulate insulin well. Sometimes, the body will either have too much or too little blood sugar, and the person can be rendered confused, disoriented, or even unconscious.

My dog has an anxiety disorder. Her brain chemistry is not balanced, and the neural pathways of her brain are abnormal as a result. When something happens to overload those pathways, she may become hypervigilant, pace, or growl and snap at people.

What do all of these things have in common? They are medical conditions that are the result of a physical problem in the body. What’s more, these conditions manifest themselves in behavioral terms. Whether it’s gasping for breath, fainting, or becoming aggressive, the behavior is not a conscious decision made by the sufferer.

I want to be clear on this last point: none of us choose to act the way we do as a result of our respective problems. Believe me, I hate having an asthma attack, and when one is imminent, there is little I can do to prevent it. I definitely do not choose to have trouble breathing- it just happens. Likewise, my dog is not weighing out her options when she encounters a situation too stressful for her to handle. Her brain releases a cascade of hormones and neurotransmitters which causes her to react in a certain way.

This is one of the many reasons I prefer to avoid the use punishment when dealing with dogs with behavioral problems. Just as we wouldn’t hit people in diabetic comas in order to stop them from having low blood sugar episodes, we can’t stop a dog from having a panic attack by using a collar correction. While it’s true that some behavior problems are just that- behaviors- others can be traced back to a medical problem like imbalanced brain chemistry, pain, or some other disease process. It is exceedingly difficult to know the cause of so-called misbehavior in the heat of the moment.

I’m not saying that we should just shrug our shoulders and allow things to continue as they are. If we do, there is a risk of death. Left untreated, I could stop breathing because of my asthma. My friend could go into cardiac arrest. And my dog could be euthanized if she bit someone.

Thankfully, there is a lot we can do to prevent those behaviors. I take inhaled steroids twice a day and avoid chemical scents. My friend takes beta blockers and avoids activities proven to cause problems. Diabetics often take insulin and monitor their blood levels. And my dog takes medication, receives ongoing behavioral training, and I help her avoid stressful situations.

What’s more, each of us have things that we can do when exposure to triggers are unavoidable. Whether that’s following a carefully thought out exercise regime, a well-balanced diet, or a behavior modification protocol, there is a lot we can do to cope with an unpredictable world.

If something happens to push our dogs over the edge, we need to step in and help them. Trying to train through the situation is foolish; it’s like lecturing a diabetic on the importance of a proper diet when their blood sugar drops. It’s too late for that. Glucose for a diabetic or a rescue inhaler when I have an asthma attack is not a viable long-term strategy, nor is it prevention. It’s a response to an emergency situation. When our dogs growl, bark and lunge, or otherwise “misbehave,” that’s an emergency, too. Get them to safety.

We owe it to our dogs to help them deal with stress. Seek out a professional, whether it’s a medical appointment with their vet or a behavioral evaluation with a qualified trainer. Come up with strategies that will prevent problem behaviors from occurring. Equip them with the tools that will help them in the moment. Know how to respond in a behavioral emergency.

And above all- remember that you can’t shock a diabetic’s pancreas into working. So why would you do it to your dog?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Future of "Reactive Champion"

As you know, a few months ago I decided that I needed to take a break. I did this for a number of reasons. Part of it was because I was in the middle of a divorce, which was emotionally taxing. Part of it was because I was working on a side project (still am, actually). But mostly, it was because blogging just wasn't fun anymore. In fact, I found it downright stressful. I was blogging on a regular schedule, delivering (or trying to, anyway) high-quality content, and spending large amounts of time doing so. I was beginning to resent it.

I'm glad I took a break. It gave me the time I needed to rest, heal, and reflect on my goals. The truth is, I'm in a very different place than when I first started this blog, relationship changes aside. I was working in a very boring job with very little to do other than write. I had a highly anxious, stressed, and reactive dog. I was very invested in dog sports. And, I'll admit, I felt just a bit insecure, and tried to get some of those needs met through this blog.

Things have changed so much since then. I'm in a much better place in so many respects: vocationally, emotionally, physically. Maisy is, too. In fact, Maisy is doing so awesome that the name of this blog is a downright lie now.

All of this means that the nature of this blog must change.

Unrelated picture is unrelated. Courtesy of Sara Reusche.
First, I'm keeping the name, and the focus on reactive dogs. I teach reactive dog classes and I do private behavior consults for Paws Abilities Dog Training, so this only makes sense. I will continue to write educational posts, reflections on training and relationships with our dogs, and seminar reports. However, I'm also going to share more Maisy stories, even if they don't underscore any particular point. I love my dog like crazy, and I want to share that with the world. I may or may not share more about my personal life... we'll see.

Second, I'm dropping the schedule. I will now post when I want instead of on set days. I'm told this is terrible for increasing page views and all that, but frankly, I figure that if readers have hung in there with me throughout my break, they'll probably be okay with this decision. I'll have some fairly regular posts at first. I need to get you all caught up on Maisy's life over the past couple months, have a few things that never got posted, and have some new insights and ideas I want to share with you. I hope to finish my Shedd Animal Training Seminar series, too, but it may take awhile.

Finally, I'm going to spend less time making sure the blog is “perfect.” No more endless editing and polishing before the post goes up. No more worries about how the type is justified, or the placement of pictures. Or heck, even how well the pictures relate to the post. Sometimes I just have a cute picture. Less perfection also means there will likely be more humor and even an occasional swear word. I'm sorry if this offends you (truly!), but I want my writing to be more authentic!

Okay, that's it! I'm excited to be back, and relieved to have found ways to reduce the self-imposed pressure of blogging. Let's see where this wild ride called life takes us!