Saturday, November 22, 2014

There Are No Magic Pills... But There Might Be Magic Thundershirts?

After my most recent post on Napoleon, my vet and I have been experimenting with as-needed, short-acting drugs to see if we could find something to help him calm down and relax around the house. We've experimented with different drugs and different doses and different frequencies and... well, let's just say that the amount of trazodone that will knock me out does nothing to him.

I tend forget about deep pressure type wraps since the time we tried a Thundershirt on Maisy was an epic disaster. As in, she got even more anxious. Still, Maisy dislikes being touched and Napi loves it, so yeah. Then I tried an anxiety wrap on him (ie, an ace bandage because I'm cheap and it was handy) and... OMG. He just curls up and goes to sleep. Oh, he still notices when our upstairs neighbor comes and goes, but the barking lasts for a shorter amount of time, and it's less intense. The hyper-vigilance is reduced, and it's just basically... well, magical.

But the magicalness of the pressure wrap really came home to me when I signed up to share the rental cost of a local training building with a few friends. I'm not really sure what they worked on, but Napi and I worked on not freaking out around other dogs and people. We started out in the lobby, behind barriers and slowly worked up to being in the same room with the others. Okay, they were mostly sitting still, and we were a good 40 feet away, but HE WAS LYING DOWN AND QUIET. Relaxed? No. Eating treats? Yes, which is better than the last time we tried to do something similar.

We're renting the training building for the next couple weeks, and while I was initially planning on taking a different dog each week, now I'm thinking it will be Napi-only. We have the potential to make a ton of progress, and I'm really excited to see how he does.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Review: Natural Balance Delectable Delights Tender Cuts from

Okay gang, so when I do reviews, I say that we like the treats. Because, you know, we do. But I have dogs who will eat just about anything. Actually, Pyg really will eat anything. So the fact that we like the treats isn't saying much.

But these treats? The Natural Balance Delectable Delights? We loooooooove these. Well, the dogs think they are delicious, of course, and I think these are some of the nicest damn training treats of all time.

Okay, so these treats: in the middle, you can see how the treats are made. On the bottom, I have torn one of those pieces apart by hand. On the top, I cut them using a knife. And they are basically the same size. Those little pieces? About the size of half a Zukes. So- they're awesome for training small dogs. And they're a great consistency. They are this nice, dense, sticky treat that breaks apart with no crumbs. Seriously, none. They remind me a lot of the Natural Balance Food Rolls, actually, except they're easier to break up.

Also: USA made, good ingredients, etc. These are great treats. I will actually buy these. They are that awesome.

I received these treats for free, but I wasn't otherwise compensated for my review. My opinions are totally mine and real and stuff.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Canine PTSD: What Makes a Bad Experience Traumatic?

I’m currently reading the book The Body Keeps the Score: Body, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel van der Kolk. It is a fascinating, enlightening, and incredibly accessible book, so if you have any interest in the topic, I highly recommend it. The book is about humans, not dogs, but as most things do, the book makes me think of things canine-related. So, while my speculations are just that – and not fact – because dogs and humans have very similar brains in terms of structure, chemical reactions, and neuroplasticity, I feel comfortable trying to make some analogies.

Not a reactive dog. This blog just doesn't have enough Lola.

So, I’ve already posted about the idea that reactivity seems similar to PTSD in some ways, how treatment of PTSD tends to take a multi-pronged approach, and how that might inform our training strategies. But what makes something traumatic?

The truth is, we cannot save ourselves or our dogs from bad experiences. Bad things just happen, and they happen to everyone. What’s more, not all bad things have the same consequences. But why is that? Why are some people (and dogs) traumatized, while others bounce back just fine? The answer is undoubtedly multifactorial, and one of the most important predictors in whether or not a bad thing rises to the level of trauma is how the person/dog was able to physically react.

Brain science time: When we face a stressful event, our brain and body secretes stress hormones (like adrenaline) that serve to “fuel resistance or escape.” Your basic fight-or-flight response. Our bodies are basically pre-programmed to stop thinking and to run for safety; once there, those hormones can dissipate. After that happens, the fight-or-flight response turns off, and our rational brain turns back on, allowing us to understand that the threat is over.

Dr. van der Kolk argues that the ability to move, to do something is critical. Immobilization keeps the body in a “state of inescapable shock and learned helplessness.” The brain and body keep secreting hormones, and as a result, continues to react as though that threat is still present, even long after the situation has ended. Dr. van der Kolk says this is why, for example, 90% of sexual abuse survivors will develop PTSD – because they cannot escape the situation, and thus the fight-or-flight response continues to be activated.

Now, let’s think about our dogs’ lives. Part of responsible pet ownership in the United States includes leash laws, use of crates or x-pens, and other forms of restraint. And for the most part, I think these are good things. Heaven knows I don’t want an off-leash dog rushing my dogs! Of course, the problem is that when we do get rushed, my dogs can’t escape the danger. They’re immobilized, unable to recover, and PTSD can develop. (Well, assuming that the dog interpreted the oncoming dog as danger, of course. Half my dogs would welcome the playmate, and therefore not be traumatized!)

Because we humans control almost every single aspect of our dogs’ lives, the likelihood of PTSD/reactivity seems pretty high to me. Think about it: they have a reduced capacity to escape dogs or people during neighborhood walks. They can be aggravated by someone on the other side of their yard’s fence. They are unable to escape being poked and prodded at the vets. They can’t escape children poking their fingers through their crates. The more confined the dog feels, and the more dangerous/threatening the perceive the situation to be, the more likely it is that PTSD/reactivity will develop.

So. What can we do about it?

First and foremost, learn to read your dog’s body language. There are lots of great videos and books on the topic (I really like Sarah Kalnajs’ The Language of Dogs DVD). Learn what’s typical for dogs, and then learn what’s typical for your dog. Although most dogs will display similar body language, there are subtleties from dog to dog… and then there are the weirdos like my Napi, who eschews the play bow and does this weird “butt bump” thing instead.

Just as important, respond to your dog’s body language. It does no good to say, “Oh, yes, I see that Rex is scared,” but then force him into the situation anyway. Look, I get it, sometimes you really want to take him to the dog park or got to a training class or compete at that trial. But does he want to be there? And what are you risking by making him do it anyway?

Finally, offer your dog choices as often as you can. I’m not saying that he should rule the world – household rules and structure are necessary components to having a healthy and happy dog – but he shouldn’t be drug across that shiny tile floor or shoved down the stairs or pushed onto a wobble board. And in those situations where he simply must do something, take it slow, give him breaks, and make it worth his while. Better yet, for things like vet visits and medical procedures where you know he won’t have much control, prepare him in advance with husbandry training.

This won’t prevent PTSD/reactivity – like I said earlier, there are a lot of factors in determining whether a person or dog develops it – but it is something you can do to reduce the possibility, and a really nice way to respond if he’s already reactive.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Most Beautiful Thing I've Ever Seen

The two great loves of my life.
Maisy has never been a dog who likes to be touched, although she will tolerate it. She especially hates having her head touched; any time I've reached over to give her a pat, only for her to duck away - or at least flinch. I've gotten used to this, and try to limit my primate-hands-on instincts.

But these rules don't seem to apply to my fiance. She loves him. Indeed, her affection for him was a major driver in our getting together in the first place, but even so, I didn't really understand how much she loves him until Monday night.

Maisy is curled up on a pillow sleeping as Cesar is getting ready to leave for work. He leans over to say goodbye and kisses her on the top of her head; she lifts her head up, looks him in the eye, and then gives one deliberate lick to his face.

I swear to god, she kissed him back, and it was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Napoleon Update

I’ve been wanting to update everyone on Napoleon’s progress, but it’s been hard to know what to say. I think that, overall, he’s doing better… but he’s still got a long way to go. I doubt he will ever make the progress that Maisy has, if only because there is no way I have the time or energy to do that again. I wrote recently about the time and money costs that went into her training, but that doesn’t even begin to touch the emotional costs. No doubt about it, rehabbing a reactive dog is exhausting and occasionally discouraging work.

Then again, living with a reactive dog is too.

Napi has a very small world. He almost never leaves the property. We are lucky to have a relatively large privacy fenced yard, and even luckier that he actually uses it to exercise. He may not get daily walks, but I’d be willing to bet that with the amount of zooming around he does -chasing and being chased - he actually gets better cardio.

It’s sad, though. I enjoy going to the dog park with my dogs; we have a large, wooded park with great paths and huge open spaces. While dog parks definitely have their own challenges, it’s my only legal place to walk my dogs off leash, so we go. Or, we used to. We don’t go much anymore since we feel sad leaving Napi behind.

His behavior makes it hard to travel; we took the crew camping a month or so back, and Napi really struggled. He ended up getting quite a bit of trazodone as a result. It’s also hard to have people over, since he gets pretty worked up when folks first arrive. While the other dogs will calm down quickly, it takes him much longer.

WHY does this picture have to be blurry??
Still… he’s doing better. We had some friends over the other day – two adults, and two children (4 and 7) – and he was eventually able to calm down and visit with everyone. We still haven’t quite figured out the best way to introduce him to new people and dogs. Restraining him makes things worse, but he’s an absolute ass for ten minutes or so (barking and nipping and dogs, barking and humping people). This time we tried crating with a bully stick for awhile first. It worked okay.

Our biggest area of struggle is just everyday living. He will bark and growl and trot around the house when he hears noises. Unfortunately, we live in a duplex, so there are often noises from upstairs. Nothing big – sounds of footsteps, mostly – but while the other dogs have gotten used to them, he just can’t. Maisy was like this at one point too, but medication really did fix that for her. Unfortunately, Napi is like this even though he’s already on meds. My vet and I are doing some drug experimentations, but so far, I’m not thrilled with what we’ve tried.

What I really need to do is suck it up and do the relaxation protocol. To start working on exposure. Find some time to get him into another reactive dog class. There’s no reason I can’t do this, other than what I said back in the beginning – I just don’t have the energy. Still, we’ll all be a lot happier if I do this, so I guess it’s time to work up a plan.

I’ve decided to start small with one small training session a day. Since his anxiety seems pretty generalized, the relaxation protocol seems like the best place to start. I suspect we’ll get the most bang for our buck, and it really doesn’t take much brain power. It’s mostly just boring. Right now I’m working on teaching him to go to a mat. I’ll spend a few days on this, then move on to a modified version of Day 1 of the protocol. I’ll keep you guys updated as we go.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Holding On and Letting Go: In Memory of Shanoa

What happens when you’ve done everything possible for your reactive dog and it isn’t enough? How do you decide when it’s time to let go? And how do you cope with the feelings of guilt?

These are terrible questions, and as glad as I am that I have not had to deal with them personally, I am devastated that one of my best friends does. On Friday, my friend Nicky made an incredibly courageous and compassionate choice for her reactive, anxious dog Shanoa, and it breaks my heart. I want to find a miracle cure for her dog, and I can’t. I want to wrap her up in love and take away all her pain, and I can’t. Instead, I sit with the knowledge that Nicky has lost her friend. And it sucks.

I met Nicky and Shanoa in 2010, when they joined the reactive dog class that Maisy and I were in. Shanoa was a beautiful Doberman from a not-so-great breeder who failed to socialize her and then sold her as an older puppy. The deck was stacked against Shanoa right from the start. The double whammy of poor genetics and no socialization is an awful combination; it’s like a house of cards built on a table with one too-short leg.

Nicky worked hard to keep the table balanced, the cards stable. And at first, it looked as though she might succeed. Shanoa was never the explosive dog in class; that was always left for Maisy. It was Maisy who would bark and lunge at everyone else. Both dogs started medication, and while Maisy showed improvements, they were subtle and gradual. Shanoa, though? She showed drastic and almost immediate improvement. I remember looking at her enviously as she slept through class in her crate, bored with the unstimulating environment, while Maisy continued to react at things. Shanoa did so well, in fact, that she became a certified therapy dog. She visited hospice patients, bringing joy and comfort.

But slowly, the positive effects of the medication wore off. Maybe her body got used to them; I don’t know. They saw the veterinary behaviorist, switched things up, and all was well again. Nicky decided to pursue nosework instead of therapy work because Shanoa enjoyed it more, and again she excelled… until the effects of the new meds wore off. And so began a years-long cycle of trying new meds, having them work initially, and then failing. There is literally not a behavior drug out there that they have not tried: multiple different SSRIs, short-acting drugs, even benzos. All showed early promise and then petered out.

When the last-ditch-effort drugs lowered Shanoa’s inhibitions, my friend recognized that they were in an untenable position. Shanoa continued to be anxious, unable to function even in her own home, let alone out of it. Even her safe places – like her crate – no longer soothed her. Meanwhile, her lowered inhibitions resulted in behaviors that required heroic management to keep everyone safe.

It must be noted that at no point was Shanoa a “bad dog.” She was a suffering dog. She had a debilitating medical condition that made life miserable for her. And at no point did Nicky fail her. She tried everything. She did the same types and quantities of training that I did with Maisy. She did drugs. She did management. She found safe outlets for Shanoa. And so she did the only thing she could.

She let her go.

I am in awe of my friend. You see, I believe that love is not about being together 24/7. Love is about sacrifice. Love is about selflessness. Love is a balance of holding on and letting go. Nicky could have held on longer. Life was difficult with Shanoa, but she could have made it work. I know that if Shanoa was difficult-but-happy, Nicky would have done whatever it took without complaint. But Shanoa was not happy, and holding on would not have been living. It takes a great deal of courage to do this - to voluntarily subject yourself to pain to save a loved one from it, to open yourself up to judgment and criticism from others. To let go.

I don’t know how to end this post, except to say, Nicky: I love you. Thank you for embodying compassion, courage, and love. I know it hurts, and I’m so sorry.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Is the Cost of Rehabbing a Reactive Dog Worth It?

Money pit.
In my last post, I told you that I have spent about $5225 in treating Maisy's reactivity over the course of her lifetime. This is not an insignificant amount of money, but - spoiler alert - it has absolutely been worth it. Not only do I love my dog like crazy, but in my mind, a behavior problem is really no different than a medical one - and few of us would hesitate to drop thousands on our dogs at the vet.

Here's the deal: whether it's behavioral or medical (a distinction which is really less clear than it might seem, considering that behavior problems can be driven by brain chemicals and such), the outcome is not guaranteed. We don't know if our dogs will survive being hit by a car, but we take them to the vet anyway. And, in both cases, there are often adjustments to be made once the crisis is over. For example, knee surgery will require crate rest and physical therapy exercises.

And, in my unfortunate experience, there isn't much difference in the final price tag. In the past year, Maisy has had three different health issues. Let's look at what these have cost.

Crisis #1: Immune-Mediated Inflammatory Disease of the Spinal Cord (aka, Meningitis)
In September 2013, Maisy became suddenly ill with what we would later find out was an immune-system that decided her spinal cord needed to die. Our first stop was our regular vet, for $520. When she continued to get sick, she ended up hospitalized at the University of Minnesota.  The three day stay cost about $2650. Out patient meds and a follow up with the neurologist was about $150. Grand total? $3320. And since it was immune-mediated, the likelihood of recurrence is high.

Crisis #2: Bladder Stones Causing Blocked Urinary Tract
Shortly after Maisy's meningitis, she stopped peeing. Her urinary tract was blocked and she had some massive bladder stones that needed to be removed. That hospitalization and treatment cost $3150. She then needed follow up care that included UA/UCs ($700) and bladder ultrasounds ($775). Total cost? $4625. And that doesn't include the ongoing cost of her new prescription food, nor does it take into account that this was not Maisy's first time at the bladder-problem-rodeo; she's had recurrent UTIs her entire life.

Crisis #3: Corneal Dystrophy
And then Maisy started having eye problems. This one was actually pretty cheap. We saw her primary vet first, for $150. Then we had three visits with the ophtalmologist ($550), and medication ($60). The bill? $760. A steal really, although again, this does not include the cost of ongoing medication she'll need for the rest of her life- about $120/year.

So, don't let the cost of rehabbing a reactive dissuade you. Dogs are just expensive money pits, that's all. But they are the furriest, most loving money pit you will ever have. And can I just recommend pet insurance? My other three dogs have it, and it's definitely worth the money.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't take the opportunity to thank everyone who helped me with Maisy's ridiculous amount of vet bills last year. I received around $6000 from concerned readers, and believe me, that made a huge difference for us. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

How Much Does it Cost to Rehab a Reactive Dog?

Last week, one of my friends texted me: her dog was becoming increasingly anxious, and could I help her train the dog? As I started to walk her through the process of rehabbing a reactive dog, I realized that I have put a LOT of work into Maisy. I knew that, of course, but when you’re in the midst of things, it’s easy to lose track of just how much work you’re doing.

So, what DOES it take to rehab a reactive dog? Well, each dog will be different, of course, but here’s what I did (or at least, what I remember doing) with Maisy:

I first realized Maisy was reactive in early 2009. I immediately enrolled her in a version of a Control Unleashed class at our training club. This class was 9 weeks long. Estimated cost: $100.

Starting in September 2009, and going through May 2011, we attended a weekly CU style class. I’m estimating that we attended about 90 weeks of class. I don’t remember the cost, but let’s say it was $125 for 6 weeks (less than what it costs at other places in the area). That’s about $1875.

Next, we saw a veterinary behaviorist. We saw her for the first time in October 2010 (approximately $550). We had follow ups in December 2010 ($160), June 2011 ($175), December 2011 ($80), and July 2012($80). Total: about $1050. (Edited to correct estimated amounts. I overestimated. And this is why I'm a social worker, not an accountant!)

Medication is cheap: less than $5/mo. So far, we’ve spent around $250 on meds. This will be a life-long expense for Maisy.

Medication requires regular blood work (every six months we get a bunch of bloods done to check liver values, etc.). Let’s estimate $200 per time, so about $1600 so far. Again, another life-long expense.

So far, this does not include time I spent training on my own (between 15 and 30 minutes a day). I also attended a Control Unleashed seminar (around $150 plus travel/hotel costs, and 16 hours in the seminar). If you add that in, it’s probably another 200 hours and $250. I also purchased a number of books to educate myself; let’s say $100 and another 40 hours in reading.

All told, the cost of rehabbing Maisy was 350 hours of my time and about $5225.

She has absolutely been worth it, but the investment was not insignificant. Many people do not have that kind of time or money available to them. Granted, this was spread out over the course of 3 or 4 years… which in itself is a huge undertaking. 


Did I need to go to such great lengths? Well, it depends on your goals and your dog’s behavior. I had performance goals, and anyway, Maisy never posed any real danger to anyone; there were no kids in the house and she was very low-risk for a bite. I probably could have gotten away with a lot less work and money – and indeed, many of the dogs and people I’ve worked with professionally can get away with less time and money.

Each situation will be different, and therefore, the costs and the decisions will be different. When deciding to work with a reactive dog, the first question always needs to be, “Can I keep everyone safe during this process?” If the answer is no, then it doesn’t really matter how much you can afford in terms of time and money. You need to deal with the safety issue first. 

But if safety isn’t an issue, then you need to take a long, hard look at the costs involved. If you're enrolled in a class, don't waste the money! Do your homework! Trust your instructors - and ask questions if you're concerned about their advice! Trust me, we love to personalize our instructions if you give us a chance. 

Understand that reactivity is not a quick-fix kind of thing. You really do need to hang in there through the disappointment. But also, know what your goals are. You're not going to "cure" your dog, so scale back your expectations to be a bit more realistic. Don't know what that is? Ask your instructor! Accept that the dog you have is not going to be the "good dog" that you've had in the past, or that your friends have. 

Follow up post: Click here to read about whether the cost is worth it. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What We Know About Treating Human PTSD and How That Might Inform Dog Training

I’m currently reading Bessel van der Kolk’s new book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Dr. van der Kolk is widely regarded as one of the most prominent experts in the treatment of trauma, and early reviews are calling his newest book the new standard in trauma treatment.

Early on in the book, Dr. van der Kolk writes:
We can now develop methods and experiences that utilize the brain’s own natural neuroplasticity to help survivors feel fully alive in the present and move on with their lives. There are fundamentally three avenues:
  1. top down, by talking, (re-) connecting with others, and allowing ourselves to know and understand what is going on with us, while processing the memories of the trauma;
  2. by taking medicines that shut down inappropriate alarm reactions, or by utilizing other technologies that change the way the brain organizes information, and
  3. bottom up: by allowing the body to have experiences that deeply and viscerally contradict the helplessness, rage, or collapse that result from trauma.
Which one of these is best for any particular survivor is an empirical question. Most people I have worked with require a combination… depending on the nature of the particular problem and the makeup of the individual person.
Okay, you’re probably thinking, what the heck does this have to do with dog training? Let’s look at each of the three avenues that Dr. van der Kolk outlines as it applies to dog training.

Top Down Training
The first category is through “top down” interventions: talk therapy, building relationships, and processing the past. Our dogs can’t talk, of course, but it seems to me that a lot of what we do for reactive dogs is a top down intervention.

For example, using desensitization and counter-conditioning helps change a dog’s behavior by showing the dog that a trigger predicts good things (food, play) and not the bad things they were expecting (through past experience).

Here’s another example: Behavioral Adjustment Training seeks to help the dog develop a sense of control over his world by teaching him how to communicate to his person that he is uncomfortable (by sniffing, turning away, etc.), and then getting to leave the situation he doesn’t like.

Part of why I think positive training is so crucial when training reactive dogs is because of the bond it helps the dog build. I personally believe that developing a supportive, safe relationship is key in treating human PTSD, and I can only imagine that the same applies to dogs. 


Taking Medicines
The second category is pretty straightforward: taking medications can help calm an overactive sympathetic nervous response and allow a person with PTSD to choose how to respond to something vs. react out of a primitive brain state. I saw the same thing with Maisy. Medications allowed her to use all the training I had done.

Dr. van der Kolk references “other technologies that changes… the brain.” I haven’t read far enough to know what he means (I have some guesses), but I’ll undoubtedly report back. I suspect that the Relaxation Protocol would fall under this category, though.

Bottom Up Experiences
Finally, people with PTSD must have safe, positive experiences in their bodies. Dr. van der Kolk is big into yoga, tai chi, rolfing, etc. For dogs, we often see great results from T-Touch, agility, and nosework. I suspect this is because those are experiences in which the dog gets to have fun or be comfortable in their bodies. In the case of nosework, especially, I think it allows them a great sense of mastery. They get to solve a problem that we humans literally are unable to solve.

As Dr. van der Kolk says, I really think that it is a combination of these modalities that is most effective. And, as he also points out, the effective ones will be unique to each individual. This is why there are so many “systems” or ways of working with a reactive dog. I know people who are practically religious in their adherence to a particular approach, usually because it worked so well for their dog.

I’d love to hear from you guys about how you think successful work with reactive dogs might fit into one of these categories.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Is Reactivity a Form of Canine PTSD?

One of the most interesting things about reactivity is that it can have a variety of causes. Some dogs have experienced a traumatic event. Others received subpar socialization. Still others are just overexcitable goofballs. And for some, we just don’t know why they overreact so much.

Today, I want to talk about some parallels I see between some reactive dogs and PTSD in humans.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health condition that develops in some people following exposure to a traumatic event. The symptoms, which must last for at least three months, include:

  1. Reliving or re-experiencing the event through nightmares or flashbacks,
  2. Avoiding situations that are similar to the event,
  3. Negative changes in beliefs and feelings, including an inability to trust others, and
  4. Hyperarousal, including irritability, being easily angered, difficulty sleeping, or being easily startled.

The problem with this is, of course, that we don’t know what our dogs are thinking. We don’t know if they are having flashbacks, why they are reluctant to do something, or what they believe about themselves or others. Still, we can observe their behavior and make some educated guesses about what is driving this behavior.

Let’s start with the defining criteria: exposure to a traumatic event. For some dogs, like my Napoleon, we can definitively point to specific incidents. My fiancĂ© saw him being abused (that’s how we ended up with him). Even when there is no obvious traumatic event, it is still possible there was trauma because the key factor to trauma is less about what happened, and more about the experience of helplessness it causes. And our dogs have very little control over their lives. For example, harsh training methods – even just observing harsh training methods – could be traumatic for some dogs. I would also argue that a lack of socialization is equivalent to neglect or emotional abuse in people, which could be potential PTSD triggers.

Now, on to symptoms: I think hyperarousal is the most easily observed set of symptoms in dogs. I know that what really clued me into the seriousness of Maisy’s issues was when I realized how little – and how poorly – she slept. She was also incredibly easily startled. Even commonplace noises like the sound of dishes clinking together could set her off. I think Napoleon is prone to irritability and/or anger, especially when he’s tired. And certainly reactive dogs can appear angry when the bark and lunge at others. In client dogs, I’ve seen restlessness, pacing, an inability to remain still or to settle down, “twitchiness,” and so on.

Some reactive dogs definitely seem to believe that danger is lurking behind every corner; being on high alert is not uncommon. Could this possibly suggest negative beliefs about the world they live in? It’s impossible to know for sure, of course, but many reactive dogs are continuously checking out their environment, as though they expect danger. Neither Maisy nor Napoleon seemed to view home as a safe place. Visual scanning, trotting back and forth through the house, and even excessive sniffing to gain information can be signs that the dog is expecting something awful to happen.

I definitely think we can observe dogs actively avoiding certain situations or people. We won’t always know why, nor if it’s related to trauma, but we can see this. Maisy absolutely refuses to step on things that might move, no matter how good the treats might be. I’ve seen client dogs refuse to walk on certain types of flooring or use stairs. (This could also be related to pain, so you need to rule that out before assuming it's emotional.)

I have no idea how you would tell if a dog was having a nightmare (I don’t see mine dream enough to be able to say if I could tell the difference between good dreams and bad), and even less clue about distinguishing a flashback. I’d love to hear some anecdotal stories about this though! Please comment if you’ve seen things that make you wonder if your dog is re-experiencing the past.

For all of these reasons, I certainly think there are some parallels between certain kinds of reactivity and PTSD. I think this is important, as it allows us to draw upon what we know from human treatments of PTSD and extrapolate it to dog training. I will touch on this topic in a future post.