Vito On Drugs

It's been a busy week for me starting with the Silvia Trkman seminars, Chuckles neuter, and ending with a consultation on Vito's separation anxiety.  The short version is that Vito is now on drugs.

The long story is what I handed over to my vet last week.  I practically have written a novel on Vito's behaviors and the SA work we have already done.  At the consultation today Dr. Kate agreed with me that Vito came out of the womb an anxious dog.  Because of his high drive, intensity, and intelligence Vito is way over on the right on the bell curve for toller behavior.  In her experience these types of dogs (and people) are more likely to have anxiety or other neurotic issues.  I did a ton of work with him since 8wks of age and she attributes his almost normal life to that early work.

I am going to restart up the SA protocal I was following with just a few changes.  Instead of doing multiple trials in a session I will just do a few.  At the time I was really doing the SA protocal I had read that doing many trials of coming in and leaving helps the dog to settle in but Dr. Kate believes just doing a few will create less anxiety for Vito.

I am also going to throw away Vito's food dish and either train him with every meal (like I do for dinner) or feed him out of puzzle toys.  Vito didn't eat his bones the majority of times I was doing the SA protocol and he's not an extremely food motivated dog in general.  So we want to make sure he is hungry when left and ideally give him a more active/thinking activity to do when alone.

Alongside the restarting of the SA work Vito is going to be on drugs; very low doses of Alprazolam (Xanax) and Clomipramine.  I want to walk that fine line of keeping Vito's intensity and getting rid of the anxiety so it's going to be a big experiment.

A related issue we talked about was Vito's "stranger danger."  Vito is perfectly fine in large, noisy crowds but often is reactive if someone approaches during a quiet setting.  Guaranteed to cause a reaction is someone walking into the room (if we're the only ones there) and raising their hand to wave or saying hi.  I can predict how likely his is to react by how much of a change there was in the room.  A person shouting to me across the hall and jumping up and down in the middle of a dog show won't start anything but someone silently appearing in a doorway of an empty warehouse will cause a big scene.  Vito will bark and growl until the person gets to within 3 feet.  At a close distance Vito will then turn extremely friendly and jumpy.  But it takes awhile for that anxiety to go down so he is still very intense with his greetings.  He can also be conflicted and alternate between wanting to be at a distance and wanting to play.  This conflict occurs more frequently the more ramped up he is so a person encouraging him to be crazy and play by clapping their hands or patting the floor is going to get the barking for longer.

What I have typically been doing during Vito's outburst is to turn and walk the other direction if I can and then practice re-approaching, rewarding with treats for being quiet.  But he never really starts to calm down until he gets to greet the person and decides they're his friend.  I have now been instructed to throw my dog trainer's hat out the window and completely ignore his outbursts.  Dr. Kate believes that Vito's an intelligent dog and is not only feeding off of my increased frustration when he reacts but has learned the chain of barking=increased distance from what he's anxious of.  She wants to do a bit of flooding with Vito and practice a variety of people causing him to react (really not hard to do), me completely ignore, person continues to approach until they get close and then ask him to sit/down/whatever before giving him a treat.  At home when he reacts to noises upstairs I am to either 100% ignore him or leave the room.  Treating the quiet is also an option for Vito but I have to be careful that I am not yelling at him as not only has it not been effective but it is obviously increasing his anxiety and perhaps rewarding the barking through attention.  If I do treat I need to be careful to treat before he starts barking so as not to reward it.

Pepper  – ( February 3, 2011 at 10:57 PM )  

I'll be really interseted to see how you get on with trying to help his "stranger danger" as the way you escribe his reactions you could be describing Pepper exactly, even done to the over enthusiastic greetings when he gets close. She doesn't growl but does a big howling bark at first and then gets stuck into barking and also props on stiff legs, again, she'll always do it to a lone person that surprises her by appearing somewhere she feels they shouldn't be, or even just a person walking by themselves at a park. Good luck with the drugs, what a hard thing to have to deal with

Ninso  – ( February 3, 2011 at 11:21 PM )  

Is this your regular vet? She sounds pretty well versed in behavioral issues! (Or maybe just opinionated?) Good luck with the new strategies and meds. I hope it all works out!

Mango  – ( February 4, 2011 at 5:07 AM )  

Good luck. This is seriously vexing. Poor little guy sounds like he does have too much of some chemical in his brain that is causing him more anxiety than is appropriate.

Mango Momma

Mango  – ( February 4, 2011 at 5:10 AM )  

P.S. I googled SA Protocol and could not find anything helpful. What is it?

Mango Momma

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( February 4, 2011 at 8:16 AM )  

The very watered down version is you give your dog a bone, leave the house, come back inside, pick up the bone. repeat. At first I started at 5 second departures and you slowly build time. Of course Vito would very rarely eat any type of bone when I was doing the work with him.

The idea is that your dog gets the good things when you're gone, your return means the end of the good things. While you are doing the work you can never leave your dog alone for real as you set yourself back. So if you've only worked up to being gone for 5min then you only have 5min to be gone in "real life."

The typical procedure takes about 8wks to work up to being gone for 8hrs. When I tried it with Vito I spent 13wks getting up to 2hrs and now we're back down to basically nothing again.

Crystal  – ( February 4, 2011 at 8:49 AM )  

Good luck! I look forward to hearing how it works for Vito.

achieve1dream  – ( February 4, 2011 at 10:02 AM )  

Wow. It sounds like you have a lot of new advice and ideas to try. I hope those in combination with the drugs will help you out. It's sad that he's so anxious, but being an anxious person myself, I understand how he feels. It's just so impossible to control it sometimes. Please keep us updated on his progress. I'm curious to see how it goes.

Amy Carlson  – ( February 4, 2011 at 6:35 PM )  

Just a head's up that my Roscoe's vet failed to mention....some dogs, especially those with aggression (which is most often the result of anxiety), will react opposite on Xanax. Roscoe did. It PUMPED HIM UP and caused him to BOUNCE OFF THE WALLS!! We tried it for his thunderstorm anxiety. It did take away that anxiety, but it made him PSYCHO doggie!! :P My suggestion, or something to discuss with your vet, would be to try it some time when you are not leaving him to see how he reacts.

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( February 4, 2011 at 7:23 PM )  

Ninso- yes i went to my normal vet on your suggestion :) Just can't afford the U right now and while it was still a very expensive consult it was cheaper and I was happy with our discussion.

Amy- thanks for the warning! Vito is not dog or people aggressive, but is people reactive like I described. He is going to be on drugs every day so I'm sure I'll know within the next few weeks how he will react to it. I almost wouldn't mind if it made Vito a little bouncier but I'm sure that would only increase his reactivity :P

Amy Carlson  – ( February 4, 2011 at 7:39 PM )  

Hahahaha, yes, I did end up using it with Roscoe for his outdoor agility trial anxiety. It helped a LOT, he got PUMPED. At the lower dose his balance wasn't at all affected and he did great. They say memory isn't as good with xanax, so for training a "good feeling" for his trial anxiety it might not work. I think that's true. It worked, when I used it. The memory didn't really carry over and his anxiety was back when I didn't use it. I no longer do outdoor trials with him. At 12, it's just not worth trying to get him through his anxiety. Dr. Dodman says he has "rodent syndrome" and likes the walls around him. I think that's true, but I also think the smells overwhelm him. He is TOTALLY grossed out by all the dog pee around the rings outdoors.

Loretta Mueller  – ( February 4, 2011 at 10:24 PM )  

We did the full SA protocol with my older boy Ace...he was on drugs and that helped SOOOO much. Plus working the heck out of him before took us about a year for NO anxiety to be present...and for him to love us leaving :) Good luck!!!

Kirby @ Dog.Nerd.101  – ( February 12, 2011 at 12:04 AM )  

Hey Laura,
What is the SA Protocol you are using? Also, the situation you described where Vito reacts to this upstairs. I live in an duplex type thingy and do have a neighbor above me. She is a VERY frequent smoker... and she opens her balcony door, and the sound (it IS a loud and obnoxious sound and I think when both dogs are outside and can hear her scuttling around without seeing her, plus the gross smoke smell... both Griff and Soph will bark) BUT this has turned in to Griff barking whenever he hears the sound... even while indoors. At first I did the annoyed, please be quiet "Griff, come on... knock it off..." But yea, shocker, that did NOT work :) I have changed to now just trying a basic counter conditioning protocol. I have a cup of dog food near me, and whenever I hear the sound (or he does) a just throw some dog food on the floor. This gives him something other to do than bark and by the time he has found the pieces, the sound is over, and he easily settles. I have definitely made progress. Most of the time now, I can intervene and prevent the alert barking from happening... but his ears still perk up, (sometimes even if he's taking a light nap, he will wake up and perk his ears at the sound) But, sometimes still now he will bark, if I can't intervene with counter conditioning.. (and if I get annoyed and tell him to knock it off... I swear the barking happens more) SO - my question for you is about what you are now doing when this happens. It sounds like you just get up and leave the room without doing or saying anything? What is the thinking behind that? Maybe it is something I should try?

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( February 12, 2011 at 10:42 PM )  

I based it off of Patricia McConnell's booklet "I'll be Home soon." The very watered down version is you give your dog a bone, leave the house, come back inside, pick up the bone. repeat. At first I started at 5 second departures and you slowly build time. Of course Vito would very rarely eat any type of bone when I was doing the work with him.

As for the barking I was doing some counter conditioning work and it was definitely going better then me getting annoyed. But even with treats flowing he won't always eats them or still grumbles while chewing even if he does eat. The vet wanted me to switch to leaving the room as she thought Vito was also barking as a way to get my attention. But leaving the room has shown to have no effect.

Honey the Great Dane  – ( February 14, 2011 at 8:57 PM )  

I have to say, I'm full of admiration for your patience & dedication in dealing with Vito's SA issues - I know I wouldn't have as much forebearance!! And it must be so frustrating as you're doing all the "usual right things" that are advised for SA but Vito is still not responding...he does sound like very much off the extreme end of the scale.

Anyway, I don't have any experience with this at all so I just wanted to wish you luck, especially with the new modifications, and say how much I hand it to you!


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