Getting to Know My Dog

This past year has been a difficult one for me and Vito.  With Vito almost 3yrs old, his increased anxieties, and the start of different medications, it seems as thought the dog I have today is completely different than the dog I had a year ago.  And I am ashamed to say that I have not been handling it well.

Where the changes are most evident is with our obedience training.  I remember being able to get Puppy Vito jazzed up with or without a toy.  I was so happy that I would easily be able to transition to being in the ring since it wasn't hard to reward Vito with just physical interaction.  My only problem at that time was figuring out the fine line between making it fun and sending him over the top!  But now I've discovered that I can't play the games that I used to play with him.  Instead of getting him excited, a playful butt tag and running away from him actually seems to worry Vito and he does not drive to me with any zest.  I can't try and ruffle him up without him backing away.  I may be exaggerating a little as it's actually only a subtle change in his behavior but the difference is there. This was really made evident to me at the Denise Fenzi seminar where my playful attempts only served to over power him.

And now Vito seems to care a lot more about a crowd than he ever did in the past.  We were at a run through this month (rare for my schedule!) and my only goal was to work on playing and heeling in the ring.  As soon as we approached the steward table I could feel Vito getting a little stressed.  Once in the ring he did an ok job so that few watching would even notice.  But Vito would only tug at the far end of the ring and wanted nothing to do with it at the side near the audience, although he would take his favorite treats.  In the warm up ring he was perfectly fine so I don't think it's the ring gates themselves that Vito is feeling but rather the pressure from an audience.  At the Fenzi seminar he also suddenly started eying the audience at one point.

These changes and others (sleeping lots, won't even shake since it involves paw touching...) are something I have been avoiding dealing with.  We are not in a weekly obedience class, just playing on our own maybe once a week.  Training at home has been practically non existent with Vito not really wanting his food, although his interest has been peaking this last week.  But for the most part I haven't been doing anything with Vito the last several months besides weekly agility class and the occasional puttering on our own.  It's not so much that I need to relearn everything about my dog, but that I don't know what changes are due to Vito's growing up, increased anxiety issues, or what changes are due to decreased drive from his medications.  I recently took Vito off his Alprazolam for his car anxiety since I just can't stand the zombie that it makes him.  Some days were better than others but I never knew what dog I was going to have when.  But even with him off the Alprazolam I just don't know if he's still somewhat flat from his Prozac or not and it's pissing me off that I don't know.  I just don't want to take him off the Prozac as we can leave him alone for 4.5hrs now and he sleeps!!!

I guess if there's a point to this post it's that I am going to recommit myself to figuring out how to train my dog and how to play with him.

Edit: I'm not trying to say that Vito hates obedience.  On the contrary, he really loves heeling, loves his dumbbell, and we certainly have fun together.  The problem we are having is that I can no longer use the rewards that I used to.  So far, safe rewards are tugging, his beloved ball, and treats, but I haven't found a way to insert just me into our obedience training like I used to.  I miss playing with my dog, just me and him.

Lynnda  – ( October 4, 2011 at 1:04 AM )  

Sorry to hear that Vito is having so many sensitivities. Not much reinforcement for you either....

Mango  – ( October 4, 2011 at 5:52 AM )  

You are so tuned in to your dogs. Now that you are taking a fresh look at Vito, I am confident you will reconnect. It is difficult to see a dog's personality change. I just hope his health is OK and that you find ways for him to be happy and less stressed out.

Mango Momma

Kristen  – ( October 4, 2011 at 10:25 AM )  

How frustrating and difficult. Have you recently discussed your concerns with your vet? Or considered a second opinion?

Luna has never been as good of a worker as Vito was... but we're at a similar point. "I'll deal with the training later/tomorrow/next week/next month/later." But now she's a lot older and there's not a lot of later left, especially if I want to try and get her back to agility.

I can't wait to hear how your training goes...both good and not so good parts.

Ninso  – ( October 4, 2011 at 10:44 PM )  

Damn. If it helps at all, I know how you feel. It's not even the "issues" themselves that are the worst part. It's that the issues keep changing!! So very frustrating.

Honey the Great Dane  – ( October 5, 2011 at 12:52 AM )  

oh dear – I wish I had something helpful to offer but this is all so beyond me. Just wanted to let you know that I am supporting you. I think maybe "relaxing" a bit and just playing with Vito and doing less formal/structured things might help him (and you too) – just to reform that bond and teamwork thing – without the pressures of having to go into the ring awful set rules or match up to specific standards or anything like that. You know, just silly messing around rather than serious obedience stuff. I've heard that sometimes with anxious personalities, following a very structured training program can make them more neurotic and anxious and maybe also "burnout" – so I think your plan of just starting afresh and doing more "playing" type stuff with him is a good idea.


Donna and the Dogs  – ( October 5, 2011 at 7:21 PM )  

I was thinking the same thing as Honey the Great Dane - what if you take a break from obedience type training, and tugging, and just focus on having fun together? Go for some walks together, maybe to a quiet park, or play a game of fetch if he's willing. Hide his meals around the house and let him have a fun game of find it. Anything to change up the routine for a while.

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( October 5, 2011 at 7:43 PM )  

Thanks Hsin-Yi and Donna. But that's really what I've done for the last several months and then what I officially did a few weeks ago. Zero training at all for what was supposed to be 2wks. I made it through a week of it before I was getting so pissed off at myself. My thinking ended up being if I can't even train my dog without it supposedly producing anxiety than I'm either a crappy trainer or I shouldn't own this dog. So rather than spiral down that crazy line of thinking I went back to our regularly scheduled lives of still very little training.

My training has never been structured or formal at least in the traditional sense. It's supposed to be one big game. I guess the real problem is now finding out how to make it a game for Vito when it's just him and me instead of relying on the toys and food as comfort items.

Donna and the Dogs  – ( October 5, 2011 at 8:59 PM )  

This was the first time I've visited your blog, so I didn't realize you had tried that already. Have you ever looked into Leslie McDevitt's work? Her Control Unleashed videos are amazing, and she has many tricks to make the dog's feel everything was their idea in the first place, and to become comfortable around things that make them react(like crowds).

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( October 5, 2011 at 11:05 PM )  

Oh then welcome!! I hadn't been blogging much about Vito's problems anyway so you didn't miss what I tried :)

I love Leslie McDevitt!

browndogcbr  – ( October 6, 2011 at 3:13 PM )  

Hi Y'all,

It's hard to offer anything but sympathy for your plight. It seems sometimes when we face problems in our training they suddenly disappear and we're not even sure why we had them or why they left.

I would be consulting a holistic vet as well as your regular vet to see if the meds can be changed or adjusted.

I went through a number of vets with Hawks allergies. Unfortunately they are so severe that he can only be controlled. However, we've solved some of the problems he was having.

Y'all come by now,
Hawk aka BrownDog

Lynnda  – ( October 6, 2011 at 10:50 PM )  

I just thought about body problems -- like potential neck & back & even teeth issues. Low level, chronic pain can cause behavior changes, including disinterest in tugging. Have you had Vito checked by a masseuse/body worker like Kristin or Michelle or by a chiro who works on sports dogs [or a vet who does chiro like Dr.Heather or Dr.Kathy or Dr.Lelanni]? Ask the MNAgilityCommunity list. Diagnosis first [then treatment plan]. Just a thought

Lynnda  – ( October 6, 2011 at 10:52 PM )  

Let me assure all the readers that Laura trains with a very light touch -- no drilling or heavyhadedness here at all. You can barely hear her cues [but the dogs clearly hear them].

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( October 7, 2011 at 5:35 PM )  

Thanks Lynnda. I had never even thought of pain issues but that would certainly account for a lot of things! Unfortunately Vito just had a chiropractic appointment last week with Dr. Annie Sefeldt and she thought he was in fabulous condition.

Hawk- I really am wanting to see a vet behaviorist at the university but unfortunately money is a very big issue for us. We've also tried some holistic options such as lavender and rescue remedy to no aval.
What a gorgeous Chesie you are!

Lynnda  – ( October 11, 2011 at 1:05 AM )  

I have found Mary Straus' articles on dog health in the Whole Dog Journal to be well researched, readily convey complex issues and very useful. For example, her series on bladder stones had the first ever chart all of us Dalmatian owners have ever seen on purine content in foods. [Dalmatians are genetically pre-disposed to form crystals from purine-based compounds in their urine -- like gout of the urine. So knowing how many purines we are putting in our dogs seems like a good idea. Liver is very high in purines, for example.]
Anyhoo, Mary has posted a very detailed article on anti-anxiety meds for dogs., I remember several years back APDT have a couple of articles on anti-anxiety meds in their newsletter. Do you know any APDT members who archive their newsletters?
Good thing you are so knowledgeable on behavior modification -- you can have that plan to go along with the meds for changing behavior.
I wonder if a long-distance consult with Leslie McDevitt might be helpful?

achieve1dream  – ( October 18, 2011 at 5:58 PM )  

Sorry things are so tough. Just hang in there. You'll figure it out. :)

Cynthia  – ( October 20, 2011 at 2:48 PM )  

I'm sorry about Vito.. it's usually fun to see them change as they grow, but sometimes things don't quite turn out as we had hoped.

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