Vito's Behavioral Recheck Appointment

It's been 7 months since Vito first went to the university for his behaviorist appointment.  Some things have changed since then, but most have not.

Separation Anxiety:

Vito was on 40mg of Prozac already when he went to the 1st appointment and it was managing his SA pretty well.  In December we briefly tried knocking down the dosage to 30mg but that was a failed experiment and was quickly brought back up to the full 40mg.  Unfortunately Vito didn't really recover.  It wasn't until this past month of May where things started to go up again.  Vito didn't have to come to work with me daily and got to stay at home more frequently for 4-6hrs some mornings, and others 2-3hrs.  I think the more frequent, but varying times, helped him to redecide that it was OK to be left again.  Hopefully he will keep this attitude now that May if over and once again he has to come to work with me daily and the times left alone will be more rare and random.

General Anxiety:
Vito's reactivity to people has remained the same, and has possibly increased.  He still does well in crowds, but will react to people when startled or if somebody says "hi" to me or someone near by.  Vito is hard to snap out of his reactive barking, especially if we can't walk it off; but if allowed to approach or be approached he does well.  This happens maybe 3 times a week at work, but is a low percentage of the number of times the situation would present itself to react.  In other situations he is actually more likely to react to someone he knows well (family, friends) or someone he thinks might look like someone he knows.

In some ways Vito has been doing better in social settings.  He was MUCH more relaxed at the last puppy raiser party when at past events he gets over excited by the presence of dogs and people (in a non dog show atmosphere, he knows the difference!).  At this last event he remained calm until he thought dogs were playing out in the yard; despite the fact that he does not enjoy playing with silly teenage labs.  At people's houses he can be a nut case on arrival but is capable of relaxing if no toys are present.

At work Vito is doing better.  He isn't whining most days when left in my cubicle (as I'm out working with other dogs) but will lie down now at the baby gate looking out.  Not fully relaxed, but at least better.  When I am in the cubicle he still has some bad days where he will do some panting and staring out, but often he will go under my desk and actually sleep- until he notices I leave.  Usually he only gets anxious when it approaches noon and thus the time to get CRAZY excited about going out with the pack of dogs he does not particularly enjoy.  After his second dose of Clonidine in the afternoon he calms down even more.

Car Anxiety:
Vito has improved a ton in the car.  Unfortunately it's not consistent.  The Clonidine has helped Vito go from major panic attacks to being completely calm.  Until it doesn't.  It seems as though Vito develops a tolerance to the drug as we had great improvement, for a few days to a few weeks, at .1mg and at .2mg, at .25mg, and at .3mg.  Currently Vito is at .3mg x2/day of Clonidine and is usually doing light to light+ panting (I developed a Vito rating system!) and will take treats most days unless we are on the freeway.  Acceleration and deceleration seem to up his anxiety with on-ramps being the worse.  Some times he chooses to deal with his stress by doing a  chin rest on my hand and closing his eyes so shut out the world.  Sometimes that's not enough.  Changes in a routine can also increase his anxiety such as today when I had to go back in the house to get my laptop before I made it to the car, or leaving the house at 6am on trial days instead of 8:30am on work days. 

The Plan
As we discussed the above issues at his appointment we touched on the following points:
1.  Switching drugs.  We were going to try Trazedone until she remembered how high his Prozac dose is and would have to lower it to 20mg.  If other drugs don't help, we may have to go that route.  But we are going to try him on Diazepam (Valium!), starting at 5mg alongside his current dose of Clonidine.  Vito has previously tried Alprazolam (Xanax) from the same drug family and I did not like him on it.  But hopefully combining Clonidine with Diazepam can keep the dosage low enough that I won't see a flat Vito return.

2.  Vito pants a lot at home, even during the winter months.  But looking at some of the video where he doesn't seem stressed in any other way, it's possible he's just a sweaty guy.  Lovely.

3.  His reactivity will be very hard to get rid of as it isn't consistent enough and it isn't just anxiety driven. 

4.  Agility trials.  So she didn't say this, but it was easy to see the confusion on her face when I started talking about Vito's speed/drive issues in agility trials.  Basically if he's not showing other obvious signs of stress or anxiety when competing then so what?

Lynnda  – ( June 22, 2012 at 10:25 AM )  

Thanks for posting your experience. We can all learn from observation.
So sorry Vito has so too many "speed bumps" in his life. A couple of random thoughts:
= Re: Lots of panting in his life -- have you tried keeping track of his heart rate. This is a concept Helen Phillips [sidekick of British clicker pioneer Kay Laurence] uses with her gun dogs to monitor arousal. See her book "Clicker Gun Dog". [She also covered this in her recent MN seminar. I have a borrowed copy of the book if you want to look at it.] It might give you a bit more info to work with. My field-bred cocker pants a lot -- even when not having done anything obvious that might raise body temperature like running around.
= The reacting to some people seems a bit like what Leslie McDevitt calls reacting to Sudden Environmental Change. My female Dalmatian seems to have this for many things that surprise her -- a group of people along side the ring, no problem, but One Person sitting there all by themselves might be Dangerous & need barking at [to get them to go away]. Just a thought. [I haven't looked at "Control Unleashed" in a while & need to get it out.]
= Re: Agility competition ring speed -- Does Vito have Squirrel Speed consistently in agility practice? In doing longer sequences in practice? Slower competition speed, often starting the course slow & speeding up near the end, is quite common at agility trials -- not so much USDAA ones but other venues including AKC agility. The intensity of the experience in the ring can amplify any sense of error on-course and evoke an emotional response at later trials. Give that you are only in the ring less than 60 seconds typically, slight hesitations can have big effects [That is a whole 'nuther conversation.]
Thanks again for posting.
Lynnda L in Mpls, MN
and the PAck
CH Sam CGC, NA, FD, RA, RL-2, CD-C [10 year-old Dalmatian, retired]
Java CGC, CL2-, CL2-S RL-1, TDX, NA, NAJ, CDX-C [8 year-old Dalmatian, Liver]
Ringo CGC, TD, FDCH-G, WD, CL-2, CL3-S, JH, RL-3 [4 year-old field-bred English Cocker Spaniel]
Rescue Dalmatians at the Rainbow Bridge --
Pippi CGC, FDX [prematurely to the bridge]
Sir Budd CGC, CD, FDCh, U-CD, OAC, OA, OAJ, OGC, OJC, U-AG-1, ThD, PD1
Lady (little Australian Shepherd stray from the humane society) CGC, AMBOR CD, U-CDX, AAD, FDCh, U-AG-1, ThD, EAC, EGC, EJC-V, AX, AXJ
Pongo (who started all this training stuff in 1989) CD, FM, AD, EAC, EGC, EJC-V, MX, AXJ

Mango  – ( June 24, 2012 at 7:03 AM )  

Unfortunately, I suspect if misguided brain chemistry is at the root of his issues, then there will be different responses to the same situation depending on what his brain is up to at the moment. What a struggle you have had with him. I wish you all the best.

Mango Momma

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