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What now?

2046 Views 29 Replies 9 Participants Last post by  alphadoginthehouse
Marge's level of fear has gone almost all the way back to what it was when I first got her. In some ways, it's even worse.

My previously dog-social dog now either is indifferent to or scared of other dogs. She has always had some level of fear around certain dogs, especially big ones or ones that jumped on her, but I think she was sent over the top when my neighbor's dog lunged and snapped at her a couple of months ago. We've since only socialized with dogs that Marge knows, but she doesn't have the same enthusiasm for play that she used to.

She is, once again, terrified on walks. I think it has something to do with the Fourth of July and the fireworks. I had this problem with her in the beginning, but I guess I did something right because she grew out of it for the most part and we could walk around everywhere in the neighborhood. Yesterday morning, a peaceful walk was thrown into chaos as a kid took his shoe to the curb and started slamming it on the ground, I guess cleaning it. It sent her into such a panic and she didn't calm down until we were off the block. Tonight, she tried to run from every person that she saw, and literally pulled me the entire way solely out of fear. Every noise she heard bothered her. We went to go see her doggy "best friend" a couple of blocks away, and she initially snapped and growled at him. The rest of the time, she barely interacted with him. She looked lost.. whereas before, she would play bow, swat him with her paws, run around doing laps with him.

I don't know what the hell to do anymore. Aside from my house (when my father's not home, of course - yep her fear of him has gone thru the roof again too), the only place she's 100% comfortable is at parks, with the Agility field a close second.

I don't know whether it's best to still avoid everything and anything or what. For the last few months, as I said, we've had no interactions with other dogs except for ones I knew. Should I change that now? Should we start seeking out other dogs so she can get used to them again? How do I deal with the sounds?

Is it time for a behaviorist? All along I thought I could do it myself, and I thought I did a good job, getting her past the CGC and into competition classes. I made sure not to push her too far and was positive 100% of the way. I'm just so down about all of this, after all of the progress we've made.. I can't stand to see her back in her shutdown states and hiding-under-the-desk attacks.

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How are you reacting when she shows fear?
Depends. If she's below threshold and just nervous or mildly/moderatedly fixated on something, then the treat bag comes out. Lots of happy talk and encouragement. Treats flying everywhere. Simple commands with lots of jackpots.

When she's over threshold, straining on the leash pulling with all her might to get away, like she was tonight, there's not much I can do but move away and wait for her to be calm. She won't take treats at these times and really won't respond in any way at all.
I'm so sorry to hear this! This one's over my pay grade, but I can offer lots of sympathy! I've been so impressed with how much progress you've made. Honestly, I doubt all your work has been undone. I've had similar setbacks with Poca, but she generally snaps back pretty quickly and we regain lost ground. I just go back to basics, slow reintroduction of the scary thing, lots of treats, etc. You know the drill better than I do.

Maybe you should focus on getting her comfortable on walks again and worry about dogs later. If you encounter other dogs while you're out, I wouldn't avoid them unless she starts reacting. Once the walk is ok again, then start a more deliberate campaign to get her around lots of other dogs.

Wish I had better advice to offer. Not sure about the behaviorist. Based on your posts, I would think you already have the answers you need and just need to go back to a Fearful Dog 101 program and work forward again.

Rats, rats, rats. :(
I'm sorry to hear this:( I agree with winniec, I would just go back to all the basics and hopefully she will recover quickly this time around.
Miss Mutt, can you give me a few details of Marge's history? What work you have been doing?
Have you tried the Protocol for relaxation?
Are you familiar with Ali Brown's book 'Scaredy dog" ?

I'm sorry you are having such a setback...this is almost like PTSD symptoms..setbacks are huge sometimes and it can often feel like we are making little progress, especially when progress can be SO slow.
For the time being, go back to the beginning and start again, you may be looking at residual stress hormones/chemicals from the 4th. It can take days if not more to get the adrenaline and cortisol back to normal levels (which doesn't necessarily decrease the fear, just the speed and intensity of the reactions).

And yes, it may be time for a behaviourist and possibly medication.

Did you eventually use something for the 4th? I know in your other thread you were concerned about using ACE.
Thanks for the post, Cracker. I did not know about the residual stress hormone thing - very good to know.
Depends. If she's below threshold and just nervous or mildly/moderatedly fixated on something, then the treat bag comes out. Lots of happy talk and encouragement. Treats flying everywhere. Simple commands with lots of jackpots.

When she's over threshold, straining on the leash pulling with all her might to get away, like she was tonight, there's not much I can do but move away and wait for her to be calm. She won't take treats at these times and really won't respond in any way at all.
I partly wonder if you're going about it the wrong way. If you give a dog treats when they're fearful, then in my mind you're just encouraging the fear. I don't speak from experience though as the only fearful dog I owned was terrified of storm drains and it was easy enough to just avoid them.
Wow, MissMutt... : ( I'm so sorry to hear this! : ( That's awful... Donatello's making bounding leaps with his new trick, and poor Marge is backsliding at an incredibly fast speed...

I wish I was smarter, more knowledgeable, and had more experience to help you; But you and I have talked on and off and I'm sure you know that I'm in the same boat you're in, (at times)...

I'm not the type of person to run off at the deep-end, I don't believe that medication is the "beat-all-end-all", but quite possibly trying herbal/natural anti-stress "medication" might help... If they're herbal/natural, kind of like the tablets I've given Donatello at times, you don't have to worry about "alcohol" or other ingredients being harmful to her.

Reading about all your accomplishments, I wouldn't really say that you'd need a behaviorist right now... My honest opinion... The fourth of July is a terrible day and a terrible holiday for our beloved fur-kids that are petrified by nature... I would like to hope that maybe she's just still high-strung over the fireworks, but at that same time I'm not an expert...

You've done so well with her on your own, I would keep on trying... Try to bring her out this funk she's trying to bury herself in... See what happens... If she continues on the path she's on now, or if she backslides again in the near future, then I would consider outside help.

I say that because I've always said Donatello and Marge are so much alike... It's been weeks since Donatello's had an "episode" or an "outburst"... There for several months, he'd see a trigger, go off, and then be standoffish for the rest of the day... Before that he'd be standoffish for several days before coming out of it... My point is, is that Donatello still has some "episodes" and every now and again I feel like we're "backsliding", but once I pull him out of it, if he has another one it either doesn't last as long, or it doesn't take him long to pull out of...

Marge's fears and frights go down a lot deeper than Donatello's obviously... But I'm just trying to give you hope and support. : ) Keep us updated!
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There is a lot of research nowadays that shows that you cannot "reinforce" fear itself, though sometimes you can accidentally reinforce the behaviour that is the result of the fear..since the reaction is based in rear brain activity (fight or flight and is pretty much reflex rather than conscious fear) the only way to mitigate this level of discomfort is through classical conditioning..classical conditioning is almost always started with food..it is a primary reinforcer and the idea is that (if the dog is not so over threshold to not take food) the food creates a different flood of chemicals in the brain (serotonin, dopamine, endorphins) that eventually negate the stress hormones and help to create a better feeling (physically and psychologically) about the stressor/trigger.

An example of this is people who eat high carb foods/drink alcohol when they are stressed or upset. Our brains are not that much different from the mammals in the world, save for a bigger frontal cortex..the chemicals work the same way.

You start out with CC, get to the point where the dog is operating in a more "front brain" basis..and then switch to Operant conditioning (training an alternate behaviour or alternate response to the trigger).

There is a really good blog entry on Patricia McConnell's site regarding reinforcing fear. I'll see if I can find it.


The post is mostly about thunder phobia..but talks a lot about the difference in reinforcing fear v reinforcing behaviours.
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I tried the Protocol for Relaxation but gave up on the second or third day. Something about the way I was doing it just didn't seem right.. I didn't know whether she should be leashed or not, whether it was better for her to get up in between sits or not.

I haven't read anything from Ali Brown, though I do know of the book.

What work have I been doing? Right now I've been focusing on attention and control. Things like "watch me" and "leave it" and praise/treats for looking at other dogs calmly. These both things have worked appreciably, as nowadays at Agility she doesn't get nearly as hyped up seeing other dogs run the course as she used to.

In regards to socializing with other people, I feel like I've hit a brick wall. When we were preparing for the CGC, we did this practically every weekend. Now I feel like there's never the right situation around. She does socialize after Agility class with people and other dogs, and I mostly leave it up to her whether she wants to interact or not. She almost always interacts with people in some way, either by sniffing them, allowing some petting, etc, and of course always accepting treats. In some ways, I feel she's actually been better with people.. less argumentative when they ask her for something simple (used to grumble in the past when asked to sit or shake paw), more willing to go up to them, looser body language, etc

Dogs, as I said, she is very indifferent to. I can't really read her because I almost feel like there's nothing to be watching for. I don't really catch any play signals, or calming signals, or anything. She just kind of sniffs, wags her tail, maybe hangs around a little bit and that's it. I see flickers of her wanting to play, like the play bows she gave at our last Rally class last weekend, but it never really culminates into anything.

I used nothing for the Fourth.. I called the vet's office, expressed my concerns about Acepromazine, and you know what the receptionist told me? "Oh, you can read bad things about any drug online.. it's safe, it helps to calm them down, it's not only a sedative." She said "Valium and Xanax are really strong and take a few days to work, so we don't like to give them." So no, I used nothing for the Fourth.

Thanx for the info, Cracker. Very interesting.. I do think this has a lot to do with the 4th of July, but I'm just worried that if she keeps rehearsing these fearful reactions that it's going to take longer and longer for them to go away.

I partly wonder if you're going about it the wrong way. If you give a dog treats when they're fearful, then in my mind you're just encouraging the fear. I don't speak from experience though as the only fearful dog I owned was terrified of storm drains and it was easy enough to just avoid them.
I know that the treats are not harming her. IMO and the opinions of a lot of the "fearful dog people" out there, it is impossible to operantly reward an emotional state. Instead, you're changing the emotional state through classical conditioning.

What do you guys think of melatonin? I've heard some about it and am wondering if this is something I can maybe give her and see if it produces any results. Is it something I should talk with the vet about first?
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That receptionist was wrong..ace is a sedative NOT an anti anxiety (which valium and xanax are)...sedating means the outward physical reactions are muted, not the actual anxiety feelings..scary.

I have recently read in Dr. Nicholas Dodman's book, The Well Adjusted Dog, that he has had SOME success with melatonin but that it's hit and miss... an excerpt:

"The sleep hormone melatonin is another treatment popular with the natural movement for the treatment of sleep disturbances and anxiety. Melatonin can be helpful in some situations, but in my experience it is only minimally effective. On the positive side, melatonin is incredibly safe. Laboratory rodents could not be given enough of it for scientists to calculate a lethal dose. Melatonin, which is secreted by the pituitary gland, influences the sleep-wake cycle and reproductive cycles of some domestic species. It's levels fluctuate during the day and over the course of the year. Melatonin's precursor, serotonin, whose concentration is highest on waking, is converted to melatonin over the course of the day. Higher levels of melatonin at the end of the day help trigger sleep. Low levels of serotonin at the end of the day increase the likelihood of irritability and aggression at this time, especially in already aggressive dogs....

I must admit, I have had some seemingly positive experiences myself when prescribing melatonin. One dog-a golden retriever with severe fear of fireworks-coped remarkably well one fourth of july when, at our suggestion, his owner gave him a robust dose of melatonin. Another dog with a fear of red-winged blackbirds overcame this fear when treated with melatonin. A great dane with a nasty ALD lesion (caused by licking his wrist raw during his owner's absence) was completely cured when given melatonin before his owner's left home each day. I presume he slept instead of worrying, but you could argue he may have been awake, yet not anxious. Finally, a bull terrier exhibiting nighttime "rage" attacks-presumably caused by behavioural seizures- was controlled with melatonin. Despite these few apparent successes, I must admit that the majority of cases I have treated with melatonin have not fared so impressively. The usual effect, in my experience, is not effect- but it never hurts to try. By the way, it is better to use chemically pure (synthetic) melatonin than the "natural" product that is extracted from bovine brain tissue."

So there you are. Clear as mud. LOL. No proof it works but sometimes it seems to. The fun of neurochemistry..lol. Safe is the key word I think here...and I think if Marge's reactivity seems worse in the evening/late day it may be worth a try.
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Thanks again Cracker. Have to take the kitty to the vet this week, so I'll swing it by my vet and see what he says. He will probably say a) I don't need it or b) He never heard of using it, as he's said about other things in the past. I think it might be time to find a vet who's a little more in-tune to behavior modification, but that's another story.

I walked her this morning.. still a somewhat freaked, but that's because there were even less people out this time.
%[email protected]#@ I knew there was something I wanted to ask my vet today, and I TOTALLY forgot to ask about melatonin.

I don't feel like this is really resolving itself. I've been around the block a total of once, and that was at 10:30 at night. I've had to do all my walking in the field across from my house. Even when walking down by the beach, stuff gets to her. We had a GOOD day at the beach yesterday until a stray firecracker went off.. just a couple minutes before we were planning on going home. UGH

Tonight, she freaked out when I closed the car door.. I thought maybe I shut her tail in it, but I didn't. Now am I going to have the car to add to the list of things to be afraid of? I sat there with her giving treats, having her get in and out, but she showed some resistance..
Have you had a full blood panel ran? I don't remember if you have or not.
No, I have not. I've spoken with my vet about it before, he didn't seem to think it was needed. I supposed that's going to be the next step, because even with behavior mod. and prevention practices, it isn't getting any better.
I'm starting to wonder if it isn't soemthing medical since normally a dog doesn't relapes like your saying.

Nubs has bad days with his fear, but even then he's still MUCH better then he use to be about the fear. He'll actually try to figure out the object he is fearing over running off
My suspicion is that it's from the Fourth. Since then, we have had construction going on nearby during the day and fireworks going off at night. They just won't stop.

She is fine in places like the park, where there are other things around but relatively spread out. There are also no loud noises at the park.

She won't walk down regular streets. She walks the full length of the leash behind me, until she hears or sees something that scares her and then she tries to run away. Anything that sounds remotely like a firework catches her attention. These are the same routes we've been taking for months, and she acts like it's completely unknown and unsafe.
I agree that a full blood panel, including lyme testing and full thyroid (not just a t4) is your next logical step. To have such a slide, where the fear is starting to generalize, like the car door, indicates something amiss.

You CAN demand it from your vet. Whether he thinks it is necessary or not. Even our very progressive vet at my local AH had to "discuss" it with me when I recommended one of my clients to have the thyroid testing done. Her dog had been improving with BM and then suddenly started to regress. Imagine his surprise when three of the indicators for hypothyroidism were below normal, and the rest were "Low normal"...once Cody was on synthroid his fear went away and we were back to the same levels as before the slide began.

Either way, it sounds like a sound desensitization protocol should be worked up. Definitely get the testing done first (to ensure BM will help..if it's medical no improvement will occur until the physical issue is taken care of) and then go from there.

Poor Marge..being scared and stressed all the time is not good for her, nor for you!
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Poor sweet Marge. I'm so sorry you are going through this and I have no advice. Roxxy's fear is thunder...or anything that resembles it. I have the stress cape and if the thunder comes in the middle of the night, I use drugs because it's the only way to calm her so I can sleep. I use the smallest amount possible, just to take the edge off so she can settle down.

Like others have said, start back at the beginning. Maybe it will move faster this time once she remembers that the things aren't going to hurt her. Blood work sounds like a good idea. I never would have thought about that myself.

I really hate New Years and 4th of July. It can totally ruin a dog for weeks. Keep us posted and you and Margie will be in my thoughts. Good luck.
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