What Next?

Today we had the conversation with the behaviorist that I’ve been expecting for a while–the one about putting Silas on a daily medication.

She’s the one who brought it up, and she said it is entirely up to me. He’s at a manageable level. He spends more of every day happy than unhappy.

That management, though, is exhausting. It’s crept up on me gradually, so much so that I don’t even realize some of it happens. There has literally not been a person in my house besides my husband and me since we had the downstairs toilet done, and that was maybe six months ago. I know it’s been a year since we had anyone over just to be friendly.

We don’t take walks; we have to drive to the park. And not just any park–I have every park in the city ranked by how stressful they are, how far Silas can walk there before he panics over something, and how likely we are to meet someone that scares him.

If I have to leave Silas in the car (in the winter, obviously), I park all the way at the end of the lot, because he will bark frantically at anyone who walks even close to the car. This morning, he barked at the person who parked next to us while that person was still in their car.

We have heavy blinds/curtains on all the front windows, and if he doesn’t stop obsessing about the neighbor’s cat, I’ll have to put them on the patio doors.

We don’t travel at all anymore, unless we can rent a cabin (and even then I have to check, because some cabin rental places put them too close together) or stay with my parents. When we visit Mom and Dad their whole life comes to a halt, because Silas can’t handle the people who usually go in and out of their house.

Is any of that stuff an impossible burden? Not really. Does it make me feel bad? Yes.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get him through his fear of cars without more help than we’re already using. I was really proud of him on Friday. The behaviorist seemed a little alarmed that it took so much effort on to my part, plus the medication dosage we used, for the results that we got.

She insists that he won’t be dopey or drugged or funny acting–if he is, the medication is wrong. He wouldn’t be on it forever, although it would be for a fairly long time.

Still, I don’t know. If he were a person, who could weigh in on his own treatment, I would never say, “No, I don’t think I’ll give you this medication that will make you feel better.” Medicating a dog is harder, though. They can’t say, “hey, this makes me feel a little funny” or “I don’t like the way my stomach feels when I take this.” It makes it hard for me to give him a largely elective medication.

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8 thoughts on “What Next?

  1. Sounds like a difficult decision. I am sure you will do what is right.

    ps Dogs are not supposed to bark at people in cars who pull up next to you? Someone needs to tell that to Storm and Freighter. I think sometimes the unsuspecting people think they have parked next to Cujo. 🙂

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  2. It sounds like you know him better than anyone so if you tried the medication, I think you would know if it was making him act out of sorts. People can tell someone else if they feel weird on a medicine but they can also be their own worst enemy because many people like feeling weird! I think if worse comes to worse, you can just take him off it and try something else. Just my 2 cents:)

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    1. You’re right. And we are working with a really excellent veterinary behaviorist. It would be different if this were just a regular vet, who isn’t used to the psychiatric medications. I feel like I’ll probably try it, but I can’t help but feel like a failure somehow.

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      1. It sounds like you have a great vet which must help! I don’t know what it’s like to be in your shoes but I know that there are many people who would not be normal happy functioning people if they were not on medication so I don’t see why dogs would be any different. It must be a difficult decision but I think you’ve far from failed him!

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  3. This has got to be a wrenching decision for you but you’ve done so much good work with Silas and you seem to have an excellent resource in your behaviorist…i know you will weigh the options and make the right choice for all of you

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  4. In January, we were in your shoes. We’d adopted a 9 month old kelpie x border collie three months previously. He was surrendered for “outgrowing the family”. It was fairly immediately apparent that things weren’t right with him, but I’d never had a dog before, so I didn’t have a baseline “normal” for comparison. We started seeing a behaviorist primarily to reduce the amount of barking he was doing. He barked at everything – people and other dogs on walks, the neighbors, lawn mowers 500 m away, buses, the birds in the tree outside the living room windows. He could never relax. For three months with the behaviorist we worked on mild separation anxiety, generalized anxiety, and desensitization of the many triggers with little result. He just wasn’t learning the new behaviors we were working so hard to teach him, or becoming desensitized to anything. The behaviorist referred us to a vet behaviorist, who recommended daily fluoxetine.

    Like you, we were worried that he would be dopey, worried that if he didn’t feel ok he couldn’t tell us, worried that we had failed him or were just somehow being lazy or taking the easy way out. In the end, we realized that we simply couldn’t go on the way we were. We couldn’t go out for long periods without him, but we couldn’t take him with us, and friends visiting was beyond stressful. Our whole life, and his whole world, was management, which is fine in the short term but as a long term solution is simply exhausting and unsustainable. We’d also only had him a few months, and because he wasn’t rehomable, our options were really to live a miserable 12-15 more years, euthanize, or try medication.

    It was quite simply the best decision we have ever made. We were lucky that the first dose rate was perfect for him. For the first week he lost appetite, had a dry mouth, was uncoordinated, and lethargic. We were worried worried worried. The first sign that things were working (at the two week mark) is that he started sleeping more. 16 hours a day instead of 6. By the 6 week mark, when the medication was fully effective, the biggest difference was in his responses to triggers. He was far slower to react, and when he did, it was less intense, for a shorter duration, and he could calm down again much more quickly afterwards. Suddenly he started learning. All the behavior modification we had been doing for months with little improvement clicked.

    Now, 9 months on, it seems a miracle (if you didn’t see all the hard work that went into him). He still reacts to things, but once a week or once a month rather than multiple times daily, and usually only in a trigger stacking scenario. He’s still an energetic boisterous dog, but as you’d expect from a 20 month old kelpie x border collie. He’s still full on in everyone’s faces when we have guests, but we’ve taught him to go to his mat and chew his bone, then he can say hi, then he goes to sleep! We take him to cafes, and group training, and to friends bbqs, something I would never have thought possible in January.

    The vet behaviorist came for a follow up last week, with a view to tapering him off the medication. She thinks he’s not quite ready for that step yet, but we can try in the next 12 months. There is the possibility that he will be on it for the rest of his life, and I’m ok with that, because all it means is that his brain chemistry is truly messed up.

    I don’t know what my point is except to tell you that you shouldn’t feel like a failure, and that your dog sounds a lot like mine and medication helped. It isn’t the easy way out. You’ll still be doing all the behavior modification that you are doing now – except it will work.

    Have you seen the blog “reactive champion”? Her early writing about putting her dog on medication and the improvements she saw helped and encouraged me a lot.

    ps I’m really enjoying your blog, stumbled across it looking for a review of puppy peaks

    pps sorry for the essay!

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