Separation anxiety: Not all dogs crated or kenneled successfully
Within a few months, Solo's separation anxiety had decreased and he could be left alone for an hour or so. As often happens with rescued dogs, he had also begun to show some other, less savory behaviors.
When certain human males approached, Solo would lunge and nip with almost no warning. While most of this was inappropriate herding behavior, it was also driven by a combination of protective and fear aggression, based on his body language. The head collar saved more than one unsuspecting soul from a firm nip. Solo did get one guy on the street but broke neither skin nor fabric.
However, the fact that he was able to grab someone meant that he was either being placed in inappropriate situations or that he was not being watched carefully enough.
Both options were discussed with the client.
We also decided that the time had come to neuter this dog. Neutering can decrease reactivity, but not directly affect diagnoses.
We were delaying this because of the potentially provocative nature of anesthesia and an unfamiliar environment. Her veterinarian worked with the client and Solo was a day case who was returned to the client's care just a tad woozy. There were no untoward behavioral effects of the neutering, and we were never sure if the loss of testosterone had any effect on his reactivity.
Additionally, Solo had started to attend some classes for basic manners and agility and was becoming increasingly wary and reactive to dogs that "crept" up from behind, and he snapped at them. While he never connected, his reputation made it difficult for others to enjoy events with him present, and he was getting less exposure, not more.
Finally, he had been taken to a horse and dog show where he'd been doing well, and then he flipped out. The animal was shrieking, snapping and remained uncontrolled and unconsolable.
The client removed him from the event, and reported that it took him a couple days to return to normal. These behaviors were accompanied by an increase in clinginess and some backsliding when the client left. When she tried to kennel him to minimize damage, he panicked and damaged himself and the kennel.
This is a cautionary tale: not all dogs can be crated or kenneled. Only those dogs who view crates or kennels as safe, comforting spots can be kenneled.
Other dogs will panic, as did Solo, and such panic will make them worse. The myth here is that dogs are denning creatures. Dogs haven't been wolves for at least 135,000 years and most of them would never den. Ask if the dog is comfortable enclosed, and whether they seek such closure when they want to get away. If the answer is "no", the dog is at risk for panic and can be made worse quickly.
Because the panic was now associated with unpredictable reactions to outdoor events and with being left behind, we added alprazolam (Xanax) (0.02-0.04 mg/kg po prn) to Solo's drug regimen. The client was to give this at least two hours before she left the dog and before going to any event that might provoke him.
Additionally, she could boost the intermediate metabolite level by repeating the dose again in two hours (the t1/2 of the parent compound in dogs appears to be about two to four hours in dogs and that of the intermediate metabolite ~ 2h).
This technique works best if the lower end of the dose is used as the starting range. If the dog is already panicking or the drug is not going to be boosted, the clients should start at the upper end of the dosage range.
The wonderful thing about alprazolam is that it is truly panicolytic in humans, and apparently in dogs as well, and that it can be used in combination with the TCAs, SSRIs and antipsychotic medications without incident.
Because its intermediate metabolites are hydroxylated, not part of the N-desmethydiazepam pathway, impairment of glucuronidation is less of an issue than for diazepam and clorazepate.
Solo's snapping behaviors also became worse when in crowded situations, or in situations where he was unsure, so we added a very low dose of fluoxetine (1 mg/kg po q. 24 h x 2 months minimally) to his regimen.
Within a few months, Solo was doing wonderfully, and had very few signs of separation anxiety left, and was snapping rarely. Instead, he was attending to the client who had also clicker trained him to look to her for guidance on almost everything. We weaned Solo from the clomipramine without adverse effects, and made certain that the client had alprazolam, in case a panic attack occurred, but there had been few in recent months.
Then the client had to go away for the summer and Solo could not accompany her.
Solo was placed with a member of the herding/training community whom the client had come to know on-line and through different events. This lady was familiar with his needs, his treatment and the client's concerns about him. Everything was fine for the first few weeks until Solo was startled by a man on the property. Solo snarled and lunged at him. This fellow lassoed Solo with a choker and hung him until he was almost unconscious...the fellow then reported that Solo now "listened" to him.
Two steps back
Solo regressed to the frozen stage. When I spoke with the nearly hysterical client, I was frank with her: this was abuse, and if she could not care for the dog while doing her field work or find a better place for him to stay, it would be more humane to euthanize him than to subject him to such treatment. The client, who was sobbing by the time she ended the call, retrieved and rescued the dog.
The client was extremely concerned about what I thought of her because of this baby-sitting placement. I realized she'd been in a bind, but when I tell people that special needs dogs require special care and decisions, it's almost as if they believe that that's advice for other people, for those less talented, less generous, less loving. Simply, it's a fact. I dearly love my own rescues, but we rearrange our lives to accommodate their needs, which is why they appear so "improved" to others. We minimized the chance that they could do anything other than improve.
So, after much backsliding again, Solo began to improve, and he started herding. The client was anxious to try this because the chap from whom she'd obtained the dog said he was a disaster at herding.
Well, dogs are not born knowing how to run sheep. In fact, even the ones that learn by watching mom, have to learn, and the question to me was, could Solo learn? Actually, after the first time where he nailed the sheep straight off, he displayed a remarkable talent and he genuinely seemed to enjoy it.
So, when the client had to go away for the next summer's research, she left Solo with one of the guys who kept the sheep for a local herding group.
Once solely in his possession, this guy took Solo off his fluoxetine because the guy
"didn't believe in drugs." He didn't call me. He didn't discuss it with the client. He didn't discuss it with anyone in the training group who had previously babysat Solo and knew what he could do. No, this stockman, who had no training in pharmacology, medicine or much elseknew better than anyone.
By the time the client returned, the dog had been off his drugs for about two months. She was angry, scared and afraid to tell me. Well, I gave the lecture of my life on responsibility, and how she should sit this guy down and explain the potential damage that was done. Unfortunately, since this guy controls access to one of the local sheep groups, many people are afraid to tick him off.
The thing that bothered the client was that the dog had seemed to blossom under this guy's gruff tutelage. Let's rethink that. Solo was with other dogs from whom he could take his cues. By taking his cues from clear rules and the other dogs who knew which end of a boot to avoid, Solo created a predictable rule structure in a world in which he could function.
What do we think the probability is of that rule structure and function being maintained upon return to the city? My guess would be about zero, but we would get to collect the data here.
Back on medication?
The client wanted to know if she should put the dog back on drugs. Because of the way SSRIs affect these receptors, if the dog needed drugs long-term she would begin to know within a month. It takes three to five weeks to begin to see the changes associated with alterations in protein receptors, and six or so weeks for these changes to routinely occur.
In turn, if drugs are maintaining these changes and the animal cannot do it on their own, you'll see anxious behaviors begin to return on about the same time scale.
Like clockwork, Solo began to show uncertainty, anxiety and snapping. Within two months back on medication he again improved, but not back to where he was before the summer. The client and I now have an agreement: unless there are renal, hepatic or cardiac side effects from the medication, Solo will be on drugs for life. His annual laboratory evaluations are flawless.
Once he improved, the client continued with herding. She started to really work Solo on agility, and she added another Border Collie, Fly, who was already trained to sheep.
Fly is a totally delightful, scruffy little Collie about Solo's size, who cares little for agility, but who lives for sheep and balls. The client needed this dog for herself, because she wanted a sweet dog who would work for her in a hobby she had grown to love. She also purchased Fly because we both hoped that she would be able to be used by Solo as a model. This is why it was important to get an adult dog whose ways with humans and other dogs was known. Solo is as well as he has ever been. He adores Fly, who is very tolerant of him. He has learned to play. He watches her when he is uncertain, and the massive weight of having to perform is lifted from him. Solo recently qualified in his first agility event. This is pretty remarkable since we added the agility as a way to have Solo associate the presence of other dogs as something fun and predictable.
Story's not over
This is a long story, but it's not over. There will be downs and dips, but they will be greatly exceeded by the gains. This client has committed to helping this dog improve, and he has. Remember this dog was basically locked in a room for the first year of his life, and was mentally frozen by the experience.
How many people would put in the time that it has taken to rescue Solo? Very few is the answer. How do we measure the price of saving an unsalvageable dog? For this client it's been time, money, pain and a real delay in her thesis completion, but this dog has forever changed her. As one who has been tutored by another unsalvageable dog, I can tell you the education is priceless.