Thursday, March 27, 2014

Jai and the Cool Dog Club

All the cool dogs are on drugs.

One of the reasons I decided to pull Jai from the therapy dog test last week is his new riding-in-cars phobia. It started quite suddenly over Christmas. We were in the middle of a five hour long drive home from gramma's, and in the space of about ten minutes, he went from napping to crying, shaking, drooling, panting, and trying to dig through the bottom of his crate. I still have no idea what triggered this phobia.

We've been working pretty hard on this issue for the last three months. Jai is still eager to jump into the cars, so we've been working on maintain that enthusiasm, getting cookies for being in the car while it's moving, and counter-conditioning bumps in the road with extra yummy peanut butter. And we've made steady progress. Jai gone from total melt down to some shaking and light panting. But couple the stress-inducing car ride with a new building and new dogs, and I didn't feel doing the TDI test would be setting my dog up for success. And while I wish we had been able to take the test, I still think that pulling him was in his best interests.

So if we're creating improvement and making good decisions, why did I decide to put Jai on meds?

First, I felt that our counter-conditioning and desensitization training would be more effective if Jai's brain was in a better state for learning. When we are stressed, frightened, or depressed, our brains secrete a the hormone glucocorticoid. Glucocorticoid, among other things, actually kills cells in the hippocampus. One of the important roles of the hippocampus is to turn short term memories into long term memories. Basically, glucocorticoid makes it harder for our brain to turn lessons into learning. When Jai is terrified, it's hard for him to remember good things that are happening; all he remembers is being afraid. Luckily, we know that antidepressant medications can increase the number of stem cells that become nerve cells in the hippocampus, thereby improving memory. Putting Jai on medications will help promote better learning.

Second, we've come to the point where our environment is working against us: welcome to pothole season in Minnesota. If we go over enough bumps right in a row, Jai becomes so frightened that he can't eat. When this happens, I'm pretty much just holding my dog prisoner in a giant torture box. It's not always feasible to stop the car and wait until he calms down again, or to turn around and go home. By putting Jai on medications, I'm hoping to increase his thresholds so that the same amount of bouncing will have a smaller impact on him. We've done a ton of really hard work in the last three months, and I don't want to lose it because Minnesota can't keep its stupid roads in one piece. This time of year, they're only going to get worse, and I don't want Jai to regress.

Third, I want to improve his recovery time. Stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine can stay in the body for up to seventy-two hours after a stressful event, lowering thresholds, decreasing learning capacity, and just making a body miserable. While recovery can certainly occur in a shorter period of time, Jai has never been one of those dogs. He and I have both been struggling with the impact of his car anxiety on his other behavioral issues of neophobia and reactivity. By reducing the stress he experiences in the car and by balancing some of the chemicals in his brain, we'll make it harder for his car anxiety to influence his quality of life outside the car.

I don't have pictures of Jai in the car, but I do have pictures of Jai at the vet.
So Jai and I went to the vet last week, and Dr. Nicole agreed that he would be a good candidate for a short term medication. She gave us 200mg of trazodone to try before car ride. Thus far, Jai's behavior hasn't really been influenced by his medication. It hasn't made him drowsy or stoned, but neither does it seem to improve his car phobia, either - which impresses the heck out of me. I took 25mg of trazodone once and was snowed for the next twenty-four hours, and I'm a lot bigger than Jai. So while I'm not yet done testing the effectiveness of the trazodone, I suspect I'll soon be calling Dr. Nicole to ask for a new medication.

I'm not too concerned, though. There are many behavior medications out there, and it took Maus a few tries to find the right one, too. Behavioral meds can be a great asset to a behavioral rehabilitation program, but it's not our only tool, either - we'll be using them to augment our training program, not replace it, and eventually I'm confident that we'll find the right combination of tools to conquer Jai's fear. And in the meantime, we'll just keep traveling the road in front of us.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Good Choices

Jai has made a lot of progress in the past two years - so much so that I thought we might try to pass the therapy dog test tonight. But Jai has been a bit off this week. Much in the way it wouldn't be fair to ask someone to run on a broken leg or do advanced calculus with a migraine, it wouldn't be right of me to ask Jai to work hard when he's not at the top of his mental game. So I switched Jai out for Cannon at the test - and Cannon passed with flying colors!

So here's to good choices: may we make them. May we live them .

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Gross Things My Bulldog Does

Item One: Most dogs encourage petting with a friendly nose bump. Cannon doesn't have a nose, so he resorts to a friendly eye nudge. "Hi! Here's some eyeball juice - pet me maybe?!?"

Item Two: Walk into a room. Passionately fart. Give owner meaningful look. Walk out of room.

Item Three: Sleeps with his face parts on your face parts. Activates face juice maker. Face juice = love.

Item Four: Experiments to see how many human fingers he can fit in his mouth at one time. Bonus point awarded for doing this while the human is trying to type. (You haven't been properly horrified until you've watched your bulldog's face wrinkles disappear because he's packed that many of your fingers into his mouth - like a carnivorous, snorty chipmunk.)

Item Five: Stand under the big bulldog when she turns her face juice maker on. Find human to gently and unsuspectingly nuzzle. More face juice = more love.

Item Six: Walk up to other dog. Sneeze in their face. Be disappointed when they don't do anything. No face juice = no love.

Item Seven: Commence pooping. Make intense and loving eye contact with owner. Wander away when done.

Item Eight: French kiss.

Item Nine: Obsessively lick pants. But only while you're wearing them, otherwise it's no fun.

Item Ten: Eat poop. Run inside, jump on bed, wipe face off on owner's pillow. Face juice equals . . . Y'know what, no it doesn't. Stop this, you horrible little animal.