Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tuesday Training 8

I purposely skipped updating the blog over the weekend. I wanted to kind of give myself a mental break from thinking about all things Marge, especially given how up-and-down her behavior has been.


Saturday was.. interesting. Louie, Jessica and I went for a hike in the woods with Marge. I can't even begin to describe how nice the crisp forest air felt on my skin. The weather was BEAUTIFUL. We traveled to some new places, took some nice pictures, climbed up some really steep inclines (we took the wrong path, but that was alright, I enjoyed the challenge). We had an absolutely smashing time. Until..

At the park's entrance, there was a large, loud group of very little children playing. Marge heard them before she even saw them, tensed up, and the walk back to the car was awful, with her pulling away, totally terrified, trying to get home. Not wanting to leave the park with her in that state, I tried walking her a bit more away from the kids, but she never really bounced back. I probably made matters worse, because instead of leaving when she looked a little bit better, I wanted her to be almost one-hundred percent again, and I never got that. I declared the day a failure, and drove back home miserably.

The reason I felt so badly was because I always use this particular park as a place for Marge to get away from her troubles, and for me to just walk with her without having to do any kind of behavior modification work. When it was spoiled by the kids screaming, it really hurt me. In retrospect, she probably wasn't as bad as I thought she was, and most importantly, I think the incident really showed me that NOISE from people is Marge's number one biggest fear, above the people themselves.

I walked her a little more that evening, and she was better.


I wanted to take her back to the park Sunday, but instead settled on the beach. Marge was okay passing people on the beach.. even a man wearing a hat, sunglasses and carrying a plastic bag (much like our neighbor on this block who she hates) didn't rattle her. However, on the way back, Marge spotted three people off to the side, lifting their hands and stretching, perhaps in preparation for a workout. This she did not like at all, even though they were facing away from her. Though she never fully shut down, she didn't recover, and was further bothered by a little commotion in the parking lot.

On her walk later that evening, she was fine walking in the field, even when a young man passed just a few feet next to her. I ran her around a bit, passing people on the soccer fields playing ball. She was fine until she heard whistles in the distance.. they spooked her, and, again, although she didn't completely shut down, she found it impossible to enjoy herself.

I figured out why the whistles/screams/other high pitched noises of that variety bother her. Last week, at 2:30 in the afternoon (?!?!?!$#%$#) Marge and I were lounging out in the backyard when someone set off what sounded awfully like a firework just a few houses behind us. The loud POP was preceded by a whistling sound (think "EEEEEK----POP") so I'm assuming she made a connection. Similarly, sirens have also started to bother her a little bit.

She did meet a new friend on the way home, a small Shih-Tzu type dog who lives on one of my routes. Although she wasn't as bouncy and happy as she usually is around little dogs, she was very happy to see him, wagging her tail and loosening her body. Cutting off all dog-dog interactions at the beginning of summer didn't do much to quell her fear and reactivity around larger, jumpy dogs, so she does make new friends on an infrequent basis as long as I know they're suitable. Strangely enough, although a few dogs do set her off, the presence of stable dogs (and interacting with them) usually calms her down, which is why I think she does so well at classes and trials.

I took her back out that evening briefly when I spoke to neighbors. Since it was quiet, she was fine. I have started to take her on very short nighttime walks, either up to sniff the first few trees in the field or a down the block about 100-200 feet. The fireworks seem to have stopped, but I'm still being cautious.

Monday afternoon, under the influence of Melatonin, Marge went back to the beach for another romp. This time, nothing spooked her and she enjoyed her time there. We didn't walk too far, because there was a dog in the distance who looked like he was offleash. But, she sniffed around, we wandered into the small patch of woods, and she didn't seem to mind that a few people were around, either.

We took it easy the rest of Monday. Did some backyard agility, until I got freaked out by a 6-inch long grasshopper chilling out by my weave poles.

We went back to the beach AGAIN today. Marge got another 3 mg of Melatonin. The tide was really high so there was only a strip of about 10 feet to walk on, but we managed. No one was really around this time, other than a couple of men sitting in various places doing their own things. Since there wasn't much space, I opted to leave the beach and take Marge across to sniff the near adjacent abandoned airplane hangars. Though there was a man in the parking lot with a fishing pole, she wasn't terribly bothered this time. A man also walked by stretching his arms out, much like the people did on Sunday, and it did scare her, but she recovered. She went back to the car happy, not scared, and although the tiny outing (20 minutes) didn't even put a dent in her energy, I found it to be a good one nevertheless.

So, based on these past few days, I wonder if I've underestimated the power of Melatonin all summer. It could have just been coincidence, but the two outings where Marge did get a dose were much better than the one where she didn't get any. Though I know it doesn't do anything when something REALLY startles her, it might make a difference between some triggers being simply scary or downright terrifying.

Vet Visit
As I wrote about last time, Marge's vet visit is scheduled for Friday at 9:30 AM. I've jotted down a lot of my thoughts pertaining to Marge's triggers, my concerns about possible prescriptions, and the like. I also printed out information about Dr. Dodds' thyroid test (thank you SO much, Kathy) and this EXCELLENT article regarding behavioral meds (which I found while browsing the Fearful Dogs blog, thanks for leaving it as a comment, Roxanne). I really want to get the thyroid test done, and I'm hoping that he'll at least glance at the article, and that all of this combined will help both him and I make a well-informed decision on how to handle everything we're up against.

Agility Update
Agility news is going to have to wait until tomorrow or Thursday. Youtube is taking a painfully long time to upload (another hour left), and since it's almost midnight, I need to get my sleep before my long day tomorrow at school. So, check back then.. I have a lot to talk about!


KB September 23, 2009 at 9:32 AM  

There seem to be an awful lot of fireworks near you... I guess it's equivalent to our gunshots around here in the fall but I can see how it would be tough on Marge.

Just a hint that you probably already know for your vet's office, be sure to be prepared with specific examples of Marge's scared behavior around seemingly small things. And, give an estimate of how many times a day she has these kinds of reactions. It's easy to overwhelm a busy vet if you aren't very specific and quantitative.

Don't be surprised if your vet doesn't know about the thyroid-behavior link. If your vet seems unwilling to learn about it, find a new vet (they should always be eager to learn about something new, even if they have to ask you to wait a day or two while they do some reading - my vet has literally done her reading and then called me back in the past).

Anna the GSD September 23, 2009 at 10:26 AM  

Marge, it sounds like you had some good days! You're coming a long way...see, even mom's get spooked by things like giant creepy grasshoppers! :)

Pedro September 23, 2009 at 11:16 AM  


I'm sure overall you had a great weekend with the good far out-weighing the bad. Your beach looks like a great place to find rocks & shells (that's my mom's favorite thing to do).


Sue September 23, 2009 at 2:32 PM  

Great article on meds. Morgan is doing great on 40mg of Clomicalm plus 5mg of Valium each morning. In fact she is doing so well that the vet feels they may have contributed to her liver improvement. The fact that we have dealt with her anxiety may have caused her to produce less cortisol and sent the levels back to the normal range. She is enjoying life again for the first time in years.

The Army of Four September 23, 2009 at 5:47 PM  

As others have said, it sounds like more good than bad! This is encouraging! Marge just may need the Melatonin for a little while, while she learns to trust and not get spooked!
How did she react to the grasshopper? I like to POUNCE on them! :)
Tail wags,

Life With Dogs September 24, 2009 at 1:58 AM  

I still see you finding a resolution. Your dedication just about guarantees it. I'll be very interested to hear what your vet says...

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