Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Behavior Modification ~ Progress and Follow-Up

In the seven+ weeks since our initial appointment with the veterinary behaviorist, we've been adhering to our training and behavior modification plan, recording our progress, and checking in with Dr. Bain when new situations or questions arise. ...

Part 1 - Help Zainey relax:
DAP (Dog Appeasing Phermone) Collar ~  For the first couple of days wearing this, Z did seem a little more calm. For example, whenever we pull into the driveway after coming home from agility practice, she is up and ready to get out of the car. The day after she started wearing the DAP collar, she remained lying down and completely relaxed when I opened the back seat. After a few days though, that chilled-out state seemed to fade. Since the collars need to be replaced every few weeks, I applied a new one a couple of weeks ago and that night she 'nursed' in her sleep quite a bit. This is something Z has always done mildly, off and on, but that night she was
really 'sleep-nursing'. Again, that effect didn't seem to last.
Anxitane (L-Theanine) ~ I can't say that I've noticed any change in her behavior or anxiety level since she's been on this green tea nutraceutical, so if it is helping her in any way, it's not at a level that I've been able perceive and I believe we're somewhere near the point where if it were to help, we would be noticing.

Part 2 - Gain independence from me and NILIF (Nothing In Life Is Free):
Although Z does not suffer from separation anxiety, she is overly attached to me (both physically and emotionally), so we are using some techniques one might use to treat true separation anxiety. Gone are the days when me walking through the door = party-time-disco-disco! Now when I come home from work (or anywhere) I ignore her until she ignores me. ...Really ignores me and gives up, not just goes to the other side of the room and leaves me alone, all the while waiting for me to come play. Day one was tough and had me sitting in the bathroom in tears as I imagined her poor little confused head wondering why she was invisible to me. Oh, so sad, but I did get over it. She still has not gotten over it and she still wants to jump on me and interact with me as soon as I walk in the door, but I'm okay ignoring her because I know the end result will be a healthier (more secure) existence for her. Besides, I no longer feel like my day goes from traffic to work to traffic to dog to ...obligation after obligation. The little break is actually an added perk for me!

The other elements of Part 2 include having all of her interactions with me dictated by me, not her, so a paw on my leg to get me to play or a bark to get my attention no longer work. I ignore those behaviors (which I am realizing were way more annoying than I let myself feel) and I initiate and stop all of our play sessions. Among other things, she sits to go outside and is getting accustomed to playing ball without me having to offer a treat in order for her to drop the darn ball.

Anyone care for some boiled sweet potato and chicken?
One thing that wasn't working for me was all of the time I was spending preparing her 'treat toys' that she would later get while relaxing somewhere in the house that was away from me. Sure, it encourages her to spend more time not being at my side, but a.) as we began this process, we were noticing that she was already quite capable of choosing to spend time in another part of the house independent of me and b.) I was starting to feel like her servant spending so much time preparing treats for her (granted, no one said I had to use such yummy, healthy foods, but she gets bored with the same ol' stuff and she relaxes more with her treat-toys when they have something more enticing in them). I do still use these daily to put some space between us, but I prepare them all at once to save time, refrigerate them until needed, and keep her out of the kitchen while I'm doing this so she doesn't have more reason to think that I am a resource worthy of her constant protection/possession.

Relax damn dog, relax! ;-)

Part 3 - Desensitization and counter-conditioning (DS/CC) in a more 'on-off' setting:
Again, this plan didn't quite work. For her entire life, whenever Zainey goes anywhere, she goes; there is movement with a purpose. The very act itself of getting out of the car only to find some 'thing' to be behind or a place to hang out while we wait for stimulus to appear seemed to increase her anxiety level from the get-go. Z is smart. Let me say that again - Z is a SMART! She ding-dang knew something was up! So, we have since talked this through with Dr. Bain* (see below follow-up), and have added some movement to our ds/cc sessions which has seemed to help; she is definitely more at ease with this more fluid method. She is doing well with some things (able to easily look at most stimulus from a distance and turn back to me for a treat) and still not so great with others (the distance required for her to remain in a relaxed to inquisitive state is still quite far). Since she is so smart, the question arises for me - Are we really developing a new CER (conditioned emotional response) from her, or has she just learned a new 'game' and is still as freaked about the stimulus, but exhibiting great impulse control, and only playing along in order to get the yummy chicken? Or, maybe, if that is indeed the case, does it really matter if the end result will be the same (a dog who no longer freaks out and loses her sh^t when a 'perceived' threat is near).


Some thoughts - Between finding new places to train, the almost daily ds/cc sessions, daily 'independence' treats away from me in the home, and logging all of the related data in order to evaluate her progress and our methods, it has been quite a time consuming project. I don't mind at all if this gets her to a better place, however I suppose I'm just anxious myself, anxious to see real progress and anxious to know what's next. I do worry a little, because as more than one friend pointed out, it seems like we are taking her back to the very beginning steps of working with a reactive dog. We have progressed with her to this same place before (dog sees stimulus, dog displays acceptable behavior, click, treat, rinse, and repeat) - what happens if/when we hit that wall again? Then do we get the magic wand????
Abracadabra! Dog all better!
*On Monday, June 11th, Z and I had our recheck appointment with Dr. Bain where we went over my concerns regarding what appeared to be increased anxiety in the 'on/off' approach to ds/cc. Dr Bain and student Sarah took Zainey and I on a little walk around the area where Dr. Bain demonstrated how to incorporate some movement into our sessions while still providing the 'off' moments where Z is better able to sort of reset herself. (I can not stress enough how invaluable the hands on session was - it's one thing to talk about all of this in a room together or on paper, it's another to get out and see whether or not you're both on the same page with what terms describe what behavior and so on.) We also discussed continuing with the DAP collar and the Anxitane for at least a bit longer in order to know for sure if it's helping or not before possibly moving on to a prescription medication for some amount of time. I was very honest that at that point I had yet to see any real improvements (only since adding the movement into our routines has Z relaxed enough to more reliably offer auto-look back behavior at the sight of stimulus 'X'), but felt reassured enough by the time we left that we are at least on the right path.
In addition to continuing work on the above program, we are also adding an exercise where Mike and I walk Z together, but I gradually move away from them at which time Z is rewarded by Mike with lots of treats (yea, mom can go away and the world actually gets better!)

Z demonstrates her new food dispenser, the Pipolino
Side note: Good news - we were given the green light to continue with agility class despite the addition of 3 new dogs and the fact that we now have two new (MALE) trainers taking over for the sweet/petite lady that Z became quite fond of. We still won't be entering any agility trials for a while however - Bummer for me!

Up next: Check in with Dr. Bain, provide our most recent data log, and discuss possible medication options.

1 comment:

  1. This thing's getting pretty intersting. Get it to where 'we all lived happly ever after' and then put it in book form. Dad.