Thursday, September 9, 2010

Animal Behaviorist Appointment

We scheduled an appointment for a behaviorist to come to our home to evaluate Darlin'. He's a Professor at a widely recognized school of Veterinary medicine in Alabama with more than 35 years experience. He was here two hours last Saturday, however, he made a recommendation for Darlin' within seconds of entering our home.

I put the dogs outside, but left Toby, our broken coat Jack Russell, in the house so he wouldn't bark for me to let him in. Toby is a velcro dog and doesn't want to be away from me very long.

Darlin' doesn't usually bark when a stranger enters our home. I thought she would run and hide. Not this time. She barked her head off when I invited the behaviorist inside. She was loud and the hair stood up on her neck so I walked over and had her sit and told her to hush, which she did. He watched her out of the corner of his eye. Darlin' then ran to the couch and jumped up turning her body side-ways away from him. She sat quietly on the couch, she turned her head in avoidance and was trembling fiercely as I told him a little about her history with us. He remarked that she was probably born feral and probably didn't have any socialization with people. He was surprised when I let him know that she was spayed sometime before I trapped her. We agreed that given she was spayed and so afraid of people, she was probably on her own a long time and may have suffered some abuse. He handed me some papers to sign and we sat together at the kitchen table. Once he sat down at the kitchen table, Darlin' ran back to our bedroom.

I discussed our concerns about her barking at my husband and kids. If this is your first time reading this blog, Darlin' has become very attached to me, but she barks at my family. Her barking started about a year ago, after living in the house about 6 months. She doesn't only bark when they come home from school or work. She barks every time they move in the house. She barks when my son comes home from school, when he opens my office door, when he goes to the bathroom, when he fixes a snack, if he helps bring in groceries, or if he's downstairs and comes back up. Literally! It's like that for everyone in the house except me. It doesn't matter if they are home all day. If she hears or sees them she barks at them. Darlin' does not bark when she's in the backyard unless my husband or one of my children open the back door. I also told him about her body language when she's barking. She appears to be in an excited state; her tail is high and wagging back and forth. Sometimes her hair stands up the back of her neck. He told me not to worry about her body language unless her ears are straight up and tail is high and centered between her ears. I'm familiar with that posture from books on canine behavior. The dog may be aggressive or even dangerous. Darlin' does not show any aggressive behavior. I think if she were going to bite we would have seen this long ago. She did bite me during a fight with Bonnie, but I do not believe she knew she bit me. She's been living with us for 18 months. I just realized this last week that I have known Darlin' for two years!

I asked his opinion about the dog fights between Darlin' and Bonnie. I showed him the scars on my arm from the fight a few months ago. I felt like he brushed it off. He said he wishes he had only been bitten once in his life and that "you're going to have the fighting as long as you have a dog that is anxious."

He also viewed a few videos that I have on youtube and my computer. He was surprised when he watched a video on youtube where I pointed to Darlin' and told her to hush and sit outside. Darlin' listens to commands unless she is aroused. Usually I walk over to her and tell her "that's enough" and to "sit down" and she will. He ask me to continue to document her behavior using videos. He told us that most people need to see him twice --an initial appointment with a follow-up, but that we will probably need to see him more than that. That's when my husband told him about the extensive progress Darlin' has made since we brought her home.

He was surprised that I asked for a home visit. That was his secretary's idea after I told her how fearful Darlin' is and that she would probably cower under my chair at his office. I will take Darlin' for an office visit and follow-up in three to four months.

His diagnoses was that Darlin' is in a constant state of anxiety and his recommendation for Darlin' is anti-anxiety and antidepressant drugs. The anti-anxiety medicine is actually another antidepressant. She is not in a constant state of anxiety. She is a very calm and well behaved dog when no one is around, but she shows a lot of anxiety when my family members are home. He mentioned several drugs, but we are going to try something mild to begin with per my request. I want her to calm down, but I do not want her to experience weight gain, dizziness, or any possible negative side effects. Of course we can wean her off of the medicine after a while. He will contact my vet so I'm sure I'll need to see him with Darlin' as well. Once I have the prescription I will update that we have started the drug therapy. The drugs are Wellbutrin or the generic form of Bupropion, and Elavil, also known as Amitriptyline.

The crate has been a life saver! All of the dogs enjoy napping in it. Now, instead of rotating Darlin' and Bonnie during the day using bedrooms, I ask one of them to go in the crate while I let the other outside. It took about two days to teach Bonnie and Darlin' to go in the crate. I will never use it as punishment because I do not want them to associate it with something negative. My dogs are good dogs. I can't remember having to "punish" them for anything. I correct them daily if they get loud or too rambunctious in the house. I try to rotate them in my office so that they each have time with me. I'm pretty certain that Darlin' has claimed my office as part of her territory. I bought another crate for my office because eventually I want to leave my office door open again and allow all of the dogs to be with me at once. Right now all of the dogs get along in my office as long as I remove Darlin' or Bonnie. One has to stay out to avoid conflict. I did put Darlin' in the office crate once and she whined because she couldn't see me! She also whines if I leave her in the crate in the living room and go in my office. She shows signs of anxiety when I am out of her sight. She's fine in the crate if I'm in the kitchen because she can see me. She's also been jumping at my bedroom door, barking and whining when I arrive home. She's fine when I leave though. The behaviorist said the separation anxiety will get worse so hopefully the medications will help that as well.