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.


  1. Hey! Glad to hear the Dr came by. I know it must have been frustrating to hear the doc say he was surprised you wanted a home visit. Given how important this is: it would have been nice if he and his assistant had communicated a bit better.
    That would make me feel like I don't have his complete attention.

    The good news is he validated what you knew all along. That no amount of emotional support or training alone will resolve this barking issue.

    In most cases it is the human that is the problem but it sounds like the doc is saying there is nothing you can do as far as training or support to resolve this issue.

    While Darlin may not suffer from a constant state of anxiety my best guess would be that her fear is so irrational that it cannot be overcome traditionally.

    It would be like if I had a fear of heights. Imagine I lived on the roof of a skyscraper. Everytime I get near the edge of the building, my heart starts pounding, I start shaking, sweating, I feel like I might fall of the edge.

    As I move to the center of the roof I feel safer, I relax, eat, sleep etc. Move me back five feet closer to the edge and the panic starts to set in. So I may at times seem ok but I know that edge is still there.

    Even if you were to come by and go to the edge of the roof, lean on the railing, look over the edge it would not help me get over the fear. In fact it would increase my fear double because now I am really focused on the height.

    It is not a rational fear and no amount of talking or showing me will remove that fear. And that is with a rational human brain. Imagine a doggy brain!

    I would guess is that is what he meant by a constant fear, just a guess though.

    The other good news from what I read is that with medication fear in canines is the most easily resolved.

    I am rooting for you and Darlin, My suggestion is if the new meds don't work, don't give up.
    You may have to try others. Keep in contact with that doctor and keep him informed.

    I have a good feeling about this!

  2. I picked up the medicine yesterday! I waited for a call from my vet, but never heard anything. When I called, they told me it was waiting there. My vet came out while I was at the office and said that this was only his second time working with Dr. Myers in his 30 years of practice. My vet also prescribes drug therapies so I wanted to make it clear that I called Dr. Myers because we needed someone to observe Darlin' in our home. I told him what it's like living with Darlin's anxiety and by the look on his face he seemed quite surprised. He has only seen Darlin' twice and both times all he could tell by her behavior is that she is fearful of people.

    I did not feel like I had Dr. Myers' full attention, Rockdog. I know too much about his personal life! Such as, he had a date that evening, he doesn't understand women after several failed relationships, his ex wife surrendered her dog to a local shelter, and he has two dogs he wants to rehome because of his work schedule. He also suggested that I not get any more dogs after I adopt these out. He obviously missed an important detail... that I have five dogs.

    The behaviorist mentioned several types of drugs that we could try, as well as a lobotomy or euthanasia being other options! He specializes in dog psychology and said that he is on Cesar Millan's producers speed dial and that they contact him frequently. He also said that Toby (my rough coat Jack Russell) is the most well behaved Jack Russell he has ever met. I told him that I pulled Toby from a rural Tennessee kill shelter and that I decided to keep him because he's the most affectionate dog I've ever had. He asked, "How does a dog like this end up in a kill shelter?" I remarked that Toby is just one of millions of loving dogs that end up in shelters because of irresponsible pet owners. Actually, that was about the time he told me about his wife surrendering her dog and that he needed to place his own dogs. When he left I looked at my husband and said, "I respect him as a doctor, but I don't care much for him as a person."

    I'll update soon! Thank you!

  3. Damn! He is all over the place mentally.
    I am real sorry he was so distracted.He is not much of a listener.

    Hopefully that does not affect his abilities as a doctor.

  4. IMO, this person has merely found an extra source of income in his role as a "Behaviorist". Very disappointing, but know you were sincerely exploring this method of professional assistance in helping Darlin. Doesn't appear this guy is a good fit for Darlin. In fact, he more or less, wasted time by trying to "teach" you facts and basic training in which you are already expert through years of hands on experience and your invaluable canine intuition.
    It REALLLLY hasn't been that long since you rescued DARLIN -, her past struggles in life have left deep emotional scars, but she has come so far in your loving care. Every day is a victory for that girl, thanx to you.

  5. Lordy, can I relate to this. Our Husky, Katya, was a rescue -- a stray, so far gone into the wild that she had to be trapped to bring her out -- and it's been a long, slow road bringing her in to the family. She bonded instantly and totally with my wife, but still can't relax around me, two years on. I'll be interested to see how things play out with Darlin' -- in the meantime we'll just keep on keepin' on with hope, love, and patience.
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  6. Canine..i would also go with the same idea that one should respect for him but doesnt care for him as a person.

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  7. Canine..i would also go with the same idea that one should respect for him but doesnt care for him as a person.

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  8. Glad to see you are doing fine! Keep warm and continue.

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  10. this is something that everyone, especially dog lovers should look into... i admire you, keep the warm and love :)

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  12. How are you and Darlin doing now? Applaud you determination. I too work in animal rescue live in central alabama and have 2 feral dogs. It is a challenge