In many ways my dear Oscar is the perfect dog. He always has a wagging tail, is always up for a game of fetch or Frisbee and loves to be involved with whatever my husband and I are doing in and around the house. I love his wagging tail and body and the soft eyes he looks at me so lovingly with. It makes my heart melt. He is such a different and unique dog from my sweetheart, Fanny, and I love him for that.
True to his canine nature, Oscar loves to chase small furry critters (even a white bag when lure coursing), devours his food at meal time, enjoys his human and canine companionship in our pack and likes to lick his nether regions. These are all behaviors that I encourage him to do...it's what makes him a dog. He is not a human and I do not expect him to sit back, with his legs crossed talking about current events.
Also honest to his hard wiring, he sees the world in two very black and white perspectives. Scary and Safe. Unfortunately for Oscar, he thinks a lot of the world he lives in is scary. Plain and simple. Because of this, he lives the majority of his life in a state of anxiety...chronic stress. Sudden environmental changes startle him, whether it's a noise or a person suddenly coming into view out our front door, and cause him to jump up from a relaxing down...tail curled up over his back, eyes and head flying around, piloerect and woof-woof-woofing. While I expect a dog to be reactive, I know there is something deeper going on with Oscar that makes him so hyper vigilant.
The more reading and educating I do, the more I am of the belief that a dog's temperament is a combination of his genetic make-up (nature) and environment (nurture). Therefore, I am the first to admit that his reactivity and general anxiety is partially due to his daily living situation. The other part is just who he is...from his momma and papa's genetic make-up. Oscar is Oscar. He is exactly who he is supposed to be and handles every situation in life the best way he knows how to.
It has been over a year since I noticed Oscar beginning to become a rather reactive dog and there are multiple things that my husband and I have tried to help him gain confidence. Are we perfect in our attempts? Absolutely not. Have we tried to help in the best capacity that we could manage. Hell yes we have. We have done classical counter conditioning and desensitization helping him pair "scary" stuff with "yummy" and "good" stuff. We have adjusted our social life to prevent people from coming over because it is too stressful for Oscar. We have adjusted our goals with what we wanted to do with Oscar. I wanted to do therapy work with him and realized several months ago that it is very unlikely that will happen. I'm not upset about that, it's part of the journey Oscar and I are on together. Damn me if I am going to force him into something that he doesn't feel comfortable doing...that is why we pulled out of group agility classes too...he was too stressed with the other dog(s) in class.
There are several things we have tried to help take the edge off of Oscar's general anxiety. I don't know specifically what order they were tried in anymore, but they include plug-in DAP pheremone diffusers, the Thundershirt, Ttouch, massages, flower essences, essential oils, herbal remedies, speaking with an animal communicator and having energy work done with him. I gave each one of these a decent testing period...some things didn't work from the get go (herbal remedies gave him diarrhea)...some seemed to work a little bit (Ttouch and massage). With all of these treatments, I wasn't hoping for a miracle...just a significant enough of an improvement to help Oscar truly relax, take a deep breath and be a dog and enjoy life without being so anxious.
Recently I borrowed a wonderful set of DVD's from a seminar given by Dr. Ian Dunbar and Dr. Nicholas Dodman that discussed fear aggression, anxiety and medical causes and treatments for various canine problems. My hubby actually watched a good majority of the DVD's with me, which was shocking. Usually he is off doing his "man stuff" when I am entrenching myself in dog nerd stuff, but not this time and boy-oh-boy and I thankful for that. What we both discovered (together!) through watching these DVD's is that we have done a pretty good job trying to help Oscar get past his fears and anxieties. These DVD's coupled with the experienced advise from our wonderful private trainer Aaron and I both learned (again, together!) that it is probably time to turn to prescribed medication to really help Oscar.
We owe it to Oscar to continue helping him in the best way we know how. Anything else would be a disservice to him and his quality of life. After doing a lot of talking back and forth, I picked up the phone and called our holistic vet on Monday morning and explained to him that the most recent methods we have been trying are falling short and it was time to consider the next step. He did some checking and researching and called back on Wednesday and recommended that we try Oscar out on fluoxetine (Prozac). I have to admit when I heard Prozac, part of my stomach hit the floor...for some reason I felt a moment of failure that I was considering putting my dog on Prozac.
Those feelings were soon extinguished when I did some quick reading up on exactly what fluoxetine is and how it functions. When I realized that fluoxetine is not a sedative, I was much more on board with giving it a try than before. A lot of what I read about other people using it seems to be quite positive and I'm hoping (and praying) that this will help Oscar out by chemically allowing him to learn better behaviors. I realize that it takes a number of weeks before an evaluation of effectiveness should be measured and I'm willing to see what happens.
Of course, as urged to by my vet, if Oscar shows any sign of side effects I should call him immediately and we'll talk about another treatment, but for now...I'm hoping that this may be the last piece of the puzzle to help Oscar enjoy a life with less stress and anxiety.
(There is an absolutely wonderful and informative article written by Mary Straus here. that I encourage everyone to read when they have time.)