It’s been a while since I blogged about my dog, Nina. My last entry about her was not very optimistic. The poor creature had already had 2 knee replacement surgeries, and has shown some slight hip dysplasia symptoms since she was a pup. She had been through intensive positive punishment training, which helped control extreme behaviors, but the anxiety was ever-present.
She still would lash out at Jack for no reason, with no warning. I know people think that dogs always signal before reacting to a situation. That is simply not true. I’ve dealt with Nina long enough to say with confidence that while she does usually signal, I’ve seen her go from no signs of discomfort to ready to attack with no signaling. At all.
Though operant conditioning helped control the extremes, Nina was still very fearful of new situations. She couldn’t be trusted to meet new people in anything other than a tightly controlled interaction. Interacting with new dogs was a definite no.
In what I thought was a last ditch effort, a friend and dog trainer agreed to take Nina, potentially permanently. The hope was that his better dog handling abilities would provide Nina the environment she needed.
Even that didn’t work.
Giving Meds A Try
I knew that Prozac was an option, but every professional who mentioned it as a possible solution said it should only be the used if all other options had been explored. Since I’m an ‘I can always do better’ type of person, I never really felt like all options had been explored. I could walk her longer. I could work with her on discipline more.
Finally, I decided that it was the right time to give medication a try. As soon as the prozac began to affect her behavior, I began to have my doubts. She wasn’t lashing out at Jack, but whatever ability I had to read her was gone. She didn’t seem to be enjoying anything, but she didn’t seem to be bothered by anything either. It was a stressful transition. I went from usually being able to read her mind to having no idea how a situation would affect her.
Gradually, her happiness returned, but the anxiety and fear aggression issues never did. She’s a different dog now. A little less responsive to commands, slightly less active. A lot more comfortable with her surroundings.
I’ve learned a few things from being Nina’s guardian. The first is that the expression ‘there are no bad dogs, only bad owners‘ is an insult to people who are doing the best they can with a dog that has mental issues. It was coined as a response to the falsehood that a dog is automatically bad if it is a insert-whatever-breed-is-currently-being-villified. A more accurate version of that expression would be: ‘there are no bad dog breeds.‘ Full stop. The end. Yes, dog owners are ultimately responsible for their dogs’ actions. No, a dog acting badly doesn’t mean the owner is a bad person.
The second lesson I learned is that if you are dealing with a troubled dog, don’t rule out medication as an option. It shouldn’t be your first solution. It may not be the right solution. It could be a life saver. For Nina, it was. She is still closely monitored when around new people, but she is much more comfortable with their presence. Conflicts between her and Jack are virtually nonexistent now. Nina is no longer completely terrified of new dogs.
If you’re to the point that you’re seriously considering the heart-breaking ‘e-word’ because your dog is still out of control despite your best efforts, don’t do it before trying medication.