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A couple of years ago, I had a puppy. She was funny and sweet and a really good puppy. She went to all sorts of places, she took classes, and she did all sorts of neat stuff. She had fun and she was happy.

 

Then, she got a little bit older, and reactivity happened. She was terrified. She managed to finish the class she was in by the skin of her teeth. If the last class hadn't been the last class, we would have been kicked out, I'm sure.

 

We thought it was a fear stage, at first. Then realized it wasn't but weren't overly worried. We tried to counter condition and desensitize.

 

We worked with a trainer and did behavioral modification with LAT, BAT, and even some CAT. We basically tried everything we knew to try and not only did she not improve she got worse. She got a lot worse. She trigger stacked more easily and recovered more slowly. Her world shrank, while the list of things that she reacted to grew. Reflections in car windows, people she lived with turning up in a weird place or at an odd time she didn't expect them, anything out of place at all would send her off.


About the point where she flipped out because there was a bunt cake on the counter and she didn't expect it was the point we decided to try meds. She was 20 months old at that point.


She started them in February of this year, and for the rest of the winter we gave them to her, but did nothing else. I figured she needed a break to decompress, and frankly by that point I did too. We played some ball and disc, did quite a bit of training (mostly obedience, some stupid tricks), but mostly we just chilled. I don't think she saw a strange person or dog that wasn't one of ours the whole time. She barely even left our property.

 

She unwound. She stopped waking up a thousand times a night and slept through the night. She stopped raiding the garbage and counter-surfing and obsessively searching for food. Mostly, she just freaking relaxed. I swear it was like seeing her exhale after holding her breath since she was six months old.

 

Somewhere early April the weather warmed up and I took her on a little walk, just to the little park-let at the end of the street. She was... relaxed and happy. We worked a little more on obedience skills, splashed in a creek and came home. Every day after that the walk was a little longer, and we saw more things.

 

We would play LAT from a distance and have it work. We'd practice emergency U-turns or obedience skills. We'd sit somewhere and watch strange things happening. It was suddenly just a matter of basically socializing her like a normal dog - and it WORKED. She went from wanting to react, to sitting and watching, to actively glancing at the formerly scary stuff and then choosing to carry on. We started taking her places (slowly) again.

 

By mid-May she was attending agility practices at the club. Not participating but going, hanging out and relaxed and happy to do it while other dogs were running and people were coming and going.


Last month, we had some meet ups with another dog owner in a public park, where there were a bunch of kids and activities happening and running around and she was just fine, even flopped over on her side feet away from the other dog while I chatted with the owner.


Today, she went to a state park/lake and pretty major recreation area (picnics, beach, marina, boat rentals, the like) with me for my birthday. You know what she did while we were there? She played. She had fun. She took treats from the park ranger when we paid for parking. She held a down stay and calmly watched a bunch of kids in 'our' regular spot of the lake until they were ready to get out and it was her turn (on a long line) to swim. She watched ducks. She hiked on trails other people and dogs were using.

 

I HAVE A DOG AGAIN. Okay, I've always had a dog. What I have now though? I have a happy dog. I have the dog I've always had, at her best, all the time.


I'm not going to claim it was all the meds. It was the meds, it was maturity, it was training and Molly working more than I did. I'm not saying we're done, or she's perfect, or that I'm going to start inviting people to pet her and taking her on off leash playdates any time soon.

But... I have my dog back.

 

Today was my birthday.


I could not have asked for a better present, or day.


And, um, if you made it through all of that? Thank you. Have some pictures.

 

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Thank you for such a heartwarming post! You are to be commended for hanging in there with her, and she is to be commended for coming through it so well. She is one beautiful girl. Your story reminds us to have faith in the dog, and patience. It put a smile on my face and I am so very happy for both of you. :)

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Amazing! Such great news, and good morning reading for me. Pictures speak volumes--she looks happy and fabulous.

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Yay! I love this post!

 

Bett is a reactive girl and we are slowly seeing progress... i wish i knew back when I first go her what I know now. I can feel guilty that I forced her into situations that she wasn't ready for and I caused her reactivity. The more I read, the more I think it might be just her. ;-)

 

Thank you for sharing your story, it give me hope that someday I'll have a 'dog'

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So do you...

 

This made me tear up; Thank you.

 

I also did want to say I absolutely believe meds have their place. I had some serious reservations and while I didn't get a lot of flack, I did get a lot of people asking me if I'd tried like.. .Look at that games. It's a fair question and I don't think meds are some magic bullet now, but.

 

I don't think there is a chance in heck that Molly would have been able to get anywhere without meds to calm her brain DOWN so she could *think*.

 

Of course, I also don't think she would have been able to get anywhere without:

A-) Time off. I've said elsewhere that when Molly gets stuck in a behavioral pattern, even if it's wrong, she keeps repeating it. Breaking her out of that is freaking hard, and she had a long time to build up both the emotional reaction to things and to decide that she was supposed to bark and lunge when she found things scary. Time off reset her default to nothing, and gave a foot in the door.

 

B-) Freaking obedience training. Not just training but training to true fluency. Gave me a way to communicate with her under stressful situations, gave her something to do, and kept her from ramping herself up doing stupid crap like lunging on a leash.

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I had the same experience with meds, reactivity, and bringing a dog back to (relative) normalcy from the brink. My dog can do normal dog stuff

 

BUT

 

Although I was able to put 2 agility titles on her, she just wasn't very happy in that environment (whereas she excelled in nose work and I think she would excel in barn hunt, if I ever get around to it)

 

So, it is my experience that they can become "normal" (normalcy being a range), but their fundamental nature does not change. My dog tolerated agility trials because she trusted me. Which was a huge responsibility. So, I stopped with her.

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I have no intention of pushing the agility thing - or anything else with her, really. When/if she shows any stress we back off and she hasn't done a single thing with agility outside our back yard since she finished that last class as things were getting rough.

 

Right now, most of what I see from her is that if it's outside she's happy as a clam. Anything inside is a no-go and I don't even attempt it. Too much pressure for her.

 

She does some rally, disc, we're going to try a little lure coursing on a private (fenced, one dog at a time) course, but she's got the reins. We'll probably keep taking her to the odd agility practices for our club since she's enjoyed those, play that and everything else by ear, but the dog's got the reins.

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So incredibly happy for you! And for her :) for the most part only owners of reactive dogs realize how stressful and hard it is on the dog AND the human. She is so lucky to have you in her corner and be able to enjoy life without constant fear and stress. She is truly adorable, what an awesome happy birthday I am sure you enjoyed it with that gift!!

 

For those of you with reactive dogs (or who have had them in the past) I found this hilarious article one night while crying from the frustration in bed one night... Thank you google...

 

https://bullinthecity.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/how-to-live-with-a-dog-reactive-dog-and-not-lose-your-shit-an-impractical-guide/

 

Edit: feel free to skip to the numbered list part it's where the true gems are

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For those of you with reactive dogs (or who have had them in the past) I found this hilarious article one night while crying from the frustration in bed one night... Thank you google...

 

https://bullinthecity.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/how-to-live-with-a-dog-reactive-dog-and-not-lose-your-shit-an-impractical-guide/

 

Edit: feel free to skip to the numbered list part it's where the true gems are

 

Oh this was so great and so, so true.

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So incredibly happy for you! And for her :) for the most part only owners of reactive dogs realize how stressful and hard it is on the dog AND the human. She is so lucky to have you in her corner and be able to enjoy life without constant fear and stress. She is truly adorable, what an awesome happy birthday I am sure you enjoyed it with that gift!!

 

For those of you with reactive dogs (or who have had them in the past) I found this hilarious article one night while crying from the frustration in bed one night... Thank you google...

 

https://bullinthecity.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/how-to-live-with-a-dog-reactive-dog-and-not-lose-your-shit-an-impractical-guide/

 

Edit: feel free to skip to the numbered list part it's where the true gems are

Fun post. I agree, do your best, but sometimes the only way to deal is to have a sense of humor.

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This made me tear up; Thank you.

 

I also did want to say I absolutely believe meds have their place. I had some serious reservations and while I didn't get a lot of flack, I did get a lot of people asking me if I'd tried like.. .Look at that games. It's a fair question and I don't think meds are some magic bullet now, but.

 

I don't think there is a chance in heck that Molly would have been able to get anywhere without meds to calm her brain DOWN so she could *think*.

 

Of course, I also don't think she would have been able to get anywhere without:

A-) Time off. I've said elsewhere that when Molly gets stuck in a behavioral pattern, even if it's wrong, she keeps repeating it. Breaking her out of that is freaking hard, and she had a long time to build up both the emotional reaction to things and to decide that she was supposed to bark and lunge when she found things scary. Time off reset her default to nothing, and gave a foot in the door.

 

B-) Freaking obedience training. Not just training but training to true fluency. Gave me a way to communicate with her under stressful situations, gave her something to do, and kept her from ramping herself up doing stupid crap like lunging on a leash.

 

Yes yes and yes.

 

I walked a similar journey, and I was also resistant to meds because it seemed like I should have the skills to do this myself. It was an ego check to acknowledge it wasn't working and try them. I kicked myself for not doing it sooner.

 

Because like you, I now have a dog, a companion, a partner, and not just a cute cuddly stone causing me stress on my shoulder. I can take him places, he is going on a road trip with all of us, he can go to herding stuff and to the river when there are other people around, I can go on vacation and leave him with a pet sitter. Training, maturity, confidence (gained through stockwork and learning to swim and tracking and me doing a better job with training) and yes, the meds are the key.

 

I got flak about the meds from many people (including my husband) and had to let it roll off (my dog, my choice) but now I only wish I had tried them sooner.

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  • 1 month later...

Molly hung out on the high school campus for an hour and a half today, while my kids did their orientation and stuff and went straight from there to a meet up with a friend and her dogs (the reason Molly was at the campus - the timing was tight. We just chilled under a tree, watched people and cars and cheerleading practice.


Then we went to the meet up and we not only took a walk together with the dogs, Molly MET both of my friends dogs (individually), then got called away after a sniff she instigated and praised and reward. I even released her a couple of times to chase her frisbee as a reward. She *begged* my friend for treats! A near total stranger to her.

 

...Guys.

 

I'm going to cry again.


She *met other dogs*. Confidently, appropriately, and politely.

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Couldn't happen to a nicer human/dog team. So glad to read and re-read this. Way to GOOOOOOO!

 

Ruth and Gibbs

 

Thanks! We're keeping all of it light and easy - she'd meet the other dog, sniff for a second or two and then get called happily away and I'd throw the disc AWAY from the other dog. She'd bring it back, play tug, we'd trade the disc for a treat and go back to doing obedience work or just meandering around with the other (leashed) dog and owner. It'll be a weekly meet up for a while, and I'm not aiming for dog 'friends', but it's really, really good practice for her.

 

That and the rally stuff she's doing is paying off in a BIG way right now.

 

Mind you she'll still light up like fourth of july (ie: Explosively) if another dog rushes her but I wouldn't expect her NOT to in that situation, either.

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