Friday, February 18, 2011

Ten Years of Living with an Abnormal Dog

Well, a few weeks less. Blaze is now officially ten years old. That's a lot time. Ten years ago my life was completely different. It's especially cool to spend his birthday with a great friend who moved away just months after I got Blaze.

Year 1: My first dog. We started training class at five months. Our first show, 4-H Shomanship, at six months. We got first place!

Year 2: We were with a different 4-H group. He was very mouthy. He bit a trainer for hiting him for mouthing me... We used clicker training to decrease the mouthing.

Year 3: We learned a lot about clicker training. We did our first agility class. It was amazing. We also did our first agility trial.

Year 4: More agility. More training. More dog reading.

Year 5: Luna was added to the family. More training with Blaze and more agility class.

Year 6: We visited a pair of trainers who thought his behavior was very abnormal and recommended a consult with a veterinary behaviorist.

Year 7: We visited the vet behavior clinic at Purdue. We did a lot of playing with meds. Our first AKC rally trial! We started KPA together!

Year 8: More playing with meds. Griffin was added to the family. I was really able to see what behaviors were golden retriever and what were very exaggerated.

Year 9: Not so much work, not so many meds working well. Not so great. A neuro consult led us to find he likely has a brain lesion, likely resulting in his behavior problems and seizures.

Year 10: We started tracking. He LOVES tracking.

Year 11: ???

He's literally changed my life, in very good ways and in very not good ways. If I didn't have him, my life would have likely been completely different. Yet at the same time, I can be extremely empathetic to owners with challenging dogs. It's hard to be scared of your dog. It's hard to be working so hard and seeing no progress. It's hard to not be able to reach your goals. It's stressful, physically demanding, and mentally stressful.

Thinking about euthanasia for a pet with a behavior problem is important but incredibly difficultly and a different scenario from when physical problems are present. Quality of life is very hard to evaluate. We came close more than once, starting at 6 months. The closest was about two years ago, and literally as I was about to make the call, I got an email about an amazing student dog who had just died in a very unfortunate situation. The student just returned to class with a puppy.

Training and management are important. Both to help maintain current levels of behavior and to decrease problem behaviors. Ignoring unwanted behaviors is not enough. Training basic cue response is not enough. We need to be using management and training of incompatible behaviors, and we need to be using response substitution.

Professionals really need to know what they're doing. Numerous vets, trainers, and enthusiasts told me that my dog needed more punishment. More training. More exercise. Better training and exercise. And we never addressed the underlying chemical imbalance until much later in life than we should have. Our life would have had a very different path if this was addressed early on. This goes back to the MOST experienced people need to be teaching puppy and basic classes, and watching out for abnormal things in young dogs. These people need to know enough about normal and abnormal behavior to know when cases should be referred to a vet behaviorist and/or appropriate professional.

It may just be behavior, but the implications of abnormal dogs are much greater than just behavior.


Robin Sallie said...

I live with an abnormal dog. She is 7 years old. Thank you.

Lindsay said...

I think it's great that you wrote this post! The more these kinds of stories are out there, the more people in need are likely to stumble upon it, and the more dogs that can be helped. Too many people end up being made to feel at fault for something that may very well be out of their hands. And I do agree that puppy classes are all too often the classes that get the short end of the stick with regards to the "trainers" teaching them.