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Secret world of dog professionals: Fluoxetine (prozac) and behavior modification

I was asked a question recently about the use of doggy prozac to help with reactivity. The person asking was concerned that it was a training issue, not necessarily fixed by meds. So I compiled my thoughts on it below. Come join the conversation! www.canine-cred.mn.co

I have worked with clients whose dogs were on “prozac” (fluoxetine) and I don’t in any way think that was a bad decision for them to do that. They made the best decision for their dogs with the information they had at the time. So I don’t want to shame those people.

And I know of at least one dog who was put on fluoxetine after very extensive behavior modification training, and I don’t want to shame people in that situation either.

In general, I steer away from recommending pharmaceutical interventions and toward training and lifestyle interventions, and below is more of my take on it.

Jackson “hates confident intact males bigger than him” and Jack, a confident intact male who is bigger than Jackson. This is their first walk together. Both dogs understand leadership, and don’t need drugs in order to get along.

Fluoxetine summary

“Fluoxetine is an antidepressant and anti-anxiety drug for dogs that is often referred to by the brand names Reconcile or Prozac–the human form of the drug. It works by inhibiting reuptake of the neurotransmitter serotonin.

“Fluoxetine has several uses for treating conditions in dogs such as behavioral problems, separation anxiety, fear, and aggression. The medication is meant to be prescribed alongside behavior modification training. As a dog responds to behavior modification, dosage of the drug is weaned away.

“Fluoxetine is for short-term use until a condition is manageable without it. There are some side effects that can be harmful to dogs, and the drug can react badly with other medication. You’ll need to see your veterinarian for a prescription and follow their instructions closely.” (from dogtime.com) 

Fluoxetine in is used in humans “for the treatment of major depressive disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), bulimia nervosa, panic disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder.” (wikipedia)

Behavior Modification

I really appreciate the angle from dogtime.com, which emphasizes the drug being a short-term solution, and behavior modification being the more lasting fix. The indications for this med from the descriptions above are so broad. I call this the dog “not having its head screwed on right.”

What contributes to a dog being a hot mess? Its genetics, its life experiences, its human-centric living situation, the world making no sense through its doggy perspective, all play a part in the dog’s constitution. (and I’m sure there are more)

Most of these factors can be worked on in a behavior modification program, with training and lifestyle adjustments. There are so many elements in a well-rounded behavior modification protocol besides just nice leash walking and commands. There’s massage and relaxation techniques, impulse control, mindset (of the dog and owner), etc. etc.

The question often comes up of if the owner wants to, or can, make the adjustments to their life to help resolve it. If they don’t (or can’t), then focusing on what the dog puts in its body will probably help more than it hurts.

But, before prozac, I would definitely try dietary changes and a CBD/supplement regiment.

Have I ever seen doggy prozac specifically have an effect on reactivity without other training interventions? NO. And I see no way that it could. The dog is still the same dog, and especially if the reactivity is so bad that the vet is recommending medicating it, then meds aren’t going to take the edge off that much.

So if the owner does choose to go the fluoxetine route, I would emphasize the same info as from dogtime.com, that it is a short-term solution (if even that), and if they need a referral for a good trainer in their area, well, that’s what networks are for.

Vets and Behaviorists

In my experience, the extreme vast majority of vets don’t know anything about behavior. And the VMA makes really bad recommendations for how they should handle behavior issues. And most vets don’t make the effort to go against VMA recommendations.

The vast majority of vets refer their patients with any behavior problems out to “behaviorists.” This is a term (like dog trainer) that anyone can use to describe themselves. There are at least a couple organizations accrediting behaviorists, but no one regulating the use of the term. Usually it means the behaviorist has some college education, maybe in biology, psychology, or animal behavior.

Some behaviorists are decent, and can offer interesting insights. In my experience, behaviorists primarily make recommendations for how the owner can manage (not modify) the behavior.

Behaviorists’ experience is mostly from academic settings, not real life training, and all of the behaviorists I know adhere to “force free” methodology. It’s kind of a secret code — balanced trainers don’t usually use the term “behaviorist” because for us it has such a strong connotation.

For many many many dogs, “force free” methodology is a death sentence. Or at least it’s a waste of money and time and energy for the owners.

I’m not saying to put every dog on a prong collar. I AM saying every dog does need clear boundaries and leadership (which is not the same as domination). And some dogs need more clear communication to understand boundaries and leadership, which might include the use of training tools like prong collars.

My tangent about behaviorists is just to demonstrate how little most vets know about behavior, and they’re usually the ones recommending to medicate the dogs. Vets, behaviorists, prozac, and force-free methodology usually come together. It’s a really sad trope that dog trainers have seen too many times.

DOG BLESS all the vets out there who are validating balanced training methods, and the use of CBD/supplements and nutritional considerations in consulting with their patients on behavioral issues. They are really going against the grain in their field, and it’s gorgeous how brave they are being when they do this.

Only crazy people need to meditate, and only bad dogs need training?

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I heard a new myth yesterday, that “only crazy people need to meditate.”

Anyone who works with dogs knows well enough that ALL dogs benefit from training, structure, and boundaries.

Same for training ourselves in mindfulness.

We ALL benefit from in-the-moment increased awareness of what’s going on within ourselves.

We ALL benefit from greater control over our impulsive behavior.

We ALL benefit from a more intimate relationship with “the impermanence of things.”

All humans deal with stress. All humans can benefit from better relaxation techniques.

All humans need to grow. All humans can benefit from deeper awareness of our shortcomings, and making space for revelations to bubble to the surface.

I’ll admit, I’m quite (and, yes, proudly) maladapted to our capitalist, patriarchal society.

I’m “crazy.”

Which is probably why I have been drawn so much toward meditation as a tool to help me cope with this F’ed up existence.

Your dog is no different.

Your dog lives in a freaky 21st century human world, which is very different from the world dogs evolved in as our companions.

Maybe your pup is easy going, or maybe he’s maladapted.

Maybe he’s “crazy,” and maybe he’s chill.

Despite where he falls on the spectrum of benign-to-malicious behavior, ALL dogs still benefit from a form of doggy meditation.

ALL dogs benefit from structure, leadership, and clear boundaries and expections.

ALL dogs benefit from practicing impulse control, and learning how to regulate their emotions.

And as their guides through this weird ass life, we humans can all better serve them by focusing on our own personal growth.

Whatever our goals, whatever our mental health status, meditation for the win.

(Here’s a picture of me and Pepa working on our self-care, on a big rock overlooking the Pacific Ocean.)

Bringing dog training wisdom into your love life

Two Girlfriends Walking Cute Dog On Sunny Winter Day

You put yourself first in so many parts of your life … except maybe romance … and dogs.

I love Princess Nokia’s lyrics “I bring out the best in me, and do what is best for me.”

Internalizing that is another story.

When people put in hella work on their dogs, they start getting protective of them, trying to prevent anything that will set back their progress.

I’ve been doing this with canines for years, keeping them from having negative social experiences, or picking up bad habits.

I’ll do pretty much anything to protect the progress we’ve made over long periods of time and effort.

Ok, that’s great, but learning how to do this with my HEART is something new.

The parallel here wasn’t clear to me until early this morning, the day after Vday.

Honestly I didn’t know it was valentine’s day until noon!

That’s how deep I am in my “no dating, no crushes, no romance” protocol. XD

Through that protocol, I’m learning that I won’t start protecting my heart until I make a solid, solid commitment to that goal.

And commitment is a tricky thing, right?

Since my first relationship, I’ve always been “committed” to getting better at love… right?

I’ve always been obsessive crushing, dating, exchanging phone #s, processing with friends and professionals, identifying problems and trying to do better with the next one.

But NOT doing those things, and working on my relationship with myself, is the hard work that I’ve been avoiding all along.

Similar to how many of us work on our dog skills – doing internet research, talking with friends and colleagues, trying new things, and feeling bad when it doesn’t work out how we want.

We’ll put in a bunch of busy work, but still avoid looking at the deep personal issues that are contributing to behavioral problems with our dogs.

And let’s not forget about all the ADAPTING we do, because change is HARD and growth is PAINFUL.

Acceptance of failure, adhering to self-limiting narratives, is often easier.

Fear of scarcity is real.

We blame gaps in our skills on the dogs’ personalities, we say “dogs will be dogs,” and we go to elaborate lengths to manage behaviors.

When we could instead commit to resolving the core issues.

You CARE, and you have goals, but is that the same as putting in the HARD WORK to get there?

Lizzo is instructive on the importance of choice here:
“Yea I got boy problems that’s the human in me
Bling bling then I solve em that’s the goddess in me.”

Step 1 is getting honest with ourselves, and that’s a tough skill to develop just in itself.

I’m working on simple stuff with my new little guy, Beedee.

His leash manners are pretty good, but I get a special feeling when I see him slipping out of the heel position.

I have a choice there, to make excuses in the present, or commit to my future.

I have enough knowledge about dog training to see what inconsistencies are going to confuse him and make my job/life harder in the long run.

I’m only now learning how to have the same wisdom in romance.

Boundaries, man…

It’s partly about choosing to draw that line in the sand, and partly about learning how to draw.

Playlist below!

—————

Princess Nokia – Excellent
Lizzo – Truth hurts
Liphemra – Feel nothing
Hayley Kiyoko, Kehlani – What I need
Kesha – Woman
Kendrick Lamar – i
Carly Rae Jepsen – Boy problems
Taylor Swift – Picture to burn
Kali Uchis – Dead to me
Jorja Smith, Preditah – On my mind
One King Down – Indifferent now
Lizzo – Scuse me
Dua Lipa – IDGAF
Dua Lipa – New rules
Lizzo – Coconut oil
Lizzo – En love
Lizzo – Coconut oil
Kids See Ghosts, Ty Dolla $ign – Freeee
Cehryl – Vertigo
Taylor Swift – I knew you were trouble
KYLE, Kehlani – Playinwitme
Charlie Puth, Kehlani – Done for me
Kehlani – In my feelings
Kehlani – Advice
Taylor Swift – The story of us
Taylor Swift – Bad blood
Kehlani – Piece of mind
Bad Bunny – Soy Peor
Kehlani – Too much
Leikeli47 – Elian’s revenge
Ciara – Level up
Kid Cuti, MGMT, Ratatat – Pursuit of happiness
Cardi B – Be careful
Cardi B – Thru your phone
Jazmine Sullivan – Insecure
Lizzo – Ride
Princess Nokia – Look up kid
Sol – If you don’t call
Madison Bear – Home with you
Carly Rae Jepsen – Party for one
Camila Cabello – Consequences
MO, Charli XCX – If it’s over
Phoebe Bridgers – Motion sickness
Nao – Good girl
Audien, Michael S – Leaving you
Ariana Grande – Better off
Azaelia Banks – Chasing time
Kehlani – Unconditional
Bettye LaVette – When a woman’s had enough
Estef – You don’t get to call me
Madison Beer, Offset – Hurts like hell

It is ok to *not* adopt the messed up dog

I hereby grant everyone permission to NOT adopt a project dog if they don’t want to.

The culture of pity and martyrdom has got to go.

If you’re called to a dog with medical issues, and you have deep pockets, okay, go for it.

If you have the emotional capacity to do hospice care for a homeless dog, I’m for that.

If you are fascinated by behavior modification and want to devote your life to an aggressive-or-otherwise animal, then I can certainly help you learn how.

But there are SOOOO MANY homeless dogs out there.

It is not YOUR responsibility as the potential adopter to take home one of those jacked up dogs who (imho) shouldn’t even be on the adoption floor in the first place.

Both my dogs are mutts. One came from a litter of puppies in a shelter, and the other was abandoned at the vet. One of my dogs was born with a deformed foot and the other has typical chihuahua-mix body-weirdness.

So I’m not a complete canine eugenicist.

But there are too many “rescue” organizations who are placing dogs in homes with people who don’t actually want to sign up for the issues that the dog has.

I know of rescues that are not aware of issues because of inadequate screening.

Some rescues are straight up dishonest about a dog’s history (medical and/or behavioral).

Some rescues are so stuck on “saving them all” that they’re actually creating bigger social problems by placing dogs in inappropriate homes.

The culture of “rescuing” dogs needs to change.

I personally haven’t used this word since I got Pepa so young and so cute. I didn’t “rescue” her… I stalked her on the internet and then I snatched her up.

Beedee was abandoned and needed a home. But even with him, my motivation for adopting him was mostly selfish.

I get that there is something romantic about catching a dog like a pokemon.

My trainer-friends were definitely getting annoyed with me when I was trying to catch fearful strays in my neighborhood, hoping to “earn” one of them as my own.

But unless you are excited about the possibility of dealing with chronic medical issues, and dropping thousands of dollars on behavioral rehab, then…

When selecting your next dog, I encourage you to be PICKY.

I encourage you to adopt from trustworthy rescue organizations. Ask around which ones those are.

Ask people you meet about what their dog was like when they first got it. You’ll see which ones were adopted out with issues, ask which organization they came from, and steer clear.

Big names does NOT equal big integrity.

I encourage you to speak with canine professionals in your area about dog selection.

It would be glorious for you to work with a trainer to help you find a dog that would be a good fit for you. Many trainers offer this service, and many more people should take advantage of it.

The me-first attitude and boundary-setting that you put into your selection process is a good asset.

It will serve you well in being a competent leader for your new canine companion, when you do finally bring them home.

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Guilt in Relationships

I recently had a breakthrough around my Guilt, and i think it is relevant to how we interact with our dogs as well.

I have big goals, and am attracted to so many awesome projects happening in the amazing Bay Area. So i tend to have a super busy schedule.

Because my job revolves around dog care, Pepa gets plenty of stimulation. So my Guilt doesn’t manifest with my dog so much.

Instead it comes up around my relationships with people. Friendships and romantic relationships are where i tend to feel guilty for not putting enough of my energy. If the relationship is about to fall apart, I’m all on it. If we need to talk and feel bad about how busy i am, I’m all on it. Well that just feels crappy, and isn’t a sustainable dynamic.

The same goes for guilt in our canine relationships… When the dog has acted out so badly that the we’re is forced to do something, we’ll put energy into it. And so many people are content to spend a bunch of time feeling bad and talking sad about what they need to change about their dog’s life, and all the reasons they’re not able to.

We get comfortable in the Guilt stage. Then we make exceptions to the training protocol, to feel less guilty. And we spend a bunch of energy dealing with the fallout from these exceptions.

My breakthrough came in adjusting how i deal with my Guilt. I’m still busy as hell. But i don’t spend time putting this guilt into my relationships. I’m making a conscious effort to instead spend the limited time i put into relationships in a positive and enriching manner only.

In the case of my human relationships, this means being present and positive when i DO finally have time to hang out. It means not spending time feeling crappy, or processing crappy feelings, about something that i won’t actually change. It means high quality interactions and positive dynamics!

In dog terms, it means taking those guilty feelings and turning them into quality time with your dog, and quality planning. Why layer the guilt of not following training protocol on top of the guilt of not having enough time for your dog? And if you have limited energy to put into your dog, why set yourself up to spend that energy working on the fallout from not following the training protocol?

When you DO have time to spend on your dog, if you spend it in ways that enrich your dog’s life (not just temporarily relieve your guilt) i think you may find your guilt fading away, and your relationship with your dog blossoming.20171230_111414.jpg

Announcing Your SCRUF Pet Care Collective

Over the last year+, I have had the privilege to work with two other amazing pet care providers to form a worker-owned cooperative business. We do all the normal pet business stuff, AND run it democratically. It is a ton of work, but all that I’ve learned over the last year, and the interpersonal growth, has been incredible!

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After completing a 16-week Academy and several months of legal and business coaching, we officially launched our business in June 2016! There is still much work to do, of course. And I couldn’t have found two more wonderful people to work with on this project.

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My Van, Hilary Abell of Project Equity (our business coaches), Pepa, Diego and Corbin – our last meeting of our Project Equity follow-on coaching

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Corbin writes our business’s first checks, in the back of my van next to a XXL dog crate of course

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Corbin writes SCRUF’s first paychecks! On the sidewalk outside of the East Bay Community Law Center, after a meeting with our amazing legal team.

That means I’ll be updating this blog less, so I can focus on SCRUF’s development. Instead I welcome you to explore SCRUF’s internet presence.
We have a website: http://www.scruf.coop
A Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/scrufcollective
An Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/scrufcollective
An email address: friends@scruf.coop

Six Dogs in Sibley

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Barney is going on a long hiatus soon, and I was fortunate to be living with Diablo, so we did a special six dog hike. Packed everyone up in the amazing new van and trekked Sibley Volcanic Preserve.

I tend to take on more challenging clients, and six of those at once is a lot of work. But having very clear expectations already established with each of these dogs on an individual level is what made this possible and fun. Prior practice + clear communication = happy healthy hiking. It also helps to leave the extra crazies at home. :)