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.

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. :)

Samson vs. Snake

I’ve been doing a lot of learning on Samson’s behalf lately. Today it all came together.

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As you can see in the picture above, Samson is hanging out with the group for the photo. Unlike the last photo I posted where he was represented by just a tiny tip of a leash, as he walked out of shot to do whatever he damn well pleased!

I was giving Samson small-dog slack for a long time. He was manageable even though I knew in the back of my mind that he knew he was getting away with not listening. Then I eventually got tired of him straight up ignoring me. You know, the kind where they look at you, consider their options, and then blatantly opt to not follow your directions. So for the past few weeks Samson has been doing more earning of his off-leash roaming privileges. This includes holding a spot for photos.

I feel like kind of a jerk, or an egomaniac or something, making this “harmless” little guy listen to all my obnoxious bossiness.

Until Today!

These five dogs and I were hiking in Sibley. Beautiful, hot day. Walking under some shady trees. All of a sudden: rattling! right under my feet! I pick up the pace with Tootsie in tow, “come on everybody let’s go!” Thankfully Banner, Ani and Pepa were already up ahead, as usual. Samson was hanging back, typical, leaving his mark every ten feet. With Tootsie out of harm’s way, I look back to see Samson seriously walking TOWARD this giant rattling snake in the middle of the path that is coiled up ready to strike anyone’s tiny little head. So I get majorly intense and moderately hysterical in my commands, “SAMSON! NO! SAMSON! COME!” Thankfully this time he took me seriously and zipped up the trail, and we left that big scary snake in the dust. Of course everyone got lots of praise for being such good snake-avoiders.

It was a stark reminder that this is the scary stuff we’re planning for in all our group sits, on-leash breaks for non-listeners, millions of recalls, chill car rules, and the obedience practice practice practice. Good safe hikes for good dogs!