My Bella, a Boxer dog, is 3.2 years old. She has just come into being an adult dog, and into standing her own ground as a confident dog, safe in her own world. She has been on Prozac for a while now. Prozac for dogs that is. It’s a brand called Lovan, which may be a generic brand; but it’s also exactly what some human beings who are depressed, or suffering from some other psychological or mental illness, might take to help with symptoms.
When she was a pup she was so frightened of us, she would roll over and pee all over herself. So sad, really. But I relished the challenge to show this little munchkin that she was going to be okay. Besides, I’m not one for putting up with the smell of dog pee in the house, so I jumped on her behaviour quickly. The first thing I did was to behave like a dog, rolling over onto my back, into a ‘doggy’ submissive pose. I let her climb on me, chew at my clothes, and generally explore her environment without chastising her. She stopped peeing inside. Once she realised we meant her no harm, she stuck to us like we were her security blankets: she was always leaning on us or sitting on our feet. The problem was, when we went places, she would totally freak out; even in the car, looking at people through the window, she’d growl and act aggressive. We thought it was funny; we had no idea that this little puppy was totally loosing it. Eventually, we figured that because Bella was the runt of the litter, she must have had a hard time with the other dogs and, hopefully, she would just grow out of it. Instead she grew into part clown (playing most of the time), part monster (fearfully aggressive, the rest of the time).
Bella really suffers with fear-aggression, erring more on the side of fear, than aggression. Until lately that is. You see, when she was first diagnosed (by an animal behaviourist and vet), she was so wrapped up in her own internal fear, that it had manifested into everything around her: the wind, people, cars, most noises, other dogs: they all frightened her. The only things that didn’t, were her own family members (the humans that are her pack now, not the family pack of dogs, from which she came), and strangely, thunder. Thunder doesn’t upset her. I find that odd. Visiting people that she doesn’t know, freaked her right out; walking down the street, with the wind blowing at her heals from behind, hunched down into her haunches, tail between her legs, looking from side to side, as if she’s about to be attacked (by wind?); walking at the beach, or on a track, passing others, and she was snapping and snarling and somersaulting and salivating, she was a mess. Once, when I tried to stop her ‘tantrum’, she turned, all wild eyes, and bit me (I took this personally, and I cried. And cried. My baby bit me and her tooth went through my fingernail; but the pain in my heart was what hurt the most. This ‘incident’ turned out to be a good thing; the shock of it strengthened my resolve to be stronger, more assertive: the dominant leader that she needs.) She really was a nutty dog. I say was:
She’s been on the Prozac for nearly a year. At first, she was also on Catapress, a blood pressure medication also used for panic disorder and symptoms of anxiety, which made her so drowsy, it was awful. She is an active dog; a jester; a ball addict; an entertainer. Loves to play. We’ve worked out that it’s a security thing too. She can be really freaked out, we throw a ball and she’s off after it. Release from her fears. (So, just like for humans, exercise can act as medication too!) After a month, when the Prozac kicked in, we took her off the Catapress, and, like the doggy version of Sleeping Beauty, she awoke from her drowsy, lazy slumber. We’ve kept her on one Prozac tablet per day for the whole time since.
Then, two weeks ago, we were running out of them, had no repeat prescription; were down at the Beach House, away from her vet. She had three days without them, and ended up a jumpy, drooling, frightened pooch who wouldn’t eat her food. I had to wonder what I had done. I would never take these tablets myself. (I can’t say never. If the problems in my life called for it, perhaps I would. I don’t know. Generally speaking, if a doctor suggested I take antidepressants for the stuff I have to deal with now, I’d slap them. No, I’d walk out, like I did at the beginning of my journey into the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities, here.) But with Bella, we had tried everything: dog schools, dog trainers, dog DVDs (thanks Mum), and, we’d tried every piece of advice thrown our way. She’s ended up one clever dog. She can sit, beg, bow, fetch, get in the car, play dead, pretend to attack family members (playing), even play with a soccer ball (I mean really dribble the thing), all on command. She understands what ‘look’ means; and follows the direction we point in; she knows what some of our conversations are about: anything with the words, ‘beach’, or ‘walk’, or ‘car’, in it. And, her aggression has not been a total lost case:
There’s a method we were taught at dog school where we could introduce new people to her and her environment. This was where, using cut up pieces of cheese (or meat), we would bring the person in, ask them to sit on a stool, while not making eye contact with her (she doesn’t enjoy eye contact, finds it threatening). [Picture a growling, snarling, barking dog, jumping back and forth like it’s going to nip at you] Then, we’d get them to throw a piece of cheese at her, and when, if she took it, we would say: “Yes!” [In a tone of praise. The type you use for very young children] This would go on for 20 minutes and a whole block of cheese, or so, then, finally, Bella would be close enough to sniff them. By this time, we’ve told the person to say: “Yes!”, too. And a very cautious display of sniffing would go on, while we all stood around praising her, together: “Yes, Bella” [Sniff, sniff].”Yes!” Then, either my daughter or I would hand, said, brave visitor a ball, and tell them to throw it. And that would cause Bella to loose her cookies in a good way, running after the ball, and bringing it back to one of us. We would refuse to take it, and ask the visitor to call her. When Bella realised this person was a friend, someone who wanted to play, well, she adored them. And she never forgot. Each time they arrived, it was like she thought: Oh great. Here’s that person who loves to play ball as much as what I do! This worked for all family members and close friends. Except for the ones who were frightened of dogs, that is. For those people, we left her outside. And for children too. We’ve never trusted her around children. If she hears a child scream, she becomes fearfully aggressive, which is a scary thing for a responsible dog owner to witness! Hence trying to get her some professional help…
So on this day where she was obviously suffering either withdrawal symptoms and/or a return of her original symptoms, and, horribly, something else on top of those: her original fear was back, increased tenfold. Like a junkie’s mum out to score for her child, I had to get some more tablets for her. I rang our vet, drove down to the city and picked up the script. Since then, Bella has been on just half a tablet, and for some reason, this dose sits better with her. It makes sense: a 22 kg dog on an adult dose of Prozac, goes down to half a tablet, and her ‘mental health’ improves. I think that the vet who prescribed these must think she is a lost cause because why else give a dog medication and no follow up behavioural modification?
So that’s my new mission, to find her someone who can take her that extra kilometre, so that she can walk past people without freaking out. Now, when she walks down the street, her tail is out behind her (not between her legs), she is light on her feet (kind of walking on tiptoes, like she’s excited). Like I’ve said, she is so much better. The Beach House is on a one acre block, which agrees with her (and me). People can walk past and she just watches them. There is no growling or barking; it’s like she’s finally worked out that maybe, just maybe, she is safe in this world! (Going for a walk, past people she doesn’t know, is another thing.) She’s no longer fearfully aggressive; she’s just plain aggressive. I think, although I’m not sure, an aggressive dog is easier to handle than a frightened dog. I know that some of my readers must think I’m awful for drugging my dog, but hey, what else can I do?
(Doggie mansion kennel source: www.freeimages.co.uk)