Monday, May 31, 2010

anxiety getting worse, perhaps

The holiday weekend is tough on Vanya. He gets to see lots of his favorite people, which is lovely, and he's been very good about not jumping up and not getting too excited when greeting. But with all the dogs running by, all the cars, all the people--I just can't keep him under threshold.

When we're out walking and vans go by without stopping, he shrieks in the same way he only used to do when a dog was too close to him: piercing, heart-rending shrieks. Cars are fine--he can hold a polite sit and watch them quietly. Vans? Nope. He screams at the top of his lungs.

We see two women in the distance, and he begins to warble softly with his desire to go say hello. He's managing to be a good boy about not pulling on the leash when we walk toward the women, but then an unleashed lab comes bounding up (toward the women, still 200 yards from us.) At first, when we see the dog, Vanya is interested and whining, but not shrieking or lunging, and I praise him and then do a gentle turn in the other direction, to head back down our driveway to let them go by. But when he realizes he's going to have to go in the opposite direction of the women and dog, Vanya loses it. He begins  shrieking and screaming and wrestling and trying to pull out of his harness and snapping at the leash, as badly as I've ever seen him. I have two leashes on him, two attachments, so I'm not worried about him getting loose, but I hate to see him go so terribly over his threshold. I can't just stand there and let them get closer, so I  end up dragging him down the driveway behind the car. (When he's out of visual contact, he does quiet quickly down).

I would love not to drag him, but I don't know how else to get him out of there before the other dog comes running up. We have been practicing about faces, over and over again, adding first very small distractions in front of him, trying to work slowly up to bigger distractions, people, then eventually other dogs. But it still falls apart when there's a real dog in the distance.

When it's time for him to walk away from Gail and Peter, he shrieks at the top of his lungs, and wrestles mightily with his harness, trying to get free. He sounds just the same as when he had to leave sight of the other dog, but with Gail and Peter, I know there's not an ounce of aggression: it's all about social desire. Gail and Peter are both doctors, and they watched him and talked about brain-damaged orphans who never got socialized. Peggy, another wonderful neighbor who is a psychotherapist (and very fond of pit bulls), watched him flip out about the  car driving away, and suggested that we talk again with our vet about meds. Nancy, a former public health nurse who has been endlessly kind to Vanya,  mentioned how similar he seems to some of her fetal alcohol syndrome kids--loving, but with profound boundary issues (whatever that might mean in a dog).

I'm lucky to have so many kind neighbors who are sympathetic, interested in Vanya's progress, and unlikely to condemn us. But sometimes I feel at my wit's end.

Well, plans help, so here's my plan:
1. go back to doing the relaxation protocol each day, on the deck, then in the driveway, then possibly at the top of the driveway--a place that makes him hyperalert, because that's where new dogs sometimes pop up
2. continue to work on shaping calm about faces, "this way!"
3. call my vet on Tuesday and talk with her about meds
4. cover the window that faces onto the street so he can't see dogs passing through the forest. The street is so far away, and so hidden by the forest, that it seemed hard to believe that could be stressing him. But I think it is.


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  2. I just discovered your blog -- wow, you could be writing about my dog Cooper, a 15-month-old pit bull mix. We've had him for about six months. He's the best dog in the world, except when he's bucking and flailing on his leash and screaming and looking to all the world like he wants to kill every dog that he comes across (even though he'd just run up to them and greet them if given the chance).

    I look forward to reading all your posts.