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Fading Xanax: Spoke Too Soon

Lilly has been off the xanax for a month now. While at first report, she showed no ill effects, drug withdrawal, or behavior problems. Things may have changed … and NOT for the better. Lilly had a rough few days last week.

The Dreaded Wooden-Slat Bridge

It had been many months since Lilly needed to cross a wooden bridge over the creek down in town. During our recent walk with our pals from, Lilly did OK the first time we crossed a bridge. She carried herself a little low and slow, but she made it across and didn’t seem too upset.

BUT, when we had to cross back over, she full-on belly crawled and seriously considered flopping down and not budging.

Thanks to a bunch of food and cheerleading, Lilly made it back across … where we gave her a jackpot.

She seemed to recover quickly, but I still felt terrible because I hadn’t seen her that frozen in a long time.

champion of my heart, dog blog, magnet graphicBreakdown in the Veterinary Parking Lot

The next day, when we went into town to have some blood drawn so that Lilly could take part in that study of canine compulsive disorder in border collies, Lilly broke down. I mean, she totally panicked in the parking lot. I haven’t seen that reaction in YEARS. Nervous? Sure. But, not a complete flip out.

Blame it on being distracted by real life, but Lilly’s response to arriving at the veterinary hospital caught me off guard:

She went completely flat in the middle of the parking lot and refused to move … as if the gravitational force suddenly got 1,000 times stronger in that one spot. She was stuck.

  • I tried asking her to SIT so that we could click into Relaxation Protocol mode. No dice.
  • I tried swinging around through the landscaping to get her some space and a new perspective on the situation. Nope.
  • I tried sitting with her off to the side and hoping she’d settle down enough to move. Nada.

With the once-empty parking lot now full, rush-hour traffic rumbling by, and a train approaching on nearby railroad tracks, I made a decision. I’m not going to tell you it’s my best decision of all time. I’m not going to pretend I didn’t likely cause a bigger set-back in Lilly’s long-term training.

I picked her up and carried her inside.

Her anxiety kept ramping up, and I feared she would try to flee. I wanted her inside, safely contained.

She wasn’t pleased with me. She sat with her back to me and could NOT respond, so I reached around and slipped her small, high-value treats (soft salmon treats) … again, and again, and again.

Within about 3-5 minutes, Lilly could finally hear me and respond. Her breathing became normal. She welcomed me petting her and massaging her. She actually almost smiled and had a MUCH more relaxed face.

Lilly, however, refused to walk with the veterinary technician to the treatment area alone. So, I walked with her, even boosting her tucked butt a little to keep her moving.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall, but the veterinary staff ALWAYS reports how good, calm, cooperative Lilly is when they need to work with her.

Between now and Lilly’s wellness exam, which is due later this spring, I’m going to swing by the veterinary hospital as much as I can when we’re down in town, and we’ll just sit in the parking lot and eat for a few minutes. When all else fails, go back to classical conditioning roots with a fearful dog. Always.

Lilly’s Rough Day

Last Saturday, after a day in Denver helping staff the booth at a travel show, I came home to a completely distraught dog. Lilly was beside herself … hiding, slinking around, seeming completely wary of everyone and everything.

“She has been like that all day. I couldn’t even get her to play,” Tom reported.


I’m not sure if all the scares earlier in the week caught up with Lilly. I don’t know if my own stress level upset her. (I pretty much don’t get a single day off in March … as far as I can tell.)

SO, I gave her a 1/2 tablet of xanax (about .5 mg) after dinner, and she seemed much better. She snuggled with us. She played fetch in the house. She enjoyed a LONG bout of hide-and-seek, with us hiding one of her toys. She seemed like her smiling, happy self.

I suppose I should have waited to see if my mere presence cheered her up, but I didn’t want her to be upset one more minute.

The Xanax Timeline

I’m told the xanax is quick-acting and not greatly long lasting (about 10-12 hours). I don’t believe it stays in the body beyond that. So, I can’t imagine we’re just now seeing Lilly completely off of it . Maybe we are.

Either way, until further notice, I’ll use the xanax as needed, including our next veterinary hospital visit if she seems like she needs it.

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

KenzoHW - March 20, 2011

The whole balancing act is so difficult. Viva is not on any calming meds, but I seriously think about it. She has improved a lot with other dogs, but sometimes she can still totally freak-out. The other day when we were on a beach-walk she met another dog which seemed to go well, yet she was a wreck the rest of the day, heavily panting, etc.

Dream Valley Ranch - March 14, 2011

Oh no…what a sad series of experiences for sweet Lilly! And for you to witness! I know how much you work with her and all of the research and behavior modification you have done so all I can offer is a huge hug to you and a jack pot of salmon treats to beautiful Lilly…

    Roxanne Hawn - March 14, 2011

    Thanks, Sue. She seems much better this week. Currently enjoying a KONG stuffed with fresh apple slices.

Jana Rade - March 10, 2011

Poor Lilly. Struggling with anxiety issues myself, I have empathy for what this can do to a person or a dog.

I agree it is strange that the effect would show with such a delay, would it have something to do with certain triggers perhaps?

Laura, Lance, and Vito - March 10, 2011

Bummer! At least just giving Xanax as needed is better then every day. Vito’s dosage has upped to now 2mg each morning but I still don’t think I’m seeing any effects from it…

Pamela - March 10, 2011

Balancing behavior modification with medications is always tough. No more for dogs than for humans. You’ve assembled lots of tools that are working to reduce Lilly’s fear. Deciding which to use and how often will be a constant struggle.

I’m glad you saw Lilly recovering some of her confidence.

Jennifer Meyer - March 10, 2011

How awful for you and Lilly. I have never seen a dog that afraid and can’t even imagine how hard a day is for her to have that much fear. Also for you to watch this so helplessly. It has to break your heart. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family. Animals are so much like people and some people can’t live without their medications, their brains just don’t process like “normal” people. She will be in my thoughts and prayers.


    Roxanne Hawn - March 10, 2011

    Thanks so much, Jenni. Lilly really does cope remarkably well in the big, “scary” world thanks to the meds and all the behavior work we’ve done. She used to be this scared all the time, so we’ve come a long way. Once in a while, though, we suffer a setback. She is a lovely girl who just gets overwhelmed sometimes.

Debbie Jacobs - March 10, 2011

Was Lilly on xanax daily? Since it is addictive I’d imagine that coming off it can feel strange/bad.

I use it situationally with Sunny, less so all the time. Used to be every time we went to training classes, now never unless it’s a new venue. Car rides, probably should use it more than I do. Maybe should use it all the time since he has to be around John 🙁

I tried L-theanine (which works on same receptors as xanax) and liked it. Stopped it, then started it again. He gets it daily now along with his prozac. He’s a prozac lifer I suspect.

The meds help but figuring out which, when and how much is an ongoing challenge.

Good luck.

    Roxanne Hawn - March 10, 2011

    Yes, Debbie. Lilly has taken the xanax (along with the chlomipramine) twice a day, every day, for years. We had started to wean her off the xanax, lowering the dose over several months, then skipping the evening dose. Last might, I decided to try her without it entirely. At first there honestly seemed to be no difference, but she had a rough few days last week.

    For now, I’ll use it as needed for certain situations and just see how she does. I believe it helps her in particular with sound sensitivity.

    I have NO plans for taking her off the chlomipramine, though. Like Sunny … Lilly will probably take that for life.

Living Large - March 10, 2011

Oh, poor Lilly. I don’t think anyone really knows what the term “fearful dog” means until they live with one. Good thoughts to both of you.

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