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Weekly Training Update (Aug 29)

Based on Lilly’s regression (door refusals, hiding, fleeing, panic) and negative response to the sink window counter-conditioning I mentioned in the Aug 15 training update, Jennie (our behaviorist) and I decided to make some changes — both in training challenges and in medications.

Starting this weekend or early next week, Lilly will take 75 mg of clomipramine twice a day. The good news is that this dosage of the antidepressant is available in a generic form that is MUCH cheaper than the dog version called Clomicalm. So, rather than paying close to $85 a month for the tablets, I can get a bottle of 100 capsules from my regular veterinarian for just $28. I was happy to see that 75 mg pills online would be just $35 for 30 days worth, but I was happier to get 50 days worth for just $28 locally. The fact that the human version of the drug is so much less expensive than the dog version still bugs me.

We’ll keep the alprazolam at the same level, which is .5 mg twice a day. And, that’s about $26 for 4 weeks worth from a local Walgreens.

We’re going to try these dosage levels for a month, then reassess. The hard part, Jennie says, with cases like Lilly’s is that the drug’s effect seems very small … unless you take them off and see just how big of a difference they are making.

Jennie agreed with my idea of giving the window work a break for a couple of weeks. Even my tiny efforts to condition it result in Lilly cowering, fleeing, and generally developing a bigger fear of the entire kitchen.

I even had Tom grease this one window that’s at issue, but it did not help. As an experiment, I had him watch Lilly while she was playing with a peanut-butter-stuffed Kong in the living room. The TV was on. The dishwasher was running. Both of which I hoped would mask any noise. She could not see me, nor do I think she knew my plan. BUT, when I slid the window open just an inch, Lilly dropped her toy and slunk away at high speed to the back bedroom. It took a while to convince her to return.

To me, that proves it’s mostly a noise thing, even though I’m sure there are some visual cues as I mentioned in my Saturday Night Fever musings, also on Aug 15.

Up to now, I’ve only done one sit-stay training session with Lilly per day — usually in the late afternoon after I’m done working and before I make dinner. Clearly, I’m mananging her fears and other issues throughout the day. We’re also going on long walks in the morning and cuddling a lot at night, but we only technically “worked” on conditioning once a day for about 15-20 minutes.

This week, I got the OK from Jennie to do two sessions per day … ideally when Lilly’s medication levels are highest (after breakfast in the morning, after dinner in the evening). Since I’ll be avoiding the kitchen most days, I’ll instead adapt the exercises from part 2 of the plan for various rooms in the house and even outside.

Essentially, we’re going to double up and move around in an attempt to build stronger calming generalization before returning to the kitchen and THAT window.

Honestly, I’m fully prepared to NEVER open that window again in Lilly’s lifetime because today I feel like we’ll NEVER overcome her fear of it. One night this week, she was so freaked out by the kitchen that I had to convince her to enter and eat dinner. It was so sad.

So, for at least 2 more weeks, we’ll be running through part 2 exercises and tasks over and over again. That means other than regular walks and some hikes, Lilly continues to be home bound.

Some day, we’ll starting working on her fear of people and dogs, but until we can get her not to be afraid of mundane things at home, we cannot move on.

We do see glimpses of a happy, relaxed Lilly, which helps me understand how that’s different from her merely tolerating the environment. Jennie says we want to see more of that relaxed look and significantly fewer startle reactions at home before we can consider taking our work on the road to public places.

I had hoped to see significant progress in 3-6 months, but right now, it’s looking more like 6-12 months, or possibly more. Jennie has another client with a fearful dog, and they are past the one-year mark.

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.

Jonathan - August 29, 2008

It’s so interesting how dogs can develop an aversion to a seemingly harmless thing like a window. We had a lab/rotweiller mix with a puppy who would climb a baby gate to try to get out of the kitchen. The gate came crashing down a couple times in the process, creating a rather large sound.

Now, years later, she (the mother) still does wide, wide circles around the gate (even if it’s not up, but just leaning against a wall). She also gets very skittish if anyone goes to touch the gate.

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