On L-Theanine and A New Crate

Avery in the backyardIn the last post I mentioned two things that we were working with to help with Avery’s separation anxiety.

One is an herbal supplement called L-Theanine and the other is a brand new crate.

L-Theanine is an all natural herbal supplement derived from tea leaves.  It helps to promote mental relaxation.

Here is a link that goes into more detail.  And here is a link that gives a great overview about all the different kinds of drugs (both natural and prescription) there are to use for anxiety issues.  If you are dealing with any kind of anxiety with your dog, I highly recommended checking out and bookmarking that link.

We’ve been giving Avery L-Theanine, one 100mg pill, a day in his morning breakfast.  I noticed a difference right away when taking him out on walks.  He doesn’t get nearly as anxious/reactive around other dogs.  This doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a reaction, it just means that his reactions are a lot more mild than before.

When we do a test run and leave him in his crate, he will be getting another L-Theanine pill along with some rescue remedy.  The vet who we chatted with about this said that the two work in great combination with each other.

I also bought a calming CD for dogs, called Through A Dog’s Ear to try as well.

We also purchased Avery a brand new soft crate. (I don’t have a good picture of Avery in his crate because the crate creates such a dark den like environment that you can’t see Avery when he’s in there!)

Happy to report that he loves his crate.  The day it arrived and we set it up, he immediately went in there to check it out.  He took to this new crate right away.

For the first couple of weeks we had it set up and I let him go in and out of it on his own.  Each time he went in, I gave him a treat.  After about two weeks, I started crating him during meal times for us because the crate is right next to our dining table.

He’s now at a point where he will go in there automatically when we sit down to eat.  He also goes in his crate all the time to play with his toys or to take naps.  He definitely considers it his safe spot and he loves his little “den”.

This is exactly what we were hoping to achieve with this.  That he would establish a good relationship with is crate and that he feels safe and comfortable in there.

We are at the stage now where we need to start working towards crating him and leaving to see how he does.  We of course will start off very slowly by only walking out the door and leaving him for five minutes.  We plan on setting up a way to record him so that we can see exactly what is going on.

We are first going to do this without the extra calming meds just to see if the new crate makes a difference at all.  Then we’ll try it again the following day with the meds and see how that works.

We are taking everything slowly so that we can set Avery up for success and not set him up for failure.  Here’s hoping our approach works!

 

Disclaimer: None of the links are affiliate links.

Avery’s Separation Anxiety Symptoms

Avery RunningI kind of left everyone hanging after the initial post where I mentioned that Avery has separation anxiety.  Whoops!  Totally didn’t mean to do that!

We realized that Avery does not like being left alone and he would basically have mild panic attacks when he was left alone.

Drooling, licking, panting, and whining the entire time.  He was also chewing on his crate.  Not trying to escape but stress chewing.

He and his crate would be a mess by the time we got back home.  His crate would be covered in drool and so was he.  He would be soaked from his chin all the way down his legs, back legs included.

When let out of his crate, he would bolt right for the water bowl and basically inhale as much water as he could.  We would have to stop him because we didn’t want to risk him getting bloat from drinking too much too quickly.

Not crating him is not an option.  He would still have panic attacks plus he would go to the bathroom in the house (#1 and #2).

He was a hot mess.

Frequency made it worse instead of better.  Instead of getting used to be left alone and thinking, “oh hey I did this yesterday and everything was fine.  This is cool. I’m okay”,  he would think, “OH MY GOD I’M ALONE AGAIN! THIS IS THE WORST EVER!”.  And his anxiety levels would escalate with each time he was left alone.

Rescue Remedy and a Thunder Shirt did not help.  He would get 8 drops (the recommended dose is 4) of Rescue Remedy along with the Thunder Shirt and this didn’t even begin to help him.

So taking the normal approach to crate training isn’t an option. When you have a dog with separation anxiety, we have learned that you have to look at the situation differently because you’re dealing with a majorly stressed out dog who’s coping skills are non-existent.

Once we moved into the new house, we decided that we were going to start completely over with crate training and take things super slowly.  Like molasses on a winter day, slow.

Currently Avery hasn’t been left alone in several months.  He either comes with us if we can take him or only one of us will go to an event while the other stays home with Avery.

This also means that Scott and I haven’t been out together for several months.  Which quite frankly, stinks.

But both of us are committed to working towards getting him past this.

We are using an all natural anti-anxiety pill call L-Theanine along with a new approach to crate training.  More on both of those in an upcoming post!  I will say that so far both of these things have gone over really well.

Dealing With Separation Anxiety

Avery laying down

Avery can be an anxious dog and being that he has reactive tendencies, getting worked up about stuff is probably par for the course.

Most dogs get excited if they think they are going out for a walk or going in the car.  But once they go, they tend to calm down and enjoy the moment.

Avery does not.  If he gets really worked up before a walk, then he is more likely to be reactive.  And in the first few minutes of the walk we have to stop, sit, and regroup so he can remember that he needs to mind his manners.

In the car, he’ll pace, whine, drool, and pant.  Sometimes it’s really bad and sometimes he’ll eventually try to calm himself down and lay down on the seat.  If someone is sitting in the back with him, he’s totally fine.  He’ll lay right next to you and be an angel.  By himself he is an anxious mess.

We really didn’t want to admit to ourselves that he had separation issues when he was left home alone.  Mostly because separation anxiety is a tough nut to crack in a dog and it’s a very challenging and difficult thing to work through.  Not to mention very overwhelming when you realize that you can’t just leave your house whenever you want and have the freedom to do whatever you want.

Or at least it is to me and I’m still very overwhelmed by it.

But we have come to terms with this and it’s now something we are actively trying to work through.  It’s been hard when we have to tell friends that we can’t meet them for dinner or drinks because we’re working through some issues with our dog.  Most don’t get it and I don’t blame them because when it’s something you haven’t had to deal with before it can be a hard situation to understand.

We are missing out on a lot of great events around town right now and we are so totally bummed out.  But Avery needs us and he needs us to help him through this situation.

I don’t know how long this will take.  This is the first time we have had to deal with separation anxiety.  We are taking it slow and doing a combination of calming herbs and behavior training.

I will definitely be sharing what exactly we are doing and how it’s going.

Have you ever had to deal with separation issues with your pet?  How did you handle it?

Reactivity In The New House, Progress

Avery at the front doorWe live on a much busier street now where there is more car traffic and more foot traffic.

Our neighborhood is what I call an “actual neighborhood”.  You can walk around the block, walk down to a park, or even walk downtown to go shopping.

There are alleys and the streets are tree lined.  The houses are all different from each other and it feels very welcoming.

Because of the increase in activity, we were naturally curious about how Avery would handle this.

The front of our house has a big window along with a glass front door which means that Avery can see everything that goes on.  When the window and front door are open, he can also hear everything that goes on.

Since Avery is reactive, we were definitely wondering just how he would deal.

Our worries and concerns were needless.  As I mentioned before, Avery seems much more relaxed in this space.  Nothing has proven this more than his lack of reactivity.

If someone walks by, sure he might go to the door and watch but that’s about all he does.  Occasionally if he sees another dog or if someone is being loud, he may snort and that’s the extent of his reactivity.

A snort.

He doesn’t bark and only rarely does he let out a low growl.  The low growl only happens if someone is walking a dog right by the front yard fence and stops.  If the dog is across the street, then he goes back to the snort.

Avery at the front doorWe have folks who come up on the porch like the mail carrier, and the milk delivery guy.  Avery does not bark at them.  He whines a bit and wags his nubbies because he wants to say hello.  That’s it.

For a dog that can be reactive, this is a HUGE deal.

He is the same way in the backyard as well.  He doesn’t bark at the neighbors when they leave or enter their house.  He doesn’t bark if people go by in the back alley.

Instead he’s a typical boxer who watches and observes.  Let’s out the occasional snort to say, “I see you out there. I know you’re there.”

Now if someone does knock on the door he will bark and I’m OK with this.  I do want a dog that will bark to let me know something is going on.  The key is that he needs to stop when I tell him to and so far he is doing just that.

This is a huge sigh of relief for us to know that Avery isn’t stressed about the increase in traffic and that we can have the doors and windows open without worrying that he’s going to act a fool.

Graduate

Avery in the sunAvery is a graduate!  He graduated from his basic obedience training class a couple of weeks ago.  He did amazing and was even able to sit still for a group photo.

My big boy!

Eventually I’m going to get him signed up for another class so that we can work on minding our manners in different environments.  Right now that class is scheduled on a night I have to work so we can’t attend.  Next session hopefully we can!

We are also getting ready to have our first group walk this week!  We had a brief orientation last Saturday to go over the rules and expectations.  We also had everyone fill out a questionnaire so we can get some background info on their dogs and their training.  We have about six folks and their pooches meeting up for the walk.  Very exciting!

We took Avery to the farmer’s market on Sunday for the first time.  I went and shopped while Scott kept Avery around the perimeter in a nice grassy and shaded area.  Avery did fantastic!  He sat like a good boy and watched everyone shop and go by.

A gentleman walked past and reached out to Avery who handled it like a champ.  Of course he was sad to see the guy go!

There was a dog that walked by and Avery only whined a little bit at the dog.  Progress!  We are working very hard to help him learn his leash manners.  The more situations he gets exposed to, the better he becomes!

And then he did something ridiculous, when I opened the trunk to put away my purchases, he jumped right in and sat down like we did this all the time.

Oh rescue dogs, always learning about their past lives in little snippets.

Life is still going full speed ahead but by summer’s end we are hoping to be more settled!

No Days Off

Avery and Scott practicing loose leash walkingWhen you have a dog who has some reactivity issues, you cannot take a day off or slack in training.

And there will be days that you want to.

“Gosh I’m tired. Do we really have to go on a walk?”

The answer is, yes, yes you do.

Because if you slack in training then there’s the possibly that your dog will backslide.  One step forward, two steps back kind of deal.

Currently the only times Avery doesn’t get a walk is if the weather is really bad outside.  Snowing, raining (rare), or really cold.

He doesn’t enjoy the super cold weather so I don’t walk him in it.  Even though all of our walks are training walks, I want them to be enjoyable for him.

Fort Collins doesn’t see a lot of bad weather so we are out almost everyday for our walks.  Sometimes they are short and sometimes they are a bit longer.  But each day we are outside and doing something.

The more routine it becomes and the more we expose Avery to different things, the more comfortable he becomes and that’s our main goal.

How about you, do you go on walks everyday?

Social Tails Dog Walking Group

Avery walkingHaving a dog who is reactive comes along with many challenges. Because of this, it’s important to me to surround myself with people who understand where I’m coming from and understand the training that Avery and I need to do.

I’ve been reading Two Pitties In The City for a while now and one of the things that I loved about the blog was the walking group they created it.

The walking group, Socia-bulls, is a no-greet dog walking group.  These means the dogs do no greet each other while on leash and they walk in a pack like system.

Not only does this get the dogs used to walking around other dogs and learn that they are a part of the environment, it provides a great learning experience for the dogs as a whole.  They welcome dogs who may have issues, like reactivity, shyness, and fearful dogs.  It is a safe spot for dogs and their owners to walk together and find support from other owners.

I knew that this was the kind of community that I wanted to be a part of someday.  Even more so after adopting Avery.  He needs to be around other dogs and learn his manners while on leash.

I had been chatting with our trainer (now great friend) about my desire to belong to a walking group like Socia-Bulls.  She had been wanting to create a walking group for a while and since Fort Collins doesn’t currently have a walking group that fits our needs, we decided to create one.

I am happy to introduce to you our new walking group, Social Tails!

The website is still being worked on but it is up and running and so are we!  Cathie and I will be having our first group walk next month!

If you are local to Fort Collins or Loveland, and you would like to be part of our group, please either email me or Cathie about joining the group.  We will email you back with information about the walk.

All dogs are welcome and we would love for you to come and walk with us!

 

Teaching “Touch”

Avery sitting pretty One of the “tricks” that I wanted to teach Avery was the “touch” command.  There are many reasons for this but the biggest two are:

1. Avery is a boxer and like most boxers, he uses his paws. A lot.  He thinks all problems can be solved if he just smacks it enough.  I want him to learn how to think and to realize he can solve problems using other methods.

2. It’s a great distraction, especially if you have a reactive dog or a shy dog.  This gives them a job to do so it helps them refocus (back on to you and off of a stimulus) while also working out either their anxiety or pent up energy.

Plus it’s just plain fun once they get the concept down!

The idea is that when I say, “Touch”, the response that I’m looking for from Avery is for him to bop something with his nose.

This is highly challenging for him! With Avery, I have to show him the behavior I want first and then ask him to preform it.  This takes some time but is the training method that works best for him.

Because Avery knows “high five” and he is comfortable using his paws to solve problems, his first instinct is to give me his paw.

Which I counter with an “huh-uh” noise basically to let him know that was not what I wanted.  He knows “huh-uh” because this is what we use to indicate he made the wrong choice (like say, he jumped up on someone).  We do not ever say, “NO” to him because it’s a little negative and “huh-uh”, I feel, is easier for dogs to grasp right away.

I started off with the basics where I just held out my hand and if he even just barely smelled my hand, I immediately clicked and treated for that.

He wasn’t really picking up on what I wanted him to do.  He would occasionally touch my hand with his nose but I could tell he didn’t realize that’s what I was looking for.

Training should never be frustrating for you or for your dog.  It should always be fun and a good time! After about 10 minutes when I noticed that Avery wasn’t really getting what I was asking of him, I knew it was time to take a break.

We stopped and did some fun stuff that he knows like “crawl” and “find it”.  This keeps things fun and also restores confidence because Avery knows how to do those things.

After a bit we came back to learning “Touch” and he started to pick it up a lot quicker.  He doesn’t have it down 100% yet but he’s getting there!  Taking that break and doing other fun things really helped him with his training.  He was refocused and open to learning something new.

We took another break and then played for a bit.  I always try to end training sessions on a happy fun note that way Avery always looks forward to training time!

Does your dog know “touch” or any other sort of tricks?

I Have A Reactive Dog

Avery laying in the sunAvery is on-leash-reactive.  He can be reactive to dogs, sometimes people if they catch him off guard, and reactive to new things like fabric blowing in the breeze.

On-leash-reactive means that when the dog is leashed, it may bark, growl, lung, or even whine at some sort of stimulus.

That stimulus can be anything from another dog to men in hats to a trash bag. Literally anything.

While the behavior might look mean or aggressive, that is not always the case.

Avery is not an aggressive dog.

He is not aggressive towards people, he loves meeting people.

He is not aggressive towards dogs, he loves meeting dogs.

There’s a big misconception out there about reactive dogs.  Most people assume that a dog who is reacting to something by growling and pulling on their leash is aggressive.

While it can look that way, the two do not go hand-in-hand.

Some dogs who are aggressive are also reactive while on leash.  But not all dogs who are reactive while on leash are aggressive.

My dog is reactive because he loves dogs and people so much that he immediately wants to go see them.  His previous owner probably let him.  He was a stray for a while and had the ability to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted to.  Now all of the sudden I’m telling him he can’t AND he’s being restrained by the leash.

This leads to frustration which leads to reaction.

Again, reaction doesn’t mean aggression.  Reaction is a response to a stimulus.

Part of the reason I started this blog was to discuss training with Avery and how we are dealing with some of his issues.  One of the main things we are working on is his on-leash-reactivity towards things.

We are doing this by exposing him to a lot of new to him situations and helping him understand that life occurs around us at all times.  And that life includes many things like dogs, and bikes, and people.

We are actively training him on every single walk we take.  Through constant training we are at a point where sometimes Avery reacts and sometimes he does not.  This is a very positive step!  It takes a while to get there though and we are working at it every day.

I bring this up because having a reactive dog means that I get a lot of disgusted glances from strangers when Avery is reacting to something.  A lot of unpleasant looks and sometimes mutterings of “train your dog” and “that dog is mean”.

I am training my dog.

And my dog has made great improvements because of it.

In order for Avery to learn his manners, we have to do things like go to the park and go shopping.  We need to be where the action is because the more we expose him to those situations, the more comfortable he becomes as he realizes this is just normal everyday life.

Avery is a rescue.  He came to us with these issues and it’s up to Scott and I to help him through it and learn to have manners.  Manners that he was never taught before.

We are doing as much as we can to help him.

By sharing my experience with owning a reactive dog, I hope to create more awareness and tolerance about reactive dogs.

So the next time you are out and you encounter someone with a dog who is having a reaction to something, don’t judge or condemn that person and their dog.  Instead take a moment to consider the situation. Perhaps, that person is just like me, having adopted a rescue who needs love, patience, guidance, and support.

For more information about dog reactivity, check out Paws Abilities post!

Playgroup Testing

Avery at Longmont PlaygroupYesterday was a big day for our Avery! We got up bright and early to make the trip down to Longmont Humane Society for a playgroup testing session.

Longmont Humane Society is a large shelter just outside of Denver. They have an amazing behavioral department filled with skilled workers and handlers.  They will work with you to help you figure out what kinds of situations your dog can handle and what they possibly cannot.

We wanted to test Avery out with multiple dogs in a playgroup type setting to see how he would do.

He’s already had success with meeting and playing with another dog.  But a playgroup setting is different and can be overstimulating for a dog.  We wanted to see how well he would handle himself and to make 100% sure that he doesn’t have issues with dogs and that his on-leash reactivity is all frustration at wanting to play vs. aggression.

Setting him in a controlled environment with skilled trainers was the best way for us to do that.

Avery at Longmont Play Group

Avery did amazing and was a total rockstar yesterday! He handled all the dogs really well and if they didn’t want to play, he didn’t force the issue.

He was tested with females, young males, just neutered males, and also little dogs.  He loved them all and didn’t have issues with any of them.

He backed off if the dogs didn’t seem to want to interact and he took appropriate play breaks as well.

There was a little chihuahua that when he first entered the room was a little overwhelmed and barked his fool head off right in Avery’s face.  Barking, air snapping, the whole big-man routine.   Avery just looked at him and then walked away.

Avery at Longmont playgroupWe’re so proud of Avery! And now we are starting the research of finding a great daycare around town that we can take him to a couple of times a week.

Hooray Avery!