Monday, March 4, 2013

Hurricane Update Part 5: Xanax & The Crate

If you need a quick refresher on why I'm talking about xanax and crates, click here.

So, for weeks we've been trying to figure out what to do about Des. How to help him. How to help us. I've been through the separation anxiety thing with him before, and that process was long and semi-crazy. Even if I thought it would work again, which I'm not sure it would, I don't have the time and energy required to do it. 

Plus, almost everything I've read about dogs with anxiety, depression, and what is more or less a form of PTSD, is directed at people who are in stable living situations. Those strategies simply do not apply to us. 

The few things I've found that specifically address displaced, stressed pets (and some were even written after Sandy) basically tell you that you're not going to get anywhere with training or behavior modification while your family is all over the place. Your best option is management and to wait it out. Once you're settled, start from the beginning. 

If that idea wasn't daunting enough, it comes coupled with the reality that management leaves few options and that we really are stuck in the house with him unless we can get a dog sitter. He is a very cute fella to spend time with, but sometimes you just want to do your laundry without worrying that your dog is going to go into a full-on panic when you open the door.

After much discussion, we decided that we needed to get the poor guy on some kind of medication and we needed to see what would happen if we reintroduced a crate to him. 

It was a bit of perfect timing, because we had to go to the vet for vaccinations anyway. We figured we'd tell the doctor what was going on when we got there and see what happened. 

This doc previously didn't want to give Desmond a prescription for his general anxiety and reactivity unless we were also going to do behavior modification--which I 100% understand--but I was hoping this would be a different situation. Luckily, the vet was on board right away and mostly just felt bad for Des, like we do. Xanax was prescribed. 4mg a day of xanax was prescribed. That's a lot of xanax. 

For perspective, I'll tell you that in the beginning of this whole hurricane debacle, I was having a pretty hard time with things myself. To help me, my doctor provided a prescription for xanax--at 0.25mg a day. Desmond is 59 pounds, and I am more than double that. 

My dog is officially more of a head case than I am. Who saw that coming?

We've already had to play with the dosing a bit, as warned. The original plan of 2mg twice a day proved to be too much xanax at one time for Des. After we gave him the first pill, he essentially lost control of his muscles. He couldn't walk without collapsing; his balance was terrible. He even fell down the stairs but was able to catch himself and kind of run down the rest of the way (and he was completely unharmed during that). Obviously, we weren't going to give him 2mg again. 

The lack of muscle control/awareness resulted in Des sitting on his own tail at one point, which he has never done before. He's usually very conscious of where he's placing that thing.

The easiest way to break it up was to give him 1mg four times a day, but that is not the easiest plan long-term. We tried another option, which is to give him 1/3 of his total 4mg three times a day.

This seems to be working fine for him, but it's still a little inconvenient for us. We may try to go back to twice a day now that the medicine is in his system, but I'm wary. 

His reaction to the xanax is not quite what I expected. I thought it would make him calm or content or something. Like it does for me. Instead, it is acting more like an anti-depressant.

He's got more energy than we've seen in a while. His appetite is back. And he sure is vocalizing a lot more--which is a very easy characteristic to forget he has when he's mostly sleeping and being quiet. Right this second, he is whining because I'm two rooms away from him while I type this.

He's always done stuff like that--he'd simply rather be with someone than alone--and I thought that might be the kind of thing that wouldn't bother him with the xanax. Like he'd be just chilled out and carefree. 

But it's all good. I'm just glad to see he's back to his normal, semi-annoying self.  

The vet did say that if this wasn't giving us the results we need, we could explore prozac. And a slew of other options, including more xanax. Also, when we do get our lives back to normal and it's time to work on behavior modification, we'll have to reassess his needs. We're looking at this as a temporary solution for the moment. 

On to the crate!

You know how Desmond has an aversion to barriers and being enclosed and specifically crates in general?

Yeah, well, this:

And this:

Pardon my French, but WHAT THE FUDGE??

That first pic is right after Joey set it up. Our intention was to simply leave the crate there with the door open and that's it. Maybe in a week, start tossing treats in it randomly. Desmond apparently had other plans.

We quickly realized that the crate is not big enough for him and tried setting it up with the wider door open so it might be easier for him to situate himself in there. Kona is only a little bit smaller than he is, but he was unable to stand up in the crate without crouching and his head/back were hitting the top of the door. Unacceptable. 

Amazingly, Petco was having a huge sale on crates this weekend, so we scored the biggest crate available--for under $100! (The sale is actually still going on now.) The crate is meant for dogs of 110 pounds and will be a monstrous presence in the room, but we want him to have a castle. We're considering getting him a body pillow to line the walls with, since he's such a leaner. 

It should be here in a week or so. For now, though, we're just leaving this crate where it is and I am tossing treats in there randomly. Desmond doesn't go in the crate regularly but has popped by a couple of times. Once or twice, he's gone in on his own and plopped down. I obviously threw a party when he did that. 

He actually went in there to go to bed one night when Joey was out, but I wasn't keen on not sleeping with my doggie; so after I rewarded him, I waited a while and then called him out to come to bed with me. It's funny how addicting it is to have that damn dog in the bed with you. And it's very weird to think that one day he really might sleep in his crate (which we are actually calling his cave) and not on my pillow/face/legs. Is loneliness worth clean bedding? A question for the ages, I'm sure.

All around, the crate thing is going better than I ever could have expected, but I'm not even going to attempt to close the door on it for at least a month of him choosing to go in there to hang out. I see raw marrow bones in our future. 

We'll still be trapped in the apartment for a while--maybe even for the entire displacement--but in the end it will be worth this process if we succeed. Especially because when we do actually get home, we will be in a brand-new house which he destroyed once already. I don't think so, dog. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice... 

And maybe the crate will become a constant for him. Something to depend on and feel safe in. It could wind up really helping him when we move again. Particularly since we aren't even sure if our next move will be into our own home. That remains to be seen. 

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