We made an appointment at Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine Animal Behavior Clinic. We chose Tufts in part because in 2007 when Beau was deathly ill, they were able to perform living-saving surgery all while treating us with kindness and respect. (They all loved Beau by the time he came home with us again.)
We also chose Tufts because the behaviorist we were lucky enough to get an appointment with was Dr. Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, MRCVS, founder and director of the clinic.
That's right, folks, we here at Bringing up Bella seldom do anything halfway. If we were going to take our dog to a behaviorist, it was going to be with one of the guys who pretty much got the party started. (If the name doesn't ring a bell, think Dogs 101 or one of several books such as "The Dog Who Loved Too Much", "If Only They Could Talk" and "Dogs Behaving Badly".)
Before we got to meet the good doctor, we had to fill out a 9-page behavioral fact sheet detailing everything we knew about Bella and explaining the behavior we were seeking help with. We had to list her daily activities, diet, exercise regimen as well as any training she has had. 9 pages. Let's just say it was thorough and we hadn't even walked through the door yet.
Once we did get in the door we spent well over an hour and a half talking to Dr. Dodman while his assistant took notes. We reviewed all the information on the sheet, providing clarification or further explanation as necessary. We discussed the incident at length and considered all the factors that may have contributed to it.
Bella's 'diagnosis' at the end of the appointment was listed as "Generalized anxiety, owner-directed aggression, fear aggression, inter-dog aggression, thunderstorm phobia and - insect phobia." "Insect phobia"? Really? That's a thing? Who knew?
Well, we do now.
A treatment plan for the whole family
What I appreciated most about the visit was the attention given to Bella as a whole dog. Her health, diet and exercise needs were addressed. As were her human parents. We walked away with oodles of literature to read, recommendations to implement and, yes, medications to administer. I'll go into detail in future posts about each avenue we were advised to pursue and how we addressed them but here's a quick summary:
Nutrition - Bella's diet was assessed and determined to be a bit too high in protein which can exacerbate aggression issues mostly due to increased energy. Because we use high-value (read: high protein) treats to train her, Dr. Dodman recommended we use a lower-protein kibble for her regular meals.Overall, we came away with a plan and an ally in our journey to help Bella live comfortably with us and we with her. As shown in last Thursday's video, the plan, along with her agility and reactivity training, is working.
Hypothyroidism - Bella was diagnosed with hypothyroidism which has been associated with aggression especially in fearful dogs. She was prescribed Solixine to adjust her levels.
Medications - The meds aren't meant to cure her, they're meant to help her heal.
I will go into much greater detail in a future post but we were all in agreement that Bella could benefit from a very low dose of Fluoxetine (Prosac). Bella has been so stressed for so long that our attempts at training good behaviors and coping skills weren't even getting through to her. Addtionally, she was prescribed Clonidine to help with her thunderstorm phobia and this is also where we learned about the Storm Defender cape. (Jan calls it her Super Hero cape.)
Communication - Recommendations were made on how we should communicate with Bella (Jan - say what you mean and mean what you say; Leslie - "must be the one to intervene and correct" the possessive behavior). We also had an extensive conversation about learning what Bella is trying to say to us and why she may not always understand what Jan especially is trying to say.