Wednesday, November 28, 2012

(Not quite) Wordless Wednesday 67 - She's learning

(AKA: "My nephew's going to kill me.")

In Monday's post, I mentioned that no one has ever been able to pet Bella except us. That was true up until a little over a month ago when my neighbor's daughter managed to win Bella over. That is its own story and one for another day. However, we recently had a visit from my nephew, Jared, and he too, managed to get Bella to take the trust plunge.


A little nervous...

Gimme a kiss, pretty girl.

Oh, so close!

What are you looking at?

This isn't so bad after all...

I know a lot of my readers are worried about Bella and there are still stories to tell about how we got here. Over the last year since she has been on the medication, along with adjustments we've made to her diet and exercise and the 'Agility for Reactive Dogs' class we are taking, I thought folks might like to see for themselves how Bella has come such a very. long. way.

For the record, I'm not quite sure who I am prouder of in these photos - Bella or Jared. Let's just say I have an unspeakable amount of love for both.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review Tuesday: Printcopia Printcopia

Recently I was contacted by one of the good folks over at PRINTCOPIA to take a look at their website and review their products. Their tagline is: "PRINTCOPIA creates eye-catching wall art out of your photos!" and, I have to tell you, they really do.

They offered me a free 8x10 canvas print to check out their work and I jumped at the chance. It's not like I don't have a few bazillion photos of Bella hanging around. In fact, I have so many pictures of her that I had to ask you folks to help me decide which picture to use for the review.

That was certainly the hardest part of the process because, once it was decided which picture I would use, it only took about 15 minutes to upload, tweak and order my print. And that's only because I'm a whacky fanatic about both my pictures and technology - hey, it's a review, I had to put it through it's paces, right?

And put it through its paces I did. And I am happy to say, it passed with flying colors. I'm a web developer by trade so I can be pretty hard on web applications but PRINTCOPIA really did live up to my expectations. The site was easy to use and there were enough options to be able to customize my print but not so many that it made the choices feel overwhelming.

Click on the picture for better detail.
It didn't take long at all after ordering to receive the print and the delivered product was really very good quality. The image quality is superb and the canvas material gives the product an artistic feel. The colors are deep and rich. And the seams are tight - the whole thing is just nicely done. It comes with a little hanging clip so you could put it right on your wall although mine is propped up on my desk right now.

Some of the options they offer on the site range from physical frames to modest or even considerable touch-ups (although I can't speak to the these features as I didn't use them.) And I really love the fact that you can upload directly from Facebook and Instagram.

The only real complaint I have is that in order to use a picture that is formatted for portrait orientation (rather than landscape), you have to select a custom canvas size height and width. That's not a big deal - it doesn't seem to cost any more to use the custom sizing - but it struck me as a minor oversight that could prevent frustration for the user community. Quibbles really.

PRINTCOPIA also offered me an 8x10 canvas print to give away to one of my readers so here's your chance to win a nice gift for the holidays. Just leave a comment letting me know you want to enter and then click on the Rafflecopter thingie there. (I've never hosted a giveaway nor utilized Rafflecopter on the blog so do please leave a comment letting me know you entered so I can make sure that even if things don't work correctly everyone who wants a chance to win gets to enter.)

What it looks like in 'real life'.

I'm quite pleased to be able to offer this as my first 'give-away'. So good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

PS - PRINTCOPIA has some sister sites that I did not work with but if they're anything like this one, they are probably quick and efficient offering good value. If I get the time, I will check them out and report back but if anyone else has already done so, please let us know in the comments.

car magnets * custom banners * cheap signs

Disclaimer: PRINTCOPIA gave me a free 8x10 canvas print to review their services but anyone who knows me can tell you my opinions are my own.  ;)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thresholds and medications, oh my!

Some recent comments and conversations have questioned why we went the route of medication with Bella.

We've had Bella for a little over 4 years now and during that time we've become all too familiar with the the language of fearful dogs. But before I had a scared-y dog, I didn't even know there were such creatures - never mind that they had their own language.

As a result, I tend to find myself writing from my current place of reference. And I can forget that some of my readers may not be familiar with the terms one learns when living with fearful dogs. Most are likely living with nice, normal dogs at home.

So here's a word I throw around like everyone knows what it is: threshold.

What is a 'threshold' when we're talking about scared-y dogs? Threshold is the point at which a scared-y dog becomes scared.

Why does it matter?

Because you can't train a dog until you can get their attention. And you can't get their attention if they are over threshold - when a dog is past the point where they are so afraid for their own safety that they can't focus on letting you teach them better coping skills.

The goal then is to approach every situation so that the dog remains within their comfort zone, not pushed past it. Keep them at a place where they are still able to concentrate, they'll still take a treat, they're still able to hear you and focus on you.

I've been in situations with Bella where I know none of that is possible. She does not hear me. She does not see me. She won't take a treat from my hand if I stuff it in her mouth. She is in a zone that I cannot penetrate.

That's over threshold.

The reason I'm bringing this up now is that, as we worked with Dr. Dodman and Bella's medications, we began to realize that Bella had never really been under threshold. Pretty much ever.

She lived her life in such a constant state of fear, hyper-awareness and hyper-vigilance that she could be resting on the couch but a pine cone dropping on the roof would send her skittering for safety. I couldn't get her to come back. I couldn't get her attention. I couldn't get her to stop running out of the room.

In her own home.

Her reactions to people were much the same. No one has been able to pet Bella except me, Jan and my mother. No one. In 4 years. Not her trainers, not her vets, not our neighbors whose dog she played with every day.

Because when Bella is that close to people, she is so far over threshold that we can't even teach her to 'say hi'. And if we can't get her under threshold when she is in the presence of other people, we can't teach her that people are not something to be feared.

So the answer to why we chose to use medication on Bella is to help her to get below threshold, at least for ordinary, every day living. It gives us the opportunity to teach her, to reach her and develop appropriate reactions to non-threatening situations. We still have to work to keep her under threshold during scary events such as meeting people and other dogs. The medication isn't a substitute for hard work, it's an aid.

When we embarked on the journey of medicating Bella it wasn't without thought. It wasn't without trying every other avenue available to us first. The use of prescription medications was an informed, considered decision. We hoped that the potential side effects were worth the risk and would avert our other, less favorable, options.

This post may be borne from a place of defensiveness and I apologize for that. If you don't know Bella's entire story, it'd be easy to think we bypassed the more holistic steps that could have helped heal her wounds and jumped right to the part that makes our life easier. I assure you, we didn't.

As amateur gardeners and cooks, Jan and I try to live in harmony with the earth and maintain a holistic life-style. We believe it is always best to try the least invasive, least damaging, least dangerous approach to resolving any challenge. If we all did that, our earth and our health would be better for it. But sometimes, you have to draw a line over what could be lost if you don't put up your best fight.

Bella is not merely a somewhat nervous dog. She's not just a difficult dog that we use medication on in order to make our life with her easier. She is a dog who can be aggressive in her fear and we don't want to lose her as a result. Her life is what we are fighting for.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Black & White Sunday: It doesn't happen often...

Enjoy the spectacle while it lasts - Bella sits still for a picture!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

WW 66 - Happy (Almost) Thanksgiving

What's that you say, Mom?
It's almost Thanksgiving Day?

Well then - Happy Thanksgiving Day to all our friends and family!

You're gonna leave me a bite of that, right?

Whether you are celebrating here in the States or just having another ordinary day, we hope this day finds you happy and surrounded by love.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What have we done?

"One thing that has me particularly concerned is (Bella) shows no interest in playing with me any more - in fact, she has little interest in me at all now. We used to play chase and ball a few times a day. She hasn't accepted a play invitation from me in over a week. On the bright side, she's not barking at every falling leaf in the yard but she's not barking at anything at all. She's not showing interest in going outside or chasing anything when she is outside.

I expected us to work with her to learn to control her chase/prey instincts but we haven't - this is just a reaction, I believe, to the meds. I wanted to be able to focus her so we could teach her some more appropriate behaviors but it seems she's a completely different dog. To some that may sound great but she wasn't a bad dog before, she just had too much stress. She seems to have lost her joie de vivre, her spunk (spirit) and her enthusiasm for anything that used to mean something to her.

To be honest, I feel like I've lost my dog."

-- Email to Dr. Dodman, Tufts Small Animal Hospital, 9/23/2011

Last week, I was telling you about Bella's bad reaction to being "left" at my mom's house for a mini-vacation. Just over a week after that event, I wrote the above email to Dr. Dodman.

Jan and I had been talking about Bella's change of demeanor but were also trying to remain upbeat and optimistic about it. "Could just be temporary..." "Maybe there's an adjustment period?" "Let's see how she does tomorrow..."

Comments in her diary leading up to this email show an increase in anxious behaviors (not sleeping through the night, wanting to go to her 'safe space' in the basement, not eating...) but the final straw that brought me to tears one night was that she no longer had any interest in play and I honestly felt that I had "lost" my Bella.

The Bella that, while always fearful, still had such an insatiable curiosity of life. When Bella isn't fearful, she's a wonder. She inquisitive, enthusiastic, eager and willing to try whatever I throw at her. She's a bit of a skeptic but once she's over her misgivings, she faces life with an incredible zest.

Three weeks on this new medication and she just seemed so disinterested in everything.

I don't feel so good...
We had been warned, we had thought this through, we'd talked about "revealing" her "true" personality. But this wasn't it. Everything I knew and trusted inside me said this was wrong.

Luckily, Dr. Dodman is a true professional. He wasn't so hung up on being right that he dismissed our concerns. He heard me and he believed me and he trusted that I knew my dog better than anyone else ever would. And he offered me hope.

My biggest fear in watching Bella's changing demeanor was that we wouldn't be able to get her back. I never wanted to change "her", I just wanted to change her behavior towards Jan - and even then only in some very limited, albeit terrifying, situations.

Dr. Dodman immediately recommended we take Bella off the Fluoxetine for a week and start her at a lower dose after that. I can't begin to tell you how relieved the following email made me feel:
"HI Leslie, I think what you said is right. Let's skip the next couple of doses of fluoxetine and then restart at 20mg per day - instead of 30 - when she is back to normal. We may need to go back up to 30 at some time but Bella seems very sensitive to side effects so we will have to go slowly. Nick Dodman"
(I don't know if I need a legal disclaimer for that or not but please don't have me arrested, okay? :)

Much to my relief, Bella's sparkling, if sometimes snarky, personality came breaking back through the haze after only a couple of days. It's very good to know that while we tinker with her doses, we're not doing any lasting damage to her personality. It has made us much more willing to make adjustments and give things time to work.

And, as Dr. Dodman noted, we have discovered Bella to be extremely sensitive to medications and have been quite conscientious in our management as a result.

We have yet to get her up to the recommended dose of Fluoxetine and other meds we've pursued have been administered rather conservatively. But having a behaviorist who listened to us, who trusted us and who was willing to work with us, gave us the confidence to continue our pursuit in trying to help Bella.

And time has borne out that approach. Stick with me over the coming months and you'll see what a little patience and a lot of perseverance can do to heal a damaged dog.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

WW 65 - A game of 'fetch' with Daddy

Do you want to play a game?

Are you ready?

I'm ready!

Throw the ball!  Throw the ball! Come on, come on, throw the balllllllll!!

And we're off!

Wait, whoops?  Where did it go?

Too fast for the ball...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Jan and Leslie's Abbreviated Vacation

I mentioned previously that Jan and I hadn't been on a 'real' vacation in 7 years. That is true. We have, however, snuck away for a few 3-day weekends on occassion and were scheduled to do just that shortly after putting Bella on the new meds prescribed by Dr. Dodman.

The plan was to drop Bella off with my mom on Friday morning and pick her up again Monday.

My mom and I look very, very, VERY much alike. I'm not sure if this is the reason my mom is the only person besides me and Jan who can reliably pet Bella or not but it doesn't seem an unreasonable assumption. Bella has stayed with Mom before and everything went swimmingly. It never occured to me Bella wouldn't view this visit as her own little vacation stay at "Club Nana's".

But when Bella's not feeling good, it seems she really just wants her mom and dad.

During the first week we had Bella on the new medications, she had ups and downs in her demeanor and appetite. She'd have a good day where she seemed very much like herself but it would be followed by 2 days of begging her to eat her food.

But she seemed fine to me when I brought her down to my mom's - she even wailed in excitement when we pulled in the drive knowing Nana's always means a good time for Bella.

Then something strange happened when I left her in the house for a few minutes to get her stuff out of the car. She started to whine. And pace. And when I came back in, Bella acted like she thought I was never. coming. back. Portents of things to come?


I finally got Bella settled in with mom and Jan and I headed off on our mini vacation.

We spent Friday and most of Saturday in ignorant bliss. We got in too late Friday night and left too early Saturday to call Mom to see how they were making out. But I had left my cell phone # with her and knew if she ran into any trouble, she would call us.

Except I didn't count on the fact that we were up in Sticksville, Vermont and my phone wasn't getting a reliable signal. We had no way of knowing Mom had been trying to reach me since early Saturday morning. Uh oh.

Saturday night I made the phone call and found a frantic mother on the other end of the line. Bella wouldn't eat. She wouldn't settle down. She was whimpering some, pacing a lot. She would sit for a minute and then be up pacing again.

And since she wouldn't eat, Mom couldn't get her to take her medicine. She even tried to entice Bella by putting the meds in a little milk and corn flakes. (Because, you know, what dog doesn't love milk and corn flakes, right? Huh? Yeah, no idea where she came up with that one.)

Mom had tried every trick she could think of plus some I had given her. Nothing. This dog was just not going to take her medicine. Until I asked Mom to put the phone near Bella's ear.

I kid you not, the second this dog heard my voice over the phone, she laid down. Mom offered her the milk and corn flakes again and Bella began sipping it. Mission accomplished.

Until Sunday.

We got another call from Mom on Sunday morning and decided we would pick Bella up Sunday night instead of Monday if only to give my poor dear mother a break.

Bella was overjoyed to see us but on the ride home, even though she was with us now, she just would not settle down. We use a barrier in the car to keep her in the back seat but she kept trying to get up front with us, pacing and whining over the separation. Jan finally got in the back seat with her and held her for the rest of the ride home.

Oh little dog, what have we done?

To be continued....

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thankful Thursday - Awards catch-up #1

Wow, I just realized I really owe Katherine from Life with Arie a sincere apology.

She gave us the "One Lovely Blog" award way back in April (during her crazy and successful Blog the Alphabet Challenge) and I never even said thank you here on the blog. (In my pathetic attempt at a defense, I did, at least, remember to thank her on her blog.)

So, thank you, Katherine, you honor us with your recognition.

This one's been around awhile so you all probably already know the rules (and probably already have the award) but here they are again anyway:
  1. Link back to the one who gave you this award. - Check.
  2. Pass the award on to 15 other lovely bloggers. - 15? Yikes!
  3. Follow the person who sent it to you. - Got it covered - We love Life with Arie!
Now, I'm going to break the rules about the blogs I'm forwarding this on to. See, part of why it's taken me so long to get this written is that I can't manage the 15 blogs.

It's not that I don't think there are 15 blogs out there worth nominating as there surely are. It's more that 15 feels a bit like a laundry list to me rather than a thoughtful and considered approach to blogs I really want to give recognition to at this time.

Add to that my own rule of trying to give awards only to blogs I haven't recognized before and maybe you can understand why I'm changing the rules this time.

So I'm only passing this award on to 5 other blogs. To those being nominated, I leave it to you as to whether or not you follow the rules as stated or make up your own.
24 Paws of Love - 2 packs, 6 dogs, 24 paws, endless possibilities. I love that the hu-folks at 24 Paws have never rushed, nor ever given up, on their dogs even when times get a little tough. We fully appreciate what it takes to do that.

My Life in Blog Years - Formerly Dog Blogging with Luna, My Life in Blog Years details the adventures of Golden Retriever, Luna and Dachshund, Penny. Beautiful dogs, gorgeous photos, reviews and giveaways, and hand-made jewelry, too.

Heart Like a Dog - Heart Like a Dog is Jodi Stone's recently redesigned and re-imagined blog. It chronicles her life with her two dogs: the well-adjusted, calm, sweet Sampson and his crazy, opposite, whirlwind of a step-sister, Delilah. There's a lot we can relate to here.

Just Toby - Another blog that's undergone a transformation, Just Toby used to be Donna and the Dogs until Donna sort of stopped writing it and Toby, the yellow Lab stepped in to save the day (or blog, as it were.) Toby has a smashing sense of humor and shares his view of the world from his hu-folk ("The Ones Called...") and his siblings Leah and Meadow to evil trees and animals in need. With a fearful sister in the pack, there's lots for us to learn from him.

Mayzie's Dog Blog - Mayzie is a beautiful brindle girl rescued and now living the good life with her people and her "brudder Ranger". Oh, and the kittehs, there are kittehs, too. Bella wants to know how Mayzie gets along so well with everybody. Maybe it's her sense of humor.

Thanks again, Katherine, for the award. We're sorry it took us so long to tell you how much it meant to us.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Monday, November 5, 2012

So, where was I?

To those of you who may have noticed, sorry for the unplanned/unexplained hiatus. Things have been a little crazy in Bella's hu-mom's life as of late. But I'm not even sure that's the real reason I disappeared from writing for a couple of weeks. I think the reason I disappeared is...

I'm not really sure how to proceed?

When last we spoke, I had finished telling you all about our visit with Dr. Dodman at Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine Animal Behavior Clinic and the track we were going to take to try and heal Bella. We were making changes to her diet, her exercise routine and our communication with her.

The continuing pieces of the puzzle would be Bella's Agility for Reactive Dogs classes and the medications prescribed for her. I want to tell you about both but haven't yet figured out the tack I want to take to do so. Do I approach this chronologically, inter-mingling both as they arise in the timeline? Or perhaps it makes more sense to tell stories about each one separately?

I think I'm going to take a combined approach picking up chronologically from where we left off interspersing stories from her reaction to the meds in with her reactions to the agility class.

The blog is still running about 1 year behind 'current life' and I'm anxious to catch up with real life soon but I don't want to short-change these stories in my attempt to get to "today".

Part of me is very sensitive to losing sight of those stories in my memory though, and I feel at times like I'm living a dual life - the one we lived a year ago and the one we live today. (Admittedly, I've got to get better at keeping a journal for Bella than I am but that's why I started the blog in the first place...)

So anyway...

That's been my dilemma for a few weeks. Crazy days at the office, little time after work for sorting all this out and an unpredictable Mother Nature throwing everything into a blender just to add to the delight.

But in an effort to get things started, and force my muse to finally make an appearance again, tonight I'm just going to share a few details of what Bella's life was like a little over a year ago.

Bella began her medications on September 2, 2011:
Soloxine - 0.4 mg 2x/day (for thyroid)
Fluoxetine - 10 mg in AM and 20 mg in PM (for anxiety/aggression)
Clonidine - 2 to 4 0.2 mg tablets as needed up to 2x/day (thunderstorms and anxiety) ***
Bella's first week on the meds made for an inauspicious start: she was completely exhausted from the visit with Dr. Dodman, snarked at Gus when we took her to visit him and Molly at the dog park, got sprayed by a skunk and had to deal with thunderstorms. It's no wonder I remark in my notes that she seems "a little dejected".

And it went downhill from there. Yay us.

I mentioned in my first post about medication that meds are not a magic pill. And life with Bella after starting them has not been a straight line of progress. I'm glad I kept a daily journal so I could refer back to exactly what we were seeing with her when. I referred to it often in my follow up conversations with Dr. Dodman. The last year has been filled with ups and downs and sometimes we've just shrugged and decided we have no idea what drives her.

I've made adjustments in my expectations and desires for her:

  • She doesn't have to be social, she just has to survive a visit to the vet without causing World War III in the waiting room.
  • She's never really going to 'do agility' but she has so much fun running around the ring and the obstacles when there are no other dogs around that we will continue to take the class.
  • And she's never going to be a therapy dog but she can survive family get-togethers.

She's still a wonderful, sweet and playful little dog who charms everyone she meets. So long as they don't try to pet her. ;)

I promise, next week will be more interesting...

*** I should note, as this will be important in her future, we gave Bella 2 Clonidine pills on 9/4 to deal with the thunderstorms and I noted in her journal: "Bella slept very soundly last night. Lots of dreams, didn't wake even when I put my hand on her chest to make sure she was breathing. Not like her."

Do I LOOK playful?

A question to the writers among us - have you ever gotten so completed muddled in what you wanted to say that you couldn't say anything at all? If so, how did you manage to break free of it and what helped you do so?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Black & White Sunday: Happier Bella

(For Pamela who hoped to see a happier Bella after Sandy's retreat. :)