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  1. #1
    Young Dawg (Member) Aspen's Mom's Avatar

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    Default Need advice - maybe at the end of my rope?

    Hi everyone,

    I've posted before and briefly reviewed some of the behavior issues we've had with our Pyr Aspen. Basically, when she turned 2 years old she suddenly (and I do mean very suddenly) became dog aggressive. We'd previously been to the dog park every day and she was always the most playful dog there. I began to notice weird signs on hikes. We'd pass dogs and all of a sudden there'd be a scuffle. At first I was like, who started that? Never believing it could be Aspen. Then Aspen began barking/lunging and going nuts on dogs in the neighborhood. This was especially out of control if dogs were in front of our house. Aspen also started doing other weird things like going nuts on "new" things along our walking paths such as an orange cone or a stray plastic bag. She also began being very suspicious of people - especially older men wearing hats or sun glasses or people talking on phones. Within 2 weeks of noticing these behaviors I contacted a behavior specialist and we began working very hard on these behaviors with a focus on positive reinforcement. So a year later, our progress has been intermittent at best. Aspen is completely unpredictable. There may be a connection to pain. She's struggled her whole life with illnesses. Two days after adopting aspen she developed Parvo and was at risk of dying. Now she seems prone to all infections/illnesses. She's had chronic diarrhea and has needed an intestinal diet. She's developed abnormal growths on her paw that required surgery due to their rapid growth and her inability to stop licking and playing with them (after biopsy realized they were papilloma virus and basically nothing to worry about although bothersome). Most recently, she's suffered with chronic UTIs. I very strongly believe that her pain issues, especially the UTIs, contribute to her acting out. However, I've been wanting her pain to be the reason for all of this, and I just can't believe that anymore. I'm certain she doesn't have a UTI currently because we just had her urine rechecked two days ago. I'm very upset because today Aspen attacked a person. This has never happened before. Most of her problems have been with dog aggression. The growling and suspicion of people has resolved. However, a stranger came over today to look at a rug I'm selling. It was a young female - typically a profile Aspen favors. They said high and all seemed great, but all of a sudden Aspen began growling and then barking aggressively. She jumped on her and barked in this woman's face. It was terrifying. Aspen ripped her shirt with her nails. Thank God there was no biting. I pulled Aspen off, but I'm scared about what could have happened. I'm horrified and disappointed and frustrated. I've put so much time and effort and money into helping Aspen be a well behaved dog, and I feel like Aspen is who she is and no matter how hard I try she'll always be a bit unpredictable. I hate to think money would be an issue, but honestly at this point it is. Behavior specialist are not cheap and these bet bills are becoming overwhelming. If I'm being honest, I don't know how safe I feel continuing to be a responsible for this dog. It makes me so sad to think about giving her up. I love this dog so much. When she's good she's amazing, but when she's bad she's bad. I realize this all just happened and maybe i'm over reacting, but I really need some advice.

    thanks.

  2. #2
    Old Dawg (Senior Member) SebastiansMom's Avatar

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    First of all, big hugs. It can be very scary, frustrating, and even confusing when the dog we know and love suddenly starts acting like someone else completely. It's a club to which several of us belong against our will.

    Your post could not be more timely, though, as there are three very important topics that we have been discussing this week that are relevant to you and Aspen - the role of medical issues in behavior, the difficulty of diagnosing and treating certain strains of UTIs in dogs who are prone to getting them, and the fact that not all Behaviorists are equally qualified to treat all dogs with behavioral issues. I don't think that these three cases are 100% mirror images of what you are going though with Aspen by ANY stretch of the imagination, but I think that these threads may serve to inform just a little.

    http://www.greatpyr.com/forum/showth...7694#post97694
    http://www.greatpyr.com/forum/showth...ping-incidents
    http://www.greatpyr.com/forum/showth...ime-Pyr-owners

    I am certainly no expert, but from what you describe, I would not be so quick to rule out an underlying medical condition with Aspen. My recommendation would be to get a second opinion from a different veterinarian about her physical health, and then seek a remote consult with a board-certified Veterinary Behaviorist in regards to her behavioral health. The directory of Veterinary Behaviorists can be found here:

    http://www.dacvb.org/about/member-directory/
    I have no personal experience with anyone on this list, but I do know that last time I checked his website, the doctor in Austin, Texas was offering remote consults.

    Yes, all of this is expensive. In a perfect world, that wouldn't be an issue, but realistically, none of us is made of money, and our resources are limited. If money is the biggest factor holding you back from seeking additional treatment for Aspen right now, I would advise contacting her rescue and seeing if they might be willing to set up a fundraiser. Seriously. When Chester first came to live with me, Sebastian's rescue raised money for him without me having to ask. They have also raised money for adoptee cancer treatments, and other causes. They would much rather see their dogs stay in loving homes than have them returned and then have to raise money for them anyways. It's always worth a shot.

    I would recommend sitting down with your boyfriend and having a long, brutally honest conversation about what your expectations and boundaries are when it comes to Aspen. For example, what behaviors are you willing to work on, and what behaviors do you both agree should result in immediate return to the rescue? As much as you love her, safety is now a concern, so the two of you need to be on the same page as to how to keep Aspen safe from herself, as well as keeping others safe from her.

    Should you decide to continue to treat her, I would recommend starting to keep a detailed behavior journal right away to try to determine if there are any noticeable patterns or triggers. Hats, sunglasses, backpacks, clipboards, hairstyles, weather patterns, articles of clothing, pieces of jewelry, perfumes, and other things we take for granted can all trigger odd behaviors in some dogs. From what you write, it seems like Aspen is particularly observant and sensitive to her surroundings. The more details you can pack into your journal, the better.

    I would also advise that both you and your boyfriend learn as much as you can about canine body language. There's actually a pretty good app for that. It's called DogDecoder, and it's available both on iOS and Android.
    I also have three books and one website by the same author that I would recommend. The author is Patricia McConnell. She's a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (PhD in Zoology with additional post-doctorate fellowship to earn her certification) who is also a brilliant and entertaining author. I have this forum to thank for introducing me to her writing. I have found her books to be life-changing. The first book is called The Other End of the Leash, and it's about building a relationship based on trust through communication. The second book is her memoir, The Education of Will. This book is a powerful and deeply personal book that may be triggering for some people (she does talk about gender violence in the book), but I recommend it because she talks about the importance of taking care of ourselves - especially when we are working with our dogs with difficult behavioral issues. She also talks briefly about the dog she - a CAAB - had to return. Her third book that I would recommend is called For the Love of a Dog, and it's all about the rich emotional lives that dogs lead. She covers the whole range of emotions, anger, joy, love, jealousy, you name it. It's a bit longer than the other two books, but I found it to be quite helpful in understanding what was going on in the heads of my dogs. All three books are available on iBooks if you have iOS devices, or on her website, www.patriciamcconnell.com

    I know that all of this is a whole lot to take in in one sitting. I hope you find it to be helpful.

    Please know that you have a community of people here to support you whenever you need us. We're rooting for you and Aspen.
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  3. #3
    Old Dawg (Senior Member) rx4bills's Avatar

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    First, I am saddened to hear of your situation with Aspen. We all love our dogs, and there are often situations that can be overwhelming. I'm new with the breed, so others words of wisdom weigh much more than mine. I will ask, with all the evaluations and behavior consults, has the addition of Cairo (sp?) been considered a factor? Sharing a home and family with a new member possibly can be difficult for some dogs, especially a maturing dog. Just a novice thought. I believe the Pyr breed requires a bit of a different approach in training and co-habiting than many other breeds. We too have found that love may give us the strength to strive on, but it doesn't conquer all, sadly.

    Thoughts are with you.

  4. #4
    Young Dawg (Member) Aspen's Mom's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by rx4bills View Post
    I will ask, with all the evaluations and behavior consults, has the addition of Cairo (sp?) been considered a factor? Sharing a home and family with a new member possibly can be difficult for some dogs, especially a maturing dog.
    Thank you for your reply! I hadn't considered the addition of Cairo a factor for a few reasons 1.) We only got him because Aspen's behaviors had improved SO MUCH. Key word had. 2.) She's only ever been indifferent or ornery towards him the first week we brought him home and when she's in pain. I have observed that if she's not feeling well, she generally tries to stay away from him. Otherwise, she totally enjoys playing with him and they romp around quite a bit in my living room (grr). 3.) He was with us for 2 months before her behaviors started up again and that was directly correlated to the UTI.

    However, I know she's a sensitive girl. We've been out of town a bit this summer. They've been home with friends or the dog sitter. There could something to consider about needing more one on one time with me. Cairo's also pretty pushy for attention. She may feel a little left out. She always seems to perk up and even be more interested in Cairo after we take a solo trip to the park and leave Cairo home. The problem is, right now, I feel wary about trips to the park because I don't want her going nuts on the other dogs. I have to see improved neighborhood behavior first. Today was good after getting a few doses of Trazodone back in her...

  5. #5
    Young Dawg (Member) Aspen's Mom's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by SebastiansMom View Post
    First of all, big hugs. It can be very scary, frustrating, and even confusing when the dog we know and love suddenly starts acting like someone else completely. It's a club to which several of us belong against our will.
    Sebastian's mom, thank you SO much for this reply. It's very helpful. I did start looking through the UTI forum posts that you recommended. I plan to read the others as well just haven't had the time yet. The thing that sticks out to me the most is not to ignore your instincts. I did this before when these problems first started. I knew she was acting out of character. I knew other dogs sniffing her hind quarters around the kidneys caused Aspen the most stress. I was generally ignored by everyone when I asked questions about this and expressed those concerns.

    I think your right that I shouldn't rule out a medical problem right now. It's just so soon after stopping the antibiotic...fishy for sure. As much as I'm tired of dealing with Vets, I do want a second opinion. I generally feel like the current Vet has totally ignored my observations that behavior and pain are connected for Aspen.

    I love your idea about a behavior journal. Aspen just seems so different day to day. I'm fairly decent at observing those behaviors on the day and noticing when she's super excited vs. irritable or whatever. However, I have no idea what causes her to pleasant one day and moody the next (outside of pain). I also wonder about the heat. Aspen seems to be much more pleasant in general during the winter and when there's snow on the ground. It's curious that the most difficult times for us with her behavior have been the last two summers. Does anyone else notice their Pyr is more irritable if it's super hot?

    I've thought about returning to our behaviorist. I'd be surprised if she isn't listed in the link you sent. However, I've also thought about trying to find someone who specifically works with Pyrs. I've often wondered what is "normal" guarding behavior vs. abnormal. While I'm mostly certain attacking a non-threatening person is not normal, I also understand that a stranger came into our home which is Aspen's territory. I do take accountability here for not being in-between Aspen and this girl or not putting up a baby gate or something that would have allowed Aspen to see her first before greeting her.

    My boyfriend and I did have a bit of a discussion about our expectations of her behavior. It was probably too close after the incident. I was emotional (he doesn't handle that well). He was more blaming and angry at me for letting this happen. I do think this is really important and I will try again. However, we have a big difference of opinion on how to approach Aspen's behaviors. I've read on this forum and generally everywhere else that positive reinforcement is the best approach for Great Pyrenees. He believes this approach isn't working. I share his frustration that progress has been intermittent and slow. Maybe we are just too close to this incident and we aren't seeing the whole picture? There really was a time just recently where she was SO MUCH better that we even got another dog and introduced Aspen to a our friend's new puppy! So we've backtracked and that's frustrating...but all is not lost (convincing myself as I write). I wouldn't say my boyfriend is aggressive with Aspen at all, but he is more of a "presence" and more stern along with being affectionate. He does want me to be more corrective. I don't know how I feel about this...

    Also, thank you for the book recommendations. I've heard great things about Patricia McConnell.

  6. #6
    Old Dawg (Senior Member) Jewel's Avatar

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    The way you've described Aspen's history and how things are happening, I just don't think this is purely a behavioral issue. I think there is a good chance there is a underlying medical issue driving the behavior.

    When was the last time a full blood chem was run on Aspen? Have you taken any radiographs of her kidney/bladder area to see if there might be stones present?

    My Bro had bladder stones that we weren't aware of until two lodged in his urethra and he couldn't urinate. Before we knew he had stones, on several occasions he would suddenly yelp when he moved in a certain way. Because he had a history of back problems, we thought it was his back bothering him. If Aspen's had UTI issues and is sensitive in that general area, you might want to radiograph her and rule out the stone possibility.

    If your vet isn't taking you seriously, find yourself another vet. The way we found Bro had bladder stones was because I insisted on radiographs. The vet didn't think we'd see anything on a radiograph. I insisted. Those stones showed up clear as day. To be fair, it was the emergency vet that I was seeing that day as it was a Saturday afternoon. My regular vets know me well and know to listen to what I describe to them.

    I believe in "mommy intuition". We lost my female Bijou to cancer in May, 2015. I first took her to the vet in late March because she "just wasn't quite right" and I couldn't really say where or what was wrong. We had to say goodbye to her just 5 weeks later. Within that 5 week period, she lost 17 lbs. In hindsight, I knew things weren't quite right from December 2014. Bijou was competing in agility and she just wasn't performing at her best starting in December. There was no obvious demeanor change in her regular life, but when she was asked to perform, her form was off. I just didn't know, nor imagine, it was cancer. I thought it was because she was 6 yrs old and for a pyr, it was probably around the time they start to slow down. But my intuition was poking at me the whole time that something wasn't right.

    Because Aspen's had a history of health issues, with a major shift in behavior like this, I think it is logical, reasonable, and prudent to take steps to rule out medical reasons for the behavior shift. If it were me, to prioritize the use of limited funds, my first priority would be to figure out / rule out medical issues. I would wait on going back to the behaviorist.

    I've been on these forums for some time now so I've had my share of reading about issues people are asking help on. Aspen's issues sound to me very different from Duke's from the other currently open thread. Thus the jury is still out on what is driving Aspen's escalation in aggression. Please ask your boyfriend to refrain from taking a more strict attitude with Aspen because regardless of the reason of the behavior meltdown, a more strict attitude is not likely to help when we are talking about aggression. Plus, if it turns out that it is a medical issue driving the behavior, he will feel very crappy for being hard on her when she wasn't just being a brat.

  7. #7
    Young Dawg (Member) Aspen's Mom's Avatar

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    Jewel, I'm hopeful that you're right and it is an underlying medical condition...seems weird to say that I hope my dog is ill ha. I agree her behaviors seem more similar to Benaiah with his pancreatitis vs. Duke. Although, then I was reading the post about resource guarding and began wondering if she sees me as a "resource." I have a few reasons to believe this. With the goal of not continuing to write novels, I'll just say there are many factors to tease out and I really need to talk to someone more knowledgeable (who will actually spend time with me and listen) so I just don't keep spinning with possibilities. I recently found a Veterinary Clinic in our area that says one of the Vets specializes in behavior. I don't really know what this means. She's not listed on the DACVB site that Sebastian's Mom posted, but it's at least worth a call to get more info. I also made a list of providers on the DACVB site to contact on Monday to ask about remote consultation. I'm not sure when the last blood chemistry was done. I know there were kidney function tests done at the Emergency Vet when she was actually symptomatic of UTI and had struvite crystals and blood in her urine. I believe they told me it was normal, but honestly I can't remember b/c there were also some problems pulling up some of the urine culture/lab results. There's never been a radiograph done. We tried to get an ultrasound, but I'd taken Aspen on a walk just before the appointment (my bad), and her bladder was so empty there was nothing to ultrasound.

    She's been her mostly normal, goofy self again the past two days. She's been playing with Cairo, pawing at him to get him going, digging in her baby pool, rolling in dirt, refusing to come inside, laying down and showing me her belly when she knows she's barking too much and I tell her to be quiet... She's still a bit over-excited when she sees dogs on walks but way more responsive to me than she was earlier this week, so this hasn't resulted in any barking.

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  8. #8
    Old Dawg (Senior Member) SebastiansMom's Avatar

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    A few thoughts, and I hope i'm not too late. Sunday was a bit busy at our house.

    Who is prescribing her Trazodone? Is she taking it daily, or as needed? What dosage is she taking? How long has she been on that dose? Is she taking anything else?

    How old was she when she came down with Parvo? How old was she when she developed the papilloma on her paw? Both of these diseases are typically seen in puppies. Now, unvaccinated adult dogs CAN contract the Parvo virus, but my understanding (please others correct me if I am mistaken) is that the resulting illness is typically not as severe in otherwise healthy adults as it is in puppies. Papilloma also typically affect the mouth area, and not the feet. If she was an adult (2 or older) at the onset of these conditions, I'm concerned that her immune system may not be functioning the way it's supposed to. If that is the case, it *could* account for the UTIs and the chronic intestinal issues. That isn't from the Parvo.

    I agree with Jewel about ruling out the possibility of stones, and also having a blood chemistry run on her. I would also recommend a thyroid panel as well as having her adrenal axis checked.

    I would do all of this first before contacting any new behaviorists. You want to rule out/diagnose underlying medical causes first, because any amount of even the best behavior modification will be ineffective if the behavior is not behavioral in nature (if that makes sense).

    As far as your boyfriend goes, I would encourage him to read The Other End of the Leash, as well as the writings of Dr. Sophia Yin. What we want him to learn is that we advocate positive reinforcement not because it's kinder (although that is a great side effect), but because the science is showing that positive reinforcement is producing better long-term results across the board.
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  9. #9
    Young Dawg (Member) Aspen's Mom's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by SebastiansMom View Post
    I would do all of this first before contacting any new behaviorists. You want to rule out/diagnose underlying medical causes first, because any amount of even the best behavior modification will be ineffective if the behavior is not behavioral in nature (if that makes sense).
    That makes total sense. I truly felt like we were not making progress with the behavior modification, and that's how Aspen got on the Trazodone. We were working with our behaviorist, and our progress was very inconsistent. However, at this point a basic physical exam at the vet had supposedly ruled out any medical problems. So, I demanded (to the behaviorist and vet) that something wasn't right. This is how we got started on the Trazodone for "anxiety." She is prescribed 100mg twice daily as needed. I was also told that I could give the medicine more regularly if needed, so I did because it was needed. I dosed her up before every walk and training session. It was very helpful at first, and we made more progress in training. At a certain point she began getting too sedated (this is also after finishing the antibiotic and her behavior dramatically improving), so I stopped the medicine. I started it up again in early June because the reactivity came back on walks. At this time her UTI also came back. At this point, I do wonder if I'm treating her pain with a mood medicine. However, I need something to keep her under control and it helps. I give a little less though so she doesn't get sedated anywhere between 50 and 75mg twice a day. She's also taking a cranberry supplement currently for her urinary health.

    Aspen was 10 weeks old when she came down with Parvo. It was literally two days after we adopted her. She is lucky to have survived. The shelter was wonderful about setting up a medical foster home so that her care was free. She was vaccinated, but she was the only one in her litter to get a special trip to PetSmart with one of the volunteers shortly after getting vaccinated. They believe this must be how she was exposed, but we will never really know. She was maybe a year or a bit less when we noticed the first papilloma. The vet believed it to be a cutaneous horn. We only removed it since it was bothering her after she walked and played. The next papilloma was noticed approximately 6 months after. It was growing so rapidly that the vet and myself were concerned it might be cancerous. We biopsied it and thus found out it was a viral papilloma and not a horn or cancer. The vet did tell me this was more common on the mouth; however, rare but possible to have on the paw pad. I share your concern about her immune system. Something is not right with Aspen and never has been. It's embarrassing how often we go to the vet for various issues. I seriously worry that they think I have munchhausen's.

    I'm probably a bit neurotic, but I have two appointments with different vets already scheduled for this week. The first is tomorrow at the clinic with the veterinarian who also has an interest in behavior. I can cancel the second if need be, but they also were very responsive and lovely.

  10. #10
    Old Dawg (Senior Member) SebastiansMom's Avatar

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    Somehow, I didn't realize that you had adopted Aspen when she was a puppy. 10 weeks is a scary age for her to have come down with Parvo. I'm so glad that your rescue went above and beyond to get her through it. The age at which she developed the papilloma also seems about right. Now I know that they can develop on feet! I learn new things every day!

    I would definitely discuss the Trazodone with the new vet. 100mg is a big dose. Chester is currently up to 100mg as part of his daily ****tail, and I'm starting to suspect that it is too much for him. Sebastian accidentally got hold of one of Chester's morning pill pockets not too long ago with 40mg of Paxil and 100mg of Trazodone, and one frantic call to the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline later, he was fine, but noticeably wasted all day. I felt terrible. The new vet may decide that keeping her on the Trazodone is the best thing to do - I don't know. I just think that a discussion is definitely in order.

    Fingers crossed that you get this figured out! Please let us know how tomorrow's appointment goes!
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