Monday, 26 October 2009

Firework phobias

This isn't a full blog on the subject, though its a topic very dear to my heart! Just a collection of postings that I've been putting up on various forums, most importantly to discourage the use of ACP as a 'treatment' for noise sensitivity.

ACP does not 'calm' them down, its a basic muscle relaxant which appears to leave the brain fully functioning and worrying. If you have given enough and the dog is not completely phobic then the drug takes over and forces them to stay in one place. However more informed vets would not prescribe ACP as the dog is still likely to be very anxious and forming anxiety memories.

British Small Animal Veterinary Association position statement

Acepromazine (ACP)
ACP has, in the past, been used as a short-term tranquilliser during phobic events. However, it does not have anxiolytic properties and will therefore not alter the impact of an event unless the animal is rendered unconscious thoughout it. It is believed that immobilising an animal whilst leaving it aware of, and emotionally responsive, to a phobic event may intensify the experience and lead to worsening of phobia in the future. Oral dosing produces unreliable effects, and onset of action may vary between 15 and 60 minutes (BSAVA Formulary). High doses may be required in order to sedate a dog during a phobic event. High doses may lead to hypovolaemia, hyperexcitability and extrapyramidal side effects in some animals (BSAVA Formulary). For these reasons ACP is not considered suitable for the management of canine noise phobias.

and a re-post of some info I added to a thread in case it helps

What I've found really helpful for him has been
working through the relaxation protocol (can email you a copy)

teaching a 'relax' cue

TTouch and massage sessions (from me)

individualised homeopathy

Valerian tincture (to begin with we used this twice daily in his food for about 6 months then weaned him off)

Valium given in small doses to block memory formation when something really scary happens like a huge set of fireworks or a thunderstorm

What didn't help us

DAP of any kind

skullcap/valerian tablets

CSJ calm down herbs

other 'generic' anti-anxiety stuff

t-shirts or wraps

ignoring him!

I think its worth emphasising that for Finn his nervousness/anxiety/stress was very strong and involved physiological reactions like constant pacing, panting, staring, drooling etc. The specialist we spoke to felt that the stuff that had not worked for us was simply not strong enough to get through to his system.

Personally if your dog is really scared I would only walk her when its daylight and early enough there won't be any fireworks. Walk her on a harness AND flat collar (martingale type prevents escape without tightening too much). It really depends on the strength of the reaction, but until this year there would have been no point keeping Finn in the scary location as he would not have come out of the panic state. This year though that has been possible and we can now stay out and play ball - its taken 5 years to get this far though!
Since things have started going off its really much to late to start desensitising - I'd download the mp3 file and save it for after the fireworks.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Clicker obsession warning!

Attending a recent seminar with the APBC, and explaining the joys of clicker training (and therefore learning theory) to recent classes has sometimes made me wonder if I am in the grip of a clicker obsession - and more to the point, is that such a bad thing?

Experiences at seminars and with other trainers
I am always surprised when other trainers feel the need to make it clear that they "are NOT clicker trainers". Its a shame that they seem to feel defensive about their identity, and also interesting that they haven't found these methods useful. It could be that the language of clicker trainers (a very diverse bunch themselves) implies other methods are substandard? Or that the more academic style puts some trainers off?

More specifically, as far as I am concerned, good training is all about clear communication and provision of information - based on learning theory. Whether or not one chooses to use a 'clicker' device is almost irrelevant in terms of training principles - though some trainers seem to feel otherwise. One of the beauties of clicker training for me has been the exposure of everyday trainers and handlers to learning theory and training principles - instead of blindly following set protocols of how to teach sit/down/come/sendaway now people are learning the principles and really understanding WHY things do/do not work.

Using an event marker of any kind does seem to dramatically speed up understanding on both ends of the lead, and reminds us that canines are not naturally verbal language creatures. For me, a clicker is simply the easiest way to use this principle in my everyday life. I also love the change in training relationship from luring/bribing/coercion to offering/encouraging/sharing.

Personal experience (Marco)
Marco Polo is the newest canine resident in our household, a foster dog for Wiccaweys who has been here just over one week. Marco is just 2 years old and was born profoundly deaf. Although he is now looking for a new family, one of his previous owners has taught him quite a bit of sign language. The interesting thing for me was seeing the difference between my own clicker principle trained deaf dog, and Marco - a lure trained deaf dog. Now obviously I can't attribute ALL of these differences to clicker versus lure, but I think several of them do seem linked.

Marco is very clear on the signs he does know - but each is a distinct behaviour, asking for linking sequences of even just two behaviours causes bemused and puzzled faces. He doesn't offer any behaviours apart from the stereotypical collie stare at my face, and has not transferred things like nose touch or paw touch to anything apart from a simple stationary hand target. Interacting with novel objects is beyond his understanding at the moment, as is following a target. Once we step outside the front door - his attention is non-existent (some nerves, mostly distracted) and he seems unable to offer any of his behaviours apart from a sit!

We've been working on teaching him a clicker sign as for my little deaf dog, but I had a feeling he wasn't really making the connection, and our initial attempts to get any sort of eye contact just in the front garden never mind on the pavement were going nowhere.

Change of tactic - quick session to sensitise to the LED clicker light and I got the feeling we were cooking on gas, much sharper focus and a thinking brain started to emerge!

Moving outside the front door, suddenly not only was I getting some eye contact, when we 'clicked' and rewarded his eyes were coming back to me for more. In that first 10min session we made it out onto the pavement and managed some basic moving-back-ups (game borrowed from Pam Dennison). There's a noticeable re-orient to the 'clicker' and a dramatic difference in his attitude.

So, am I clicker obsessed? I don't know, but I am certainly obsessed with any technique that can offer crystal clear communication channels between handlers and dogs!