Posts Tagged ‘trazadone’

Updates on Working with a Fear Aggressive Dog

27 May

It is hard to believe that Whiskey, our Border Collie, is 2.5 years old now.  Putting the time, money, and energy to help a dog with fear aggression is a lot for a family to take on.  Now I wish I had some video of how bad he was when he was younger to see how far we have come because our hard work is paying off.  One thing, however, is that different things may work for different dogs and having a large number of different things to try and consistency in using your arsenal of techniques is vital.  The first thing you must have is a strong relationship of TRUST with your dog.  He has to know that he can trust you 100% of the time and that you will protect him, everything else builds from this.  This means that you have to be careful about choices you make in his treatment because certain choices can take away that trust and then the other things you do will not be as effective.

Building trust means that you understand dog psychology, dog signs of stress, and in particular you can read YOUR dog for stress and step in when you see your dog in stress and stop the situation.  Examples of signs of stress include tail between the legs, ears back, certain “looks” in their eyes, yawning, shaking (both literally and shaking off like they are wet), whining, growling, movement away from stressful situation, sniffing of ground or looking away in avoidance, and more.  One of my kids hugs the dog all the time, he tolerates hugs from this child because he is part of our pack but he often shows signs of discontent during the hug and I have to tell my child to keep the hug short.  There used to be so many situations that would trigger all of the above signs of stress but now we are happy when he is able to do a shake (like he is shaking off water but he isn’t wet, I will refer to this as a wet shake from now on but this does not mean he is wet) to calm himself rather than growl and lunge, it is a much better way for him to deal with the stress.  We reward him and tell him “good dog” when he makes choices to use these calming signs rather than let his stress build to aggression.  He has been able to get this point, however, because he knows that I will not put him in a bad situation.  For example if we see another dog or a small child, he knows that I will take him in a direction that walks us a far distance from the stressor rather than keep us right next to them.  Before, he would lunge, growl, bark, or try to bite at the dog or child because he did not trust that he would be safe and felt the need to act on it.  Now, he trusts that he will be safe so he can relax.

Medication is another item that helped a lot.  We had him on just Prozac and it helped a little.  We added Trazadone and it helped quite a bit and then we doubled the Trazadone and got even better response.  For him, he just has so much anxiety, he needs the medication.  We tried not giving it to him to see what would happen and he just started shaking terribly and hiding, he was a mess.  On the medication, he is calmer, wants to play, is loving, and acts like a normal dog with the exception that we still have some fear issues but they are much less severe and we continue to work on them.

Positive training Vs. E-Collar Methods – At first we tried Sit Means Sit as they promote a lot of videos of curing any dog with problems.  We signed up but Whiskey was more than they bargained for.  If it had been the person who created the company instead of a Franchise Owner, we may have had more luck.  I have seen people successfully use the E-Collar with what seems like fearful aggressive dogs BUT with that said you must remember that you are dealing with a dog who has FEARS.  Using a negative tool on a fearful dog might be a bad idea unless you are one of the few experts with tons of training who do this for a living and would take the dog in until he was fixed.  If you just get a package with 3 lessons and some group classes (what is typically sold by Sit Means Sit) this is not a fix for a dog with severe Fear Aggression for even the most dedicated owner!  Whiskey learned a lot of obedience but he is a border collie and knew a lot of obedience before we started and obedience was not our goal.  We want him to be able to play with other dogs and not eat small children and bunnies.  Sit means Sit is not designed to do this, at least not the one locally.  We did learn a lot in general and I do think there is a place for the E-Collar for working with Fear Aggressive dogs, I will get to that in a minute.  After spending almost a year without much progress, we moved on to positive only methods (the ANTI-ECollar people).  I wrote about a lot of things I learned in other blog posts so I won’t repeat that here but that was money well spent overall.  It continued to build trust between Whiskey and I.  It also helped condition him to relax during stressful situations and in combination with the trazadone that was started during that time, we really started to see progress.  Overall, I would recommend this approach if done with someone who really knows their stuff and helps you do it with your dog as a first approach rather than the E-Collar.  I did, however, say I felt E-Collars could help and what we found is that in certain situations where positive training was just NOT working no matter what we did, a negative reinforcement was the only option.  This is not a good first line of defense though since it does not build trust.  Right now, Whiskey still has a problem charging our fence outside when the kids in the next yard over play ball, run by quickly, or if dogs walk by on the street.  We tried over and over with positive reinforcement to stop this but could not get anywhere.  It was also hard to time and be consistent with positive reinforcement in those situations which did not help.  He really needed to have the positive reinforcement EVERY time and it was not feasible with life to catch him EVERY time (you might be in pj’s, cooking dinner, not have cookies on you, just can’t stand out there and do it, etc. etc.)  so we put on the E-Collar and as soon as he charges the fence, the button gets pushed and he is now choosing to ignore the kids in the yard (that was easier for him than the dogs walking by).  He will also sometimes ignore the dogs, he may still whine, or will get a toy for you to throw to distract him but he is coming up with alternatives for you and if you call him when he does charge (when we forget to put the collar on him), he comes in the house right away.  Gradually, these situations will no longer be an immediate trigger for him as we continue to condition him to relax and not get into a state of flowing adrenaline when he views these situations.

Our walks have changed dramatically.  We used to be able to even see people or dogs, now he ignores people, ignores children, and even ignores dogs if we walk around them (he watches them for about 15 seconds while we walk around them but then looks forward again).  He does still react negatively if someone comes up on him abruptly like a jogger and doesn’t give us space because he thinks he is going to be hurt – not sure what to do about that yet but we will have to work on some conditioning of that.  He also does not attack the door when UPS drops of packages and is quicker to accept people in the house.  He even went to one of our regular guests on his own and asked to be pet by her when usually he doesn’t want anyone but family to touch him.  We will continue to work with having people in the house because that is one of our biggest problems that limits his life and our life.  We don’t like locking him up and he doesn’t like it either.  Once he is tired from a walk, he does VERY well strangers walking around as long as they aren’t small children being unpredictable.

I also really want to work on getting him together with other dogs but I need to find a trainer who will do that with me.  We may use the E-Collar for that and consider Sit Means Sit for that again since it worked for that in the past.  However, I need to make sure I keep his trust so that is why I hesitate a little.  He is also listening better with our cat.  If she shows herself, he knows he is not allowed to go near her and will listen to me to get away – if I am not there, that is a different story – which is why he stays crated when I am not home.

That is our update for now, sorry for any typos or crazy sentences – too lazy to proof read 🙂  I will keep you all updated.


Fear Aggression Rehabilitation Continues

26 Aug

August 26, 2014


Whiskey is now a year and 8 months.  He has more confidence and thankfully that has helped him.  It is such a challenge to have both a people and dog fear aggressive animal.  We have had to put his dog fear aggression on hold for the most part because making him safe around people is much more important than making him safe around other dogs although we use our methods in both instances we have more control of people behavior, they usually don’t go to the end of a leash and start lunging at him as we walk by so that is probably another reason why we have had more success in that area.

We continue to make progress.  Here are the things that have helped the most for people who are committed to fixing their dogs:

1.  Know the breed.  For Whiskey, he is a border collie, I know what makes him tick from the standpoint of his breed.  He has innate instincts that work for him and against and things we can use that were working against him that we can switch to work for him.  He has an intense drive for prey.  So, if he is fixated on something he shouldn’t be – like a dog or a person, we can redirect by using his prey drive against him.  If a dog walks by, we tell him to look for bunnies.  If we want to redirect him from a person, we carry a ball and direct him with play.  Border collies and balls are inseparable.

2.  Know your dog.  Trainers can tell you lots of things but what they can’t tell you is what will work best for YOUR dog because you know your dog best.  Take in all the information, try everything.  Know the breed but also know what things your dog likes best.  Whiskey likes balls but he likes soccer balls better than other balls.  There are times he would rather have play as a reward than a treat as a reward, some trainers don’t believe this and think treats are the only or the best way to reward, sometimes play outweighs food.  Whiskey gets tired fairly quickly for a border collie.  We can tire him out in 30 minutes – 1 hour depending on how hot it is.  Once he is tired, he is much more receptive to EVERYTHING, this is true for almost all fear aggressive dogs, see #3.

3.  Exercise your dog before exposing them to their fears.  If you are going to do something that is going to stretch them, make your dog tired first.  Also, make them tired in as fun of a way possible so they feel very happy and bonded.  You will be really surprised at the results!  Ceaser Millan shows this trick on his shows all the time, it makes him look like magic.  The problem is that we can’t keep our dogs exhausted 24 hours a day in real life, it isn’t practical so we have to use this as a tool, not as a magic bullet.

4.  Use medication – we used just prozac for a while without seeing too much improvement but adding trazadone made a HUGE difference, so give this combination a try.  Don’t be afraid of medication for dogs, it is better than them biting someone and having to be put down.  Will they need it for life?  I don’t know, stay tuned.  Whiskey has made some nice progress over the last year, if we continue to make progress like this, maybe some day he will be well enough to taper off and he will trust the world enough.

5.  See the right behaviorist – don’t mistake a dog trainer for a behaviorist, they are not the same thing, although you also need to make sure your dog is fully obedience trained for success.  As for the cost, I wish I could start a fund and maybe I will put this in my will or something that there is a fund for people who can’t afford the cost of behaviorists but want to save their dogs, it is so unfair that there isn’t a “welfare” system set up where people who are willing and dedicated to helping these animals can get free help if they are willing to put forth the huge amount of time and effort it takes to rehabilitate these dogs.  I can’t imagine being as fearful as they are!  Hopefully, you can afford to see a behaviorist and learn some techniques if not, read about the games and techniques I was taught in my other posts and practice, practice, practice.  Remember just like with a therapist, if the first behaviorist doesn’t seem like a good fit, keep looking, I found so many have different philosophies and I interviewed about 10 before I picked the woman I chose.

6.  Remember that progress is SLOW!!!  I can’t stress that enough.  It has been a year and half and here are some examples of our progress:

  • Whiskey growls at EVERYBODY he sees, would run at strangers and aggressively bark, growl (even at 4 months)
  • Whiskey would run up a stranger and bite, would snap at people near him
  • Couldn’t see a person without him crying, whining, growling, shaking
  • Couldn’t see a dog with crying, whining, growling, shaking, lunging, attacking
  • Whiskey wouldn’t even play ball, his favorite thing, with a stranger


  • Whiskey ignores people he sees in public 95% of time, may growl/bark if he is in car and they approach or if they get really close to us
  • Whiskey can be loose in our house with adults who are willing to ignore him after the initial 2-5 minutes of adjustment of the transition
  • Whiskey still struggles and will growl/bark at people coming into house – must be grated
  • Whiskey still not trusted around any children (they are too unpredictable, loud, quick)
  • Whiskey will let a 13 year old girl outside the family pet him
  • Whiskey has let “acquaintances” let him in and out of his crate
  • Whiskey will play games with all strangers
  • Whiskey will go up to a semi-stranger and take a treat from their hand or “touch” their hand
  • Whiskey can be on a long lead but not held in a park (e-collar) back up and chase ball, so focused on ball, doesn’t even care who is around
  • Whiskey went into vets office today without shaking and let people make eye contact with him
  • Whiskey still cannot have a regular vet visit
  • Whiskey still cannot be around other dogs