I am angry..Yes angry, for 2 reasons. A beautiful GSD, forced onto psychotropic medication, and mainly due to a training methodology that wasn't offering him any guidance, discipline or structure around the home. Please note, I am in no way blaming my client. And neither should you! He loves his dog, and was doing everything he thought was right for his dog, by following what he was told was the right thing to do. He wanted nothing but the best for his dog. He did what he believed was right, took his young pup to puppy school. He took his dog to obedience training. Unfortunately, he was like so many others that are falling for this new age ideology, led down a path that I consider in many cases, is detrimental to a dogs overall well being and the human and dog relationship.
The dogs name is Jett. An almost 20 month Black GSD. Jett's owner (who wishes to remain anonymous), did the right thing. When they first got Jett at 12 weeks, they took him to puppy school and then on to obedience training. As he of course wanted a well behaved dog around the home. My client thought he was doing the right thing for his dog. What he ended up with was quite the opposite. As Jett started too mature he started seeing signs of aggression towards visitors, and strangers when they were out walking him. When visitors came to the house he would throw himself at the back door, full on rage, which I witnessed myself when I arrived for my first visit.
Before me, my client had a Vet Behaviourist attend his home back in July, that diagnosed Jett with anxiety. This vet immediately prescribed the medication shown in the photo above, without offering any remedial behavioural training advice. 5 months on these drugs and there hasn't been much noticeable change in Jett's overall behaviour, hence contacting me. This vet explained how Jett had a chemical imbalance, serotonin, which needed to be controlled by medication. See Vet Behaviourists are trained to believe that a chemical imbalance is what controls the dogs behaviour.. however, in most cases similar to my clients, its the behaviour that is dictating the amount of these chemicals being flooded into the brain. Most vets refuse to believe this.. and why? Well, less drugs to sell. If we can affect this chemical imbalance by simply working on behaviour and the dogs environment, then we wouldn't be propping up the pharmaceutical companies. But more importantly, a Vet Behaviourist usually doesn't have the qualifications or hands on experience dealing with behavioural problems from a more natural approach, much easier to just prescribe a drug!
First thing I noticed, yes Jett was extremely anxious when I walked into the house. He rushed the back door displaying full on aggressive behaviour. When I went outside whilst the owner had Jett on lead, Jett displayed some mild aggression, but more flight response (see video). Jett was very unsure of me as I walked towards him, whilst he was on the lead with his owner, and tried to back away as I approached. Jett also showed no confidence in his owner. Unfortunately, I didn't video Jett at the back door when I first arrived. That was a lot more intense and full on aggression. We must also realise, Jett has been on this medication for almost 5 months now, and this alone must be affecting some of his behaviour.
What very quickly became apparent was that Jett's owner was using the principles of positive-only training. I discussed this with Jett's owner, and yes he informed me that ever since puppy school and Jetts obedience training, he was always using these methods. Jett would virtually not listen to his owner, unless there was food involved, and even then, it was rarely consistent.
What I found was that Jett during his life was virtually offered no structure, guidance, no boundaries, and certainly no discipline around the home. He was pushy and demanding with his owners. Jett would go crazy when his owner came home. Jett virtually had the freedom to do what he wanted, as the owner had never been instructed how to administer, or more importantly, how to enforce discipline. This is what was contributing to Jett's anxiety and insecure based aggression issues. Jett was a very unstable and insecure dog. In my opinion all he needed was some immediate boundaries and discipline. He needed leadership he could understand and count on from his owner. Jett needed (and was looking for) leadership from his owner, as they weren't being provided for in a way Jett understood, hence contributing to making Jett feel insecure in situations such as visitors arriving.
The Vet Behaviourist (whom I am very concerned about after reading a lot about her involvement in the Greyhound industry, and whom has no strong background in dog behaviour, and none in training. But thats another story, for another time) only informed my client to put Jett on the 2 types of medication, Lovan (Flouxetine) and Catapress (photo above), and to not take Jett anywhere in public, or socialise him with visitors to the home, as he was too unstable, and therefore was a risk. Jett would have been destined to a life stuck in his backyard with virtually no socialisation, and doped up on Flouxetine (Prozac). What type of life was that to put on to a dog?
On my first visit we immediately set some structure and boundaries. I explained to my client about Jett's assertive behaviours and how he himself was reinforcing Jett's emotional state by reinforcing Jett's assertive behaviours. We placed some pretty strict rules and boundaries on Jett, and cut right back on affection. I explained how Jett's aggression was insecurity based, and that the lack of leadership around the home had made Jett feel insecure and overly anxious, and therefore felt threatened by strangers. Jett didn't know how to deal with unfamiliar situations or with people entering his 'pack' or personal space. Sure he was confident taking control of those within the family, but lacked the confidence to maintain that type of control with strangers or visitors to the home. He was virtually put in a position of doing a job he wasn't capable of doing. We began by setting rules, such as Jett only entering the home when calm. Immediately going to his 'place' and made to stay there for a minimum of 15 minutes, before being allowed to wonder around the home. My client was to also randomly make Jett go back to his place during his time inside, and make him stay there until released. I demonstrated to my client how to enforce rules such as respecting personal space, impulse control and calm loose leash walking. How to enforce a proper 'drop' command, as Jett had never really been made to understand that a command was just that. My client could only ever get Jett to drop (lay down), if he pretended he had a treat in his hand.. And still Jett would decide if he wanted to comply or not. And if he did lay down, it was only for a few seconds before he was up again. I explained to my client how Jett was most of the time projecting more assertive energy than he was, and that this needed to be turned around. Jett could not instinctively respect a weak leader, and therefore mollycoddling and handing out affection whenever Jett demanded it was to stop. I explained and demonstrated how Jett was never respecting personal space, or had barely any impulse control.This too needed to change, if we were to get Jett back into a more stable and balanced state.
My first visit was last Tuesday. I returned on Friday (3 days later), and my client was already seeing improvement in Jett. I noticed it too. His aggression when I arrived was only about 50% to what it was on my first visit. He settled much quicker when I arrived, allowing me too interact with him a lot quicker. We took Jett for a walk in the local park (photo) ,and he was very calm indeed.
My client has decided to remove his medication, and focus on the behaviour modification I had implemented. I explained to my client, It's not that I believe no dog should be on psychotropic medication, however it is now way too much overly prescribed. I am seeing way too many dogs on these drugs that needn't be. The majority of dogs like Jett, all they really need is an environmental and relationship change within their family.
Vets to this day do not know how these drugs are affecting our dogs, These drugs were made for humans. It's all guess work for dogs. If a Dr puts a person on psychotropic medication and it is affecting them adversely, that person can discuss it with their Dr, and either have the dosage changed, change the type of medication, or indeed stop taking the medication altogether. A dog has no way to explain to the vet or its owner how these drugs are making the dog feel. The dog (in my opinion) must just suffer in silence in a lot of cases.
Below are possible side affects of Flouxetine just for humans. Nobody knows what side affects these drugs have on dogs, because they can't tell us!
Applies to fluoxetine: oral capsule, oral capsule delayed release, oral solution, oral syrup, oral tablet
Along with its needed effects, fluoxetine may cause some unwanted effects. Although not all of these side effects may occur, if they do occur they may need medical attention.
Check with your doctor immediately if any of the following side effects occur while taking fluoxetine:
Incidence not known
Nobody knows the full side affects in dogs, its all guess work, as dogs have no way to communicate to its owner, how these drugs are affecting it or making it feel. Forcing a dog onto these drugs without understanding the full implications, in my opinion can be considered inhumane, and should only be prescribed if all other avenues such a remedial training and more natural behaviour modification techniques are not being successful.
This case in my opinion is the result of incorrect raising of Jett, and no fault of my client. He was doing the best he could with the information supplied to him by other so-called dog professionals. We are still working with Jett, and a process that may take a little time to rebalance the relationship between Jett and his owner, and to undo all the learned behaviour. We need to help Jett work through his involuntary emotional states that are being triggered, by making changes in his environment and relationship with his owner. And not by masking these behaviours with medication, and locking Jett away.
I personally see great promise in Jett, and I am certain it will not be long before we see a lot more positive change. I would like to personally thank Jetts owner for allowing me to document this case and publishing it here (and documenting the ongoing progress) so others can see what we are doing to our dogs, by falling for a lot of this new-age wrap your puppy and dog up in cotton wool mentality, and told to just dish out lots of love and affection. What saddens me is that I am seeing a lot of Jetts behaviour in a lot more smaller breeds, but because the little dog is just seen as cute, and not really a danger, little is done to help the dog. Keeping any dog, no matter breed or size, in a distressed state due to a lack of leadership is not being fair on the dog. A dog is a dog, whether it be a Chihuahua or Great Dane.
And I am sick to death of Vet Behaviourists administering drugs as a first course of action, instead of first finding out if we can affect change in the dog by training, and by altering its environment and the relationship with its owners first. Drugs like these should never be a first course of action, never! Behavioural cases should be referred to a balanced trainer that has a background and hands-on experience in the behavioural issues first. And then if this intervention fails, then medication may need to be considered to help the dog whilst its going through the behaviour modification process. But the over prescription of these drugs, in my opinion should be tightly controlled, and should never be a first course of action...NEVER!