When we were seriously considering adopting Ray from our local Humane Society, and were starting to talk details with the staff, the subject of his anxiety medication came up in the conversation. Never having been responsible for a dog before, it had not crossed my mind that a dog could be on meds for anxiety issues.
We were advised that it was not uncommon for German Shepherds to be medicated in a shelter because they have two very strong traits which can complicate matters. They do not like being kept in small enclosed spaces, and they are often suspicious of people and dogs they do not know.
In the shelter, so much of Ray’s time would be in his adoption “cell”, which was in a room with other adoption “cells”. People looking to adopt a dog would be constantly walking by and perhaps stopping to stare at him, and he had no place to go in order to escape the attention. Other dogs barking would simply add to his stress of being there. If Ray had not been medicated, it would typically result in a total loss of self-control which would likely result in self inflicted injuries.
This was the Ray that came into our home in March, 2013, and this was the Ray that had a list of issues, medical and behavioral, which had to be addressed. Earlier this year, we started weaning him off his meds!
Theoretically, the weaning-off process was quite simple. His particular meds were available in 10mg and 20mg capsules, so reducing from his 40mg/day was simply done in 10 mg stages. All we had to do was monitor him over a 6-8 week period and, if all went well, reduce by another 10mg and repeat the process. Ray started 10mg/day on May 30, and so his next reduction will be to a “no-meds” situation. Simple …. in theory.
Like everything else related to Ray, there were complications. His reduction from 40mg/day to 30mg/day was uneventful, but reducing him from 30mg/day to 20mg/day? He barked at a server on a local cafe patio! Was it because she was waving a cloth around as she wiped a table? Was it because he wanted to move on to a dog-friendly store? Was it because he was more sensitive due to his meds reduction?
We extended his time on 20mg/day from 6-8 weeks to 12 weeks, after which we felt comfortable reducing him to 10mg/day.
He has now been on 10mg/day for a little over 2 weeks, and we are clearly excited about the potential for taking him off meds completely … but can we? Again, we have to not only monitor him in varying circumstances, but also have to determine whether any adverse behavior is the meds reduction, or unique circumstances, trigger stacking etc.
The complications are quite simply trying to identify whether his responses in given situations are normal for him (but then … a normal Ray has been a medicated Ray!), or whether his responses are due his meds reduction.
In general, we have been so pleased to see the “real Ray” slowly coming out. His energy level is noticeably higher; his facial expressions and general head movements are more noticeable, and his general attitude towards people and other dogs has been very good … but then he barked at a neighbor! He has barked at the neighbor before, so perhaps it had nothing to do with his meds reduction?
He charged past me yesterday to protect us from a front door visitor? He is a German Shepherd/Rottweiler mix so being protective is no surprise, but his enthusiasm this time? Perhaps he was caught by surprise as he had been sleeping, or perhaps it was his reduced meds?
He may now be a little more alert to finding “snacks” along his walk routes. Of course he could just be getting hungry with his dinner time not being too far away, or it could be his meds reduction.
We are constantly evaluating different circumstances and trying to determine whether Ray’s response would have been expected anyway, or was it caused by his reduced meds. In a few weeks time, probably around the end of July, we will be deciding whether to stop his meds completely. What are his chances of being free of his anxiety medication? I would suggest excellent! For all the constant monitoring, and his reactions that have caused us to ponder why, he has shown no signs to date of being aggressive. He is still very comfortable with being touched by total strangers, adults and children … and puppies!
Great job Ray … keep it up .. now it’s nap time!