Bosco is the greatest little dog…who happens to have a real problem with anxiety.
I have postponed writing this post, because it’s hard to admit that sometimes the things you have always done are not working. Kevin and I have had challenging dogs in the past, but they have easily responded to all of our positive reinforcement without issue. That hasn’t been true of Bosco.
I knew when we took this boy on that he came with some baggage. Between November and when we adopted him in March he had been bounced around like a pinball (through no fault of his own). I think we counted 7 places he’s spent time before he came to us:
- He was found running at large in November and taken to Animal Control
- Lucas County Pit Crew pulled him and he went into a foster home
- He was adopted days before Christmas. In an incident that can’t be considered entirely his fault (or even mostly his fault) he bit his adopter, who contacted LCPC to pick him up immediately
- LCPC picked him up and placed him in a foster home to complete a mandated quarantine
- AC took legal action to force Bosco to complete his quarantine in a dismal municipal shelter, with an AC Officer who hates pit bull terrier type dogs
- When the 10 day quarantine was up, Bosco went into a foster home
- Ohio declared him a dangerous dog because of the bite, so he was moved to an out of state foster home.
- He was driven across the country to our home in Arizona.
That is a whole lot of change for one little dog, who already had a shadowed past. Lord knows what he dealt with in his previous life.
Immediately after coming home Bosco picked up a foxtail; a noxious weed seed that burrows into a dogs body and travels through muscle tissue, sometimes ending up in the heart, lungs or brain of a dog. This nasty little hitch-hiker required three separate surgeries to find and remove. Three more times that Bosco was removed from what he saw as a safe environment and had scary things done to him. That’s when we really started seeing his anxiety increase.
It started fairly slowly. We noticed that Bosco didn’t really enjoy his walks that much. That once a car or truck passed us he would show signs of stress: head down, ears back, tail slightly tucked. Then he started having issues with some people, for no apparent reason. First in general, and then in our house. Our daughter couldn’t safely come in our home, as Bosco became so anxious he started acting out.
We did what I’ve always preached to others: we sought out a great trainer. We spent time hanging out in the parking lot of the grocery store, with people and cars all around. We gave him treats every time he would look at someone and not react. When my daughter was coming to the house, I’d put him behind the baby gate and start treating him like crazy, so he would associate her visit with lots of treats. All that did was make him think someone was coming into the house every time he got a treat. So, I started taking him for a car ride if she had to come over. He loved car rides. Until he figured out that someone had been in our home while we were gone. Suddenly car rides became an additional stressor.
If someone would knock on the door he would lose every ounce of self-control, racing back and forth from the door to whoever was in the room with him. He would aggressively herd us away from the door. He wouldn’t allow us to even stand up until he had time to calm back down. One night I had to change our dinner reservations 3 times, while we gave him the time he needed to calm down after the neighbor rang our doorbell.
Our little guy became OCD about everything in his life. Every single thing needed to be done at the same time, by the same person, every day. He couldn’t handle changes to his routine at all. John Garcia called him a “by the book dog”.
You could tell this was one miserable little dog. He’d look at us and his little front teeth would be chattering from the stress. It was heart breaking….we could tell he wanted to be a good dog, but he was too tightly wound to relax and enjoy life. You cannot train a dog who is this overwhelmed. You have to deal with the stress and anxiety before he is able to concentrate on learning manners.
The final straw was when he was so stressed by a walk that he acted out towards Kevin. The situation was no longer okay. Something had to be done…not just for safety, but for Bosco’s happiness.
So, with the help of our vet, a behaviorist in Florida, and a dog trainer who I trust implicitly (yes I mean you Steffen Baldwin) we started Operation Make Bosco Happy. We are primarily depending on nutraceuticals…nutritional supplements to help him become calmer. Along with exercise and some other calmative items, we are working to help Bosco accept his world.
So here’s what is currently in our arsenal:
- A DAP collar. This is a pheromone collar that works through the dog’s own body heat. It gives out the same calming scents a mother dog gives out to her puppies. Each collar lasts about a month. You can also get a diffuser to plug in and flood your whole house with this calming scent.
- NutriClear Free by Biotics is a nutritional supplement for detoxification and metabolic clearing. It is a powder that you mix with water (it smells like a vanilla milkshake). Bosco thinks it is the tastiest thing ever and slurps it down before I can even stand up from setting the bowl on the floor.
- ComposurePro supplement treats which have been proven to lower anxiety levels in dogs and cats.
- Phosphatidylcholine by Biotics. According to their website this is “a supplemental source of this important phosoholipid, which is a major constituent of cell membranes, and is important for normal cellular membrane function and repair”.
- Bio-B Complex by Biotics, a high potency dose of important B complex vitamins
- A treadmill for exercise. Walks are currently to upsetting to Bosco. Everything in the world is seen as dangerous. With time we are hoping to resume walks, which should be a happy activity for a dog. In the meantime, a few minutes of treadmill time will help lower his anxiety level.
- Rescue Remedy in his water. RR is a great natural calmative.
- A minute dose of Clonidine, which is an anti-anxiety medication.
The one thing everyone agreed was important was limiting his exposure to triggers. Which is why we temporarily suspended walks. I also have a big sign on my front door asking that visitors not knock or ring bell. Instead I give them our cellphone number to call or text. We aren’t taking car rides right now. In fact, we’ve pretty much hit a reset button on almost all of Bosco’s activities.
You can’t work on behavior modification with an anxious dog. These tools are allowing Bosco to be comfortable enough to start fresh on training.
We are currently working on building up proficiency on the treadmill. He seems to be totally open to the idea of walking or trotting on this equipment. But right now he wants to do it with a person, and I don’t have the stamina to keep up with him. With time, and a little effort he will be trotting along by himself soon. NOTE: never leave your dog on a treadmill unattended, and never leash or chain him to the treadmill.
We are also working on positive muzzle training. There are times Bosco will be frightened or uncomfortable. If he is already muzzle trained, and considers it a positive (treat filled) experience, he will be safer to take on rides and to things like medical appointments. Muzzles are NOT just for aggressive dogs. They can be a great tool for any dog.
Bosco is already showing a lot of improvement in his stress level. I haven’t seen the teeth chattering behavior since we started working on this together. And even if he reacts to a stressor (if something unfamiliar happens), his recovery time is much, much shorter. With just a couple of minutes he is back to being our little clown of a dog.
There is no magic bullet. This process takes effort from everyone involved. Mainly it depends on both Kevin and me showing Bosco that we have his back and we are committed to keeping him safe.
In the meantime, Bosco and Turtle are best buddies, and she helps him burn off his excess energy. Bosco has the best dog skills of all our kids, which gives me a lot of hope for his eventual happiness in the world at large.
This is a great little dog. And he is worth every bit of effort to help him live a happy, comfortable life.