Over-Coming Anxiety for Bosco

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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39 thoughts on “Over-Coming Anxiety for Bosco

  1. Spoken truly by people who don’t have a clue about dog behavior, this particular dog, this particular family, or veterinary behavioral medicine. Why don’t you take your hatred elsewhere?

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    1. Oops. I think the comments to which I was responding have disappeared. Please delete this because, standing alone, it gives an incorrect perception. Thanks!

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    2. What people are dangerous? The ignoramuses that spread hate and vitriol when someone they don’t know is behaving responsibly and speaking honestly about their dog?

      Just a question: would you feel the same way, and make the same comment, if this dog were a yellow lab, a border collie, or a golden retriever?

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  2. You’ve been a patient and determined person as long as I’ve known you and that part of your personality has only intensified since you and Kevin started working with the Vicktory dogs. Of all the places Bosco has been and all the places he could have ended up, he’s In the right place for him. Know that we’re cheering you all on. Screw the haters.

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  3. You and your husband definitely angels from heaven. As for the naysayers, delete or not, you can’t fight crazy so why bother. Keep up the amazing work. You guys are INSPIRATIONAL!

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  4. After a series of devastating earthquakes here in New Zealand. Our pitbull Boon developed increasing anxiety, he started acting out and literally would not leave the house. He shrieked in fear in the car. We gave him walks around the back yard, did not take him for drives etc. 2 years later after he now fights with us to get in the car. It’s been a long process but we now have a happy fearless car going boy. Thank you for persevering

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  5. Thank you so much for this post! I have a Dane mix who is afraid of everything and sometimes I feel like I’m not doing the right things for him. He’s unbelievably sweet, but he needs frequent reassurance that things in his life are not trying to kill him (like boxes, bags, birds, cats, small children). It is nice to know that even the most seasoned dog guardians need to hit the reset button sometimes. Thank you thank you thank you.

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  6. What many people don’t realize is that it isn’t about “you” and proving that “you” can prevail, that you are not trying to “win” at all costs. It is about fulfilling a commitment that you made to this one life to find the path to a happy and successful life. What many people don’t realize is that it is a very unusual case to have a dog that is truly aggressive in personality and not made so by training or by anxiety, fear or anger that surrounding and circumstances that are the primary causal factor. I’ve had exposure to hundreds of dogs, and in only one case in my experience was a dog innately aggressive with no explanation – and that dog was a Lab/Golden Retriever mix with no familial history of aggression whatsoever in a carefully controlled and recorded environment. What many people don’t realize is that it may take months or years and a lifetime of management to find the right solution. Sometimes that solution has impacts like controlling how and who and where the dog is exposed to triggers, and there are people that are ready and willing to live with those impacts. What many people don’t realize is that each dog teaches you things that may help many other dogs, and so you try and try and try, and learn.

    Thank you for your dedication and commitment. Wishing you success! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, and I have learned from you today… I have an anxious Lab that I’m in my 6th year of “training” with, and while we’ve made great progress, managing her anxiety is a lifetime effort, and I’m going to use a few of your “remedies”. Thank you!

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    2. What many people don’t realize is that disordered pit bulls like Bosco, and disordered people like this author pose an unnecessary risk to society. Not every dog can or should be saved.

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      1. Beth Smith you’re an idiot who has not a clue about dogs, or people for that matter- seems that’s more dangerous than anything these dogs can do.

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  7. THIS IS MY BLOG…IF YOU ARE ON HERE TO LEAVE POISONOUS ANTI-PIT MESSAGES, TAKE IT ELSEWHERE. YOUR COMMENTS WILL BE DELETED. GO FIND SOMEONE ELSE TO TORTURE . YOUR OPINION IS NEITHER SOLICITED NOR WELCOME.

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  8. Bosco is a living breathing creature and he deserves the best possible care he can get! These people love their dog (kid) and the money they spend is what anybody would spend for their kids! Steffan Baldwin is a very knowledgeable pitty trainer and cares deeply for this breed! He is located in our community and if it wasnt for Steffan there would be no pitties in the area as they would be put down! I praise the work of Steffan Baldwin and this family for loving this dog so much they would go to any length to save his life! The money the spend is no ones business but theirs! Thank You for loving this boy and giving him the chance to live a happy life

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  9. My goal is to care for the animals in my household and to meet all of their needs. I frankly could give a rat’s ass about your thoughts of how I’m spending my “resources”. And I don’t believe you give up on family without trying everything. Sorry that you feel animals are so disposable.

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  10. I learn so much from your posts, even though I don’t own a dog. A lot of what you relate can be used with cats as well. You are a great educator.

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  11. Have you thought about trying traditional medication for Bosco? You obviously care a lot about his well being. I know someone who has a dog that was almost as anxious as Bosco and medication made a huge difference. Anxiety like this is a medical problem not just behavioural. My friend’s dog still has anxiety but can now function much better and live a better life.

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    1. I agree. I used to be in the camp of “try all other options and supplements before resorting to mess,” but my work in helping families with dogs struggling with anxiety has changed my mind. While some supplements, such as l-theanine and lactium have some scientific support, often some antianxiety meds will provide faster, more cost-effective and better relief. (For the humans in the family, too.). I now am more prone to recommend a behavioral veterinary consult of the dog isn’t responding as they should to b-mod protocols.

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  12. I found the calm collars to be very helpful for my Smoky. He is generally a quiet dog, now, terrified of thunderstorms, fireworks and little electronic beepy noises. The collars had him in a good state of mind and getting through those things less difficult.
    I’m glad Bosco has you and that you are committed to his better future. It’s so hard sometimes, you just want to find a way to sit them down and tell them everything is okay now and there’s no way they can understand that. I’m keeping you all in my thoughts.

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  13. Thank you so much for sharing your story. We adopted a very anxious rescue dog several years ago and have been working with him, but like you mentioned it is hard to do when he is in an anxious state. I appreciate your recomendations, it can be hard to get more than a prescription for Prozac. I love the treadmill idea, my guy loves to run and jump so why not build on his strengths:-)

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  14. Too many people, in my world anyway, would have given up on him long ago. So many dogs get returned to our local shelter for minor behavior problems. I admire you guys for your commitment to him and to all your dogs. And I admire your patience. I hope poor Bosco is soon a happy boy again.

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      1. I will let this comment stand, as unlike your other one, it is not disrespectful. However, unless you are a vet, a behaviorist or a certified trainer, your opinion is just that…an opinion. No reputable animal professional would ever attempt to diagnose a dog he or she had not evaluated personally. So once again, the DBO crowd reveals their ignorance.

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        1. Seriously? You don’t believe that New York and Washington were attacked on 9/11/01, but you feel qualified to declare “common sense?”

          This is not a “thing,” he’s a living, breathing, thinking, feeling animal. He’s no more dangerous to the general public than most people walking around. He is managed by his family, he is being treated for his anxiety. It’s his family’s right to determine what is in his best interest, not yours.

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      2. Beth, your comment may be appropriate if Boscoe were in a shelter or rescue, but he’s not. The decision on whether to devote the time and resources to help an anxious, fearful dog that is in a family home rests solely with that family. It’s not for you to disagree with them, just like it’s not up to me to make decisions for my clients that work on behavioral issues with their dogs. The family lives with the dog – you and I do not.

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  15. I admire you so much for your dedication and unconditional love for Bosco. As I was reading this I related to everything you were saying in my own experience with a high anxiety dog with a traumatic past. You are doing everything right and he will one day be the happy little Bosco you know in the outside world. Much love to you!

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  16. You and Kevin are going above and beyond what is ‘expected ‘ from a dog parent. I had a Jack Russell on Prozac, he was EXTREMELY ANXIOUS. Weven adopted him knowing he was a biter, but I believed I could change him. Ralph changed us. Sadly, he was put to sleep 08/16/16. My vet told me after being bit over 30 times, you have done everything you could have. 7 years we gave him a good home, could not have people over, my son refused to let my grandson stay over. You are special people. Keep trying, my respect and understanding goes to you.

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    1. I to have a JRT that we rescued in Feb.2013 when the person who had Kitchi was going to put him out in the frigid winter that year. We went and got him and he was scared in the truck and whined and shivered on the way home and I held him reassuring him everything would be ok. ! Wehave several other rescues in the house, and things were going good until 1 day he started fighting w/our very laid back puggle and the stressful event began! This guy is now 14 was 10 when we got him and he bit everyone who tried to pet him in his condo (crate). recently we spent over 500.00 2 Rascal Animal Hosp. for his teeth (4) that needed pulled ( AWESOME ANIMAL HOSP> LOCATeD IN DUBLIN<OHIO) sure had their hands full when they took him back for the procedure! Anyways long story shortened, Kitchi has gained so much trust in me he now sits on my lap on his own and snuggles in bed w/me before the rest of the family (dogs & Hubby) retire for the night and in the morning after hubby gets up! I still have to crate him as he doesnt get along w/any dogs and I switch them out every 2 hrs. We love this little creature and he is finally trusting we wont hurt him. I suspect when he began his life he was a 1 owner dog and the owner might have passed away and Kitchi was passed around so much he couldnt trust anyone. In the 4 long years w/this guy he trusts me so much and is a very happy spoiled ( as all are) guy who knows we helped him when he had his teeth pulled. At 14 he still runs 90 mph everywhere he goes but he is a happy loved lil guy who I hope I have for many many more years! Every animal deserves the very best possible life they can get. If it wasnt for the dogs I have had in my life ( raised boxers for 15 yrs.) I wouldnt be alive today My dogs have saved me!

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  17. I am a foster for the LCPC in Ohio. I was involved with them when Bosco was adopted and his world as he knew it changed. Reading your story and the anxiety he is having, you have no idea what an inspiration You are to me. So many people give up, too busy, too self absorbed to help a dog. Simply put, to love them. Bosco is so lucky he found you. Thank you so much for being Bosco’s mom.

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  18. SO MUCH love to you guys for taking such good care of this little man. I have suffered from terrible anxiety before, and Phosphatidylcholine worked wonders for me. In humans it helps the adrenals reset to normal (they get amped up sometimes and cannot return to normal). This helps me understand where my anxiety is physical and where it needs to be worked on with therapy.

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