I’ve been talking a lot about my dogs here lately, and while I gave y’all a pretty thorough background of Eliot’s aggression and our recent issues.. I didn’t say what we’ve been working on to fix it. I realize this situation can’t continue without a serious intervention. We can’t risk our dogs getting hurt over and over again, and Eliot isn’t happy either. Faced with the possibility of re-homing him or euthanasia (worst case scenario, but let’s be honest… it could happen if he gets a lot worse) I jumped into overdrive.
At the advice of a really kind & helpful animal behaviorist I had been talking to on Facebook (thank you so much – you know who you are :)) I took Eliot to the vet for a work-up. Our vet wanted to do blood tests as well as have his eyes checked by a specialist. The blood work was to test for a low thyroid, which can cause aggression and aloofness. When the results came back, they showed that Eliot indeed had a low thyroid. We started him on medication immediately.
The next possible physical cause for aggression was his eyes. For the past several years, Eliot’s pupils have always been almost fully dilated at all times. It’s a little eerie if you’re not used to it, but I never realized how extreme he was until we got Pascale. My vet wanted a specialist to see if there was anything wrong so we headed to that appointment last week. The good news is, his eyes are great. In fact, she said he had “the best eyes she’s ever seen in a springer” and if we were testing him for breeding she’d pass his eyes with flying colors. The reason for the dilation was simply due to old age, and he happened to be more severe than most dogs. Okay, eyes were checked off the list.
If we need to pursue more physical test, the next step is basically a MRI of his brain. I don’t know the costs, but my pocketbook aches at the thought of it… so I instead went to another specialist my vet recommended – an animal behaviorist.
Arguably, this is the most important part of the “fix Eliot” process because it combines training with physical treatment. The behaviorist we used is a vet who works with a trainer (also a vet tech) and they come with amazing credentials. After our consultation, the general diagnosis is that Eliot is on high alert because of fewer resources in the house… at least in his opinion. He has less tolerance of Pascale because even though she looks like an adult dog and is the size of an adult dog, she still acts like a wild puppy. Plus, Eliot is usually on edge or nervous due to a variety of reasons – a lot of it being the stress of a big bouncy puppy in his house.
Physically, we will treat this with some medication that is helpful for anxiety and reducing seizures. The behaviorist team doesn’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that he may have some focal seizures or seizure like episodes that we aren’t noticing. This new prescription will help that.
On the training side, we are to institute some new rules in the house with the goal of making it 6-8 weeks without any aggressive episodes at all. Right now about every two weeks he will go after Pascale, but the longer we increase that time period the better their relationship will be.
Tim and I will be doing training sessions with the dogs at least daily. I’ll work with Pascale on “touch” and “crate” so she has some action items we can tell her to do when we notice her bothering Eliot. Tim will work with Eliot on “touch”, “go to bed” and “look at Pascale”. This will give him positive reinforcement (treats) when he looks at Pascale and “go to bed” allows him to go off to a happy place when he’s being snarky. We will also make sure then get a 15-20 minute walk together every day (as opposed to 3 days a week now).
The big change for me will be ignoring my dogs (mostly Eliot) outside of these training and walk sessions. This is to reduce the “alliance” I’ve accidentally formed with Eliot by giving him a lot of casual attention. It should also help him stop guarding me, since I’m a big trigger for his aggressive episodes.
On day one he’s mopey and sad and not used to the changes, but I’m going to stick with it and hopefully we’ll see some long term improvement. Definitely not ready to give up on my beloved spaniel, and I’m feeling optimistic that we’ll be able to get his aggression safe enough to have him a happy member of our household for years to come.