At our last update, I had just started Galen on Alprazolam (Xanax) while we waited for Clomicalm to arrive. That was about a year ago (sorry about that). It took 6 weeks almost to the day for the Clomicalm to take effect, and since then the trend in Galen’s behavior has followed what I saw in Dallas (when he became basically “normal”). I was able to reintroduce the adaptil collar and it started making a difference again (this was really the breakthrough that led to our success in Dallas). There have been bad days, setbacks, ups, and downs, but overall clear progress. I’ve had to change my strategies, increase my emotional fitness, and open my door like 500,000 times without actually leaving. After about 8 and a half months on the full dose of Clomicalm, Galen’s spearation anxiety is basically non-existent, and he is much calmer around strange dogs in public. He is also off L-theanine and takes 1mg of melatonin compared to 5mg twice a day when we first moved. He still wears the Adaptil collar, but it’s harder to tell when each one is getting old.
As far as strategies, at one point I switched from doing a bunch of departure cues and waiting for him to be reasonably OK before leaving to performing a departure cue and either rewarding relaxation or correcting (interrupting) an increase in anxiety and following through until he is back to “baseline”. At first I rewarded immediately when he would release tension (putting his head down, a big sigh, etc), and then I started to extend the time he spent relaxed before I rewarded him. To correct, or interrupt an escalation I entered the room a bit stronger, made eye contact and just held until he settled back to where he was before the cue. The holding part was extremely difficult at first. I couldn’t be too strong or his anxiety could increase, but I had to be strong enough to override the negative energy welling up. And I absolutely couldn’t be tense myself, because tension can’t resolve/help tension.
One thing I noticed in my log was that he was more stressed when the landscapers come, so I thought I would try turning the radio on. In the past the radio just made him louder and worse, but I thought some background noise might help with the mowing sounds (which he couldn’t care less about if I was home or if he was right next to it). Surprisingly he was perfect with the radio on, so I’ve been turning it on every time I leave. Currently if I forget to turn it on he doesn’t seem to care a ton, but he sleeps a little deeper with it on.
The other thing we did regularly that has contributed to his success was regular duration work with the place command. Practicing place every day for 20-30 minutes is really easy (I usually do it in the evening while I’m watching TV), but it goes a long way in teaching a dog how to slow down their mind and learn to be calm. I really wish place would have been the first thing I taught him. By the time Christmas came around it took me maybe 10 minutes to leave the house as opposed to 30+. And he did just as well when we went home, so I decided at that point he was ready to start weaning off Clomicalm. I went super slow with it, at first just reducing the dose at night for 10 days, then moving to a half dose one day/full dose one day for two weeks, followed by half dose every other day for three weeks, and finally half dose every other morning for three weeks.
I now just put him in his crate with his Kong and leave- it takes me about 5 minutes depending on how prepared I am beforehand (how great that I’m the limiting factor now!). He has the window side of his crate open now, which several months ago made him a little panicky. Now he likes to look out occasionally and watch the traffic or check to see if the cats are heading to their bushes.
The goal using medication is to be on and off as quickly as possible-it doesn’t do the work for you, it just removes the panic so you can actually do behavioral modification effectively. The goal going in was to be on the full dose for 3-4 months, but things definitely evolved and I was slow to adapt with them. I really hope our journey encourages people to reach out to their vet (or if you’re lucky enough to have a veterinary behaviorist) and let go of the stigma about behavioral medications. The most common side effect is a calmer, happier dog! There’s no miracle cure, no easy way out, you still have to do the work!