Special Needs Dogs – Behavioural Issues

    We got Fleet when she was 5 months old as a private rehome. She was being rehomed as her owners thought she was brain damaged. In fact she had a complusive behaviour problem and was spending about 90% of her waking time spinning in circles and biting herself resulting in a bald, inflamed tail.
    When she first came home she was completely unresponsive to us and the only way to stop her spinning was to physically restrain her. We took her to the vet to rule out a medical reason then had a behaviourist come to assess her in the first week to check that we were approaching the problem in the best way.
    We were advised to interrupt the behaviour whenever it started and to give her lots of other things to do such as filled kongs and rawhide as chewing or licking can be very calming. We did some massage to calm her and build a bond and also made sure that she had a clear routine including lots of walks and training classes to work her brain once she was vaccinated. As different things started her spinning we kept a diary to identify triggers then tried to avoid them as much as possible or using positive training to get used to them and so not react.
    She was pretty difficult to live with for the first month but we soon started to see an improvement and a differet dog emerging that made it worth it. Over the first 12 months she made steady progress from spinning around 12 hours a day to only a few times a day for very short periods of time and stopping when asked. This wasn’t impacting on her life as she was no longer hurting herself and wasn’t a problem for us to live with. Sadly just past her 2nd birthday she was diagnosed with arthritis and we decided to see a consultant behaviourist at the Royal Veterinary College who specialises in canine OCD to see if he could suggest anything else to reduce the spinning as it wasn’t good for her hips. After seeing him she is currently taking prozac to lessen the compulsion to spin alongside a new training programme using a manners minder. We are into the 3rd month of treatment and have seen further improvements and we are optimistic that by the end of the 7 month medication period we should have a dog that doesn’t spin at all.
    Although she is insured, as her spinning was a pre-existing condition it isn’t covered by the insurance. Behaviourists can seem expensive, our consult at the RVC was over £200, but speaking to someone who is experienced and can look at the problem without being emotionally involved in the situation has been very helpful to us. Many rescues have a behaviourist who works with them and will provide ongoing support for dogs from that rescue. Fleet’s medication is not expensive, around £6 a month plus £10 for a prescription every 3 months, but there are other similar medications our vet considered that were closer to £100 a month so cost of medication varies.
    If I had the opportunity to take on another dog with behaviour issues like Fleet and I thought I could provide the correct home for them I would do it in a heartbeat. Although we have had some real tear your hair out moments with her, to work with a dog to help them overcome behaviour issues and turn into a happy, well adjusted dog is extremely rewarding.
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