Lulu is a sweet, 2-year-old Australian cattle dog who was adopted from a shelter just two months before I met her. She had itchy skin and a rather delicate gut. She’d already started eating a special diet and was taking an anti-itch medication called Apoquel. Lulu landed in my exam room because of her reactive aggression toward men of all shapes and sizes.
Actually, anybody who rushed onto the scene could trigger Lulu’s fear-related displays. She never actually bit anyone. Those histrionics were intended to send a message. “Scary monsters don’t belong here. Move to the next county and nobody gets hurt.” Poor Lulu was also anxious when she was home alone. She wasn’t destructive but she often urine soiled.
Anti-anxiety medications, while not the entire solution, made it possible for Lulu to learn better behavioral responses but her person’s absences were still a challenge. As mom exited the house she was to fully ignore Lulu while dropping stuffed food toys on the floor. Strangers were to sit before Lulu entered the room. With these scary monsters appearing smaller they felt less threatening. Target and clicker training made it easy for Lulu to earn an immediate reinforcer, a treat and, best of all, an interaction with her magnanimous human.
Lulu’s physical symptoms were another drag. Following one stint at the kennel she developed a mange lesion on her face. Her intestinal issues flared-up with stress-related diarrhea and vomiting. Now, having largely recovered from her last bout, she is taking a probiotic called Proviable to repopulate her intestines with healthy bacteria. But if she doesn’t turn the corner soon she may need more diagnostics, like the CE-IBD blood test, to uncover the underlying cause.
Lulu’s challenges are complex but her well-being is improving. We rarely cure the malfunctioning neural circuits that are responsible for the behavioral symptoms emanating from a brain. Instead, we custom-fit research-based behavior modification methods to bring out their best.
I’m optimistic for Lulu in part because of her person’s self-assurance and confidence. People like this lady inspire health and wellness. Helping any creature find peace makes us better.
Dr. Jeff Nichol, a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist, provides consultations for individual pets and by Zoom for small groups (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Post questions on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, N.M., 87109.