Where in the world does time go? I think we are in our third lockdown in the UK now, 2 months in and no end in sight. We've been really busy here with lots of projects which I will get around to blogging about because it is all really exciting, but I really wanted to share what's been going on with our little Daphne.
I’m not going to lie. These last 6 weeks have been rough in our household. If you are a parent of a reactive dog, you will understand. When they are struggling, it can be extremely exhausting. Constantly being vigilant to watch every move they make, every interaction with your other dogs, trying to facilitate quality sleep, planning your every move around them and considering how it will effect them before you do it. It’s constant monitoring, constant vigilance, constant decision making - it’s exhausting. Nothing is easy. Nothing is simple. Your life is not your own.
And yet it makes me think, if this is how I am feeling after a few weeks of trying to manage her, imagine how Daphne, and dogs like Daphne, actually feel experiencing it. I mean, I was having an emotional meltdown every few days, sometimes more often, my general outlook on life was not a happy one, and I had a very short temper with my poor husband (sorry baby). Daphne’s blip was a few weeks, but there are dogs out there who LIVE like this. Constantly vigilant, constantly highly aroused, constantly making decisions, constantly living with a full bucket, constantly reacting. They must be exhausted. As a side note, I always noticed in the vet clinic that a lot of dogs that were highly anxious and reactive prior to a general anaesthetic or sedation, always took the longest to wake up. I always joked that it was probably the best sleep they had had in a long time, and the first time in a long time that they weren’t feeling anxious. I honestly think part of that is true.
When this started to kick off with Daphne I was so frustrated with myself. As vigilant as I am, watching Daphne and gauging her mood, this totally crept up on me. I didn’t realise that she was struggling so much, and more frustrating was that when I realised she was struggling, I couldn’t figure out how to help her.
I’m not too proud to ask for help. In reality, when it comes to my girls, I am very quick to ask for help for anything because I am the first person to admit that my straight thinking professional brain leaves the building when it comes to my own girls and I would much rather ask ‘a grown up’ for advice, or get them to ‘sense check’ me before I do anything. I find getting help from friends and professionals so helpful because they can either confirm my train of thought is good or bad, but they can also come up with ideas/causes/solutions that I can’t.
And that was the case with Daphne. I knew something must have changed for her to suddenly be having a blip, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it was. I knew she wasn’t getting enough sleep, but her bucket was constantly too full that I couldn’t get her to settle and sleep during the day. Yes sleep was a vital ingredient but I was missing the thing that would help to get her to relax so she could sleep. Enter our behaviourist and my mentor who helped me have the lightbulb moment!
Daphne has been on a specific hypoallergenic dry food for a while but has still been having skin issues so I decided to cut out every little treat she was having, which included her chews. Previously she would spend a minimum of an hour each day chewing. Chewing is a really important passive calming activity for dogs (a bucket emptying activity) and as it turns out, a very important activity for Daphne’s mental homeostasis.
I promptly went to the pet store and bought an array of non-food chew toys of varying shapes, sizes and tastes. I got her to chew a little but not without me being involved so I had to look at other options. When it comes to food allergies, dogs are unlikely to have an allergy to a protein source they haven’t been exposed to = a novel protein source. We’ve now got her chewing on ostrich, which she loves, and Daphne (as well as everyone else in the house) is much happier.
The next step to getting her balanced again was getting her to sleep more during the day. On a ‘normal’ day, she would have 4-6 hours of sleep, and honestly you notice a difference in her behaviour if she does’t get this. But even with the chewing, her bucket wasn’t emptying enough for her to be able to switch off and relax in the house during the day so she could sleep. And so, car sleeping time was introduced. All of our girls are extremely good car travellers. Within 5-10 minutes of every journey they will all be passed out, plus or minus snoring. The car to Daphne is a calming place, somewhere she is comfortable whether alone or with company.
One tired and stressed mum, and one tired and stressed Daphne.
During our first couple of days of car sleeps we set up a camera so we could watch and make sure she wasn’t getting distressed. Sure enough, within 5 minutes she would curl up and fall asleep and only wake up when we went to get her out 2-3 hours later. The poor little bean was exhausted. It took about a week of catching up on sleep before she started to be able to settle and sleep in the house again. I was worried she might start to dislike the car as she was being left alone for long periods, but each day we would go outside and she would run to the car and wait for me to open the door. Even now, if we go out the front door for a walk, she runs to the car to wait for the door to be opened which I am so relieved about.
On days Daphne wants to sleep in, I do as much work from my laptop in bed just so she can get some more sleep.
I know this will not be our last blip, but for now, our Daphne is back. Our household has its calm back. I have my sanity and sense of humour back. Living with a reactive dog can truly be draining sometimes. You always love them, but you don’t always like them, and that’s ok.
Back to her normal sleeping patterns and wanting snuggles from her sister. During her 'blip' she would growl if Betty came near her.
Until next time, enjoy your journey to becoming a mindful pet owner.