On Wednesday I put Pongu on 20 mg/day of fluoxetine, better known as Prozac.
This was not a decision I reached lightly. Pongu has always been an anxious dog, but he's much better than he was. In the beginning he'd freeze and pancake on the ground and pee on himself when approached or handled; after a year's worth of structure and training and love, he can walk down a busy city sidewalk without completely losing his mind.
But there's a lot of space between not-completely-losing-your-mind and being comfortable in a situation, and while Pongu may never completely reach the latter goal (I'm not completely comfortable walking down a crowded street, and unlike the mutt monsters, I don't even have to contend with uninvited strangers trying to wave their hands in my face), I feel obligated to help him get as close to it as possible. He's my dog. I owe him the best care and comfort I can give.
And yet there is, and was, a reluctance to accept that an anti-anxiety drug might be that care and comfort. I had to overcome an unwillingness to admit that I couldn't just overcome the problem with sheer strength of will; I had to discard the belief that if only I loved him enough, or trained him better, or taught just the right confidence-building exercises, then my dog could let all his anxieties go.
It doesn't work that way. What finally brought that home to me was going to our first group obedience class and seeing all the other dogs going through the exercises with varying degrees of adeptness... and then seeing Pongu, panting and whining and frozen in fear, totally unable to participate in any of the class curriculum even though he knew all those exercises and could do them all perfectly, joyfully, at home.
It's not about the training. Training helps, but it does not overcome. It's about early socialization and early experiences (or the lack thereof) and who your dog is all the way down in his genes. And if those things afflict him with crippling fear, then in my view you are obligated to treat that as surely as you would a crippled foot*.
In Pongu's case, the problem was so obvious that practically the first thing the trainer asked me after class was "Have you ever considered a behavioral medication?"
Even then, though, I wanted to try other alternatives before resorting to pills. I tried Comfort Zone DAP (dog appeasement pheromone), a synthetic version of the pheromone that mother dogs secrete to calm their puppies. It did nothing. I tried Rescue Remedy, a Bach flower essence that's supposed to have a soothing effect on dogs. It did nothing. I tried the Thundershirt, a snug-fitting anxiety wrap that is said to calm dogs by enveloping them in gentle, constant pressure. That one actually helped a little, but only a very little -- nowhere near what Pongu needed to get over his terror in new environments.
So it was time to bring out the big guns: anti-anxiety meds. Prozac.
My scaredy little mutt has been on it for three days. I put a pill in his dog stew every morning and he gulps it down. I'm told that there will be little or no discernible change until at least two or three weeks into the treatment, but it can be very gradual, so I'm supposed to keep a journal recording any observations in the meantime (that would be what this is).
Even though I've been told not to expect anything for a while, I still find myself monitoring Pongu with paranoid intensity. Does his nose seem a little dryer than usual? He's not making as many turkey growls to greet me when I come home from work -- does that mean his throat's dry too? Is he maybe a little lethargic, or is that just because there's no foster dog for him to jump on right now?
Hard to say. What's not hard to say is that he's still as anxious as ever, but this early in the treatment, that's to be expected. We'll see where things find us in a couple more weeks.
* -- which, of course, Pongu also had. Poor little guy was not dealt a good hand at the beginning of his life.