Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Gilda Update

Since Gilda has officially retired from the Akron Children's Hospital Doggie Brigade, I have decided to use this blog to chart her progress (something that I've been less than diligent about)
If you'd like to read Gilda's background, you can find it On our AgilityNovice.com blog
We have tried many things to deal with Gilda's Reactivity since adopting her in April 2009.
Our biggest struggle currently is that she is extremely reactive to anyone coming onto our property and especially into our home! She has a strong history of nipping and I have no doubt she would bite if left to her own devices. Even worse, she has completely convinced Pico that all trespassers, known or unknown, are to be feared! It is utter mayhem here at times and it is embarrassing to say the least.

{The Crazies, Gilda & Pico}

Veterinary Behaviorist:
We enlisted the help of Dr. Elizabeth Feltes, DVM, a local Veterinary Behaviorist in June, 2012. During our nearly 2 hour initial interview and exam, Gilda was diagnosed with extreme Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Neither of these diagnoses surprised either of us.
Dr. Feltes recommended that we start Gilda on Reconcile, or 'Prozac for dogs'. Apparently Reconcile has a proprietary ingredient that makes the Prozac more bioavailable to dogs than regular ole human Prozac. We started there and then increased Gilda to her maximum recommended dosage. Around this time, the manufacturer stopped production of Reconcile. We then tried a slightly higher dose of human Prozac capsules and noticed an almost immediate increase of Gilda's reactivity. It was very frustrating.
Next we tried a tablet form of Prozac and added Clonidine to the arsenal. After much experimentation, Gilda is now on 20mg of Prozac tablets once a day and 0.3mg Clonidine twice a day. At long last, it actually seemed like she was worrying about fewer things. She would even nap in the morning when her pills kicked in! Gilda never took naps!

By the time we started seeing Dr. Feltes, Gilda was stressing down during Agility classes and stressing up during Therapy Dog visits (not an ideal thing in the pediatric setting!). I took her out of all of her extra curricular activities!
Mike was still doing the majority of walking with her as we had also determined that her on-leash Reactivity increased when Pico was with her. After each walk, I'd ask for a detailed report and he would patiently give me an accounting. One day, he came home and said, "she was fantastic". I swear I had to sit down and ask if he was joking.
Slowly but surely, he came home with more good reports than bad. Over the winter, they had lots of days to walk alone and as a reward, Mike was able to let Gilda off leash (something we had both completely stopped doing). They had games of fetch and chase-me and more and more often, he'd tell me how good she was.

In January 2013, I hired my friend, Ginger from Fortunate Fido to come to the house and help us with our training. When she arrived, I had both dogs gated in their area and they were quite agitated. We did some click/treats when the oriented toward her voice without barking and soon, we were able to bring Pico out on leash and do some targeting work with Ginger sitting in full view in the living room. Ginger said, it's not good to let 'visitors' treat the dogs because then, if a visitor doesn't have a treat, the dog is left not knowing what to do and may then nip or bite. I had been doing that all wrong for sure! Once the dogs were fairly relaxed even though she was sitting quietly in our living room, we started working on a 'Go say hi' exercise where the dogs were encouraged to go up to the visitor to sniff and then immediately came back to me for a treat. Ginger was here for 2 hours and both dogs probably gained 2 pounds from all the treats but it proved to me that they are capable of being calm with company. The other fascinating thing that Ginger showed me was to let Gilda go to the window to look and then to treat her when she comes away. We had been working so hard to get her to come away from the window/door when it is much easier to let her do the thing she is driven to do with limitations. So interesting learning to think like a dog!

As Ginger said, for some reason or another, my training Gilda is 'poisoned'. So, I started all over. I started taking Gilda to the Agility building for classes and training when I go there with Pico. It was a rough start as she was ready to shut down if I asked her to move around in the training ring. Lately though, there have been big big changes in my beloved girl!
I've been taking her once a week for practice for 5 weeks now and each time, she is happier and more willing to work. I am working to be very cautious of meaningless chatter (something I excel at) and especially at not marking errors (oops, whoops, uh oh, etc.) I am working on this with both dogs as they both react badly and do not realize that I am usually marking my own mistakes rather than theirs.

Week 1: I mistakenly tried to play fetch in the building. She loves fetch, however, on the third throw, I managed to hit the Teeter and that was the end of playing :(

Week 2: I asked for some shadow handling. Just simple heeling around the ring. Gilda lowered her head and stayed way behind me making it very difficult to treat in the Reinforcement Zone (RZ). Still, I acted happy that she was with me and treated as much as I could.

Week 3: Gilda was willing to perform shadow handling much closer to me and to my amazement, she CHOSE to take the Tire Jump! I gave her  a jackpot for that one!

Week 4: We arrived and 4 or 5 dogs were out in the fenced area. Pico was carrying on the minute I opened the tailgate. Gilda was interested but quiet. As I started walking them toward the gate (which is neared the fenced dogs), she started to lunge and I said something like 'it's okay' and she immediately stopped and looked up at me! I nearly fainted. Luckily, I didn't and had the presence of mind to give her a super high value treat! I kept them both on leash and she walked the entire length of the outdoor Agility ring looking at me for treats! It was by far the biggest breakthrough I've had with her in nearly 4 years. I wanted to cry and scream but I did neither. Once inside the building, I first worked with Pico and then brought Gilda out. She was visibly happy and relaxed with her tail wagging like I've always wished it would. She was still slightly timid about shadow handling, finding things to sniff along the way, but she kept on coming to me and working her way around more of the building than in prior weeks. She was also willing to do some 'around the stool' work with good enthusiasm. Since she was still happy, I asked her for a Tunnel and she took it! Jackpot! And session done. She heeled beautifully without a leash the entire way back to the gate with dogs barking and Pico distracted. It was a great day for me.

Week 5: She once again CHOSE to ignore all the hullabaloo behind the fence and looked to me for treats. I nearly fainted again on the realization that it wasn't a one-time event last week! We covered more of the building with shadow handling and I casually walked past 2 jumps asking her to take them... and she did! I brought her out a second time and working on 'go to mat' behind an obstacle. She happily dove on her mat for treats. She once again heeled sans leash to the gate looking all happy and proud of herself!
When we got home, I was treating Gilda for running to the front window and looking rather than running to the front window barking and lunging. I decided to do a quick training session and was able to have both pups hold a  quiet sit while I knocked on the inside of the front door and jiggled the door knob. They were actually looking at me like, 'we know that's you doing that, silly'. I was so proud of our progress!
Later, when our neighbor came over, all hell broke loose however and it seemed as though nothing had changed... <sigh>

Today, I did another session with knocking on the door. I decided they were ready to advance to the door bell... Not so much. Apparently, the doorbell still signifies that they are to bark as loud as possible and run back and forth. That was definitely too big of a step. Back to basics as they say...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Doggie Brigade goes EPIC!

The hospital is transitioning to a whole new computer system called EPIC. As you can imagine, this is a huge undertaking that will affect everyone who works and volunteers here!
To celebrate the 'Go Live' day of June 1, everyone has been encouraged to make an EPIC video... Including the Doggie Brigade!

Yesterday 8 teams plus our Mentor, Ken McCort, gathered in the Atrium to make our brief video:

{this photo clearly illustrates
that any trained dog breed
can be a therapy dog!}

Gilda and I also made some patient visits prior to the video and got to see some smiles. Gilda was very happy to get there (until the untimely fire alarm at least) and really seems to understand what her job is while she is visiting. I can't think of a better volunteer job in the world...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

5600: Our Official Unit!

{Gilda and "Aunt Linda"
who spoils her rotten
every time we visit!}

Gilda was approved to visit the patients on 5600. This will be our new home every other Wednesday and we are thrilled.
Gilda wishes that everyday had the same schedule so I felt it would do her good to have a set floor rather than randomly visiting lobbies and patients from the 'Special Request' list. We will do this for awhile in the hopes that it helps Gilda learn what her job is when she visits.
She had a great day today doing 2 room visits on 5600 and visiting some patients in the playroom. WTG Gilda Girl!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Raffle Basket Fundraiser

The kind folks at Hudson Veterinary Hospital are holding a raffle to benefit the Akron Children's Hospital Doggie Brigade Program!


“GOING TO THE DOGS” & the Kids!

Dogs bring smiles wherever they go, but nowhere is it more important than where children need a special companion to help them through a difficult time. That’s why we here at Hudson VeterinaryHospital support the Doggie Brigade Program at Akron Children’s Hospital. 
Since 1992, the Doggie Brigade Therapy Program has brought encouragement, comfort and joy to sick kids whose doctors have approved dog visits. Beyond this, hospital staff also appreciates the presence of Doggie Brigade volunteers. They often call for a dog when placing an IV or where trying to motivate a child in physical therapy. “It’s awesome what these dogs can make the patients do; it gets their mind off their sickness.”  
All dogs involved in the program must undergo a veterinary exam and a special behavioral screening process to ensure their suitability for the program.  Once certified, they receive their official Brigade Bandanas, begin making hospital visits and bring on the smiles!  
This year our team has assembled a special raffle gift basket so you, our caring clients, can take part in our effort to support the Doggie Brigade.
  • Tickets may be purchased for 1/$1 or 6/$5 from December 1-February 29, at our office, or by phone at 300-650-2929.
  • The winner will receive a gift basket filled with pet supplies and special offers for the care and wellbeing of your own furry friends.
  • Funds raised from this project will contribute to the certification and supplies needed to train additional Brigade dogs.  
  • Drawing for the winning ticket will take place March 1, 2012.  
A wagging tail can do wonders for a sick child!  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Holiday Tree Festival 2011

Gilda attended her first Akron Children's Hospital Holiday Tree Festival last night and it was a huge success on many levels!

{Gilda in the crowd)

In fact, the only disappointment was that our camera malfunctioned and this is our only photo of the evening!

I can't imagine how unsettling it must be for a dog to enter a brand-new building with crowds of people and yet, somehow, Gilda handled it all extremely well!

Gilda seemed a little nervous about the fact that she was in a room full of lighted trees but she willingly met and greeted many many kids and adults and was willing to perform tricks for all of them. (Tricks keep Gilda focused and comfortable as she feels better when she knows exactly what she is supposed to do).

The highlight of the evening was when a woman came over to meet Gilda and told us that she had to spend some time at ACH when she was 11 and that she still cherishes the memories of visits from the Doggie Brigade!! Stories like these make me so proud to be a part of the DB...

We stayed for about 1.5 hours and then left while Gilda was still happy.

The Tree Festival is an amazing event and we are thankful to have been able to be a small part of it!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Trouble With Toddlers

On a recent hospital visit, I was asked to take Gilda into an adjoining room on the Infant/Toddler Unit (7200). Inside the double room were twin boys around 2 years old. Usually this age group is right up Gilda's alley... Usually.
The little guys with their blonde crew cuts were up and running around the room. I got down on the floor next to Gilda and began talking to the boys. One seemed excited to have a dog visitor and the other seemed disinterested at best.
The parents and the nurse were all also in the room so it was somewhat chaotic. Before any of us could even react, *WHAP* One of the boys had picked up his mother's flip-flop and whacked Gilda right over the head with it!
Gilda's response was to drop to her belly and whine about it. Needless to say, I was thrilled with her choice! She truly seemed as shocked and confused that someone would actually strike her as the rest of us were!
Doing my very best to remain calm, I ended the visit and walked her out of the room on a very short leash...
She was visibly jumpy for the rest of her time in the hospital and who could really blame her.

{Ready to go?}

This week, I decided that maybe we should steer clear of Toddlers for awhile until we could do some work and make sure she was comfortable with them again. Gilda seems to do much better in the open waiting areas where she can see the people coming up to meet and greet her. She seems a little unsure about what her 'job' is inside patient rooms. (Sometimes we get on the bed, sometimes we don't. Sometimes I have to stay on the right side of the patient but sometimes it's the left. Sometimes Mom picks my front end up and my back feet slip on the floor. Sometimes she turns me around and tiny people pet my back).

I had the great idea of going to the Surgery Waiting Area on on the 4th floor. Who needs a 'dose of dog' more than kids and their families anxious about surgery?

We checked in at the Reception desk and let the staff know that we'd be around. I saw a large group of people and we slowly made our way toward them. I sat in a chair with Gilda at my feet and introduced her to the large group when suddenly a 3 year-old boy ran straight up to her face like toddlers will do. Oh Jeez...

This time Gilda's response wasn't as perfect as before. Luckily the toddler's mom was right there and was very proactive. She corralled the little guy while I handled Gilda. We had him give her 2 treats for performing a 'sit'. I would have preferred to end the visit there but there were at least 4 other kids in the group that were interested in meeting Gilda and asking questions about her.

With everyone's help, Gilda did very well and all the kids got to   interact with her and have her do tricks. Hopefully her visit gave them all a brief respite while they anxiously awaited news of their little one in surgery.

{Toddlers can be tiring!}

Friday, August 26, 2011

Trading Cards

Yesterday was like Christmas for all the March 2011 New Doggie Brigaders... Our official trading cards are finally here!