The realities of living with my special needs dog
My dog isn’t exactly what you’d call the dream dog. In fact, truth be told she doesn’t come even remotely close. Sorry Mieks.
The dream was Lexi the loveable chocolate lab. My fur-baby that I could take on Sundays for a spot of brunch at our local cafe, while cafe-goers doted on her, followed by a stroll along Perth’s stunning coast-line along with the local hounds. A loveable, easy-going larrikin that slotted into our care-free, cruisy lifestyle.
Instead, my reality is my special needs border collie, gripped with various anxiety disorders (noise phobias, separation related distress and inter-dog aggression). Essentially an antisocial hound who detests strange noises, making doggie friends being on her ownsome and who is obsessed with myself one and truly. The special needs dog who goes into absolute melt-down panic when she doesn’t get to come into the bathroom with me, or when the vacuum comes out (which fortunately isn’t too often for her), if there’s a thunderstorm, gunshots (we used to live near the local gun club) or fire-works and worst considering I’m a footy fanatic, when the ALF takes over the living room between March and September.
Nobody dreams of their fur babies developing mental health issues. However, that is the sad reality of so many dog owners. Their dreams of owning the perfect pet becomes a literal nightmare. Neighbour complaints. Constant embarrassment when you take your dog outside the house. Endless frustration on walks. Fear of having your friends over. Destruction of your home. Being petrified of encountering a loose dog on your walk. Or it may simply be the sense of loss of not being able to do the things with your pooch that you always dreamt about!
Mental health issues affect a staggering amount of our pets. Thanks largely to social media, many special needs pets are getting a second chance at life and many of these dogs have mental health issues (one of the potential reasons they are up for adoption). But many puppies simply grow up and evolve into anxious doggies due to their genetics, past experiences and current environment.
For me, there were a few early warning signs. Firstly, border-collies can have some genetic tendencies to be a little anxious, and although she was acquired from reputable breeders but i did not meet her parents, and i did assess her personality before acquiring her. When Mitchell and I first welcomed her into our home, she was so timid and shy, and then she didn’t exactly like the other puppies in puppy school. Then came the incident when she was 6-months old and bowled over by two boisterous Rottweilers at the park who weren’t exactly pleased to see her. In hind-sight there was plenty of warning signs that were overlooked at the time!
Very quickly, she figured out that if she resorted to aggression she could void off potential interactions with unfamiliar dogs. Moving up to the Pilbara when she was 2 years old escalated her noise phobias, thanks largely to the almost daily thunderstorms throughout the wet-season. Here I had her, a dog scared of life and about to start a brawl with any dog she encountered. It all happened so quickly, but before my very eyes my poor poppet was becoming so distressed and actual daily living became a nightmare!
It was time for a change. We simply had to do something to improve both her life, my life and the bond we shared together.
The best things I did were diagnose and treat her mental health diseases. In fact, this was completely life-changing. Seriously. Although her anxiety can not be “cured”, we have made BIG improvements to her (and my families) daily living.
It must be stated that getting the RIGHT help is crucial. Stay clear from the know-it-all at the local dog-park, or the chorus of Caeser Milan followers on a Facebook Group. Although good intentioned, incorrect advice can cause far more harm than good. When your pet has behavioural problems you are best speaking to a qualified professional who can screen your pet for mental health problems, such as your local veterinarian who can point you in the direction of a veterinary behaviourist or positive reinforcement trainer if required.
Asides from dealing with her anxiety disorders, the biggest step forward for me living with a special needs pet was making adjustments to my expectations. Essentially I had to accept what would be realistic for us and adjust my short-term and long-term goals for us. This wasn’t an easy thing to do. It took a long time for me to accept that Mieks doesn’t have to have a tribe of dog friends for me to be an awesome dog mum. In fact, in her mind she couldn’t think of anything more stressful.
Behavioural management means I pick and manage her social outings carefully, avoiding off-lead areas or peak dog traffic times to minimise her (and mine) stress levels. We both love our on-lead, doggie-free power-walks, avoiding other hounds.
Although she isn’t exactly what I fully envisaged when i dreamt of taking a pet home and for the simple reason that living with a special needs pet can be super challenging… WITH a diagnosis and management plan (which has comprised environmental management, anti-anxiety medications and behavioural modification, and importantly adjustment of our goals and acceptance of our reality), there are still highs and low. But my little poppet Mieks means everything to me, and i wouldn’t swap her for the world.
Dr Lucy xx