Originally I'd planned to spay her sometime between 18 and 24 months - giving plenty of time for her growth plates to close. My reason for not spaying her when the time came has to do with her dog-dog reactivity. I'd read some bitches are exposed to too much testosterone in the womb, which affects their brain development. And, for those affected, spaying can make their reactivity worse because it removes the main source of estrogen and its temperament softening affect.
Gimme fits the profile perfectly. She marks more than any dog I've ever known - as many as 15 times in a 1 mile walk, over any other dog marks, but she also pees frequently in places where there is seldom any other dog marking. When she is marking, she does so on three legs, aiming well off the ground. When she is peeing, she squats to do so. She is also pretty muscular, though she is not masculine in appearance.
I thought I would just live with her seasons, in favor of her temperament, but as time goes on I have noticed a pattern which is presenting problems. During the period of mothering following her false pregnancy she becomes hyperalert. Her anxiety goes way up. During this time we lose whatever progress we'd made in training related to reactivity since the last "weaning". She effectively spends 1/3 of her life raising pseudo-babies (2 months for two seasons a year). So while she has improved substantially from reacting at 60 feet down to 15 feet, our progress has stalled. Following a weaning, I find it has bounced up to 25-30 feet. Then we spend the next few months regaining the ground we lost, only to start all over again.
I also notice her reactivity level closely follows a pattern related to her cycle and her estrogen level. She is least reactive when she is in season (highest estrogen levels) and most reactive during the two months of mothering (lowest estrogen on the "whelping" date). So this certainly supports my belief she may be one of the affected bitches.
I understand there are estrogen replacement therapies available, but I have concerns about the side affects with long term use. And since spaying is a permanent change, its not like we can do the surgery and try ERT to see how it works and then reverse course if it isn't effective.
Despite my teaching dog training, with a fair number of reactive dog clients, my very successful experience with another reactive dog of my own, and my own education for working with reactive dogs, I have not been as successful with Gimme as I had hoped. She is four years old and we've been stalled for the last 18 months. My goals for her are simply to be less anxious in the presence of other dogs and hopefully to be able to work/perform when they are around, without interacting with them. This led me to conclude the two-steps-forward-two-steps-back nature of her cycle might be at the root of our plateau.
So it was suggested I should consult a reproductive veterinary who might have ideas to help us. Her response was three options:
1. An herbal supplement for bitches with severe false pregnancies.
2. Spay and try the herbal supplement to ameliorate any tendency toward male behaviors.
3. Spay her and put her on Prozac to mellow out her temperament and make her easier to work with.
I was disinclined toward option 2 and 3 right away, because of the irreversible spaying. Frankly I don't find her hard to work with and am certain we are well away from needing doggie Prozac. So we were left with option 1.
Today we had our appointment and did a full medical work-up. Gimme got a full reproductive exam, geriatric blood and urine panel and an x-ray. Doc wanted to do the x-ray because Gimme's bladder was so full when we got there, so she was worried about potential stone blockage. I wasn't worried, because I was sure Gimme had failed to take advantage of her time in the yard when I got home, since she knew we were going somewhere and was distracted. She also "likes" to hold onto her urine so she has plenty to mark with when she knows we are going some place away from home. However, given the prices she quoted (rather low for this area) I thought x-raying and knowing for sure was a good idea.
The x-ray and urinalysis came back normal. There was a small cloudy area on the x-ray, but no stones of any size. So now we have the supplement and have to wait until we get the blood panel results on Wednesday before starting her on it. I hope it helps her, it would make a big difference for us. So time will tell.
Gimme was not too happy about the x-ray. The table was way too slippery and they tried to manhandle her into a down. I took over and laid her down myself. She still wasn't relaxed, but it wasn't a scary battle. I was so glad I hadn't turned her over to experience this without me there. She enjoyed all the PB she got for tolerating it. She also enjoyed the fact they have a little tupperware dish of PB in every examining room, clearly her kinda place. Gimme loved meeting everyone and was very generous with her kisses. The vet loves her and thinks she has a fabulous temperament (toward people), very responsive and sweet, as well as being incredibly beautiful.
You may wonder why I titled this blog entry Duct Tape. Its because its about fixing something. And because I am trying a duct tape home remedy for a wart I have - so it was on my mind.