E287 - Jennifer Summerfield, DVM - “Canine Pancreatitis & Behavior Disorders”

Dr. Jen joins me this week to talk about the growing awareness of chronic canine pancreatitis and for a discussion on behavior disorders in our dogs. 


Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only the most current and progressive training methods. Today I have Dr. Jennifer Summerfield here with me to talk about two topics, canine pancreatitis and behavior disorders.

Hi Jen, welcome back to the podcast.

Jennifer Summerfield: Hello and thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Melissa Breau: I'm excited to have you. So, to start us out, can you remind everybody a little bit about you, kind of your current crew, including the new guy and what you're working on with them?

Jennifer Summerfield: Yeah, so I am a veterinarian in full-time general clinical practice based in Huntington, West Virginia. So I do, certainly, a lot of general medical practice stuff, but I also have…always had a special interest in behavior. So that's always been an area that I've kind of cultivated and done a lot of. So I see quite a few behavior cases as part of, you know, kind of my job as a veterinarian. So I kind of get to have the best of both worlds, which is fun.

As far as my dogs go, I have three at the moment. I have Remi, they're all, al Sheltie household. Remi is my old man, he's 14 and a half, so he is pretty much retired from all the sport things now he doesn't really hear anymore, he doesn't see super well, so he just kind of putters around the house and enjoys laying on his various dog beds and the couch and all that. So he's a pretty happy guy, but his workload's pretty minimal nowadays. My middle child is Gatsby who is nine years old and he has mainly done agility as far as sports go. He runs in AKC master's level at the moment and we've actually been out of trialing for a couple of years with Covid and all that stuff that was going on. So we're actually getting back into it. We've got a couple of trials that were entered in for like late November and December, so I'm excited to see how that goes since it's been a while.

Melissa Breau: Super exciting.

Jennifer Summerfiled: Yes. Yeah, we'll we'll see.

Melissa Breau: Right.

Fingers crossed. But I'm excited to like go to trials again and you know, see how it goes.

Melissa Breau: Yeah.

Jennifer Summerfield: And then my youngest, my new edition is Jesse, who is a pretty young guy. He is gonna be two years old in January and he has been with me for about two months now, so not very long. But he's a really good little fellow. His story is that his previous owner passed away kind of unexpectedly and he was going to be an agility dog.

That's what they had gotten him to do cuz his personality seems very well suited for that. So his breeder was really hoping that they might be able to find him a performance home again this time around. And so he, you know, was looking for a home that certainly sounded like mine might be a pretty good fit and he sounded like he could potentially be a good fit for the dogs that I have currently, which was an important consideration. So anyway, long story short, here we are and he's been with me since the beginning of September and he is a great little fella. He's settling in really nicely with my other dogs. He has learned pretty quickly to be respectful of the cat Bernadette and he is learning, you know, foundation stuff for agility and we'll see what other stuff he might like to do.

We may also do, you know, some obedience and rally. I've done that before with Remy when he was younger. Maybe a little nosework, maybe a little herding, just depending on what he likes. But he is a, he's been a really fun, awesome little fella so far. And then I have the cat, Bernadette, and a ball python named Lizzie. So that rounds out my household.

Melissa Breau: Your crew?

Jennifer Summerfield: Yes, the crew. The cat and the ball python do not do any sports.

Melissa Breau: You don't, you don't wanna do TEAM with Bernadette. Come on now.

Jennifer Summerfield: Yeah, I mean I talked to her about it and she said she wasn't very interested so…

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. Alright, so let's start with the topic for the upcoming webinar. So you've got a webinar coming up on canine pancreatitis. So what is it?

Jennifer Summerfiled: Yeah, so this is something that I'm definitely looking forward to being able to talk to you guys about for a while. It should be coming up Thursday the 10th I believe. Is that right?

Melissa Breay: Yeah. So I'll Double check. Yeah, pretty sure that's right.

Jennifer Summerfield: So basically, you know, of course we'll get into a lot more detail about this in the actual webinar, but pancreatitis is a problem that we see kind of frequently in dogs, humans can get it as well. And as the name implies, it's basically inflammation of the pancreas. But what makes it sort of interesting as far as, you know, the, the underlying causes of it as far as how it works is that the problem is the pancreas basically is responsible for making and secreting digestive enzymes. And what happens in pancreatitis cases is that those enzymes get activated prematurely in the pancreas where they're not supposed to be activated and the pancreas sort of starts digesting itself basically, which is just as gnarly and not fun as it sounds like it would be. So we're gonna be talking in the webinar about, you know, all the various, you know, things that can happen with that, things to watch for, things that cause it, all that good stuff.

Melissa Breau: Interesting. All right. So if a dog has pancreatitis, what are some of the symptoms or signs that an owner or handler might see?

Jennifer Summerfield: The number one most common symptom is gonna be vomiting. So the vast majority of dogs who have pancreatitis are gonna be throwing up. Other common symptoms that we might see would be things, things like abdominal pain, which I know is kind of hard for us to know about sometimes in our dogs, but we might notice that, you know, they seem really tense if you push on their belly or sometimes they'll kind of do this weird posture. We, they call it a praying posture where they kinda, you know, will rest their front end on the ground but be standing up in the back end cuz their stomach hurts. So we can see that sometimes. Usually in the cases that I see they tend to be pretty lethargic, you know, just not feeling well, not wanting to eat. Sometimes they have diarrhea but not always. And obviously as you can tell from that list of symptoms, it's not super like specific.

Melissa Breau: Right.

Jennifer Summerfield: Those are all kind of relatively vague, could be caused by a lot of different things. So you know, that's where our diagnostics and things come in at the vet visit to see if it is pancreatitis or if it's, you know, something else on that long list of stuff that can cause GI symptoms like that.

Melissa Breau: How do they, I know it's not most prep question, but how do they diagnosed it? Is it a blood thing or is it like a…

Jennifer Summerfield: Yes so…

Melissa Breau: Testing they do?

Jennifer Summerfield: Yeah, that's a good question. It's not always super clear cut. We do have some pretty decent blood tests now that help, but basically in most cases your veterinarian's probably gonna start with a general blood panel, which, you know, partly what we're doing when dogs come in with these symptoms is it's not so much that we're like, oh we need to confirm this is pancreatitis. Although that might be a differential. We're kind of, we're looking for other things too, right? We're like, well is it pancreatitis or is it you know that this dog has swallowed a corn cob or you know, is it some other totally different problem. So that we're gonna do blood work often, we're gonna take some x-rays, we might do an abdominal ultrasound and all of those things can give us some supporting evidence even though they're not super specific for pancreatitis, there is a blood test, there's a, there are a couple different blood tests. There's one that we can do in-house, which is nice where basically it takes like 10 minutes and it just gives us a normal or abnormal result.

It's looking at pancreatic enzymes, you know, that get released in larger amounts when the pancreas is angry, basically. So that's not a super hard and fast test. The way that we use it is that if it comes back normal then the dog probably doesn't have pancreatitis. We can kind of rule that out. If it comes back positive then it's suspicious–it's suggestive of pancreatitis. But we can't a hundred percent say that's what it is because other stuff could also be making your pancreas angry. You know, like if you swallowed a corn cob and it's lodged in that area and all that stuff in the neighborhood is inflamed, then our pancreatitis test might be abnormal but that's not the main problem. So we still have to kind of take that with everything else. But that test has helped us a lot. And then there's a send out test that's more specific but it's less helpful to us initially because it's gonna take a few days to get that back, you know, and we still need to know what to do with the dog in the meantime. So that's kind of an overview of how the diagnostic stuff usually goes.

Melissa Breau: So once the vet looks at all the options and is like, okay this is probably pancreatitis, what's kind of typical from there? What's the prognosis? Is it like something that can get better? Is it something that you're dealing with? I mean, what's It look like?

Jennifer Summfield: Yeah, so usually it gets better. That's, that's the good news.

So it can vary. There definitely are cases that can be pretty darn mild and not really a huge deal at all. There are other cases on the other end of the spectrum that can end up being really serious where a lot of really bad things can happen and you know, you're talking about needing specialist level care and sometimes even then they don't survive. But that's not common.

I would say the typical pancreatitis case that we see, the dog's pretty sick but they respond pretty well to treatment. Usually they're in the hospital two or three days and after that they go home and get back to their normal life for the most part. So usually a relatively good prognosis with the caveat that they're always gonna be some cases that just end up being more serious.

Some dogs do have chronic issues, you know, so that's something that we're gonna talk quite a bit about in the webinar. It's not always just a one and done kind of thing. Some dogs can develop chronic pancreatitis or some dogs can just be more prone to getting recurring episodes of it for a variety of different underlying reasons. So in some cases there are some things that we might need to address going forward to help, you know, minimize the impact of that in the future.

Melissa Breau: Is it still the same symptom list if it's chronic so you just kind of see them come back again and again or is it different?

Jennifer Summerfield: Yeah, so it can be–chronic pancreatitis is kind of a whole can of worms, which is something that we get into a bit in the webinar in that we used to think it wasn't really much of a thing in dogs. It is, you know, a lot of this stuff is very species specific, which is interesting because chronic pancreatitis is by far the most common form that we see in cats, but dogs…

Melissa Breau: Interesting.

Jennifer Summerfield: Yeah, I know, right? You would think it would all work pretty much the same, but no, so in dogs for a long time it was kind of thought like yeah they don't really get chronic pancreatitis. So turns out that they do and they probably get it more frequently than we realize because the symptoms of that are often really vague. We're talking about things like just kind of mild off and on GI issues, you know, like maybe sometimes the dog doesn't eat very well, maybe sometimes they act kind of uncomfortable after they eat. Maybe they have like off and on episodes of diarrhea for no obvious reason.

So you know, that's really hard from a diagnostic standpoint because there are really a million things that can cause those symptoms, right? You know, we can see that with inflammatory bowel disease or with, you know, a food allergy or intolerance or something like that or Addison's disease or you know, there's a million things. So we wouldn't necessarily even think of chronic pancreatitis as being particularly near the top of that list. And it's hard to diagnose because a lot of, you know, a lot of the tests that we use to to test for sort of the more typical like acute pancreatitis sorts of things are not as good for finding this kind of chronic smoldering, low-level type inflammation that is going on. So it can be tricky and of course, you know, we probably would find more cases if we looked more for them, but until kind of recently it was just kind of not even on the radar that much.

Melissa Breau: So Interesting.

Jennifer Summerfield: Yeah, so we can see dogs that legitimately have a chronic form of it, but we also see dogs who just are prone to getting it and will just get repeated bouts of kind of acute, you know, the garden variety pancreatitis that we think about more–that acute form. And sometimes that can become chronic over time if a dog's had multiple bouts of it. We think that's one of the things that maybe causes chronic pancreatitis in some dogs, although it's not super clear. But, so it can go either way. It can be a dog that has kind of mild ongoing chronic signs or it can be a dog that just seems to be very prone to getting recurring bouts of the more acute severe kind.

Melissa Breau: Can you just talk a little more about what you'll get into in the webinar and, and maybe kind of give folks an idea of who should join us?

Jennifer Summerfield: Yeah, so we're gonna be talking, you know, in more depth for sure about what actually happens in the pancreas in dogs that have pancreatitis, at least to the extent that we know that that's understood. We're gonna talk a fair amount about risk factors and causes. Again, you know, to the extent that we know that a lot of cases are idiopathic, meaning that we don't know for sure what triggered them, but that's part of the fun of medicine. That's often the case. We'll talk about clinical signs and what to expect at the vet's office. So some of the stuff we've talked about here, but in more detail. And then we do spend a fair amount of time in the webinar talking about prevention of future episodes because I think that's a really common question that people have. If they've had a dog who's ever had a bout of pancreatitis or especially if they've had a dog that's had more than one, you know, that becomes a really salient question, right?

Because everybody, you know, no one wants to go through this again. I think that's something that comes up really frequently is this question of, you know, well if my dog has just had one bout of pancreatitis, should we change their diet? You know, should they be on any kind of medication going forward? How do we decide that, you know, what if my dog's had multiple bouts of it, what then if we're gonna change the diet, what do we change the diet to? And you know what seemed to be the factors there that matter and you know, how do we navigate that? So we're gonna spend a fair amount of time discussing that just because I think that's an area that people often have a lot of questions about and there's some definite concrete things that you can do to really minimize the dog's risk of having more episodes going forward.

Melissa Breau: Cool. Awesome. Yeah, so the other thing that I wanted to chat with you about was kind of the topic of your upcoming December class, which I know is usually a popular topic. So, Normal or Not: Diagnosis and Treatments of Common Behavioral Disorders. So when looking at behavior, is there a line between what's normal and what's not?

Jennifer Summerfield: So I don't know that I would say there's like a hard line, you know, where it's always very black and white, what's normal and what's not. But it's, I would say it's probably on more of a spectrum, but in general when we talk about behavior that is genuinely abnormal, you know, or pathologic, we're talking about something that is not adaptive for the dog, right? This is basically like, hey, this is a behavior that just objectively doesn't really make sense. It's not, it's not doing anything useful for the dog. Often it's impacting the dog's quality of life often, you know, it depends on the specifics of course, but very often it's basically a really exaggerated or over the top response, you know, to some kind of normal stimulus in the environment where a normal dog might react one way and a dog that has a, you know, some sort of genuine pathological behavior issue may react in a similar sort of way, but like way over the top, you know, way too much.

So as an example, if we're talking about something like fear issues in dogs, you know, I know my dogs have always been a little skeptical about like, you know, on trash day, you know, people put their trash out on the, on the sidewalk to be picked up and if we happen to go out early in the morning before the trash has been picked up, they kind of look at the trash bags like, oh that wasn't there yesterday. That's weird. Maybe they check them out, maybe they even bark at them a couple of times, but then they're like, well alright, it seems to be a trash bag. You know, I guess we'll go on. You know, whereas there are dogs that just cannot handle things like that, right? I don't know if you've ever had a dog like that or known a dog like that, but there are dogs that just legitimately anything different like that in the environment. You know, if you take your dog out and your neighbor has set their trash out on the curb and your dog has a meltdown about that to the point where they like can't, you know, they can't go on with their walk, you know, they're just, they're just standing and fixated and barking and hysterical about the trash bag and it's like, well we're done for the day.

Or you know, if that dog, you know, when you try to take them for a walk the next day they're like, oh they're really anxious now cause they're afraid there might be a trash bag out there. You know, those types of things, that's not normal, right? You know, that's like wow, you can see kind of where that response is coming from. You know, normal dogs do kind of a variation on that a lot of times, but this is very over the top, very exaggerated, like much more intense than it ought to be. Or as another kind of example, right? If you have housemate dogs let's say might be perfectly normal for housemate dogs to occasionally have some conflicts or disagreements, you know, so maybe if you're eating a raw hide and your housemate dog kind of comes over and sticks his nose in and gets a little too close to that, you might snarl or growl, you know, and hopefully the other dog reads that appropriately and backs off and you know, everybody's fine. I would say that's a pretty normal interaction in a lot of households.

Whereas, you know, what's not normal is if you have a dog who, you know, has a raw hide in the room and goes flying across the room to attack their housemate dog, you know, just for like walking through the room where their rawhide is, they didn't even look at it. And that's especially true if you're getting fights with injuries, right? You know, this is not adaptive behavior, this is not something that we should be seeing over a trigger like that, you know, it's way over the top. It's not a, it's not a proportional response to what's going on. So those are often kind of the types of things that we see with dogs who have, you know, some sort of genuinely abnormal behavior issue.

I do tell people in general when we're trying to draw this line that one of the, you know, one of the things we try to keep in mind is that for the most part, you know, truly abnormal or pathologic behavior does very often impact the dog's quality of life. You know, and that is one of the sort of test questions that we can kind of ask ourselves if we're trying to figure out if something is more of just a training problem, right? Like, oh maybe we just need to work on some obedience stuff versus like, no, this is an actual behavior issue that may need treatment with medication or you know, kind of a different approach. And it's that question of, you know, is this behavior a problem for the dog or is it just a problem for you? Right?

Melissa Breau: Yeah. So that's kind of a good way to look at it. So what are some of the more common kind of behavioral disorders that we see in dogs?

Jennifer Summerfield: So there definitely are lots, right? I would say that some of the common ones that tend to come to mind are gonna be things like we see a fair amount of fear aggression in various forms either towards other dogs or towards humans. Usually strangers we see some owner directed aggression cases, which isn't really a diagnosis, it's more of a description. But there are definitely some commonalities that we tend to see in cases like that. As far as underlying causes, we see a fair amount of separation anxiety or what, you know, perhaps more technically is called, you know, separation related distress.

But basically dogs who are, you know, having a panic attack when the owner leaves the house, we see noise sensitivity fairly frequently. Occasionally we see compulsive behavior disorders. Those are interesting, not super common, which is, you know, probably good, they can be challenging for everybody involved, but they are interesting cases when we see them.

Melissa Breau: Do we have any idea kinda what causes some of this stuff?

Jennifer Summerfield: Yeah, so you know, of course in cases where we're looking at something like fear aggression, you know, those dogs often, you know, as the name implies right, are gonna be sort of abnormally fearful or anxious about, you know, things that sort of, you know, that don't make sense, right? You know, these are the kinds of dogs that are just sort of over the top scared of every visitor that comes to their house or you know, over the top scared of the dog that's walking peacefully by on the other side of the street with its owner, you know, not even looking at them, that kind of thing. With some of our owner directed aggression cases, of course it can vary cuz we're just kind of describing really what's happening with that label. But a lot of these cases the behavior ends up being related to handling sensitivity and or poor impulse control to some extent on the dog's case.

So a lot of these dogs have what we call impulsive aggression, meaning that it's aggressive behavior that's very explosive and intense with very little warning beforehand. So that's a pretty common pattern that we see with dogs who are aggressive towards their owners and that's, you know, often kind of the underlying issues that are leading to that behavior with, you know, things like compulsive behaviors.

We know that there's a significant genetic component to those and that, you know, studies have shown that this is actually related to a dysfunction in brain circuitry to some extent. So that's something that we often can get a lot of improvement on with medication. But a lot of our compulsive behavior stuff is often exacerbated by things like, you know, the dog getting agitated or aroused or frustrated or can be worse when the dog is bored.

So those are some of the ways that we kind of think about those disorders and you know, potential causes or underlying contributing factors. So I know that we kind of hear often if you see a sudden behavior change you should look to kind of a physical cause, right? Like has something changed, the dog hurt, is the dog in pain?Is there something there?

Melissa Breau: So how common is it for kind of abnormal behaviors to have a physical cause I guess in other words, do they often tie into kind of physical problems?

Jennifer Summerfield: They definitely can. I would say that in terms of seeing physical problems be a direct cause for abnormal behaviors, not that common in my experience. Not that you can't, but you know, like we certainly can see cases where for example, you know there's a middle-aged or older dog that suddenly starts showing this like super out of character aggressive behavior, something like that and turns out to have something like a brain tumor, right? So weird cases when those happen, not super common, but those are cases where obviously there is a pretty clear cut like physical cause for that behavior change. I guess I would also say some of the dogs that come to us for, you know, what looks at first like it might be a compulsive behavior like you know, tail chasing or spinning or something like that. Some of those dogs do end up having physical causes for the behavior, you know, like spinal pain or something like that. It's a little bit splitting here maybe to say like, well does that mean we have a physical cause for compulsive behavior? Cuz it probably isn't truly a compulsive behavior at that point. It's just kind of behavior that looks like that but there's a different cause. But yeah, we can, we can certainly see kind of a direct relationship in cases like that. For other things I would say that it's fairly common for us to see physical issues as kind of contributing factors to some extent.

So things like, you know, a dog being in pain, right? Maybe more likely to act out, you know, with things like owner-directed aggression or aggression towards housemates. We know that there's a lot of newer research coming out looking at how GI issues can impact behavior, which is really interesting and in humans looking at, you know, the link between GI issues and mental, you know, health issues, you know that there's probably a lot more of a direct connection between those things than we used to realize, which is really interesting. We can definitely see things like thyroid problems, you know, as being a sometimes contributing factor to dogs being kind of irritable or you know, a little more prone to react aggressively or more, a little more prone to be anxious about things than they might otherwise.

So yeah, I think that it's definitely good to keep that on the radar. I don't feel like it happens super frequently that we have a case presented to us for behavior issues that we find a physical cause and we fix it and that fixes the behavior. That's not usually the scenario, but it often is worth saying, hey, does this dog have anything going on that might be making this worse? Right? You know, that that would at least be something we could address and even if it doesn't fix the problem, if it improves it a little bit, at least that's something and then obviously we still need to address the behavior problem but you know, easier to do when the dog's not painful from its arthritis or when it doesn't have a raging ear infection or when it doesn't have uncontrolled thyroid disease or something like that. So it's a good question.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, I think we often hear in dog training sometimes, especially when you're talking with some slightly more abnormal behavior, right? That the why it happened doesn't necessarily matter that we need to just focus on kind of the behavior in front of us and focus on reinforcement, things like that to change behavior. But that's usually kind of from a trainer's perspective. So I was curious, how does having a diagnosis help, especially from a kind of a veterinary perspective?

Jennifer Summerfield: Yeah, I think that's an interesting question because certainly you do hear that a lot, right? That to some extent the why doesn't matter and I agree with that to a point in that, you know, ultimately you're dealing with the behavior in front of you and sometimes it's not super fruitful to go down the rabbit hole of speculating. Especially things like, you know, whether there might have been something in the dog's past that caused it or you know, what have you, was it lack of socialization? Was she abused? You know, those kinds of things. It sort of doesn't make any difference in terms of addressing what we're seeing. So I agree with that statement in that sense.

I would say though that I think it's useful in a lot of cases for us to know at least what the underlying, you know, sort of emotional state of the dog is that's causing the behavior that we're seeing. Because a lot of times that is going to impact our treatment plan for example, right? If we have a dog who presents to us for leash reactivity, you know, so the behavior the owner is describing is that the dog is lunging out to the end of the leash barking, you know, maybe it's heckles are up, you know, things like that. We can get some body language descriptors, but basically the owners presenting the dog for barking and lunging on the leash at either other dogs or people. So we can see that behavior sometimes as a result of just excitement and over arousal and maybe some frustration thrown in there.

But the dog maybe is essentially friendly and their motivation is they really want to get closer to the thing versus we can see very similar looking behavior with a, you know, totally different underlying emotion behind it, right? We see this a lot with dogs who are fearful, you know, if you're aggressive or fearfully, fearfully reactive I guess you might say where they're barking and lunging, but their motivation is very different. They're doing it because they're uncomfortable with this thing that they see, they want it to go away. And so that's what's causing the behavior. So I would argue that for cases like that it is helpful for us to have an idea if we can, of what we think is driving that behavior simply because that is gonna impact what kinds of things we can do treatment wise that are probably gonna be more or less effective.

So, you know, with my clients when we're breaking down behavior like this to try to figure out how we're gonna address it, if we are fairly sure that it's coming from more of like a fear aggression type place, then usually we're gonna focus more on you know, kind of straight desensitization, counter conditioning at least at first, right? Where you know, maybe we're just working at a distance from another dog or a person and we're just feeding the dog, you know, for noticing like, oh hey there's a dog over there, you know, they get food for that and then kind of working closer over time. Whereas if we think that it's more of an excitement or over arousal type issue and the dog essentially is friendly, it's just that they're, you know, so over the top aroused that we're getting this behavior, we're probably gonna work more on, you know, teaching this dog like some self-control kind of exercises and working on teaching the dog to offer some kind of alternate behavior, right? When it sees other dogs or people versus, you know, because something like counter-conditioning and or desensitization/counter-conditioning is not really gonna be very effective for that because the dog's not fearful, right? That's not the problem. You can't treat that with desensitization/counter-conditioning. So as a practical matter, often there ends up being a decent amount of overlap in what we do. So certainly a lot of our fear-aggressive dogs, we do also end up teaching them alternative behaviors and things like that and we might still start out with some of our, you know, more sort of excited, you know, frustrated dogs by just feeding them at first when they see the other dog as a way of kind of jumpstarting a behavior of like, "Hey can you check in with me, you know, when you see this dog?" But it does affect how long we're gonna spend on those various phases and where we're gonna put more of our time and energy I guess I might say, even if there does end up being some overlap. So I think it's useful to know from that perspective at least in some cases. I would also say that when we're talking about it from a veterinary perspective specifically and we're talking about meds, right? Being potentially part of the plan there, it does become really helpful for us to have some idea of what the underlying emotion is that we think is driving this behavior because that's gonna affect our medication choice, right? You, you know, are we trying to treat this kind of an underlying anxiety problem in this dog? Are we trying to treat, you know, do we think this dog has poor impulse control? You know, and that's part of the problem. Do we think that this dog gets really over aroused really easily but not necessarily fearful? And that's the problem.

And that can be important to know because different meds are better for different things. You know, it's not a one size fits all, like oh leash reactivity, we treat that with Prozac, right? It depends. So, yeah, I think that's a really good question and I agree with that statement in some ways, but then not so much in others.

Melissa Breau: No, nothing's ever quite that simple, right?

Jennifer Summerfield: No.

Melissa Breau: Can you talk a little more about some of the medical options out there? I know I, to get the, the sense that people often kinda worry about medication, you know, changing who a dog is or they think that like medication is just gonna basically sedate the dog all the time. Can you talk about kinda what role meds can play in helping with problematic abnormal behavior?

Jennifer Summerfield: Sure. I do think that that's a really common concern that people have something–definitely a lot of my clients bring up if we talk about meds for their dog and use something that's really important for us to discuss. I think so the big key point for me with medication, particularly when we're talking about our daily meds, you know like our, our Prozac or Zoloft or CL or medications like that, particularly with those meds, the big thing we're trying to do in those cases is we have reason to think that there is something genuinely abnormal about this dog's brain chemistry, right? Like they're not reacting to the world in a normal way. The way that they're perceiving the world is distressing to them and it's getting this really over the top response that they can't control very well.

When we use medication like that for these dogs, what we are trying to do is get, we're trying to kind of correct that problem, you know, kind of correct that abnormal brain chemistry and that makes it sound a little too pat, right? Like I don't think we probably ever succeed in like yeah we put this dog on Prozac and now everything's a hundred percent normal in his brain.

Melissa Breau: Yeah.

Jennifer Summerfield: I don't think it works like that but we're trying to, there is a genuine abnormality there that we're trying to address with the medication and kind of help move things in a direction that you know is more normal and more adaptive for the dog. And I think that's an important point because in that sense it's much more similar to something like, you know, hey this dog isn't making enough thyroid hormone on its own so it's on medication for that right? Or like, hey this dog is diabetic cuz it's not making enough insulin on its own. So it's on medication for that. It's similar to that we're trying to, to help correct a legitimate abnormality or something that's not there that should be in these dogs and just help them be more able to react to the world the way that, you know, the way that a, a more typical dog would. So that's very different from the goal being like yeah we're just gonna sedate this dog into not misbehaving anymore, right? Like yeah he doesn't lunge at other dogs but he mostly just lays around and stares at the wall so that's cool. That's not what we're after and I think that's really important.

I do think that's a worry that a lot of clients have and I am very quick to reassure, you know, my behavior clients that I work with that sedation is absolutely not our goal generally like especially with our daily meds, there might be some exceptions to that for like short-acting meds, you know, for thunderstorms and things like maybe it's not the worst thing if the dog just sleeps for a couple hours. But in general, you know, with daily type medication we're definitely not after sedation as a goal. We're also not trying to change the dog's personality or make them kind of like artificially happy or anything weird. We're literally just trying to help their brain work more normally. So we shouldn't see those types of side effects if everything's working the way we want it to, you know, we should not have personality changes, we should not have excessive drowsiness or anything like that. We don't normally get those types of changes with most of our daily meds, but if for some reason we do, we're like, ah, the dog's a little flat on this and it doesn't seem to be improving or you know, the dog is kind of just a little sleepier than we'd like and that doesn't seem to be improving, then we can always change something, right? I have a very low tolerance for side effects with behavior meds in my patients. So I always tell clients if there's something this med is doing that you don't like, like tell me and we'll change it. I would never just tell you like, oh yeah, that's what the med does, you gotta live with it.

You know, I think meds should be making things unequivocally better for the dog and for you. So if they're not then we need to either change something about our dose or we need to pick a different medication cuz that's definitely not the goal and in most cases we can find something that gets us at least closer to where we want to be. You know, even if we're not like fixing the problem cuz that's pretty rare, but we can usually find something that does at least make a noticeable difference in the right direction without giving us side effects that we find problematic. And that's always the goal. And yeah, the other thing I do emphasize to people, which I think mostly people understand but it's still worth saying is that unfortunately the medication is what it's not going to do is fix the problem behavior, right? Pretty much never do we put a dog on medication and then, you know, the result is like, oh hey, yeah, he just doesn't do the thing anymore. It's great, we would love that. But that typically is not the effect that we get. It's more that, you know, we can help the dog hopefully be in a better head space to learn so that the rest of the plan can work better. Maybe not quite as quick to fly off the handle about things, maybe not as intense a reaction if something does happen. Hopefully help them be able to recover better, you know, more quickly afterwards, be redirected more easily, that kind of thing. So it's definitely not that we're expecting the meds to do all the heavy lifting on their own, but for a lot of dogs they can be really, really helpful as part of the overall plan just to help them like help their poor brains be able to, you know, function in a way that they're even able to learn, right? Or able to think in these situations where they used to just completely lose their mind.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. So to kinda round out the conversation a little bit, kinda one last question, which is if we were to kind of take all this stuff and drill it down into either a key piece of information or a takeaway that you really want listeners to walk away from this with, what would that be?

Jennifer Summerfield: Yeah, I think from a behavior issue standpoint, which is probably a little broader topic than the, you know, we know we have the pancreatitis webinar coming up. But from the behavior issue standpoint, I would say a, the big sort of a big takeaway that I always want people to have about that when we're talking about normal versus abnormal behavior and you know, why do we care, is that there is a really critical difference between training problems, right? And like true pathological behavior issues. And it's important to sort of know which one you have because we address those in really different ways.

Obedience training does not fix behavior problems. And I think that's a really, really important point that sometimes gets a little bit lost cuz I still, I still find that it's kind of common for people with dogs that have pretty significant behavior issues to get a lot of advice about taking the dog to obedience classes or getting a trainer to help the dog listen better or something like that when, you know, I think we're kind of missing the point sometimes with a lot of these dogs that that's not the issue. So that's something that we do talk quite a bit about in in the class that'll be running this December as well. So, but yep, I think it's an important point.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. And I did double check and the webinar is on the 10th at 6:00 PM Pacific time, so perfect. Yeah. All right. Well thank you so much for coming on the podcast to talk about all this, Jen.

Jennifer SUmmerfield: Yeah, no, I am always very excited to be here. I know we always have good conversations, so Yeah. And thank you to all our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with Sarah Brueske to talk about teaching Toy Play skills.

If you haven't already subscribed to the podcast and iTunes of the podcast app of your choice to run. Next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available. Today's Show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast, music provided royalty free by bensound.com. The track feature here is called Buddy Audio Editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in and happy training.


Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training! 

E288: Sara Brueske - "Teaching Toy Play with Food"
E286: Nicole Levesque - "When Handler Health Impac...

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