The year started off pretty well for us and then I had a mini (ok, it was probably major, I'll just pretend it wasn't) crisis about not being able to train my dog to meet criteria. Normally when I put in effort, develop a training plan, and take private lessons the goal gets accomplished. With the move of Agile Canines Training School into a new (old) building, I knew Bailey wouldn't be working on actual skills for a while, especially not in a group class. Yet, my training goal for this year was to get real running contacts. Thus we started working with Annelise privately to get a good base for said running contacts.
I knew my dog was aging, and that she likely wouldn't ever have the speed I'd really like, but I was really confused (okay, stressed) by the fact that she was NOT improving, and actually seemed to be getting worse! Her contact behavior had deteriorated so much that I couldn't even get a maintained canter across the dog walk, much less over the a-frame.
Then we met Dr. Julia Tomlinson of Twin Cities Animal Rehabilitation Clinic who is worth her weight (times a billion) in gold. Bailey had a physical injury that most humans wouldn't be able to work through. Yet, she was still running around and acting like a normal dog at home but when asked for tight turns or increased speed on challenging surfaces, she was unable. Dr. Julia made a tentative diagnosis of "injured right quadricep muscle" and we started on a rehab plan.
Then I thought about what a real trainer would do when faced with this problem; teach my ten and a half year old dog to walk on a leash. I know, I know... most people have this realization when their dog is about 4 months old. We're just a little behind the times. I did a lot of things wrong (think the worst about walking management tools) when she was a wee pup and into adulthood so I've never, ever, been successful at teaching her real loose leash walking skills. Walks were either a) off leash, b) on an x-back harness, c) wearing an easy walk or d) on a gentle leader. I could probably count on two hands how many times she'd been walked on a 4 foot leash attached to her collar for more than a trip to and from the car.
Enter the Loose Leash Walking Project. My dog can casually walk on a loose leash at home for a decent distance. I still need a very high ROR when in public but hey, WE CAN DO IT!
And that brings us to today. We had a visit with Dr. Julia on Wednesday. For the last couple months, we've been going to see her every 3-4 weeks for an adjustment and to check on progress. I think we're both still hopeful she'll make a full recovery, but the last appointment was really about how far she has come. I was getting so, so, so distressed about the fact that Bailey wasn't holding her adjustments in the beginning. Her sacrum was constantly shifted because of a lack of muscle to hold it in properly. She was very sore, very often. There were days where I wanted to give up. There were weeks where I didn't do any stretches with her because it just was not going well. We got into a major rut. Then our Ohioan Training Buddy helped me develop a TAGteach style plan of action. Since then I've been reliably doing her stretches at least once a day and actually at least 85% each week.
Progress has been slow, but it's there. Her sacrum hasn't shifted in months. She's gaining strength in adductor muscles. Best of all though, my happy little girlie is back. She's moving freely, she's using her leg completely (absolutely no toe-touching, ever), and we're having a blast doing her rehab exercises these days. Since she's been unable to train for competitive behaviors that are strenuous (agility) or one sided (heeling) or could otherwise compromise her leg, I made her stretches into a training game. She will readily offer a bow, a nose touch to hip, or a leg lift. She's even doing leg lifts on the ball by herself now. She "assumes the position" for her theraband exercises and stands like a statue for vibration therapy.
I learned something vitally important this year. My training plan wasn't ineffective. My dog was hurting, I just couldn't see it. Don't ever underestimate or rule out a pain response if training isn't going as it should.