2010-The Year of Rehabilitation and Realizations

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.

It was not all flowers and roses, in fact I remember saying to Bailey that if she doesn't stop being a jerk on a leash she can sit in her crate for hours and hours and hours on end.  Yes, she was put on strict crate rest with short leash walks (required to be loose leash with no harness or gentle leader because of the way both contort her body).  I thought we were all going to die, I am not kidding.  I tried to sell her to many people and pawn her off on co-workers A. Lot.  We used a lot of stuffed kongs, bully sticks, and beef ribs in the first couple of months.
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.  

Realistically she may never compete again, and I think I'm okay with that.


Holiday Gifts

The dogs got beef ribs and some canned food for Kong stuffing, and a stuff-less skunk toy.

The cats got new comfy beds for on the furniture (dual purpose cat sleeper and hair containment).

I got some pretty awesome things from the family.  Best gift?  Retired bridle leather with turquoise beads bracelet from Montana!

Also got the Dansko shoes I've been coveting.  Mom was sneaky and I love, love, love them.

Brother gave me an ipod shuffle!  I'm so excited to use it while I'm working out now!

Despite all the stress of having the holiday at The Farm, it was absolutely great to see everyone.


Declaw Alternatives

Yes, a cat post.  I'd say (without looking at actual numbers) that we do about 50% of our cat spays/neuters with a front declaw, 10% is probably a 4 paw declaw, and the remaining 40% are only spay/neuter.  Surprisingly (to me) maybe 45% of those initially not declawed come back in later for a front declaw.

I've never been a fan of declawing.  Working at the clinic has made me even less of a fan.  I live with one front declawed cat (done at an older age, but definitely not old) and one who has kept all of his claws for his 13 years of life thus far.

Why do people feel that declawing is necessary right away?  I will say that I stand by the fact I would rather see a cat declaws and living inside safely, than the alternatives (becoming an outdoor cat or dead).  Of course, of course, of course!  I just feel like we're missing out on a key element of pet education if we're seeing so many (standard) declaw procedures.

1) Nail trims.  I've been experimenting lately with my own cats.  I've got both of my cats accustomed to the dremel.  I trim the tip with a clippers (if I let them get that long) and then dremel it back, like I would a dog's nail, until there is no point to the nail.  This means that he can't be using the nail to scratch things.  I ran my fingers over the nails when I finished this morning and it doesn't appear to be sharp in any way.  We have leather furniture, so scratches happen pretty easily.  He doesn't actively scratch things, but if I let his nails get too long they tend to do the damage all on their own.

2) Soft Paws.  I've heard very little good about the product, most of the negative relating to the glue used.  I bought some a while back and haven't used them yet.  I've  been told to expect to have to order new glue to use as the tube in my kit is likely dried up, despite it not being opened.  The reason I haven't tried them is I'd have to let the nail grow out for them to fit.  I simply haven't seen the point yet.

3) Appropriate scratching surfaces.  I don't have any cat trees.  I really, really, need to build one.  Not only as an appropriate scratching surface, but I'm sure the cats would love to have a place the dogs absolutely could not get to.  Most scratching surfaces bought at local big box stores are too short for the majority of the cat population.  It does no good if the kitty doesn't like it!

4) Enrichment.  Cats are more likely to find inappropriate scratching surfaces if they are bored.  Keep your indoor feline occupied.

5) Health.  As always, if there are sudden changes to your cat's behavior, a vet visit may be in order.


Developing A Training Plan

We have a new "clinic cat" at work.  She's a little kitten that was found out and about in the winter weather.  A kind citizen brought her in.  My boss promised her a home before the holidays and since nobody has come forward, she's become the newest addition!

Which means she needs vaccines and sterilization and other fun things clinic cats get.  I've wanted a new pupil for a while now and what's better than a food motivated, silly little kitten?!

I've never been good about creating a training plan and actually using it.  Since I would like this to be as effective as possible and accomplished in the shortest amount of time possible, I'm going to create, and stick to, a training plan.

I won't share my loftiest goal, but I will share what I hope to accomplish along the way.

1) Relaxed blood draw behavior
2) Kennel on cue
3) Go to mat

The plan is to ask tomorrow if I can work with the adorable kitten, if my voice will cooperate.  It is currently on vacation without me.

"The Golden Years"

Buzz will be 13 in May.  I've tried to make sure he's still getting physical and mental stimulation as he likes, because who wants to be forgotten in their golden years?  Last night we had a "meeting of the minds" with some good friends and a sleepover (I can count on one hand how many times Buzz and I have had a sleep over)!  He interacted with Beckett, Via, and Elvis as well as the myriad of people around all night long, he had a blast!  So much fun in fact, that I had to crate him to get him to sleep last night!
Watching waffles being made!
We then went to training group this morning where he worked for a good portion of the hour.  It was evident he'd been to a sleep over, but was happy to be there and to be working!

Beckett has learned how to use the pivot box!

I've been taking him to work with me to see people and use the treadmill since it has been WAY too cold for outdoor activities.  When it does warm up again, I hope to resume at least once weekly walking in town.

I've not been good about using food toys, but I plan to start doing that again.  I can take Bailey for her walk in the morning before work and leave the tug a jug out for Buzz (yay for multi-tasking)!

What do you do in the winter to keep your dog mentally and physically stimulated?

I'm looking for Bailey specific activities too.  She doesn't like coming to work and isn't generally satisfied with town walks.  She does like going to Tractor Supply to go shopping, but there's so few things we need from there that it's realistic about once a month.  I do alternate dogs when going to training group, but then she's only getting out every other week at best.



We've been doing our stretches and ball work dutifully.  We are failing at exercising (well, the dogs and I are... I am not, for once, whee).  It is SO COLD outside that even with boots and jackets and activity, we are limited to the driveway and while it's pretty long, it gets boring after a couple passes.  This morning Buzz went out to pee, walked to the shed and stopped.  He looked at me and walked back to the front door.  He made that pretty clear.

I keep saying I should just bring him to work and put him on the treadmill, so that's what I'll do tomorrow.  We'll go to work and he'll exercise on my lunch hour while I eat lunch and/or read a book.  Hahahaha, oh yes, I'll be laughing at him.

If I remember, I'll bring my camera.  He's never been on the treadmill at work before, but I doubt he'll have any problems with it.

Bring it on Midwest Winter, bring it on!  We can work around you!



Sorry for the poor quality.  I was just happy my camera complied long enough to get a couple pictures before it said "I AM TOO COLD!"
Snow dogs were happy with snow, only when in complete winter gear.

Buzz knows how to stay warm.  It involves 2 jackets and some boots.

I emailed Muttlucks again to ask about buying a single boot and no response... so we have 3 Muttlucks and a reandom, red, cheap boot.


More Poking and Prodding

Originally uploaded by Keen on Mangoes
Buzz was poked in the bladder (still "stuff that shouldn't be" on his urinalysis but... we're going to wait and run another urinalysis in 2 weeks), poked in the jugular (his general health profile was straight black, right down the middle, awesomely good), and poked in the armpit (yay, another lipoma). He says he wants to stay home from now on.

All in all, a pretty darn good report.


A Very Special Setter

He wasn't mine, I never saw him for more than a couple hours at a time, and yet this is one of the most challenging euthanasias I've been through.

He touched a place in my heart that hasn't been used in a while.  He was special from that first time he walked through the clinic door.  He and his owners came to us just a couple months ago because their other clinic was closing and the boy needed a reliable doctor to fight for him.  We've been trying our damndest to provide him with relief from seizures, but nothing has worked.  He'd start a new drug, have no seizures for days at a time then he would start to have grand mal cluster seizures again.  One of his owners would call in tears asking if there's anything we can do, and we'd eventually find a new drug, a new supplement, a new something...

Today he came in for that final visit.  I stepped in to the room to say my good-byes and the big blue boy shoved his head into my face.  I told him what a good boy he is, how brave he's been, and that he's the most beautiful setter I've ever met.  He obliged me for a couple seconds and then began pacing again.  Watching him so clearly uncomfortable with... everything... made it almost bearable.  I told his owners how damn sorry I am, how badly I feel that we couldn't help him.  They'd done everything anyone's ever suggested that *just might* have helped.  They'd exhausted all options.  This was the last gift they could give him.

Rest well beautiful blue boy.  You've given everyone you met something to remember--Don't dwell on the past, don't worry about the future--just live in the now.  I'm sorry your body failed you, and I'm sorry we couldn't help you.  I'll remember you forever, as the bravest dog I've ever met.


Crazy Red Adolescent Boy Dog

I affectionately refer to Fritz with many crazy-like names.  I don't use his name much (habit that deserves a post of its' own...) so I find other things to call him.  Today he was red beast, crazy red boy, and goofy red kid... I think.

Our training today was great in many ways.

  1. He never stopped taking food.  He started showing signs of being disinterested, so I stopped before he stopped.
  2. He remembered hand targeting after only a couple sessions.  He hasn't worked on it since he was at my house in September.
  3. His Gentle Leader behavior was functional.  He'll still put his nose through the loop and allow it to be buckled without bucking-bronco tactics.
  4. The Tug-A-Jug is still exciting.  As is the Kong Genius.
  5. He was able to reorient at the door and I was proactive and held his collar to prevent leaping off the deck (he likes to launch from deck to sidewalk, completely skipping the 3 steps and hauling the person on the other end of the leash with).
  6. He didn't pee on my shoes in greeting...
September... we definitely have snow now!
I brought an assortment of kibbles I have at home (TOTW High Prairie, Fromm Salmon, Fromm Duck, Kirkland Chicken and Rice) and some Old Mother Hubbard assorted mini-biscuits.  We also used treats from his house--peanut butter biscuits, dried chicken jerky, and soft beef treats.  He was very alert and in tune when we encountered another dog (a good distance away).  I was able to get him to reorient and sufficiently reinforce/keep his attention every time but one.  He did wuff! a couple times but no leaping dog behavior, just a lot of "stop and stare" that was fairly easy for me to reengage him from.  Very little Gentle Leader frustration behavior (he perfectly demonstrated the difference between thick and thin nose loop preference that I'd tried to explain previously), and incredibly responsive to the slightest pressure.

  1. He was still launching at me pretty regularly.  It decreases significantly each time I see him, but he's still doing it.  He's huge and it hurts.  It frustrates him when he doesn't get my attention that way, so then he gets mouthy. I was sorta able to redirect to a toy and sorta able to engage him in training... sometimes.  I know he needs a better way to greet me, but if I get down on his level I get pee on my shoes.  If I engage with him upon first arrival, I get pee on my shoes/pants/whatever is nearby.  (He's a huge submissive peer...)
  2. Nail trim.  When he stayed with me I trimmed his nails almost every day.  By the time he left, he'd lay on his side and let me trim all four feet without mouthing me.  He was relentless today.  I actually needed another hand, which I haven't needed with him in quite a while.  A toy in his mouth was not sufficiently engaging, he wanted to mouth ME.
I'm not sure if mouthy was just a "thing" today or what's going on with that.  He's always been a mouth-oriented dog, he samples everything, but I can't remember it being this significant before.  Is this something that needs to be addressed, or will it go away?

Greetings clearly need help, but I'm not sure how.  Crating hasn't helped in the past.  He gets all wiggly and pees as I unlatch the door.  I've thought about crating + dropping food in without eye contact, but I doubt he'd eat it, so... ineffective.

And my biggest struggling point ever--teaching the owner leash handling techniques with a Gentle Leader on.  Kristen and I have talked about it extensively and not come to any real conclusions... anyone else have suggestions other than go ride a horse (seriously... people who ride/have ridden have excellent leash handling skills)?


Rehab continued

 We visited with the fabulous Dr. Julia on Wednesday evening and while the appointment went well:

  • Bailey's sacrum is still staying where it needs to!
  • Buzz is definitely more mobile
We still aren't seeing enough results with Bailey's leg.  More ball work (correctly... since I'd misunderstood before) for both dogs.  
  • Bailey is to do single front leg lifts while on the ball
  • Buzz is just to stand on it for 30 seconds
And, we're using resistance bands on Bailey's legs now.