Steady Improvement

As hard as it has been sometimes to look at Risa as she’s progressed through her diagnosis of intervertebral disc disease, I’ve tried to at least document it in photographs. It’s amazing to see the progression. Especially since it’s often hard to see the changes when they occur slowly over time.

This first photo is from January 31st, a week before she was finally diagnosed. While she was feeling better than she had, you can still clearly see the weakness in her rear.

Sinking butt dog when we were still trying to figure out what was going on.

Sinking butt dog when we were still trying to figure out what was going on.

After 4 weeks of crate rest, her posture had improved yet she was still clearly trying to keep her weight off of her back end.

March 6th after four weeks of strict crate rest.

March 6th after four weeks of strict crate rest.

She certainly started to look better once she got moving again. After being off crate rest for a week and shortly after beginning physical therapy, she was standing much better. However, she was still keeping her weight shifted forward and standing with her backend under herself.

March 30th, looking a lot better!

March 30th, looking a lot better!

It’s been almost a month since her crate rest ended and she’s been doing physical therapy exercises and 10-15 minute walking sessions for 3 weeks. I took her photo again today and I hadn’t expected to see such a dramatic change. Risa is clearly standing a bit more balanced and not placing so much weight on her front end anymore. I guess it’s worth the 30-45 minutes I’m spending twice a day doing her exercises! :D

Standing more balanced on April 14th.

Standing more balanced on April 14th.

I can’t wait to see how much improvement there is in a few more months!

Posted in Back Problems, IVDD, Laser Treatment, Physical Therapy, Veterinarian | Leave a comment

YOLO

Thinking, studying, and coming to conclusions.

Thinking, studying, and coming to conclusions.

After my previous entry was written, I’ve done some thinking. I’ve also finally decided it was time to start training with Risa again. We hadn’t done much since I called it quits in January because I couldn’t tell if her back hurt when we trained. To keep her brain busy, I’d done some stuff with her while she was under strict crate rest but it wasn’t the same.

We’ve trained twice this week, short sessions with safe behaviors, and she’s been great. There is, of course, still some room for improvement physically but her spirit is willing. Surprisingly, her body can keep up too.

I’ve done some research and conversed with friends and other dog sport peeps and I’ve decided that, body-willing, if Risa wants to dance I’m going to let her. She lights up when it’s training time and she’s earned the right to be happy. If she can dance safely, I’m going to let her dance. (Thankfully, I have that sort of control in this sport unlike lure coursing that she has to be barred from.)

Now let’s get to choreographing a heelwork to music routine. I’ve always wanted to give it a serious go and, since both Risa and the criteria in HTM are limited, I’d say now’s a good a time as ever to try it. Besides, we’re used to things being challenging. I’d like to see if I can design a functional routine with a limited set of moves. I don’t think she’s ready to stop yet. This might be her last year but we’re going to give it our best shot. As long as it’s safe. . .full steam ahead!

Posted in Back Problems, Canine Freestyle, Dog Sports, IVDD, Thoughts, Training | Leave a comment

Retirement

This peanut therapy ball is part of Risa's ongoing rehab.

This peanut therapy ball is part of Risa’s ongoing rehab.

Risa has been free from confinement for 2.5 weeks now and has had two physical therapy appointments. I’ve been doing a lot of her therapy at home spending about a half hour twice a day doing massage, stretches, and various exercises to strengthen her body and help her move better and pain free. She’s back on three pain meds after I stopped the muscle relaxer and weaned her off the nerve pain med. She seemed painful again on just the two pain meds and the return of cold weather hasn’t helped so she’s back on the gabapentin (just twice a day instead of three times). I’m hoping to get her on just two pain medications for long-term pain management. At her age, it’s unlikely that physical therapy will be enough to keep her pain free. Ideally, I’d like to have her on the Novox long term and just use the gabapentin as needed. Once the warm weather finally sticks around, I think she’ll be okay with less pain management. The cold really seems to affect her negatively and I hear that’s not uncommon. :(

She’s still doing really well. Last night was our first official training session since I called it quits mid-January. I carried her into the basement training space (she can’t do long sets of stairs anymore) and she was ELATED to be back down there. I kept things very low-key and easy for her since it’s been so long and she’s still recovering. I could tell she wanted to do more but I didn’t want her to overdo it. She was exhausted afterward.

I discussed her long-term prognosis with her physical therapy vet at her appointment on Monday. Much to our dismay, the doctor recommended avoiding activities that involve running and lots of twists and turning. It’s with a very heavy heart that I’m pretty much retiring her from canine freestyle. I already had to retire her from lure coursing but I was hoping we might be able to keep freestyle and Rally Free. Unfortunately, it looks like those activities might be too taxing on her body and put her at risk of reinjury. My heart is crushed. This was our first sport. The first one we tried. Where we first stepped foot into the competition ring. Our favorite thing to do together. The sport where our bond together was palpable. Where she smiled and grinned from nose to tail from start to finish. Done. Just like that. No fanfare. No reflection on the journey. . .just over. I’m crushed but I know it’s in her best interest to hang up her dancing shoes competitively. It’s possible I could choreograph a routine with movements she’s still cleared to do but it’d be difficult and I’m not sure I want to put that pressure on us. She loves freestyle and, despite her issues, is the type of dog who will do it because I asked her to not necessarily because she wants to (or can). In this case, the problem is that she does still want to. Her body just isn’t going to be capable of doing it anymore. As is the case with lure coursing, I can’t ask her to do something that might put her quality of life in jeopardy. I think we’ll still dance for fun in a very modified form. But her competitive journey in freestyle and Rally Free is probably over. :(

Fortunately, her vet thinks she should still be okay to compete in obedience and rally if she wants to. I have two titles in progress in both sports. She has one leg towards her Preferred Novice in AKC obedience and one leg towards her Novice title in ASCA rally. My goal at this point is to finish those titles this year and retire her. We’re starting a class in nosework later this month and I think she’s really going to enjoy that. It’s a great sport for dogs who are reactive, injured, or aging. Risa fits all three! She also loves to use her nose so I think this will be a good fit for her. I’m unsure if we’ll ever attempt to compete in a trial in nosework (or in barn hunt which she has also enjoyed). I just want to keep her mind and body active as she ages since she’s always enjoyed participating in various activities with me.

Depending on how she does in regards to recovery and other factors, this may very well be her last year in competition. I knew it was coming but I hadn’t expected it just yet. However, with her serious back injury, it has to come soon. It’s been an incredible ride trialing with this dog. A dog who, for all intents and purposes, shouldn’t have been as successful as she was. We’ve struggled with her fears, dog reactivity, focus, and just training things! I have learned so much and we’ve both come so far. We’re not ready for it to end but the end is definitely near. It’s sad, for sure. But we have so much to be proud of and happy for. I’ll try and keep that in mind moreso than sadness that comes with knowing we’re nearing the end of what has been a fun and challenging journey.

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” –Charlie Chaplin

Posted in AKC, ASCA, Back Problems, Barn Hunt, Canine Freestyle, Dog Sports, IVDD, Laser Treatment, Lure Coursing, Nosework, Obedience, Physical Therapy, Rally, Rally Free, Reactivity, Training, Veterinarian | Leave a comment

Stop Being So Happy!

So happy to be free!

So happy to be free!

Risa’s 6 weeks of confinement are over and we couldn’t be happier. It wasn’t fun for either of us. Ris is a dog who likes to do things and I’m a person who likes to do things with her dog. It also feels like not having a dog when she’s stuck in a box. There are no random moments together; everything is by choice. She can’t just walk into the room to say “Hi.” She’s just there in that one spot. Always. Restricted. Choosing to interact with her was hard, too, as she tended to get overly excited about it which was counterproductive to her healing. I kept her entertained with food puzzle toys, bully sticks, and low-key training sessions but it wasn’t quite enough to keep my active girl happy.

Fortunately, it’s all behind us. I let her out Sunday morning. The first thing she did was empty the contents of her toy bin onto the floor and start playing. It’s only Tuesday and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve told her to relax, calm down, or take it easy. She hasn’t moved much in 6 weeks yet she’s perfectly content to race around the house, pounce on toys, spin like a whirling dervish, and bring me a tug toy to play with (I had to decline her offer). While she appears to be feeling great and I’m so so so so so happy to see my smiley face dog again, I don’t want her to overdo things and hurt herself. She is weak and uncoordinated and it would be easy for her to re-injure herself.

She may be free again but she’s still under restricted activity. No stairs. No opportunities to jump up onto furniture (my living room looks super stylish with boxes up on the couch). No walks. Limited access to the slippery floors in the kitchen. No roughhousing. No deliberate encouragement of crazy fun behavior (this is hard!). I have taken her for brief walks around the yard to sniff but she has yet to leave the house for adventures beyond the vet’s office. She’s no spring chicken and this was a serious injury she sustained. We need to be careful.

Fortunately, we start physical therapy on Friday to help her regain lost strength and stability. If she weren’t so afraid of going to the vet, I think she would really enjoy this. She already loves climbing on unstable objects and clicker games associated with it. She also likes to walk in the water. It’ll be interesting to see if she ever starts to look forward to her visits there. She’s already absolutely sick of going to our regular vet’s office. We’ve been to so many veterinarians over the past three months it’s no small wonder. It will be nice to finally be able to take her other places again. It broke my heart to see how excited she was to leave the house only to arrive at the scary stressful vet’s office!

I’m hopeful we’re finally on our way to happy days ahead. I’ve missed my dog so much. Whatever the future holds, I just want her to be happy and pain free.

Posted in Back Problems, Dog Sports, IVDD, Laser Treatment, Physical Therapy, Training, Veterinarian | Leave a comment

Ya Never Know

It's tough taking it easy so you can get better.  Especially when you finally feel good again!

It’s tough taking it easy so you can get better. Especially when you finally feel good again!

Risa is 12 years old. She doesn’t need to sleep in a crate in the house; she gets free access. We have a fenced in yard so I don’t have to go outside with her to potty. Even if it’s cold out, it’s up to her to decide when to go and when to come back in. We do compete in dog sports so she’s comfortable in a crate and knows to wait for permission to exit. Though she’s a medium-sized dog and isn’t picked up often, she is comfortable with it when I have to lift her. We used to live together in various apartments so she’s comfortable pottying on leash and will pee on cue. I’ve also always just let her do her business on a schedule rather than waiting for her to let me know she needs to go so she’s used to knowing how long she has to hold it.

None of these things is particularly important to most people as far as training goes. Even to me, I tend to pay little attention to these aspects of Risa’s behavior. I have spent more time on her fearfulness, reactivity, and sports training. Right now, however, I’ve been made fully aware of just how important these little things are.

Risa is on strict crate rest due to her recently diagnosed back problem. She is not allowed to go down stairs, walk around, or move much at all. She is confined to an x-pen all day and goes outside only to potty. Potty breaks are done on leash and she has to be carried inside and out. I have never fully appreciated how well-trained she is in such mundane tasks.

When I open the door to the x-pen, she waits. I loop the leash around her head and she waits patiently for me to lift her. She rides calmly outside where I put her down and cue her to go pee. She pees immediately. When she’s done, I ask her to wait so I can pick her up again. Then I place her in the x-pen, remove the leash, and close the door. All those seemingly minor things I taught her in her youth have been a godsend.

It’s something to keep in mind when we own dogs. You may have a fenced-in back yard and not need to potty your dog on a leash. You may not compete in dog sports and decide you don’t need to teach your dog to be comfortable in a crate. Someday, however, those skills might come in handy!!!

Posted in Back Problems, Dog Sports, IVDD, Thoughts, Training | Leave a comment