Limitations

Risa hates going to the vet's office but she does seem to enjoy the underwater treadmill at least.  This is the happiest I've ever seen her at the vet's office (even though she's still clearly stressed).

Risa hates going to the vet’s office but she does seem to enjoy the underwater treadmill at least. This is the happiest I’ve ever seen her at the vet’s office (even though she’s still clearly stressed).

It’s been almost six months since Risa was diagnosed with IVDD. Three months since she started physical therapy. The change has been dramatic both in her appearance, physical ability, and need for pain management. The average person wouldn’t know she had a serious injury to look at her. There are times even I forget about it as I watch her dash madly around the house.

But she is not the same dog she was prior to the injury. Mentally, maybe. But physically she still has many limitations.

She’s never going to be able to jump on and off of things or spin, twist, and twirl again. Her days of full out running are over. There was neurological damage; she still displays some ataxia in her rear legs. Sometimes she’ll stand with a paw knuckled over without bothering to right it. No amount of physical therapy and muscle-building can change the fact that her back is busted and will never be the same again. The arthritis is still there and nerve damage takes a long time to heal (if it ever does at all). Building up muscle helps relieve pain and prevent re-injury. . .but it is not a miracle. Her age plays a factor, too. Young dogs heal more quickly than old ones.

Still, she’s doing amazingly well. I’ve gotten her down to two pain management medications: Novox and gabapentin. I tried twice to wean her off of the gabapentin but each time she was painful. She would rotate her rear legs outward on a walk instead of placing them in a straight line. Her playful demeanor diminished and she started to groan when she lay down. Clearly, she still has nerve pain which the gabapentin helps relieve. I have a feeling I am not going to be able to take her off of that one. Fortunately, it has few side-effects and she does well with just 2 pills a day instead of 3. The Novox, however, does have side-effects. I’d like to get her on a lower dose but, if she needs it to be happy, so be it. It’s about quality of life and I want her to feel good.

Lookin' really good!

Lookin’ really good!

It’s hard for me to accept this new reality. I miss our long walks together (though she can do around 2 miles in one go now). I miss being able to allow her to be bat-shit crazy, jumping up on me, playing tuggie like a wild thing; letting her run full out to her heart’s content lure coursing; and bouncing and spinning in freestyle. Things have changed and I can’t be in denial about it. Doing so would risk Risa re-injuring herself which I cannot afford to let her do. I will not put her in bubble wrap and not allow her to be a dog. That would be unfair. However, I can’t ask her to do things I know she can’t physically handle anymore. I have to be honest with myself about where she is in life even if I don’t like it.

She’s still happy and smiling. She still wants to do things and I’m happy to let her (barring things that she physically cannot do without risking her back). I’ll let her continue to compete until she tells me she doesn’t want to or I see that it’s too taxing to ask her to continue. We’ll still go on walks together even if they’re shorter. It’s okay. That’s how life goes. Dogs age and just can’t do what they used to do. It just feels like her bounce and physical vitality was stolen from us. Like she should have had more time to be the crazy thing who didn’t act her age. She was fooling everyone until IVDD took her out. Now, she’s finally starting to show her age. . .and it’s not fair. I knew it was coming but I still wasn’t ready.

I still have her, though. My bubbly, crazy thing. She’s still here and still the amazing awesome dog I love. And for that, I am forever grateful.

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

Semi-Retired

Risa and her loot from this weekend's event.

Risa and her loot from this weekend’s event.

We weren’t as prepared as I would have liked but we entered an obedience competition this weekend anyway. Risa’s physical therapy exercises have taken up most of my available training time. While she knows most of the exercises that were required of her, she was out of practice. The last time we competed in Preferred Novice was 2 years ago (and it was still called Pre-Novice then). Physically, she’s also not the same dog. However, I knew she wasn’t ready to give up the game just yet. She still wants to compete. I gave her the chance.

I’ve learned a lot in regards to training since our last time in obedience and I was eager to apply what I’ve learned. I knew it was going to be a bit out of the ordinary as far as what’s typical in obedience. I didn’t care. It was our last hurrah in obedience; I wanted to make sure it was fun for us both! Between each exercise, regardless of how Risa performed, I whooped and played with her. I think I took the judge by surprise!

Her heeling on Saturday was awful; she was very disconnected and spent a lot of time sniffing the ground. She absolutely ROCKED her stand for exam, recall, and sit/stay only losing 1 point between all three exercises. Risa qualified with a score of 179 and actually placed 3rd in her class! We’ve never really practiced much in regards to obedience (we’re not even remotely serious competitors when it comes to that) so I never expected a placement rosette to bring home!

Two happy, relaxed friends just waiting their turn to rock!

Two happy, relaxed friends just waiting their turn to rock!

Sunday I expected her to be a bit worse. It’d been a long weekend and, even without her back injury, it’s tough to keep up the energy that long at her age. Heck, even I was dragging a little. Fortunately, she was actually a lot better. I had a dog, a connected dog, with me during the heeling exercises. Her figure 8 was pretty sloppy but her on lead and off lead heeling were so much better today! She didn’t move a toe on her stand for exam (first time for that!) but she didn’t do the finish correctly after her recall. Her down stay was perfect. I was surprised her score today was worse than yesterday’s as she earned a 174.5 (same judge and everything) but I didn’t care. She qualified. She earned her Preferred Novice title and earned her official retirement from AKC competition.

On top of all that, she was also perfect both days around the ring. She never had a single reactive moment even when dogs got close. Several people, many of whom she’d never met before, were able to pet her. She was relaxed and happy to be there and enjoyed herself immensely. I couldn’t be happier of how far she’s come and the fond memories we’ve shared on this journey. There are no more titles she can pursue in AKC (they all involve jumps or group stays neither of which she can do) so I’ve retired her. We’ll still compete in other venues until she tells me she no longer wants to do it (or I decide that she is done because she might not tell me!).

Icing on the cake was when someone approached me and told me how much they enjoyed watching my obvious happiness with my dog in the ring. Comments like that really make my day. We may not always look pretty but we’re out there to have a good time. Hopefully, that enthusiasm is contagious.

Saturday’s run:

Sunday’s run:

Posted in Back Problems, Dog Sports, Fenzi Academy, IVDD, Obedience, Training | Leave a comment

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