Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Defining Success

This past weekend was a road trip with Stella and a friend with her dog to attend a CARO rally obedience trial in Kelowna.  We had successfully completed three rounds of novice at a trial a month ago but need to trial under a second judge to get our novice title.  I decided to enter Stella in two novice rounds and two advanced rounds.  

Saturday morning was our first novice round and Stella did very well scoring a 190/200 and successfully completing her novice title.   This was a new ring for her and a dirt floor so she was interested in the smells but otherwise was good and I was pleased.   When we had received our trial confirmation information I was informed that the facility is not heated.   Luckily CARO permits dogs to wear coats but I was still worried that she wasn't going to complete any "down" stations but she did them!

Saturday afternoon was the first advanced round.  I had minimal expectations of passing this but figured since we were there to try the rounds for the training experience.  Advanced is off leash which we have not done in competition and it has harder stations such as sending over a jump from a distance, stand for exam, moving down, recall front while running away etc.  A failed station in CARO will NQ the entire round.  I have just begun training the jump but we have not worked up to any distance.  The handler sends the dog from 10 feet in front and must stay six feet to the side of the jump.  The facility was very cold and we had quite a long wait prior to the second class so I took Stella out for a lot of running around and playing tug before our round to make sure she was physically warmed up and comfortable in the cold.  When we went into the ring I was blown away by the wonderful attention and attitude Stella had.  We NQ'd on the jump as expected but otherwise would have had a 195/200.  

Our last few trials Stella has done well and qualified with good scores but she has also been distracted by the surroundings and the smells.  I knew she was capable of a much better performance and felt we weren't connecting as well as I hoped in the ring.  I was super excited to have her connect with me on this round especially as she was off leash.

Sunday morning was even colder!  I did the same warm up routine for her and we went into our second novice round of the weekend.  Stella was fabulous and had the same wonderful attitude from the previous round.  I was an idiot handler and side stepped on the pivot so NQ'd us but otherwise we were headed to an almost perfect score.  Live and learn but honestly I was still so happy I almost bounced out of the ring.  At this point it had become fairly obvious to me that the warm-up routine of playing lots of silly tugging and running around was working for us :). 

Our final round was another advanced round and the first half went very well.  Unfortunately half way through our round we had a major visual distraction that Stella was pretty sure everyone in the building needed to be told about.  I did get her back but when we headed back towards that same line I opted to excuse us and end on a mostly good note.  The total at the end of the weekend was one qualifying round for four total attempts. A lot of people would count that as a failure but I left the weekend absolutely THRILLED with my dog.  Success for me was that connection in the ring that I wanted and feel that now I can just build on that.  This dog sport stuff is supposed to be fun and I had a wonderful time with my dog and she really enjoyed working with me. 

Friday, 19 October 2012

Riley's Roller Coaster

Riley had his MRI yesterday and the results were mixed.  The good news is that he does not have Wobblers disease and his discs are actually in pretty good shape.  The "not quite sure what it means" news is he has a cyst in his neck/cervical area that is pressing on the right side of his spinal cord.  That pressure is what is causing his symptoms.  This is an unusual situation and the neurologist is reviewing the results, making measurements to figure out exact location and implications of removal and researching similar situations in other dogs.   He will be getting back to me in the next few days with a plan.  I told him that I was going to take this as good news and he agreed and seemed confident that the situation could be dealt with.  I suspect this probably means surgery but I would anticipate that the recovery would be much easier than having surgery for any spinal disc problems or malformations.  The roller-coaster ride continues so stay tuned for more news!

It should be noted that he does not appear to be in any pain although some of his symptoms are worsening.  He seems to be losing more limb awareness and coordination but that has not dampened his enthusiasm one bit.  He went running across some wet grass the other day and tried to corner and slipped and then had quite a spectacular crash because he couldn't recover properly.  Luckily he seemed no worse for wear. 

The morning of his MRI I had to drop him off early in the morning so I left Stella at home and took just him.  They wanted him "emptied" so we headed off for a short walk to the local park.  The look on Riley's face when we left the driveway and headed off for a walk just the two of us was pure happiness.  He was bouncing and soliciting play with me for almost the entire time we walked and had me laughing like crazy.  It also broke me heart just a bit because it made me realize that he obviously misses our "one-on-one" training times as much as I do.  We still have cuddle sessions with just "us" but since this journey started back in early June I have discontinued our training sessions so I wasn't stressing his body any more than necessary.   I need to make sure my wonderful boy gets more time where he is the focus and perhaps look at doing some easy shaping type training until we sort all this out.  I am hopeful that we can get him functioning better again and that there are lots of new training goals and fun times together in our future. 

As you can see here in this short clip back in may my monster wants to be the one working with me :).

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Hard Habits to Break

A quote I've heard a few times this summer at seminars goes something like "the thing you hate most about a current dog is usually the thing that will never be a problem with a new dog".  This is very true of Riley and Stella.  Riley can be a total ass when asked to give up something he loves (ball, golf ball, tugging etc.) but Stella has a beautiful retrieve to my hand and a gentle mouth.  Some of that is her genetics but it also something that was a priority in early puppy training. 

So that proves that change is possible so then why the heck do we carry over so many other bad habits!

I went to two wonderful seminars this summer and came out full of excitement and all sorts of new ideas and plans to work with Stella.   I wish it was easier to translate all of that into actual working with my dog!  I did pick up a few new good habits from seminar information but I've been reminded the past few weeks that seminars aren't a substitute for the regular hard work.   I have neglected some training lately so have started back to  working a bit of heeling and various related positions and have noticed how much my bad habits are screwing up my dog.  When I used to heel with Riley he is a very big prescence so I could easily feel where he was in relation to me.  I still had a bad habit of looking at him and dropping that inside shoulder back but was mostly able to get away with it due to his size.  Stella is so much lighter and smaller so I have a much harder time "feeling" when she is in perfect position.  She has been working to give me eye contact but I drop that same damn shoulder to look at Stella and so now she is heeling farther back than I would like.   Sigh .... back to using a target stick to get her a bit more forward and perhaps a giant thumb tack that pokes me when I drop my shoulder and screw up my part of the equation. 

In Riley news we got back the test results for degenerative myelopathy and the results were NORMAL.  Yeah!!!!!!!!!!!  We are definately not out of the woods yet though.  I sought a second opinion this week from a vet that specializes in lameness and does chiro, accupuncture, laser therapy etc.  He agrees that there is something neurological going on and actually suspects Wobblers syndrome.  We are now proceeding with an MRI and surgery is looking more likely.  The vet thinks we are still fairly early stages of whatever is happening but I can also see his condition slowly getting worse so hopefully we will have answers and a plan soon.

We have had fabulous weather lately.  Here are a few pics of the dogs enjoying a romp this past weekend.  Riley is now back to leash walks until we know what is happening but it was good to see him so happy.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Riley Update

We finally had our appointment last sunday with the orthopaedic surgeon to evaluate Riley for hip replacement surgery.  Things didn't turn out quite the way I had expected.  The surgeon felt that although he might have some discomfort from his hip that his main problem was likely neurological or spinal.  She felt he might possibly have canine degenerative myelopathy (DM) which is a disease similar to MS in humans.  Another possibility is herniated discs or intervertebral disc problems which are preventing proper nerve language from his brain to his hind limbs.  Final possibilities include tumours or infections but that is not likely.

We saw the orthopaedic surgeon on sunday and I spent monday all snot and tears convinced of all sorts of horrible outcomes.  If he does have DM the majority of dogs have hind end paralysis within six months to a year.  There is no pain involved in DM as it is basically just all the nerves shutting down.  Monday was the day for me to wallow in my fears.  We had an appointment with the neurologist on tuesday morning so I sucked it up and moved on.  The neurologist did a good check over and we did a regular blood panel as well as the blood test for DM.   The DM test is sent to to the USA and will take 2-4 weeks for results.  The neurologist is leaning more towards disc problems than DM based on Riley's age and breed but it is hard to know.  Depending on the results of the DM test we may proceed with an MRI which should hopefully show the problem.  The MRI is very expensive (approx $2100).  Riley's regular blood tests did come back normal.

Riley's symptoms include intermittent dragging of his back feet.  The middle two toe nails are ground very short on those feet.  The dragging is generally worse at the end of our walk.  He has a very straight legged walk with his back end (minimal knee action) and when tired his stance gets wider.  His "bad" hip is the left one but he tends to swing and compensate more with his right leg.  I have thought that was strange but just assumed that it was his way of adjusting for the hip.   He sometimes shows general fatigue weakness in his back legs especially when more tired.   He also paces versus a regular trot gait quite a bit.  He is still my happy go lucky crazy boy always up for action and play and does not seem to be in any pain.  I discontinued his NSAID a few weeks ago when he had some tummy upset and it doesn't seemed to have made a difference to his comfort levels.  I believe that he did have some real soreness or injury back in June but it has mostly healed with his restricted activity levels.  We still walk for about an hour each day and this week I have given him more off leash freedom and he seems to be handling it well.

So it is a waiting game for now.  I have been mostly positive since my melt down day and just enjoying spending time with Riley.  He has so much joy for life that it is hard not to be happy around him.  He was so good when the doctors were poking and prodding him and even offered the neurologist his belly for rubs while we were talking.  Even when he was overwhelmed he just stuffs his head in my lap for comfort and let them do whatever was needed.  If it is DM there is nothing we can do and we will just enjoy the time together.  Some of his symptoms have been around for a long time (although much worse this last year) so now I'm probably inclined to believe it is a disc problem which could mean surgery and we will deal with that if it happens.

Keep us in your good thoughts please!

This summer in Oregon

Puppy Riley loving water already