Monday, 31 December 2012

Year in Review

Another year draws to a close today and as I look back upon my goals for 2012 I am pretty happy with the outcome.  My goal for puppy Stella was "I need to improve my shaping skills and she needs to learn how to work through frustration".  My goals for Riley were "I also want to get Riley's rally excellent at trials in march/april" .

I have really enjoyed working with both dogs this year.  I believe my shaping and handling skills have improved a lot.  Stella still can get frustrated easily but she has improved and I have discovered how valuable play is in our working relationship.  I did not have any real 2012 trial goals in mind for Stella other than gettiing her CGN but we had quite a successful year.  She started with her Canine Good Neighbour (CGN) and then we added a CKC Rally Novice title (RN), CKC Pre-Novice Obedience (PCD) and a CARO Rally Novice Magna Cum Laude (CRN-MCL) to the mix.  We have also dabbled at conformation showing and currently have three points towards her Championship title.   Stella is only 19 months old and I am thrilled with my relationship with this wonderful little girl and look forward to lots more adventures in the year ahead.

Riley completed his CKC Rally Excellent (RE) in spring as well as his CKC Pre-Novice Obedience (PCD).  We had planned to try for our Novice Obedience title but things started going really wrong for him physically so I stopped training and trialing with him in May.  We did xrays in june and that started us down the path that ended with his recent surgery.  He is doing awesome now and is feeling pretty energetic.  Two more weeks of major restrictions and then we get to start increasing his activity levels slowly.  I'm not sure what our training challenges will be in 2013 but I am thinking of aiming for a tracking title and starting nosework with him.  A lot will depend on how the next few months work out physically for him. 

It was a wonderful year of learning for me.  I started with Clicker Expo and also attended wonderful weekend seminars from Michelle Pouliot and Denise Fenzi.  Now I'm hooked on seminars!  I feel that I am really starting to find my "style" but I can also see that learning will never end!

I am happy with our successes this year but the titles really aren't all that important to me except as a way of setting goals and working towards them.  Those goals help me figure out my path and keep some of the procrastination in check :).  I am blessed to have a supportive husband and good friends who understand this strange fascination I have with all things dog.  I truly treasure the "family" vacations and daily adventures with my dogs (and cats!).  That point has been driven home this year with Riley's problems and surgery and I hope for health and happiness for many years ahead. 

Happy New Year!

Here is a video of me skiing this week with Sam (my mother's dog) and Stella.  Watch to the end to see my crazy little wigglebum Stella being her happy self.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Lost and Found

It has been an emotional few weeks for many local dogs and the owners that love them.  Tonight a vizsla that has been missing on Vancouver Island for seventeen days was finally reunited with her family.  Closer to home in the hiking trails of the north shore mountains there have been other lost dogs.  I know the family of one dog lost and helped hike some trails with Stella this week to search.  That dog was actually lost while helping to track another missing dog.  Thankfully both the original missing dog plus the one I know were both found safe thanks to a ton of volunteers and lots of long, cold and scary days and nights for both the dogs and the searchers.  In our same North Vancouver mountains a flat coated retriever was just found after being lost for 6.5 months and a Bernese Mountain Dog needed a search and rescue team with helicopter to be rescued in dangerous snowy mountain terrain after going missing for 13 days while snowshoeing with its owners.

We live in a large city but are lucky enough to be a short ten minute walk to the wonderful trails of the North Shore mountains.  My dogs enjoy lots of off leash freedom on these trails and we generally stick to fairly easy trails.  Both dogs have very good recall and are very attentive about checking in with me but this has gotten me thinking.  It is a risk-reward tradeoff with off leash hiking and it would be my worst nightmare to lose one of my dogs.  My dogs LOVE to run and romp through the woods and I would hate to let my fear of losing them prevent us from enjoying those wonderful hikes we do daily.    I practice and reward recalls heavily but have decided to also start training a whistle recall.  A whistle carries much further than my voice and doesn't get tired or emotional like a human voice can.   Hopefully we will never have a situation where it would be necessary but I feel it is a good tool to have just in case.  I also make sure that both dogs gets to meet all sorts of people regularly so they are very comfortable with strangers.   

Meanwhile Riley has been recovering nicely from surgery.  We went through a variety of xpen configurations before settling on a location that makes him happy.  We had the staples removed last week and had my vet check out a possible seroma (fluid swelling) that was at one end of the incision.  We ended up putting him on a course of antibiotics just in case the fluid was from an infection.  The incision is now a normal size with just a small bit of scar tissue and he is getting stronger every day.  He wasn't happy when he couldn't romp in the snow this week but we are now almost three weeks post op and hope to start swim therapy next week so things are looking up for him :).  Stella is now nearing the end of her heat cycle and is feeling much more like her regular bouncy, happy self.  Her cycle makes her quite sleepy and more nervous/jumpy than normal so we haven't done much (any!) training this month but hope to get some stuff in over the holidays.

Hopefully we will soon be back to these sorts of scenes.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Riley Recovery

On my last blog post (last friday) Riley had just had his hemilaminectomy procedure to remove the cyst pressing on his spinal cord.  His official diagnosis was Wobbler's Sydrome with mild stenosis of the spinal canal at C4 and cystic synovial proliferation of the left C5-C6 articular facet.  The good news is that all of his discs seem to be in quite good shape.  The surgeon had felt that the procedure had gone well and "the rest is up to Riley".

I am happy to report that Riley was already up and mobile the morning after surgery.  I saw him in the morning and he tried to sit up to greet me and then we had a good snuggle together with lots of tail wags and licks.  When I saw him again that evening he stood up to greet me.  This is considered a painful surgery for dogs to recover from because there is a long incision on the back of the neck which involves opening up a lot of muscle as the spinal cord runs fairly close to the throat area.  A lot of dogs don't want to lift their head or move very much but my wonderful hard-headed labrador was able to cope well with that and by sunday evening he was able to walk out to see me for our visit.  Pneumonia is also a real risk after this type of surgery so having him mobile so quickly was very important in preventing that.  He was set to be discharged on monday afternoon but I had them keep him until tuesday morning so I could pick him him and head out on the long drive home.

The surgeon was very pleased with his progress and felt that he already had similar or better neuro function at discharge as he had prior to the surgery.  He walks well unassisted but we need to really watch him on slippery floors as he is still a bit wobbly on his right hind with some occasional mild scuffing.  That should improve as the inflamation from surgery decreases and hopefully the spine can recover from some of compression.  I really am quite thrilled with how he is doing less than one week from his surgery! 

I confess to fighting thoughts in the hours leading up to surgery of just throwing him in my truck and running away.  The care and compassion we received was amazing but it was still incredibly scary and stressful for me.  When we first checked in we were assigned a fourth year medical student who is then the chief contact for both the dog and the owner through the entire stay.  Our student was still a tad awkward with the human side of things but she was wonderful with Riley and he really liked her.  The surgeon was very honest, patient and thorough.  Everyone from the receptionist to the head of the neurology department was kind and caring to both humans and animals.  It was both inspiring and heart breaking to see and meet other owners and animals receiving treatment at the facility.

We returned home tuesday evening and are settling into the new "normal" for now.  Riley will be severely restricted for six weeks.  He is confined in an exercise pen and allowed out 3-5 times per day for five minute potty walks.  He objected loudly to this the first evening but we seem to be working things out now.  I have slept downstairs with him since we came home to settle him into the new routine and make sure he isn't experiencing any pain.  Hopefully I can move back upstairs to my own bed this weekend.  After the first six weeks we can then begin to slowly return to normal exercise levels over the next two months.  He should probably never play tug, on-land fetch or do a lot of jumping activity as he is always going to be at risk of cervical problems.  Swimming is encouraged during recovery so we will be looking into some local therapy pools.

Stella went with me on this trip and I was glad to have her along.  She was good company and kept me from going crazy waiting for news.  She unfortunately came down with kennel cough likely from a conformation show we attended the weekend before we left.  Luckily she seemed to bounce back very quickly and Riley has not shown any signs of kennel cough.  She also decided to start her heat cycle the day before we headed home after weeks of waiting.  Life is never dull with dogs!

Here are a few pics of my boy:

First morning after surgery

24 hours after surgery

48 hours after surgery