Saturday, September 29, 2012


Today I took Vegas back to Doggie Paddle for another swim session. I decided since it was difficult to get her into the pool that I'd be better off sticking with an "assisted" swim session again. Once in the pool, she did pretty well. Again we restrained her position a bit to have her swim in place. Following the same protocol as previously, we rested her after a few minutes. After that she seemed less interested in swimming and continuing to kick her back legs so we tried something else. Julie was at one end of the pool and I at the opposite. We called her back and forth between us and helped turn her if necessary. Worked like a charm! Rested her every few minutes for a minute or so each time to avoid overheating and kept on swimming. She seemed to like that a lot better!

In addition, after her last break she actually came off the ramp into the water herself. That's a big step cause she goes from solid ground to all water, almost like a drop off. She hesitated, thought about it, and just went with it. Good girl!

In other news, she had an acupuncture treatment on Wednesday. Rachel came over and brought some vitamin B as well. She did not care for the vitamin B injections so much...she says those needles are ouchy! (Even though they were just allergen syringes, she didn't like it at all.) But, she felt good afterword, went for a nice walk on Thursday evening, and swam today. Headed to the agility barn here in a while to see how she holds up this time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Highs and Lows

Monday last week (9/17) I took Vegas to see a well-known veterinarian who practices acupuncture and chiropractic and can pretty much diagnose bone and joint pain and injury by feel. Originally I had thought to get x-rays done by our regular veterinary office but decided not to in the end, instead waiting it out to see Dr. Salewski.

So after a chaotic work day and attempts to get out there (Carlton is a teeny, tiny burg nearly an hour from my house and way out in the country.), we arrived about ten minutes before appointment time. His office is in his home and when he let us in, Vegas curiously meandered her way through the house to the office. After talking a bit about what brought us there, Dr. Salewski got hands on to start figuring out what was going on.

During the course of his examination and adjustment, he was surprised a bit with how much "movement" he got in her T2 area. In doing a bit of research so I understand better, the T2 is a part of the thoracic spine. See images below.
Seeing where the T2 is, it makes sense why she's so sensitive to the tunnels. Just try drawing your shoulders together, pushing your chin forward, and "ducking" your neck. Feel your upper back/lower neck area. If you have any discomfort or sore muscles at all, you'll feel it. Something serious, you'll probably flinch. 

From there, he asked about the slight bump in her central spine, about how long it'd been that way. I didn't have a good point of long as I could remember. I keep her extra lean, just shy of bony to avoid additional strain on her joints with all the activities we do. So long story short, he feels she has a bit of spondylosis going on, which, as I learn, isn't abnormal at all, particularly in giant dogs and giant, active dogs. And it isn't a major thing; we just need to maintain back health. With Vegas, the spondylosis is in a small section of her dorsal/lumbar area of the back. I'll try to get a side profile picture of her at some point soon to show what it looks like. 

Last but not least, she was off in her sacrum area on the right side, enough so that her hip was a bit uneven. So he got her all adjusted and the "big" question: How soon before she will be back up and running/what's the prognosis? Dr. Mike said.... two weeks! WOWZA. That is so not what I expected to hear and I was at once utterly relieved, overwhelmed, surprised, and excited. 

My dear friend, Rachel, came along for the ride and to visit with Dr. Mike. She'd met him a couple times during her veterinary schooling. They chatted a bit more and talked about how else we could treat V. Rachel has offered to do acupuncture on Vegas. She got some more ideas from him on what areas to needle and even doing some V aqua acupuncture using vitamin B. We were told to take it easy on Tuesday, Wednesday to do acupuncture if we could, and by the weekend I could take her out and play agility - not a full trial, mind you, but some practice to see how she'd do. 

Sooooooo, we didn't get to acupuncture Wednesday or the rest of the week. I took her biking a time or two, a romp at the park, and pretty much business as usual after Wednesday. Saturday we went to the barn. Our first time in months and months and months. She did okay. Mostly okay. She had fun and was happy and that was awesome. She took a tunnel a couple times, jumped over one or two, avoided one or two, and took another and I called it good before she tired. She seemed like the a-frame was bothering her - probably from the impact hitting it - as she didn't progress over it smoothly. Instead she stopped at the top, something she just doesn't do. She was a bit slow in the weaves a couple times but was willing to speed up with a lot of encouragement. Perhaps all that was about is getting back into the swing of things. She handled jumps of varying heights well including some bounce jump sets. All in all, good, but also not 100% and a sure sign that she needs a bit more work, healing, and time. 

We have another appointment with Dr. Salewski next Monday. Rachel came over last Sunday for acupuncture and is getting together with us again tomorrow. Our next trial, is still uncertain as is the invitational. I just want her well. One thing I know, her retirement is imminent. I'm not going to risk the long term for the short term. So while I believe she'll heal and be able to finish her two championships, I am not going to push and pursue more. She deserves better and there are lots of other activities we can get involved in - even though agility remains the sport of my heart. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Warm Water Swimming

Today Vegas and I went to Doggie Paddle, a warm water, indoor, therapeutic pool. Things started off a bit....rough. I had scheduled a couple days ago and put our appointment on my phone/Gmail calendar. This morning, in addition to the swim session, we had to get up early and go pick up our sardine order. In my head our appointment was 12:45. Was just loading up the truck and Vegas and logging the address into my GPS when I got an email from Julie, the owner. She was wondering where we were. Our appointment was 11:45...that was right about noon. S()#*$)*!)

After starting the drive there and repeatedly calling her until I got a hold of her, we rescheduled for 2 pm. Whew - we still got to go.

So we arrived and there was someone else there; we had to wait just a couple minutes. Then we went inside, I got changed in shorts, Vegas suited up in her life jacket, and we went into the pool.
Despite my going into the pool, she was still hesitant to get in and it took both of us initially to get her to walk down the ramp and ease her into the water. Initially Julie had one side of Vegas and I just moved along with them trying to keep in Vegas' line of sight. Eventually I had one arm across the chest band of her jacket and one on the handle to keep her stationary in the water. Not too long into our session, Julie turned on the jets. The jets provide more resistance during the swim. She said one minute swimming in the jets is equivalent to a five minute walk.

Every five minutes or so we would move her toward the ramp and let her rest. We learned pretty quickly we needed to let her rest rump first so she didn't climb out of the pool. She checked Vegas' ears for temperature and we monitored how she seemed to be doing to make sure she didn't get overtired. All said and done Vegas swam for about 25 minutes or so and had a good time. I think she enjoyed it and will get more comfortable each time we go. I prepaid a five-pack of swim sessions as I know I'll take her back and it'll be good to keep her conditioning up while we deal with her back issues.

Couple of notes... the pool uses a salt-water filtration system eliminating swimming in a bath of chemicals. You can read more about it here. After Vegas got out of the pool, Julie put drops in her ears to help dry them out and avoid risk of an ear infection from moisture. She also misted a spray onto Vegas' coat to help prevent her from drying out. And last but not least, while I came prepared with Vegas' life vest and towels for her and me, Julie has it all - life vests for dogs from 3 pounds to 180 and loads of towels. I highly recommend this activity for any dog, nice weather, cool weather, healthy or recovering from injury, young or aging. It's a non-impacting activity that is really good for conditioning, strengthening, building muscle, and maintaining health. And places like Doggie Paddle are a wonderful asset to our training toolbox.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Doing the right thing

Doing the right thing isn't always easy. That's a life lesson most of us have learned somewhere along the line.

Sometimes doing the right thing is difficult, embarrassing, causes a hit to our pride, or causes us to be out of our comfort zone. In dog sports, opportunities to make the choice to do the right thing present themselves regularly. For instance, when your dog doesn't respond in the way you expect or wish on course. You are presented with an opportunity to respond in a way that respects your partner, respects other competitors, respects the judge, and shows positive sportsmanship.

So what got me rambling about this topic? With Vegas' injury, it got me thinking about how many dogs out there are performing with some degree of pain or possible injury. How many are persevering simply out of pure heart? Dogs that would do anything you asked just because they are that loyal. Competitive dog sports offer us, as handlers, many benefits. They enrich our lives. We become closer to our dog through training. They give us an outlet for our collective energies. They give us an opportunity to shine, to showcase our skills, progress, teamwork, and to earn recognition. Our dogs may love the sport, but they do it because we ask it of them. They could, in theory, hit the agility course and take obstacles for fun. But they - most of them - would soon tire of the game by themselves. When they're not running with you, racing you, looking to you for "What next? What next?" the game is less rewarding. So they do it for us. They do it with us.

So when they are hurt, no matter how slight, they give us an opportunity to do the right thing. The right thing is to give up whatever our hopes and dreams and goals are with our sport, and make sure they are well. First and foremost, they are our partner and our family. The dog walk, the jump, the teeter - they are tools of our trade. The slip lead, chicken hearts, and tug, nothing but tools and aids. But our dog is our partner, our friend, our loyal companion. He or she has been and can be with us for many, many years. So we owe it to him or her to stop, seek medical attention as applicable, pursue diagnostics, follow-up treatment, acupuncture, chiropractic, surgery (Dog forbid!), massage, hydrotherapy, and rehabilitation - whatever it takes to help him or her regain wellness.

This is the time to showcase love and not blind competition. And if that means retirement, that small potatoes compared to continued damage and harm to the one who will give it all.

Vegas would give it all unless she couldn't. She has run not feeling well for me before. She has run, and tried, and forgiven me for asking it of her. While I face down uncertainty until we see the doc and get a diagnosis and treatment plan, I accept that she could have to retire just before affirmed greatness. But it is the right thing to do. It is the right thing because she is already a hero. She is already a star. And she loves me so much, so uncompromisingly. I want her with me for many, many more years. I want her with me happy, comfortable, functional, and alive in the way that her indomitable spirit shines each day. Doing the right thing doesn't have to be painful when you think of it as an act of love to the one who gives it unfailingly.

I don't know what I'll find out Monday. I don't know whether we will be a success story ranked by MACH points and titles but I know we'll be a success story in that I made the choice to do what I had to do for her so that I could have her healthy with me as long as possible. And as I look over at her crashed out on the couch, snoring softly, the right decision is really easy.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Insert Swear Words Here

@!()$*)#*))!* @!)*U$)#*$)*!!)* 0808!)*$#)(*!))!)(q!)!)!!
That's how I feel right now. I'm so frustrated and upset and angry and sad. Mostly sad and while beating up on myself doesn't help anything, it's how I feel for now. But I'm doing something about it and I guess that's all I can do.

I mentioned in June a little bit about Vegas' back injury but due to time constraints lately, I never expanded upon it. Long story short, she came up lame in April. Best I could ever determine as I know she didn't do anything specific on any activity we were involved in, she tweaked her back while "zooming" in the house. For anyone who's witnesses/experienced/enjoyed a fit of Dane zoomies, well, you know it's likely and we should all stop them. But wow she has a blast when she does it and clearly needs to burn off steam. But I digress. So she zooms pretty regularly, probably a couple times a week. I remember her spinning out at one end of her inside-the-house track and her rear went one way and she clearly had told herself to go another. Nothing big and dramatic, but that sight played itself in my head once she came up lame. A tweak, like slipping off a stair and torquing your back.
So ever since then, she hasn't been able to run agility. That was April. We had May off due to no trials near us and were supposed to run in June three weekends. The first weekend, as I mentioned in that June post, I was uncertain if she'd be okay. I'd been resting her and massaging but she wasn't limping or off enough that I felt the need to seriously pursue medical attention. She couldn't run let alone jump so had to scratch her from that trial. My super awesome friend, Rachel, called in some prescriptions for us for anti-inflammatories, pain meds, and muscle relaxers and she was on strict rest orders. I wouldn't even let her come upstairs; oh the insult, she had to sleep downstairs.

Scratched her from the next trial and again from the one two weeks after that - she just couldn't do it. I'll come back to CPE Nationals sometime this week to explain what happened there.

So now, all this time having passed with July and August usually being off or very light months anyway, she was entered to run last weekend at a local NADAC trial for just a day to see how she was doing after rest and rehab, then the next two weekends in AKC. Since June and her rest and meds regimen, I've been working on maintaining her endurance and heart health (which has the dual benefit of preventing her from driving me crazy of inactivity) by biking, walking, hiking, and going to the beach, etc. Basically anything that wasn't jumping and agility active like. She's been fine, felt fine, jumps in and out of the back of my truck, on the bed, romps over trees in the woods on occasion. I've also taught her to swim albeit we didn't get to do that but twice as our weather was hot but not unbearable where the river would provide relief, and done ball/core strengthening work. I've also been stretching her and massaging, doing light body work, etc.

So NADAC....just two runs, Chances and Jumpers, to test the waters. I'll cover that in a bit more depth with another post, too, but suffice it to say: epic fail. Clearly her back is a lot more sore than I could have possibly guessed and the impact of contact obstacles and crouching for tunnels made her hurt badly. Enough to limp on a leg even. Hence my #()*Q)*)*!)#*$)(*!$!*)%)&!(*) feeling.

Tonight Rachel came over and gave her an acupuncture treatment and has offered to do so again in a couple of days. I also made an appointment to see Dr. Salewski at Hindsight Veterinary Care. He comes highly recommended by any who have seen him and I look forward to hearing what he has to say. Since making the appointment this morning I have also emailed him to ask if he feels my taking her to get x-rays at our regular vet between now and then would be effective/helpful in diagnosing her. I did, of course, already withdraw her from both of the AKC trials I had entered her in.
I'm heartbroken, sad, and feel that I failed her. This has gone on for five months. I thought I was doing the best I could at the time and didn't feel like whatever she'd done was so severe that with rest and my other attempts I couldn't help her restrengthen her back to overcome this. I was wrong and now I've wasted so much time. I know I can't do anything about that now but I will forever regret it. I just hope I haven't caused permanent damage and that she'll be able to make a comeback. As I told Rachel today, if I just got to see her run one more time and do so happily, with drive, like I am accustomed, I would be thrilled. To see how disinterested she was this weekend, due to pain, to see her not like the sport any longer because of that makes me so sad.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Training a Giant in a Mid-Size Dog Sport

Agility is a sport designed for Border Collies, Aussies, Labs, perhaps Corgis, Papillons, and a few other breeds. It is not, was never, will never be designed for the giant dog. That does not mean that your giant dog cannot participate and even succeed. What this means is, you just have a different process to observe than will someone with a small to medium sized dog. Here are a few important points to remember:

General rules:

  • Seek out an experienced, knowledgeable, experienced trainer. What does that mean? Well, quite frankly, have they accomplished high level/championship titles with any dog? What level are they competing? How long have they been participating in the sport? How were they trained? Observe classes. Don't be afraid to walk away from a trainer/facility if they don't want you to audit classes and ask questions. Does this person continue their training education? Agility is changing all the time - true, the obstacles don't, but somebody somewhere is always coming up with new ideas about how to train an issue, obstacle, or criteria. CE is really important for any educator. 
  • What venue(s) are you interested in competing in? If you're uncertain, do your homework then come back to this question. A trainer should be at least fairly familiar with the different venues available for competition. E.g. My obedience trainer is aware of basic differences in UKC and AKC obedience classes. Therefore, if I were to have an interest in competing in UKC, she could help me to be better prepared. 
  • What is your goal? Do you know yet? Often people start agility with the goal of just learning and seeing if they like it. Does their dog like it. You don't have to start thinking, "I'm going to earn a MACH/C-ATCH/NATCH." But if you want to just play with your dog, is your trainer understanding of that and willing to give you his/her best anyway? This can be important too. 
  • Safety. Agility can be a danger to you and your pet if you're not careful and follow safety rules. Is the class/environment safe and does the instructor focus on safety for you, your classmates, and the dogs? If not, find another place to train. 
  • Should you choose to become competitive once your training reaches that level, does the trainer or facility offer options to help you? For instance, do they have fun matches or offer help in filling out your first trial entry forms? Do they host seminars and other training events to help you increase your knowledge? 
Giant rules: 
  • What breeds does the trainer have experience with? 
    • If they only run small or medium dogs, who have they worked with? Talk to them. Ask the question: At what age should I start jumping my Great Dane? If their answer is, "Not full height until they are at least two years," well, full steam ahead as they seem to have a clue. If they say your (giant) dog can start training as early as six months including starting jumps, they most likely don't have a clue about the growth cycle and differences inherent in giant dogs. But, and this is a big but, feel free to continue pursuing the conversation. If it appears they know that no full height jumps should be done until 18 months plus, then perhaps they'll work out okay. By all means, I'm not saying people can't put their foot in their mouth, but if you have to educate them on your breed's basic limitations, they're unlikely  to be knowledgeable enough to help you with other training challenges. 
  • Will the trainer/class accommodate your big dog? 
    • For instance, if a sequence is set up that includes three tunnels, will the trainer understand you not training the tunnels, at least repetitively? That you only want to do one a class or only when your dog might refuse them perform training drills to make them fun/rewarding? 
    • How about contacts? Your 6, 9, 12 month old giant puppy should not be doing full height/angle contacts. Contacts, particularly the a-frame, can present quite a severe angle. This is hard on any dog's joints but particularly our giants who are not done growing and solidifying at that age. Shoulders are of particular concern as is the neck/spine. Your trainer needs to be able to work with you training on the flat and/or at training height on all contact equipment until the dog is mature. 
    • Weaves - a giant breed (or any maturing dog) should not be weaving A) excessively and B) before maturation at full speed. Weaves require a great deal of spinal flexing. If you YouTube and watch some videos you'll see how much side-to-side motion is involved in the back. You can see this a bit here - pay particular attention at 50 seconds as the view is directly from the rear:
This is just a snippet of ideas that have been cluttering up my brain lately. I hate to see dogs hurt. Our Danes can be just as fabulous in their own right as any other dog in any other performance activity. But there are things to be aware of and to know ahead of time. You can begin training in agility quite young - with any dog. But there are limitations. You can do ground work (working on the flat), teach verbal queues, teach hand signals, teach them to work from a distance, work on a start line stay and release command, teach them to go away from you, come back into you, touch your hand, and to enjoy training. But you must wait for certain parts of the sport - you musn't go "extreme agility" until the dog's growth plates are closed. For giant breed dogs, this is usually between 18 and 24 months. Not waiting could cause permanent damage that will hinder his or her ability to live a long, healthy, comfortable life. 

To read more, visit JP Yousha's website, ChromaDane: