All posts by Cloudine

MYSTERY INJURY

My Border Collie Irie had the most subtle indication of lameness before she even finished growing. She would limp for the blink of an eye and then walk and move perfectly normal. There were times that I wondered if I imagined it.

This was my 2nd dog with a mysterious ailment. Another BC had some sort of shoulder thing that his adrenaline would mask so well that I was convinced he was sound after studying him like a hawk before deciding to let him exercise. Neither dog had been properly diagnosed (not for lack of trying) and I would give up and just try and rest Irie, put her agility training on hold, and whenever she looked sound for a while, I’d try again. This went on for 5 years of her life until she got up with a more pronounced lameness (walking on 3 legs upon waking (which she walked off!)). It was then that I renewed my efforts to figure out what was going on.

In an attempt to locate exactly where she was hurting, I thought, maybe if I practice lots of different conditioning exercises I can pinpoint where the weakness is. I scoured the internet, so hungry for information. I took different courses, including a detailed certification program, and still couldn’t find all the answers I wanted. There isn’t a lot of good research on dogs (with most of it geared towards sleddogs or racing hounds). But, I did learn a lot. While this didn’t solve my dog’s mystery injury, it did giving me a deep comprehension of physical fitness…a real asset to myself and my students!

Meanwhile, thanks to the gifted Dr Patti Schaeffer, I heard of a very experienced vet, who, and it kills me to say this, told me that it was so clearly a CCL insufficiency that even his intern could have diagnosed it. What the hell?! Anyway, without going into why did the other professionals fail to help, I was relieved to finally know what was wrong, though bummed to find out that my best friend needed SERIOUS knee surgery.

For those of you who are in such a position, let me say that I had gone back and forth on getting imaging done (with varying opinions and being discouraged by some) and was about to spend a fortune on the wrong kind of imaging when Scott Gustafson informed me that the most certain way to look at those ligaments is arthroscopically. So, Irie went in to get scoped and, if it proved to be a CCL problem, she’d get the surgery then and there.

I’ve done so much homework on this injury and know that a lot of dogs blow out their other side, and wondered if it made sense to scope the opposite side while she was under…unless it was too invasive. He said he’d only scope it if I would proceed with surgery for that knee, as well. My mind was blown. I stood in the locker room of the community pool with my toddler laying on the changing table, holding the phone and trying to ask all the right questions before deciding to go ahead with TPLO surgery on both knees at the same time!! I had tried to take my kid swimming to take my mind off of my best friend going under the knife. I was such a wreck, forgetting my zip code while trying to fill gas the morning and totally stressed out.

Long story short (I may post some writing about how the the surgery and post-op went down), the vet was very skilled at what he did. Irie has excellent ROM and tucks her rear very neatly under. We also injected PRP to assist with the repair. I think doing both knees at the same time was definitely the way to go for me and this dog. Although, it made me a total mess as I fretted over every little thing because, by gosh, she had her leg bones sawed and bolted back together!!!

I’m normally not a fan of surgery. But, the mechanics of a dog’s knee are such that this surgery makes sense. Also, ligaments cannot heal properly but bone can.

I was totally freaked out about doing this surgery, because it sounds like a cruel and crazy thing to do. But, Irie is definitely better than she was or would have ever been. Part of my resistance to the surgery was due to the fact that if you saw my dog move prior to the surgery, you would NOT be able to tell that she had any problem. She moved better than a lot of dogs do on their best day. But, a few months after the surgery and studying how she moves I can see a difference and going back in time I could have recognized that she wasn’t doing as well as it seemed. Because I have an eye for quadruped movement (over 10,000 hours) and knowing this dog so well, I can see a pronounced difference in how well she moves in her low back now. She’s very lithe and that area has so much more movement while before she held that area tight to compensate for the insufficient support through the knees.

I have to end with a little public service announcement about NOT letting your dog blow out her knees. No more chuck it! Stop letting your dog slip (on stairs, where you could have runners, etc). You can’t prevent all slips, but you definitely can stop a lot of them). Teach your dog to run around something so you can send your dog to run out and circle back and run TO you to get the reward. Not only can you present the toy at a safe location (up rather than on the ground, etc), you are building value for running back to you. It takes some training but you’ll be able to get your dog excited about running out to go around a tree (or whatever) with a whole cascade of endorphins without risking the crazy pursuit of the ball (which is so tantalizing when it bounces off erratically that it absolutely causes a lot of dogs to strain, tear and/ rupture the fibers of their body). If you have a high energy dog that wants to chase, you are almost guaranteed that dog will injure himself chasing things. Learn how to play smart and take care with your best friend. I used to think, “They’re dogs…they’ll be fine.” But, they are only human (or whatever the dog equivalent to that saying is;). They are not invincible and despite the fact that these athletes rip around like nuts and seem OK, the truth is that dogs have lots of undiagnosed and underdiagnosed injuries. Scar tissue builds up with repeated injuries and the area gets more and more compromised. The more you know, the more you need to make the appropriate adjustments…and get your dog in top condition!

TIPS ON SHAPING

Offering Behavior

Offering is when the dog comes up with options rather than you directing the dog what to do. I use this method for training most things because when the dog comes up with ideas, the dog is more aware of what she’s doing. When a dog follows a treat or a prompt, they are not as focused on the behavior you’re creating, but rather they’re focused on the treat or your gestures. It is helpful to have the dog actively playing a role because then it’s not all up to you, the dog is a participant and, as he learns a behavior, the dog is responsible for his part of the work.

 

If your dog is demonstrating any concern, the last thing you want to do is try to lure or pressure them into/onto something. We want your dog to trust you and gain confidence. Pressuring your dog to do something can be damaging to your relationship. Instead, be patient and get your dog interested in trying stuff to win the treat from you.

 

You and your dog will need to practice learning this way. It is a skill in and of itself. It’s such a useful skill, that, I find, once a dog knows how to offer behavior (also called shaping or operant conditioning), it gets easier and easier to teach your dog tricks. It’s almost like your dog gets easier to train with every trick. Once you’re fluent in this skill, you’ll teach your dog something new in unbelievably short amounts of time.

 

So, please get some experience with this learning/teaching style. Some things to remember when shaping:

  • It’s a set up. You want the dog to figuratively “walk right into it”. So, if you’re trying to train to interact with a box, you’ll get the dog ready for training (grab your treats, alert your dog that the game is on), and then set the box down in the middle of the room. Since the box is novel, you’re guaranteed some interaction as soon as the box hits the floor.
  • Be ready the second the dog jumps in. If you are still messing around with your treat pouch or whatever, dogs often offer behavior as soon as they enter the area (or the item is set down). If you miss that chance because you were looking at, say, your treat bag, your dog will leave the novel item and come look at you and your treat pouch and the training will stall out.
  • Avoid stalling out. If a dog gets stuck in a sit or a down (obviously, when training something other than sit/down), develop a soft dialogue to communicate, “That’s not it…try something else.” The other thing you can do is take a step to your left or right (most green dogs will get up and follow).
  • You don’t want too much time to go by without the dog succeeding. Shaping can be VERY frustrating and you want to make things easier or break off the training.
  • Some thinking (on the dog’s part) is beneficial stress. Too much thinking is usually not productive. Find that point where the dog is making an effort, but stay away from a demotivating level of concentration.
  • Don’t talk too much. Depending on the dog, talking can encourage, but, at the wrong time, can totally distract the dog from the task. For the most part, try to be quiet except for when the dog is getting close to the right answer or has earned a click/mark. It’s like that game “hot/cold” we played as kids. Make it so that when the dog is correct, you come alive, and when the dog is getting “cold/colder”, you are neutral.
  • CONNECTION, connection, connection. If you don’t have “engagement” and your dog isn’t with you, forget about the task at hand and prioritize building up that connection.
  • Keep it short!! I bet everything I own that your training sessions last too long. Especially when dogs are new to this, you should keep it like 2 minutes long (2 minutes flies by, by the way). It’s better to train for a couple minutes, break it off (either with a toy/play reward and enjoying the play for a time or take a break where you dismiss the dog for a couple minutes), and then start back up for another 2 minutes, for 3 reps a session. If you have more than one dog, you can alternate, giving the dogs a break while the other is working. You’ll make more progress in little bite-sized chunks and the dog will have a better attitude.
  • Leftovers in your pocket and a dog that needs to be taken by the collar away from the task is ideal. You want your dog straining to get back to work.
  • “Relief” is a reward in and of itself. If your dog is concentrating hard, ending the task is a reward.
  • You will want to keep going because it’s rewarding to you to see the dog improving. You will be able to extend the session and keep advancing the behavior you’re training. Beware, though, it starts to get sloppy and the dog starts to think too hard. And, in my experience, a dog thinking too hard is not a good thing (for you or the dog).
  • Don’t be greedy (see above).
  • Slice the behavior down finer if the dog isn’t successful (for example, a glance to start rather than actually touching a paw to a prop).
  • Incrementally make it harder when the dog is ready. Don’t stay at a super easy level (like a glance) once the dog clearly knows that the prop is “hot” (that you want the dog to do something with the prop).
  • Consider placement of reward. Can you reward the dog somewhere that will set the dog up for the next attempt? For example, if you are training to hop onto a board, reward the dog away instead of on the board.
  • Don’t be so focused on your goals that you neglect to realize the dog has come up with a better way/idea/trick. Be flexible. That said, stop and consider deviations from your plan. You do have to be consistent or the dog will get confused, stressed, and nobody will be happy.
  • Enjoy your dog’s creativity. Laugh! Have fun with this! The coolest thing about this style of training is it brings out the dog’s personality.

GOLDEN (1ST IN SYNC ATTEMPT)

Here we are beginning in a new category called InSync. It’s like Dressage and the dog and handler are supposed to be overlapped throughout the routine with no distance moves and only a single pass through the legs to transition from one side to the other. InSync differs from WCFO’s Heelwork to Music in that the dog can never pass through the legs.

AUTUMN LEAVES FALL FROLIC (LIVE)

I don’t normally mention my placing and refuse ribbons when I can, but, on this occasion, we earned not only some more firsts, but we earned 3 really cool big awards. One was for the highest scoring routine throughout all the levels that day. The other was the HAT award. HAT stands for Heelwork, Attention, and Teamwork. It is, in my opinion, a good measure of quality of dog training. Only one person walks away from the show with it, and we were the lucky ones! Along with that, we earned our Grand Championship for completing every level of Rally-FrEe through to the top. With Rally-FrEe setting the bar high, we put a lot of effort into getting here. I’m thrilled with my dog and my work together.