It Doesn’t Have to be This Way

Nicely trimmed toenails!

Nicely trimmed toenails!

There are two things I can’t tolerate when it comes to dog care: obesity and long nails. There are no fat dogs in my house and I like nails Dremeled short and smooth.

The weight thing is never an issue in my house. My dogs are active and eat well for their level of activity. They are lean and muscular. It helps keep them active and feeling good. It’s especially beneficial to older dogs with joint issues (Risa) and for preventing future problems (Kyu).

Nails are equally important to your dog’s health and well-being. Long nails can cause pain and deformation of the dog’s feet. They can also cause your dog to place their weight improperly and cause injury. Short nails keep your dog sure-footed and protect your thin human skin from injury from sharp claws!

Risa does not enjoy nail trims. She never has. She tolerates them far better when I use the Dremel than she did with the nail trimmers and I am far less likely to cut the quick and hurt her. I just have to be cautious I use the tool properly so I don’t burn her with the speed of the file. When utilized properly; you get nice, short, rounded nails. It’s easier to drive back long quicks and you avoid the pinching pressure that nail trimmers can cause. No sharp points on the freshly trimmed nails either.

When I brought Kyu home, I wanted to start with him right away to get him to enjoy nail trims. I didn’t want it to be a war of wills. I knew several people who did nail trims by flipping their dogs over onto their backs and cradling them in their lap so that’s how I started. I got treats and I placed him on his back between my legs. And he fought it. He hated it. I kept calm and tried to soothe him but he wasn’t buying it. I kept working on it. Eventually, he would calm down enough to eat food but I could tell he was still not comfortable. I did it sporadically so he wouldn’t associate it with a nail trim. Sometimes I had the clippers and sometimes nothing. Occasionally I’d touch his nails with the Dremel (turned off). Sometimes I’d have the Dremel on nearby and gave him treats. He hated it no matter what I did. Kyu did not like to be restrained and he especially didn’t enjoy being on his back.

After failing to acclimate my puppy to this position, I started to question myself about it. Why does he have to be on his back? I don’t trim Risa’s nails this way. I have her lay on her side for nails. Is there any reason why Kyu has to be on his back if he hates it so much!? I changed my vision of what nail trims should look like and started working with my dog in a position he felt more comfortable being in.

I got out a container of treats, the clippers, and my clicker. I waited for him to lie down and told him he was good. I briefly touched a toe and click/treated him. I repeated it several times on different toes, back feet, front feet, with a click/treat each time. I spent only a few minutes and stopped. I did it again the next day. And the following day. I started working on this with him every single day. I slowly progressed to making it harder by having the clippers out, holding a paw, squeezing a toe, stretching out a leg, touching a nail with the trimmers briefly, etc. If he pulled away, I let him. If he wanted to get up and leave, he could. I wanted him to have the choice to let this continue. His nails, of course, continued to grow so I had to have them trimmed professionally twice so that my work could continue but his nails wouldn’t become overgrown.

There were times I doubted it was going to work. However, after working on it pretty much every single day for 2 months, I can now trim Kyu’s nails with little fuss. He still flinches a bit when I actually trim a nail (I spend more time “fake trimming” than actual trimming) but he doesn’t leave. And he doesn’t hesitate when I try again (whether a fake trim or not). He almost looks forward to the little sessions every morning. I haven’t been able to progress to the Dremel yet but I’m hopeful we’ll get there someday. If nothing else, I’m extremely thrilled to see how quickly we’ve progressed from “Oh no! You’re not trimming my nails!” to “Yeah, I can accept this part of my life.” All because I changed my preconceived notion and vision of our final goal and decided to listen to my dog.

Posted in Husbandry, Training | Leave a comment

Little Miss Perfect

The face of perfection.

The face of perfection.

This year started off pretty rough for Risa with a diagnosis of IVDD and 6 weeks of strict crate rest. That was followed by months of intensive physical therapy and, still, I had no idea if she would ever compete again.

Since her future was uncertain, I decided to get a puppy. A Windsprite named Kyu is my next partner in training. He adores Risa and she loves to play with him too!

However, Risa made it clear to me she was not ready to retire. She finished her PCD title in AKC obedience in June. In the fall, she danced again and earned her Veteran In-Sync Entry title in RFE musical freestyle. As if that weren’t enough, she finally got back into the rally ring this weekend and finished her ASCA RNX title with style!

I had minimal expectations for her this weekend. We haven’t practiced rally since prior to her injury. And, to be fair, we never really practiced much rally at all! Lately, when training, it’s been harder to get her engaged with me. I know part of it is due to her age; she’s starting to reach the point where she says “not gonna” more frequently. I just wanted to have a good time with my girl while she still wants to play these games with me.

We trialed in ASCA rally for the first time at this trial last year. Risa earned one leg towards her RNX title. The “X” means that she scored at least 195 out of a possible 200. Knowing how little we’d trained and her physical limitations, I put the dream of the RNX title out of my mind. I just knew the chances of her achieving such a lofty goal were unlikely.

It was a small trial with two competitions on the same day. Her first time in the ring could have been a disaster. She caught a whiff of a super interesting smell right before we were due in! I let her wander off in search of it as best I could. I knew there was no way she’d ignore it so I gave her a chance to seek it out. She never found it but it was apparently enough to put it off her mind when it was our turn.

The run was actually quite nice. She did her sits in front (which she hasn’t been doing at home) and her attention was actually nice! Risa placed 2nd with a score of 196. The RNX was still within our grasp!

For her second run, I knew she’d either be better because she’d already been in the ring once or she’d be worse because she was tired. It was a long day at the show and she’s almost 13! Her second run was outstanding. I could feel it while I was out there. She was engaged and responsive. She nailed everything. I knew it was good. I praised her to the moon after it was done and thanked her for being so amazing and awesome. I knew it had been probably her best run in rally EVER! I just hadn’t expected it to be a perfect run. That’s right. My dog reactive, fearful, busted-back, old fart of a dog got her first perfect score ever. A 200! I couldn’t believe it. This dog is like a fine wine; just keeps getting better with time.

As long as she still wants to play, she will. I can’t believe we finished out this year with four new titles in three sports. . .and a PERFECT SCORE!! <3

Posted in ASCA, Back Problems, Canine Freestyle, Dog Sports, IVDD, Rally, RFE, Training | Leave a comment

You’re the rock in my roll

It hasn't been easy but it's been worth the struggle.  Sometimes it sucked.  Sometimes it was hard.  But it was always worth it.

It hasn’t been easy but it’s been worth the struggle. Sometimes it sucked. Sometimes it was hard. But it was always worth it.

“You’re good for my soul; it’s true. I’m head over boots for you.” – Jon Pardi

Ten years ago today it all began. A journey for which I’ll always be grateful. I adopted Risa today back in 2006. A decade of time spent together. So much has changed. She’s not quite the fearful, dog reactive dog I brought home that day. I’m not the naive dog owner I once was either.

We’ve been through a lot together. Not just training-wise. Not just in regards to her various behavioral and medical problems but in terms of life. She was my key to meeting new people when I was 2,000 miles away from home at my first real job. She was with me through two lay-offs and a lengthy unemployment. We moved across the country and lived in three states together. Our time together has been pretty much my entire adult life; my one constant through it all.

Our bond has been forged through trying times and I think that’s what’s made it so strong. I’d never owned a dog before let alone one with so many issues. I had to figure out how to communicate with my new housemate, give her what she needed, and earn her trust. There was so much to learn for someone who thought she knew it all already. 😉 Risa opened my eyes to so many things from raw feeding to homecooked canine diets. Positive reinforcement training, canine freestyle, dog sports in general, and holistic medicine. I also learned more than I ever thought I needed to know about gastrointestinal problems, cancer, dog reactivity, and intervertebral disc disease. She has always been a spectacular teacher and continues to do so even now. The knowledge I’ve gained from living with her I’ve shared to help several foster dogs and plenty more of my dog training students!

It’s hard to believe sometimes she’s still that dog I brought home so long ago. Back then, so few people knew the real Risa. She was never comfortable enough to open up and be herself (have I mentioned before we’re very similar?). Only I knew who she really was. Silly, fun-loving, crazy goofball. Even with her back injury and her increasing age she is still that same dog. Maybe not as fast and agile as she once was but just as nuts and ready to have a good time.

Happily consuming once of her favorite treats: McDonalds fries.

Happily consuming once of her favorite treats: McDonalds fries.

I took her on a road trip to celebrate last weekend. We couldn’t have had a nicer day. It was cool with intermittent rain showers but perfect Risa weather. She can no longer tolerate the heat like she used to so a day in a high 60s to low 70s was ideal. I treated her to McDonald’s french fries (her all-time favorite) and even shared a bit of my burger at one of her favorite parks. There is a river there that she is absolutely obsessed with so I thought that would a great place to go. Especially since there are few waterways around here in which she can splash around and have fun.

I let her go in the water as many times as she wanted. It was a bit tough for her to navigate the rocky bottom with her back problem but she still had a blast. She grabbed sticks and sniffed around. She got wet and happy. It was even cool enough for her to go for a relatively long walk without overheating or getting tired. We spent about 4 hours at the park just hanging out together. Just me and my dog. She’s earned it.

Today we celebrated again with ice cream. I bought her some vanilla soft serve and I indulged on a brownie sundae. I also had to eat about 2/3rds of her ice cream since that much dairy would have sent her gut reeling. Neither one of us wants to have to deal with that! I want her to be happy; not get sick. 😉 She inhaled her sweet treat.

She’s 12.5 years old now and I can’t help but be constantly reminded of how much she has aged. Especially this year. Her back injury has made it more and more evident that she is not the dog she once was physically. She’s still holding up great, however, and the spark is still there. I’m so happy she still wants to go and do things. Take long walks (not as long as she once did) and train together. Compete in sports and play and be silly. Despite her back, she’s still in good health. I’m thankful for every day I have with her. She’s a one-in-a-million dog and I’m so very grateful the shelter was willing to let me adopt her. She’s been one of the best decisions I ever made.

This river is my happy place!

This river is my happy place!

Keep on going strong, girlie. Keep on sharing your knowledge. Keep reminding me that there is always time to stop and check things out. That you need to remember to enjoy things and not simply get through them. And that, no matter what your age, there is always time for fun and silliness. <3

Posted in Dog Sports, Fear, Reactivity, Thoughts, Training, Veterinarian | Leave a comment


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


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