Saturday, December 21, 2013

TTA Knee Surgery: 1 Year Later

Wow. Time really has gotten away from me. I can't believe I haven't posted at all in the last 2 months. Life has been good though...lots of hiking and lots of letting the dogs just run, run, run.

I've recently seen a bit of extra traffic on previous posts about Holly's knee surgery, so I thought I would give a quick update on the results.

It's been a full year since Holly underwent knee surgery last December and I am happy to report that her recovery has been 100% successful.

To recap, Holly had been having on again, off again issues with her back and groin on the right side pretty much all of 2012. The physical therapist warned me that reoccurring groin issues are often a sign of knee instability. So I had her knee thoroughly checked out but it didn't reveal anything concerning. However, Holly's PT was right, and around Halloween 2012, she totally tore her right knee.

I did a grotesque amount of research, asked a thousand and one questions, and got 3 different opinions before deciding upon having a TTA done. I was terrified about doing this 'cutting the bone' option, but all other methods I researched didn't have a good success rate for a dog of Holly's history, level of activity and with a propensity for trying to kill herself.

She had some minor problems with recovery. I discovered she could lick her incision while wearing BOTH a cone and a basket muzzle. So she wore her ice pack stocking for the whole of her 3 month recovery and that ended the licking.

She threw out her sacrum around week 8, which was really painful for her. We also discovered she has spondylosis in 3 places along her spine.

But around 4-5 months after surgery, she no longer seemed to need chiro or acupuncture. And aside from the issue with her sacrum, she was never lame throughout the entire healing process. So I finally gave up 'protecting' her and let her be a dog again.

Throughout the summer we walked, hiked, swam, played and didn't bother her with any real training. We had fun with backyard agility and treibball, and I created some new retrieve games that she loves. She has gained all her muscle back and has remained totally sound.

Knowing what I know now (you know, hind-sight and all that), I would still make the same choices for her again. The only thing I would change is to have done more hip and back x-rays pre-surgery...had I done so I would have found her spondylosis sooner.

As a side note, this summer I worked very hard on Holly's's something I've had trouble with in the past with her. But...I worked hard and it has been rock solid of late. As a result, she's has spent most of the last 7 months having fun off leash. The whistle you hear is what I use as their emergency recall (I just use my fingers to whistle)...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Danee's First Agility Trial

In September, I took off for Utah to attend a work conference. It was a great time and it was wonderful to spend time with colleagues and friends that I only see every couple of years. I also got to stay with friends, and their awesome dogs, that I hadn't seen in was a great week :)

After the conference I took vacation time. I had never been south of the Salt Lake City area and was itching to see places like Arches National Park. To make the vacation perfect, my best friend flew down from Alaska and met me in Salt Lake City. From there, we drove down and stayed a week in both Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. Honestly, it was like visiting Mars...I have never experienced a landscape so vastly different from anything I'd ever seen before.

We camped in some awesome spots...I mean, who doesn't want to camp with a view like this?
Arches National Park campground

We saw some famous petroglyphs, like Newspaper Rock...

Bear tracks!

And some along the Colorado River...
A cave bear

In all, it was a spectacular trip.

While I was gone, I hired (for the first and last time) a dog sitter. That was as close to a disaster as I care to come. The dog sitter had over-committed her time, and wasn't truthful about the amount of time she'd would actually spend with my dogs...and spending time with them was the whole reason I hired her. So for 2 weeks, the dogs got no exercise and practically no attention...the result was them doing things they had NEVER done before, like pull things out of the basement to chew on in the yard (Holly), and counter-surf (Danee). The dogs survived, but I was pissed. They should not have had to spend those 2 weeks bored out of their minds...keeping them entertained was the whole reason I hired a dog sitter, instead of sending them to a boarding kennel. Obviously I won't be hiring her ever again.

Coming home and giving them real exercise (both physically and mentally) was all that was needed to stop the horrible behaviors they learned while I was gone. It just goes to show that people that complain that their dogs constantly do bad things clearly aren't giving those dogs the physical or mental exercise they need. So the dogs spent the last 2 weeks catching up on all the exercise they didn't get while I was gone. Danee's metal state did regress some while I was gone...walking in circles when she's confused or stressed made a reappearance...but fortunately those are already starting to wane.

The last 2 weeks I've also been preparing Danee for her first agility trial. I say "prepare", but what I really mean is just working at reinforcing that playing agility is rewarding. She was at this trial location back in May so she was pretty chill at arriving, seeing all the dogs walking around inside and out, and crating in the x-pen with Holly for a few hours.

I only signed both dogs up for 3 runs on just one day. That way we could get there late, stay a few hours, then head home. This is my closest trial location, at only 2 hrs away, so driving there and back for the day was no big deal.

In all, the plan worked really well. Danee didn't get too tired to focus, nor did she have any stressed out moments. While she was mildly nervous of strangers that wanted to say hello to her, she took treats from everyone and was able to go into working mode comfortably amongst people and dogs she had never seen before.

Our first run was Novice Chances, which is a perfect course for a newbie dog. They are usually pretty short and easy runs...I just ignored the distance line. I wanted her ask her to focus long enough to take a few obstacles correctly, then get out of the ring before she noticed the judge, bar setters or other people in the ring with her. It went as planned, I asked for about 6 obstacles in sequence and she wagged her tail the whole time. Her second run was Touch and Go and I cut the course in 1/2, asking for only the second half that had mostly tunnels and the A-frame. But this time she noticed the people in the ring. She lost her focus enough to run around 2 of the tunnels, but she still stayed with me. She was able to stop, refocus and happily take the last remaining 4 obstacles in a row. A successful run in my book.

Her last run, Novice Jumpers, I have on video. This time I asked for the whole course from her. She was a little hesitant, especially after noticing people sit in the ring, but in all stayed happy and only missed one obstacle.

I'm pretty proud of Little Dog. She's come a long way since she arrived in March :)

Holly ran in 3 classes too...the same ones as Danee (Chances, TNG and Jumpers) but in Elite. She rocked it. Despite doing very little backyard agility in the last 6 months, neither of is were as rusty as I thought we would be. It felt so good to run with her again!

Holly also finally, finally, finally, finally, finally received her Novice Versatility Award and her Open Versatility Award. She earned them well over a year ago, but we just got them hand delivered to us yesterday. Yay!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Missing You

Hard to believe you've been gone a year. I miss you Pooka. Every day.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Happy Gotcha Day Holly!

It's hard to believe its been 4 years since Holly entered my life. I owe a tremendous thanks to her former family for allowing her to come home with me. She's such a happy and fun dog that I can't imagine my life without her.

Thanks for 4 years of fun girlie...I hope we have many, many more years of fun ahead of us.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Letting Go of Ego

With Holly recovering from knee surgery and adding a new dog to my home, agility hasn't been seriously on my agenda this year. Even so, I decided to once again join in the Dog Agility Bloggers Event and do a post on Aging in relation to agility.

Please read all the other great posts on this topic here ( to join in on the great discussion.

In my last post for this group, I talked about some of the ways that I'd like to see NADAC change. However, when it comes to keeping older dogs competing safely, I believe other agility organizations could follow NADAC's lead on a few things...primarily on jump heights.

Because I've only had one dog during my adult life go through the pains of being elderly (although, sadly, Holly is fast approaching this stage of her life), and because I haven't even hit 40-yrs old just yet (Ack!), I'm going to limit my discussion to just jump heights.

10-yr old Casey rocking 12" jumps

First and foremost, I think the 'battle' we wage on our dogs aging begins before they hit adulthood. Granted, some of us have adopted adult dogs (me included, twice over), so we didn't have control over this portion of our dogs lives. But, keeping our dogs joints healthy from the start can make a huge difference on whether many dogs will be able to continue to compete, or even just play the game at home, when they are older. I believe that not jumping dogs at full height, or for multiple repetitions, until their growth plates are closed can help prevent joint damage in many dogs. Keep in mind, that this damage might not be evident until the dog is much older.

Please note that I'm about to oversimplify things here...there are many combinations of things that you can sign yourself, or your dog, up for in NADAC that determine what height you'll jump and what group your dog will compete with/against. I don't personally think there is anything simple about NADAC rules, so I'm going to gloss over most of it and just touch on heart of things in relation to jump heights.

My first kudos to NADAC is that they do not allow dogs to compete before they are 18 months old...essentially ensuring that growth plates are closed before a dog begins to compete.

My second kudos to NADAC is that dogs do not jump higher than 20". Agility is about more than just jumping. And just because my 23.5" tall and lanky dog can physically jump 26", it does not mean that she should. She jumps 20" comfortably and beautifully. Anything higher than that and, in my mind, she looks awkward, with the jumping looking forced instead of relaxed and natural. I feel so very lucky that there is an organization that agrees with me on this and provides me a venue where I can compete with my freakishly tall dog, but not have to punish her body by repetitiously jumping 24"or 26" jumps.

NADAC also has a veterans group where dog's 7 yrs and older can take a 4" jump height reduction (and in some cases an 8" reduction). Having this choice for my dog is superbly and supremely awesome. Again, agility is about more than just jumping, so I believe that this choice of offering a lowered jump height can allow healthy dogs to continue to compete without punishing their 'getting older' joints.

9-yr old Casey having fun jumping 12"

A dogs jumping form will vary from height to height, but unless they are jumping so badly that they'll hurt themselves at a particular height, I seriously doubt any dog really cares at what height they jump. And, if given a choice, most dogs would likely choose a lower height over a higher one. Jumping your dog higher does not make you any better at agility than someone who's same-sized dog jumps 4", or even 8", lower than yours does.

I do wish that NADAC had a Double Digit Veterans group, where dogs can take an 8" height reduction when they reach 10 yrs old. Because dogs can't jump higher than 20" to begin with, a dog in the 20" group would then jump 12" as a double digit veteran. There is somewhat of a complicated version of this already, but it isn't for double-digit's a mandatory drop for all dogs over 8-yrs old. Hopefully each of us knows our dog best and has their best interests in mind, instead of our own ego's. While I believe in lowering our dogs jump heights as they age, I still believe that we should be allowed to individually make the call when that should happen...not to systematically have all dogs drop a jump height just because they reach the age of 8-yrs old. Hopefully that call will be made by the handler before joint or jumping discomfort becomes evident. Because by the time your dog shows signs of aging in their joints, it's too late. The damage is there and now you are in catch-up mode. Instead, we should do all we can to maintain the healthy joints our dogs already have by using prevention.

Not too long ago NADAC eliminated the differences in championship titles between their 2 categories Proficient and Skilled. It used to be that a dog in Proficient received a NATCH and a dog in Skilled received a NATCH-S (or Medal for those from way back). Now, a NATCH is a NATCH is a NATCH. Heights and times are still different between the two categories, but the end title is now the same. There are many arguments on the pros and cons of this, but the main thing I see is that if you want your dog to earn a NATCH title (something that only the human side of the team cares about), you no longer have to jump your dog at a higher height, their whole career, to earn it.

In addition to allowing our dogs to jump lower heights, NADAC also offers four "games" classes...none of which have jumps in them. Courses that are comprised of nothing but tunnels, hoops or a combination thereof plus contacts and weave poles. The courses are a blast and super fun for dogs of all ages to play on.

Elderly Casey doing a "Tunnelers" course

No, I do not believe our dogs should live in bubbles...not that I didn't seriously consider it each and every time Holly hurt herself last year. But one thing we can do for them is to try and prevent unnecessary wear and tear in agility. My primary suggestion for how we can allow our dogs to continue to comfortably play this game into their double digit years is to continually lower their jump height as they age, instead of dropping their jumps heights by the time they are already old.

Holly doing her "Super-Dog!" impression over 16" jumps

Holly is almost 8 yrs old, a freakish 23.5" tall and has had multiple injuries over the last 3 years. Because I value her ability to still play this game (or any game at all) over the next few years, and remain healthy, I've decided that I will never again ask her to jump higher than 16". That is a choice that I make for her, not for me.

When it comes to our dogs...our beloved companions that are so willing to play this silly game with us...I believe that it's good to let go of your ego: Just because your dog can, does not mean that they should.

These are just some of my opinions...what about you? What are your feelings on your agility venue's jump heights? What are you concerned most about in relation to agility and your dog getting older?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Actual agility. Seriously.

After several months of missing out on weekly agility club practices, I finally drove down and joined in the fun today. And after months of not posting about training and agility...I mean geeze, 'agility' is in the blog address afterall...I'm actually writing a post about training Danee today. Will wonders never cease?

Danee hasn't been to the arena since May. And while we've been training on obstacles at home, I wasn't sure where her state of mind would be with the busy environment and new dogs. So my goals were simple, and none of them really had anything to do with agility.

1) Practice taking her in and out of the x-pen she shared with Holly in a busy place. My criteria for the x-pen is that both dogs must sit when I open the door. Either of them pops up, I close it again. Then I leash the dog I want and release her by name, and the other dog must remain in a sit until the door is closed again. Danee rocked this. Holly...not so much. Holly was pretty certain I should only be working with her and not Danee. Jealous much?

2) Be able to go into 'working mode' outside of the ring, inside the ring, and focus on whatever the task is at hand. Danee rocked this. She was totally comfortable and able to dive right into working mode in the busy environment. And it was extra busy today too...there were puppies everywhere! She happily did tricks outside the ring, next to the ring while other dogs were running, and inside the ring right before her turn. No problem with focus at all. Not only that, but she did many short obstacle sequences and nailed each one. No hesitation, no hint of stress or confusion at all.

3) Chill out when she's not working. She was able to chill in the pen somewhat, but was not relaxed enough to lie down. She watched everything and stayed very alert. Then again, Holly can't chill either...but Holly takes it the next level and barks incessantly when she's overaroused. So, I'm calling Danee's chill attitude, compared to Holly's, a win.

4) If she wants, to greet new people and new dogs. She did. She took cookies with gusto from several people and shied away from no one. She also liked several of the new dogs, including another dog not unlike herself...a cute little terrier mix.

I was thrilled with Danee today. It was like she'd been doing this for years and had no problem with anything that got thrown her way today. Actual agility included. She sequenced 5 obstacles in a row and drove down to each obstacle with gusto. She even experienced the chute for the first time. Since I do only NADAC, I don't bother training the chute or table. But she hopped onto the table today and dove into the chute (held partway open) with glee.

And so not to be left out of her own blog, Holly got to play too. I only worked on distance and layering with short sequences. She rocked it too. Granted we did some pretty simple stuff today, but it's nice to ease back into things and build on layers of confidence instead of presenting her with nothing but challenge after challenge. If I did that all the time, the poor girls brain would pop.

Both girls took long naps when we got home. Next week, we play with tunnels!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Vacations and Catching Up

I've been more or less on vacation the last 2-3 weeks while my parents were here visiting. I say more or less because I worked while they were here (more on that later) and they left for a few days to go visit my sister in another town....and with them went my car. So I worked while they were gone those few days too.

But more or less they were here and we did fun vacationy stuff.

There was swimming for the dogs...yup, after 3 years of convincing her that monsters from the deep were not going to come and grab her, Holly finally swims.

It was hot and my parents are water people, so we visited lots of lakes and rivers...


There was also huckleberry picking...I LOVE it when my family visits when the hucks are ripe. It means that we all go picking and then I get to keep all that was picked. I have over 2 gallons in the freezer now, and I didn't have to do all the picking myself!

We also visited some of their favorite places, like this old growth western cedar forest...they are so old and so large that they rival California's redwoods.

And lastly, because no vacation at my house is complete without a bear (seriously, ask my mom!), here is a picture of my parents with a grizzly bear that, for research purposes, I handled while they were here. They were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to come down and see the bear.

Please note that when this picture was taken this bear was humanely and safely sedated. The bear was sedated in order to place a tracking collar on it and to collect physiological data necessary for research. This picture was taken after all monitoring devices and oxygen were removed, and just prior to placing the bear back inside a culvert trap to safely wake up. The green bandage on his forearm is covering an IV line that is giving the bear fluids while he's sedated.

You can find out more about this bear and this grizzly bear population program at the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Facebook page.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Reblog: Before You Breed Your Pet Dog...

This post was originally written by mymegaedog, a dog blogger who also volunteers at her local shelter. It's such a great great idea that I've reblogged it here. Click on the link at the bottom to read the entire post, or you can click here to go to the original blogsite

My last post Please Stop Breeding Your Pet Dog seems to have struck a chord with some. I first want to say that I am grateful that none of the responses I’ve gotten (even the ones who disagreed with me) were nasty. I’m clapping for all of you who have been able to stay level headed about this! Click!
One follower (check her blog and her photography out here) made a comment that really stuck with me though. I’ll quote it off my last post just so I don’t mess it up.

"I think that people who want to breed their pet dogs should first foster/volunteer for a shelter/rescue for a while."

It’s a simple thing, but very profound and honestly something that hadn’t occurred to me before. Her comment was the difference between being simply active about the situation (which, let’s face it, is what I was doing) and being proactive about the situation. I was being a bad positive reinforcement trainer and telling people what they shouldn’t do instead of what they should. That doesn’t negate what I said though and all of those things should be considered, I’ll add that as a caveat.

Volunteering in a local rescue or shelter opens eyes (I know it did mine). I think you’d find that some (if not all) of the reasons that you want to breed your pet dog fall by the wayside in the face of the realty of the homeless dog situation in the United States. It really gives you a little more perspective on some of the common myths.

Click HERE to continue reading this blog post at the original site

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Working dog, working dog, I'm a working dog

Danee was my work partner this week.

Yes, as part of my job, I get to hike for work. Don't be jealous, the hikes are mostly all up hill, the trails are in thick woods on the sides of mountains, don't usually end anywhere pretty (like an alpine lake), and they are quick 'get in and get out' kind of hikes.

Usually most of my work day involves driving, not hiking. I get far more windshield time than I do boots on the ground time. But this year has been somewhat quiet for me, so I've been out collecting bear hair from trees and other objects (like wooden trail bridges and sign posts) that bears like to rub on. Since the sites are part of a research study, they are marked and have short strands of barbed wire on them. You wouldn't think that a bear would like rubbing their backs and sides on barbed wire, but they do. And because they do, they leave us lots of hair to collect. The sites mostly look like this...

A rub tree alongside the hiking trail

A close-up view of the tree

This week my intern was off doing other things, and since I wanted a little company on this hike, I took Little Dog. She's been out on some shorter hikes, but never on a longer one or on a working hike. Holly was jealous she got left behind. But if I take a dog for a working hike, I only take one at a time. I need to focus on work, not on keeping two wild dingos on trail with me.

Lunch at a creek

I kept her on leash so she wouldn't outpace herself and get too tired on the way back. She's never been this far out in the back country so I didn't want her to have a negative experience (or lose her!) her first time out. She was wonderfully patient while I stopped at each of the sites to collect hair, enjoyed lunch with me at the last creek crossing, and I found out that she really likes huckleberries...she even learned to pick her own each time we stopped for a short break.


She even alerted me when she heard a larger animal move off the trail way ahead of us. What a good bear dog :) She was an excellent trail partner and hopefully this will be the start of many back country hikes for us.

More hiking please

One tired Little Dog

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Mountains of Beauty

Our mountain lakes are some of the most beautiful I've ever seen. I'm not much of a water person, but there is something serene in visiting lakes and ponds where few humans ever go. Only natural noises...frogs croaking, wind blowing, birds singing. No human related planes people talking. It's wonderful.

And to prove to you that I haven't abandoned the dogs completely, here's Little Dog feeling mighty sorry for herself. She put a gash on her leg and is on the injured list. No more leaping over sharp pointy sticks in the woods until it heals.

Not only is she stuck on a leash for awhile, but wearing a t-shirt to prevent her from licking it hasn't improved her mood any.

But Holly doesn't care about poor, sad Little Dog...because as soon as I post this, her and I are headed to the river for a swim.