An easy question that is difficult to answer.   Every dog is different and each situation is different so I don’t have any definitive answers in this post but I will tell you what I have learned and what Loki has taught me since October.

When Loki was three, she partially tore her CCL (cranial cruciate ligament).  Using conservation management techniques she was able to return to full activity.  She ran with us when we were biking and skiing with no ill effects.  July 2016 she had a full tear.  It took 8 months before she was able to weight bear on that leg enough to go on longer walks and to run off-leash.  I wanted to do more to help her but didn’t know what I could do until I came across the  Bum Knees class  offered through Fenzi Academy .

Identifying Pain

I went through the Bum Knees class at the Gold level (I submitted homework videos and received feedback from the instructor) which taught me how to identify when Loki was in pain and my big learning was when I discovered that the times she was in pain came after doing exercise that I thought her knee could handle.

My go-to assumption for Loki’s knee has been observation.  If I didn’t see any signs of limping and she seemed to be bearing weight on the leg no worse than before, I assumed she was okay.  Definitely it wasn’t comfortable for her to put weight on the leg all the time but she didn’t ‘seem’ to be in pain.  I have learned that observation is good but not good enough.

My first ‘oh my’ moment came shortly after starting the course.  It was a nice day and we took Loki for a short off-leash walk.  We walked the lake on our local rail trail and Loki was having a great time playing with my husband.  He would toss some sticks for her and she would run up and down a short but steep bank to retrieve them.  After we arrived home; her leg seemed fine.  Later that evening my husband and I commented that we seemed to have tired Loki out; and then it twigged.

The class instructor,  Dr. Debbie Gross Torraca  had just released the handout which included the signs that your dog might be in pain.  The signs were:

  • Vocalization such as crying or whimpering
  • Refusal to move
  • Lameness – and this should be differentiated from recovery lameness.  Often, when a dog is recovering from surgery, he will exhibit a slight lameness with activity. If it worsens, discontinue activity.
  • Avoidance of an activity
  • Withdrawal from activity – if the dog does not want to participate in normal activities
  • Excessive sleeping after exercises

I was stunned; “Excessive sleeping after exercises” a sign of pain…wow.   Loki confirmed this for me the next day when we tried to do our rehab exercises.  The difference between what she could do the day before and what she couldn’t do the day after was glaringly obvious.  That was an eye opener.  We took it easy for 5 days; short walks and no rehab and then I tried the rehab again.  This time she was back to what I considered her baseline.  You can see the difference in the video that I submitted for homework.

The event that really got my attention, in that it brought about a change in my behaviour(!), came with one of the last assignments in the class.  We were asked to film our dog walking down a short hill.  Since Loki’s leg again seemed fine and it was possibly the last chance for an easy hike before the snow came, we took Loki for a short hike and I filmed the last small downhill portion of that hike.  I opted for prudence and kept Loki on leash so she wouldn’t overdue the exercise.  Once again, I thought her leg handled the hike with no problems, but the next day she wasn’t weight bearing when I tried to do the rehab exercises.  When I watched the video she looked okay but when the instructor watched the video she commented “As she is walking down the hill, she is pacing. This is telling us she is not extending her limbs all of the way. This could be because she is hurting or conserving her energy. I still see her favoring that left leg – downhill actually puts more stress on the knee than uphill (my emphasis). So my advice is to focus more on the uphill and zigzag down.”

What is pacing?

Pacing is a gait in which the both right limbs and then both left limbs move and are placed on the ground simultaneously. It is an inefficient gait that can be the result of compensation due to laziness, pain or poor conformation. It is not a structurally supportive gait and the lasting negative effects on the back are considerable.

An efficient gait tends to be movement in a diagonal fashion.  When a dog walks or trots, their opposite forelimbs and hindlimbs advance at the same time.  For example, when the right forelimb moves forward, so does the left hindlimb.

Here is the video of Loki walking down the hill.  Watch it from YouTube in slow motion (0.25 speed); in the first 20 seconds you can see her gait and she is definitely pacing.

Re-Injury

On Sunday November 19th Loki re-injured her knee.  At 3:30pm Loki was fine, she went outside and when she came back in at 4:30 she was not putting weight on her left leg and was noticeably limping.

I have stopped all rehab exercises until Loki can once again start bearing weight on her leg and we are back to walks that are no more than ½ a block.  I have found a holistic vet and will be taking Loki to see her before Christmas.  I am looking for a second option from a vet with both conventional and holistic experience with CCL tears.  I don’t know if surgery is in our future; it might be but I want to explore as many other options as possible before I go down that path.

If you find yourself in this same situation with your dog, here are some links that I found helpful and interesting in my journey to research non-surgical solutions to CCL tears:

Treating A Torn Cruciate (ACL) Holistically

Cruciate Ligament Rupture: Missing The Big Picture

Is Surgery Really Necessary For Your Dog’s ACL / CCL Ligament Injury?

Alternatives to Surgery for Ligament Injuries in Dogs

The Benefits of Canine Rehabilitation & Conditioning

Protect Your Dog From Cranial Cruciate ligament injuries

 

With Loki’s knee not progressing as well as I would have liked, Marley starting the spring with swollen front paws, and a soft tissue injury, I have been doing lots of research on canine conditioning, joints, supplements, liver detox and anything else that might be related to and helpful for the conditions that both my dogs are experiencing.

Marley turned 10 this year and initially I thought that perhaps arthritis was setting into his hind end (after X-rays, I am happy to say he is arthritis free…what a relief!).  I was also reading about the potential for arthritis that a dog with a torn ACL could experience.

I was sharing my tales of dog woe with my sister and she suggested that I check out bone broth.   Dog’s Naturally Magazine  is my go to resource for natural methods of healing and when I searched Bone Broth, they didn’t disappoint.  There were two good articles, ‘Bone Broth For Dogs? Here’s Why It’s A Great Idea!’   and ‘How to Make Bone Broth for Your Dog’   The benefits of bone broth are many but the two areas that caught my attention were the benefits for joints, and the liver detox properties (to help reduce the swelling in Marley’s paws).  The article stated:

“Bone broth is loaded with glycosaminoglycans and you might even be familiar with one of them: glucosamine. Not only does bone broth contain super amazing amounts of glucosamine, it’s also packed with other joint protecting compounds like chondroitin and hyaluronic acid.

Moreover, the glycosaminoglycans from bone broth are resistant to digestion and are absorbed in their intact form. According to Dr Shanahan, they act like hormones, stimulating cells called fibroblasts, which lay down collagen in the joints, tendons, ligaments, and even the arteries.”

Given the benefits and the ease of making bone broth, I went out and bought a crock pot and made my first batch.  The dogs loved it but I was missing one ingredient:  chicken feet!  Various internet articles indicated that chicken feet add a variety of health benefits to broth so I checked with our local supermarket to see if they could bring in a case of chicken feet for me.  Alas, chicken feet were not available for purchase.  Then I had a great idea!  My neighbour (as in directly across the road) raises chickens and butchers them for meat every fall.  I walked over and had a neighbourly chat and though he thought my request was a bit strange he was more than happy to give me the feet when he was done.  I now have 24 chicken feet washed and in the freezer ready to use each time I make broth for the dogs.

Here’s to healthy joints and happy dogs!

Thanks for reading.

As I sit down to write this post, I am reflecting on how fast the last 5 months have gone.  I live in the West Kootenays surrounded by mountains and glacier fed lakes.  As with so many areas in BC, we had an unusually hot summer. While we had a few small fires caused by lightning strikes, our homes were not at risk but the air was full of smoke for most of the summer.  Now that we are at the beginning of November, the weather has cooled and we are starting to get snow.

I had planned a summer and fall of off-leash adventures for Marley and Loki but by June, I knew I needed to make some alterations.  Loki tore her ACL over 12 months ago.  She can walk without a limp but she still doesn’t put full weight on the affected leg when standing.  I signed up for a Fenzi Academy class called ‘Those Bum Knees’ and am half way through the program and learning a lot about canine conditioning to help strengthen weak legs due to knee injuries.

In the spring, I noticed that Marley was standing with his left leg at an odd angle.  He wasn’t limping so I didn’t think much of it until one day after playing with Loki he could barely get up after lying down and he had a hard time getting up the stairs.  I took him to the vet and the vet ruled out knee issues and arthritis leaving us with a soft tissue injury. Additional reading on my part makes me think that he has an Iliopsoas strain.  Many of the exercises for bad knees can also be used to rehab an Psoas strain so I have now started a program of canine conditioning for both dogs and plan to take a course coming up Feb 1st called ‘Preventing and Addressing the Iliopsoas’ in order to better understand and treat this condition.

Because of these injuries, I did not want either dog getting into and out of the car on a regular basis until I could get a platform to help them.  I checked out a few options and opted to order a KLimb platform that I can use for training and to minimize the stress on dog knees and legs when entering and exiting the car.   I picked the platform up on our way to Moab and have been using it regularily whenever I take them anywhere in the car.

Because the summer was so hot, training and walks happened in the early morning or in the evening with minimal activity during the day.  During our training time, I worked on adding the verbal cue for spin/turn, practiced our cue ‘between’ with a goal of having each dog respond from a variety of angles and spent time working on handling their mouth to increase their comfort level with this activity.   We practiced nosework; working on vehicle searches, corners, and inaccessible hides and I revisited my article indication and discovered that we weren’t ready to add an article to a track; more work was needed!

We spent the first two weeks of October biking/hiking with friends in Moab.  Marley and Loki came with us and for the first time, they were not able to run with the bikes.  I stayed with them at the campsite while my husband and friends did the long bike rides and hikes.  The dogs and I leisurely explored the campground and surrounding areas.  I used the time to practice nosework in novel locations and to read Alexandra Horowitz newest book called ‘Being a Dog’.  The book is available from DogWise a great source for excellent books on training, living with, and understanding dogs!

Watch for future posts on what I have learned (am learning) about article indication, bad knees, soft tissue injuries, and aging in dogs.

Thanks for reading and happy training.

Between coming down with a cold and being sick for a week, then being away for a conference, having guests for the weekend and now getting caught up, I haven’t done much training over the last two weeks.   I am now re-grouping so that I can get back into a training routine.  As I was thinking about what to write, I realized that it has been awhile since I highlighted my training with Marley.

It is so easy to focus on Loki in these blogs.  She is faster to pick up new behaviours than Marley, and has a variety of challenges that are constantly being worked on.  Marley on the other hand is my beloved dog; he is gentle, good natured, gets along well with other dogs, doesn’t counter surf, the list goes on.  The two biggest training challenges I have with Marley are:

  • Getting him to focus on me.  He absolutely loves the outdoors, watching the world go by and is easily distracted when we train
  • He doesn’t handle pressure well.

To have a successful session with Marley I need to keep the sessions short; sometimes as short as one or two repetitions.   For me to know how long each session can be, I really need to observe Marley and let his body language tell me.  I still struggle with this but am getting better at both observing Marley and then acting on what I observe.

Our current project is to put both our clockwise (Turn) and counter clockwise (Spin) behaviours on a verbal cue.   We are making progress with Spin but Turn is presenting some challenges.  Prior to adding the verbal cue, he could Spin and Turn easily with a hand signal.  Now that Spin with a verbal cue is underway, I am finding that Marley will still offer a Spin (a behaviour that has received a lot of recent reinforcement) instead of watching my hand signal.  As you can see from the video, he is confused about what I want and then gets easily stressed.  If I don’t clue in and stop at the first sign of stress, he will exhibit displacement behaviours that even I can’t miss!  In the video, I ended the first session, trained Loki and then went back to Marley.  For his final session, we did two repetitions of Turn and that was it for the evening.

Going forward, I need to think about how I can work on Turn so that Marley can be successful.  I may try doing single repetition sessions of Turn throughout the day and use a target stick instead of the hand signal.  So new cue (Spin), old cue (hand signal), and new cue (Turn), old cue (target stick) may present enough distinction that Marley’s success rate will improve.  I will give this a try and keep you posted.

Thanks for reading and happy training

 

One of Susan Garrett’s training mantras is ‘build the value’.  If you want your dog to value something such as enjoying going into their crate, you need to build value for that activity.  The question is how?  It is hard for people new to reward based training to realize the power in that enticing treat, that favourite toy or the permission to sniff that amazing fire hydrant.

Building value starts with the rewards we use.  Dry, tasteless food can build value for those highly food motivated dogs but for pickier eaters, stinky treats such as fresh chicken, garlic infused sausages, a frozen Kong stuffed with cheese and beef may be required!   How do you know what will work for your dog? The only way to know is to pay attention to your dog; observe what works and what doesn’t work in different situations.  The higher the value of the treat or toy to your dog, the greater the value that will transfer over to the behaviour you are rewarding.  If you can make the process of delivering that reward fun for your dog through play, jackpots, and games, you can increase that value even more.

What does this have to do with nosework?  I realized the true power of the above when I started training one of my dogs in canine nosework.  Let’s face it, why would a dog be remotely interested in tracking down a q-tip, stuffed in a straw, scented with some odour that no self respecting dog would bother with in the wild?  The initial method I learned for training nosework had many flaws one of which was to give my dog just one treat each time she found odour.  It didn’t take long before Loki started to find the whole process unrewarding.  Rather than bounding with joy into the search area she started avoiding the area.  I was frustrated because I thought this game was supposed to be fun??!!  What was I doing wrong??

Well, with a switch to the NACSW method of training, I started to use food and boxes to build value for searching.  In time, I added odour into the mix and rewarded each find with lots of treats; occasionally up to 15 seconds of feeding treats at source.  It didn’t take long for me to see the value for odour grow and Loki went from a dog who avoided the game to one who enjoys playing the search game with me.

Watch this video to see the difference it made for Loki and for I!

This experience has helped me to see the importance of building value for what we want our dogs to do.  High value rewards combined with fun delivery can make the difference between a dog who goes through the motions versus a dog who is actively engaged in the process.

For further reading on the role of rewards in your training, check out Eileen Anderson’s post ‘There is Hope: One Trainer’s Journey from Liverwurst to Kibble’ and Lori Chamberland’s article When Good Training Goes Badly: Troubleshooting Your Training’

Thanks for reading and happy training.

2017-train-for-rewards-v4-button

Train for Rewards Blog Party

I am so proud of Loki today.  We were walking along the lower Galena Trail this morning and just before getting back to the car, Marley found a nice deer bone.  I was about 10 feet away when I realized that Marley was lying on the ground chewing on the bone and Loki was standing politely behind him.  I called Loki, she came and we had a huge treat party.  We played ‘catch’ and ‘get yer treats’ for almost five minutes while Marley enjoyed his chew.  This made my day!!

Five years ago as we were leaving the shelter with our newly adopted dog, the shelter owner casually called out the Loki was a resource guarder.  Being an inexperienced dog owner I didn’t understand the importance of that statement.  Part way home, Mike and I stopped and picked up a treat for both dogs.  They were sitting side by side in the vehicle when we presented the treats.  Well Loki turned on Marley with a ferocious snarl.  After getting her home, it took one or two incidents of her pinning Marley to the ground for me to realize that I had a problem.  With help from Jeanne Shaw of Love2Play and doing some research on the internet, I was able to start a simple management program while I started the process of teaching Loki that when good things happen to Marley, good things happen to Loki.

I found a wide variety of excellent articles on the internet with the following three being the most helpful for me:

How to Prevent Resource Guarding in a Multiple-dog Household

How to React When Your Dog Begins Resource Guarding Against Other Dogs

Resource Guarding, Dog to Dog

Over time Loki learned impulse control and how to relax around Marley when food and toys were available.  As time went on, I could offer treats with both dogs sitting side by side, I could play with Marley and a toy while Loki waited her turn, and I could take a food bowl away from Loki without her curling her lip at me.

Today though, Loki gave me the greatest gift possible; a totally relaxed dog, politely waiting while Marley enjoyed an extremely high value outdoor treasure.

Last week I did a few novel interior searches with Loki.  Leaving familiar areas to do searches helps our dogs generalize the skills that they are learning.  Generalizing skills applies to nosework as well as basic behaviours such as SIT, DOWN, recalls, and so on.  Unlike humans our dogs learn in context.  The best example of what this means for our dogs and how we can understand the difference between how dogs learn and how people learn came from an article written by Melissa Alexander called “Generalization”

Generalization is the ability to apply a concept to a situation different from the one it was initially learned in. Humans do this quite easily and quite naturally. For example, when you learned to write, you didn’t have to relearn the process when you went from school to home, changed from notebook paper to poster board, or switched from pencils to ballpoint pens. Generalization is “big picture.”

Discrimination, by contrast, is the ability to focus on the smaller picture – the details. Humans generalize more easily than they discriminate.

Dogs are master discriminators. “Sit” doesn’t necessarily mean “put your bum on the ground” to a dog. Sit may mean “Put your bum on the ground directly in front of mom when she is in the kitchen standing next to counter wearing a bait bag and holding a clicker and cookie.” Now that’s discrimination!

Generalization is considerably more challenging for dogs (except for negative experiences, which they generalize easily, though often inappropriately, as an instinctive survival mechanism). Dogs must work as hard to learn to generalize as humans must work to discriminate.

So the more novel environments that you can explore with your dog and practice what you are learning, the easier it will be for your dog to understand that the skills they are learning apply anywhere.

Our biggest novel environment search came on Sunday at the Kootenay Scent Hounds trial.  I am happy to say that Loki earned us another nosework ribbon!! When training, I know where the hide is and Loki’s job is to find the hide.  In a trial, neither of us know where the hide is and once Loki finds the hide, my job is to recognize that she found it. I missed her initial indication on our first search so the search took a little longer but we both nailed it on our second search!! Way to go Loki!

Thanks for reading and happy training.

Training sessions can be planned to run for an hour with lots of breaks but often shorter training sessions make for better learning and its easier to fit short training sessions into a busy day!  An interesting study found that “…what this research was showing is that a dog who had gone through a training session, and then immediately after got another training session to learn a new task, was less likely to remember that original training. In comparison the dogs that had gotten a break of some sort, either to nap, exercise, or play, actually had better memory and performance a week later.”

Fitting in a short training session can be easy to do.  My short training sessions happen right after dinner.  After dinner is finished, both of my dogs always get a little something from the table.  The after dinner treat is something they look forward to each evening (a high value reinforcer!).  I use this to my advantage and will often conduct a one repetion training session with the reward being the treat from the table.  Here is one video of Marley (48 seconds) and one video of Loki (56 seconds) showing one of our short sessions.  They were resting while we had dinner so I had them perform a few hand touches and catch the treat to warm them up before I gave the cue ‘spin’.  The reward was the special after dinner treat and training was finished.

Thanks for reading and happy training.

When Loki was first introduced to nosework, it was using a different method than I am using now.  The first method didn’t build hunt drive nor did it build value for odour.  As a result, Loki started to show an aversion to searching for birch; the game just wasn’t fun anymore.  Over the last six months, I have been re-building value for searching for the odour of birch and for the fun of playing the nosework game.

As of this week, I am now focusing on anise.  Anise is the odour that she will be searching for at the trial on May 28th.  She has searched for anise before and has earned her UKC Advance Container, and Advance Exterior titles searching for the odour of anise.  On the 28th, if all goes well, she will earn her UKC Advanced Interior title.

Loki easily switched back to searching for Anise.  On Saturday, we did a search in a familiar but novel location (my parent’s kitchen) and on Sunday, we went to the gym and did multiple searches of objects.  She easily identified source each time.  My job over the next couple of weeks will be to:

  • Work on building her desire to stay at source
  • Continue to learn to read my dog’s body language especially the sudden change of behaviour which is a definite indicator that she has found the scent.

During the trial, I am confident that Loki will be able to easily identify the source of the odour.  The challenge will be for me; can I tell when she has found it!!

Thanks for reading and happy training.

This week didn’t amount to much training time due to being away for three days but on Sunday, I sat down and completed 10 days worth of training plans!  After I finished my planning, I spent 1/2 an hour working with Marley and Loki.  This morning after my morning walk with the dogs, we spent 20 minutes working on the second one.

My focus for the month of May will be nosework; especially for Loki.  We are registered with Kootenay Scent Hounds to participate in the two Advance Interior trials on Sunday May 28th.  If Loki passes both, we will have another ribbon to hang on her kennel.

On Sunday, our training continues to focus on building value for odour.  I introduced a toy distraction, then a low value food distraction (kibble) and built up to a high value food distraction (canned tripe).  I was happy to see that Loki had no problem ignoring the lower value distractions in favour of odour.  For the final search, I put some canned tripe in a small dish and put the dish in a box with holes on three sides. She spent a few seconds at the box with canned tripe (the 10 sec mark) but moved away on her own to find odour.  She was heavily rewarded for that excellent decision.  When working with distractions, it is important to set up the distraction so that she can NEVER get to the food or toy.  I want her to learn that only odour pays.

Thanks for reading and happy training.