Keep your promise to play with your dog

Posted by Raja on July 24th, 2012 — Posted in Health, interview

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Dull playtime for dogs

Puppies play all the time.  They’re awkward and fairly chaotic. But, we get a handle on that.  We socialize our puppies to be calm and placid most of the time.  We have to- chaos and randomness rule  the house otherwise, right?

Over time, our desire to control doggy chaos and organize our pets into our own compartmentalized days means that “play” often becomes the daily walk- a scheduled, stately, linear, tromp down the  concrete sidewalk.  Playful initiatives on our dogs’ parts are discouraged.  We don’t want them running into somebody else’s yard, tripping other pedestrians or sniffing anything at all- whatsoever. We want them to go out purposefully and return expediently, and cleanly.  Sometimes we try to run off their excess energy so we let them become joggers with us.  Just FYI, jogging doesn’t work all the muscle groups for them either.  Only Dalmatians, Fox Hounds and a handful of other breeds really get into running.   (Dalmatians prefer it if horses are involved.  Fox Hounds like something smelly to chase.)

Let’s be honest, part of the reason we control dog play is that we sometimes don’t feel too playful  ourselves.  After a day of work, we think we want to go home and sit down.  (ummm… weren’t many of us doing that all day?)

As the video reveals, true dog play is something different from exercise and often extends way beyond puppyhood.  Watch street dogs in Puerto Rico, as one example. Though they are semi-feral foragers, the adults love to play, chasing, tugging, growling and wrestling spontaneously. There is no real fighting, even though the play seems loud and fierce.  After tumbling and rolling about, the dogs get up, shake, and wander off together to find a snack.  Our point is:  dogs love to play throughout their lives.

If your dog has lost her playfulness, it could be because she’s not feeling well or it could be because there’s nobody to play with because YOU, the designated doggy companion, have lost your interest in play.

A playful dog is happy, energetic, flexible, well muscled and relaxed.  A playful dog owner has pretty much the same characteristics. Help your dog stay youthful and happy. Don’t discourage doggy play.  You know it’s good for you too.

Should you choose your dog’s friends?

Posted by Raja on July 10th, 2012 — Posted in friends, Parks, Social Commentary

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Probably not. Arranged friendships are fairly perilous.  When I was in primary school, my grandmother had high hopes I’d befriend the children of people she approved of. We both ended up disappointed.

Unsuccessful photo session 1.

Perhaps for similar social, demographic, geographic reasons, we hope our dogs make friends with our friends’ dogs.  That way, everybody can have a good time at summer get togethers.  And the photo ops will be so charming.

Well dream on…  In our house, we have always hoped that Raja and the lovely Coco Bella would hit it off like peas and carrots.  We humans all get along just fine.  At our socials however, Raja and Coco Bella occupy different social strata.

Michelle and I are friends; why can't Bella and Raja just get along?

That’s right.  If he’s on the floor, she hops from couch to table to tuffet to chair, always at least 8 inches above his head.  When she comes down from the heights, he goes up. He even gives up his dinner to her if she even glances at it.  Maintaining distance is everything.

Who is Coco Bella’s special friend?  We don’t know if she has made her choice yet, but Raja’s friend is the lab next door.  Oh yes, they do look like the odd couple.  Ginger’s tall; he’s small.  She walks through puddles and rolls in the mud; he wears boots and outerwear.  She occasionally eats a stone or a bug.  He hardly even eats his food.  She’s submissive; he’s dominant.  What?  Yes, that’s how it goes.  He chooses the route and the pace.  If he barks, she sits.  If he stops, she lies down.  And if I pick him up, she cries at me until I give him back.

"I know who I like and who likes me."

But, hey, they’re happy together and, even though Ginger is six times Raja’s weight, she plays appropriately with him.  He has a strong sense of self preservation and doesn’t choose to hang with a rough crowd, either.  Well, last month he was attacked by a bantam Papillion, but Raja’s hair trigger flinch and sideways hop saved him from the goofy little nipper.  He didn’t really see it coming that time, but the Papillion was incapable of inflicting too much harm at any level.

So this summer at the dog park, as long as your dog seems to be aware of his surroundings and his options and all the dogs seem to be playing nice, you probably shouldn’t try to make your dog be friends with the dogs or people you like.  You choose who you want to hang with and leave that important decision of choosing a best doggy friend to your dog.

Update on Cy: Cy is doing much better.  He has an evaluation for his disk at a sports clinic this weekend as well as an agility session with his teacher.  Cy’s getting back on track!  Thanks to everyone who worried about him!

Responsibilities of Canine Agility Competition: CPE Agility Nationals Update

Posted by Raja on June 12th, 2012 — Posted in Agility

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Cy flies out of the tunnel at a full gallop at a 2011 CPE trial.

Raja and I are really disappointed because our dear friends Carolyn and Cy will not be competing in the CPE Nationals in Altamont, New York this upcoming weekend.  BUT, we are so proud of Carolyn for making the challenging decision.

Yesterday afternoon, Cy yipped and cringed.  His tail dropped; his behavior indicated he had neck pain again.  A visit to the vet this morning revealed nothing significant in the x-ray, but his vet did caution that Cy’s previous injury may give him trouble from time to time.  Cy will continue to do agility, but when the injury shows up, he should take ibuprofen, a prescribed muscle relaxant and he should not jump for a few weeks.

Cy and CT pose for a publicity picture.

There’s the rub.  To complete an agility course, jumping over low jumps, off a low teeter incline and off a low ramp are required moves. Maybe it would all go OK, but if it didn’t, Cy would be seeing a new vet in a different time zone far from home. Almost all active animals, like people, sustain little injuries from time to time.  Maybe a human athlete can make the personal decision to compete when not in tip top form, but to make the decision for a beloved pet, a pet who would literally walk a plank cheerfully if asked… well, it’s not ethical to ask.

Last week, a similar decision for the racehorse I’ll Have Another pulled the champion from the Belmont Stakes, the last race in the elite winner’s circle of Triple Crown contenders.  I’ll Have Another had the beginning of tendonitis in his left front leg.  Owner J. Paul Redman said that he and the horse’s team were unanimous.  I’ll Have Another will retire to a nice life at stud, so, snarking and speculating from the wings aside, the decision averts another racecourse-side tragedy.

Big expectations and high exchanges of money often accompany animal competitions.  Canine Agility is high value on the side of expectations, while nurturing animal/human companionship and genuine fun, unlike horse racing that probably is a lot lower on the expectation of animal / human fun and higher on the finance side.  Nonetheless, animal competition as a sport is an expensive hobby at many levels. Carolyn made the best decision for Cy at this time.

Cy’s probably disappointed too.  Carolyn considered bringing him to Altamont anyway just for an outing, but she knows he’d spend the whole time straining at the lead expecting his turn to run the course.   Our guess is he’ll get an ice cream party at Stewart’s Root Beer and an opportunity to compete at the state-of-the-art agility facility Think Pawsitive in New Berlin, Wisconsin as soon as his vet gives him the go ahead.

Cy and CT pose with some of their prizes and ribbons.

Posted by Raja on June 4th, 2012 — Posted in Agility

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Cy (first in line) & Raja (last) again represent for the FisherDogs Agilty Team!

The Canine Performance Event Agility Nationals are being held simultaneously in two locations this June to accommodate enthusiasts who want to compete coast to coast.  Washington State and New York State are the host states, a fitting decision since last year’s Nationals were held in Minnesota.  Raja and I are going to report from the National Trials in Altamont, NY starting on June 13th Altamont is a gorgeous, rural town, just outside Albany, lying peacefully under the Helderberg Mountains.

Canine Performance Events’ mission is to promote fun and health through low impact competition with your dog.  From the CPE literature:

CPE’s Basic Philosophy is for the dog and handler to have FUN while competing for agility titles.

  • Membership is open to all purebred and mixed-breed dogs
  • 15 months of age or older
  • Veterans 6 years or older compete at lower jump heights
  • Enthusiast and Specialist compete at lower jump heights
  • 5 Levels of Titles (from Beginners to Championship)
  • Standard Classes and many Games Classes
  • Junior’s and Physically Challenged Handlers are welcomed!

Success can be achieved through positive training and teamwork.

While CPE is serious competition and years of training and commitment go toward achieving a Champion, the focus is the dog/human team development.  CPE is a little like golf, in that you are always competing against yourself.  So every competing dog can become a champion if the interest and
the commitment hold out.

And, Champion or not, every team wins.  Bonds of love, adventure and fun make every owner and dog live a healthier and prouder life.  No matter what curves life throws, the adventures along the way
with canine competition make for hours well lived in the ever changing history of canine / human interaction.

As we did in Minnesota, Raja and I are not competing, but blogging, observing and supporting our human and Shih Tzu friends Carolyn Linsday and Cy as they forge ahead toward Cy’s championship goal.

Cy had a challenging year. Three months ago, moving normally as he explored his new house, he hurt
a disk at the base of his neck.  His vet determined the original injury probably happened months or years before, or maybe even Cy was born with a tilted disk. A few days under the vet’s special care, laser treatments, chiropractic treatments, meds, total rest and then a slow return to activity, followed by a
cautious return to the agility arena have brought Cy back to competing form.

Carolyn wasn’t sure if Cy would compete, because, obviously, Cy’s overall well- being is more important than any title.  But Cy himself let Carolyn know he was ready to compete when he began to run around his new yard and jump again.  With his vet’s approval, Cy is good to go!

Some might question if a dog with a former disk injury should compete.  It’s a personal call for Cy’s
team, but the fact remains that Cy is a committed pet athlete and a bored stay at home couch-potato.  He yearns to be busy!  Also, as we know, activity builds muscles that support good spine health.
Plus, each dog jumps at his own level.  Cy competes in Teacup jump heights because he’s a small dog. None of the movements in CPE are eccentric or stressful, when practiced reasonably and not over trained.  It’s not that the dog does anything unusual physically, but that he follows the course in the proper sequence and in accordance with the pace his owner sets for him.  So Raja, who does not do agility per se, could easily do all the motions of the CPE runs on a normal romp outside, although actually getting him to do them in sequence or preventing him from getting off message and wandering off to say “hi” to somebody might be the challenge.

Pet athletes are just like human athletes. They might have challenges, but they heal up and come back stronger.
During the 13th through the 15th, Raja and I will be blogging nightly from the CPE trials.  Please check back with us to see our videos and read our ring-side report.

Tips for Dog Bloggers: Be the Message!

Posted by Raja on May 8th, 2012 — Posted in Agility, Social Commentary

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Keeping it real on a windy, Spring day.

Today, The Disney Channel announced that a new fall 2012 series will feature a dog who blogs.  Announcement Adam Bonnet, Senior Vice president of the Disney Channel says his canine actor can do his own stunts.  Raja applauds authenticity in dog blogging.  He does his own stunts too.
If dog blogging were not a major trend, Disney wouldn’t even consider the topic.  Committed dogs have been barking on the internet for years!  There’s even a yearly convention for dog bloggers, BlogPaws.  The summer convention’s in June, so there’s still time to get in on the fun:  BlogPaws Not sure how to begin?… attend the Pet Writers Conference in New York in February.  Conference
For emergent Disney talent Stan, and for those of you readers who want to encourage your dog to blog, Raja has a few tips…
1. Never blog about what you don’t experience. If you don’t deep sea dive, well, you can’t bark about it, unless you interview a dog who does.  Blog out of the events of your own life and the events that touch your life.
2. Always follow your nose and heart. If a topic grabs your attention, do your research and write about it.  Follow your nose as you wander the  streets and meadows of your world.  But take content seriously.  People are going to believe what you say, so don’t say anything that you have not experienced or have not researched meticulously.  You have a responsibility to be informational, not only opinioned or braggadocios. When we do medical advice, we run our posts past a vet.  But when we do travel, we just tell you want we have seen (refer to point 1.)
4. Create happiness, but don’t try to make everybody happy. Sometimes readers don’t like what you have to say.  Sometimes people wake up on the wrong side of the bed; it’s not your concern. As I tell Raja on our walks, smell the nice things beside the road, not the stinky things.  (True, nice and nasty are subjective; that’s something we debate.)
5. Appreciate your fans and work hard. Oh we do!
Keeping our noses on the scent of our major travel theme, we are scheduled to attend the Canine Performance National Agility Event on June 15-17 in Altamont, New York.  Entries are limited to 575 serious, qualified canine contenders.  Our pal Cy the Shih Tzu will be one of them!  Can’t wait to bark all about it!

Great Travel Dogs are Born… and Made!

Posted by Raja on April 24th, 2012 — Posted in Day Trips

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Dogs retained the wolve's skills of travel and adaption.

The dog comes from the wolf, as we just love to say, and the wolf is capable of many kinds of nomadism: linear, peripheral and random.  Wolves can live on the move for years before finding a home territory.  The domesticated dog, appearing around 5,000 years ago at the latest, was a ranger initially, setting up in an uneasy liminal space outside the campfire of human settlements.  Smart thing, the dog adapted beautifully to helping with the hunt, the herd and the general warmth and cheer of the campfire circle. Certainly, without the dog, there would have been no domestication of sheep, goats and cattle.

So the dog has those travel genes- all of them from the most couch oriented English Bull to the escape artist Jack Russell.  To help create a great  ravel dog, it must be stated, you have to be a traveler yourself.  I mean, if you don’t like to travel, just stop reading.  Your dog is probably perfectly happy in your house with you keeping things cozy.

But if you plan to travel with your dog, here are a few tips to awaken the natural travel spirit of the domestic dog.

Pollo con arroz para mi pequeño amigo, por favor.

Go out with your dog all the time.  Desensitize your dog to the randomness of each outing.  Allow strangers to pat and admire your dog, always  reassuring your pet that everything is fine and saying “hi” is fun.  Do not keep your dog away from noise and activity on your outings.  A confident, friendly dog is a good traveler.  (Raja began his adventure training attending hockey games.  Loud, chaotic and random, the hockey bleachers were the place to learn to be cool and calm.)

Help your dog maintain a safe haven even when out and about. Small dogs can retire to the calm interior of a well-built tote.  Large dogs can learn to face inward to their human companions when the social scene becomes too much.  Gently holding your big dog’s head with your hands over his ears and eyes can give him a sense of retirement so he can regroup on a busy street.  (Raja always selects a toy to have in his tote.  When he’s had enough, he ducks in and chews the toy in peace.)

Always have water and snacks. Your dog needs to know that an outing is an adventure, not a survivalist exercise.  (We think the collapsible bowls are the best.)

Be aware of heat and cold. Small dogs often need light jackets even at 40 degrees F.  Thin dogs always enjoy jackets as the weather dips.  Carrying an instantly activated sports cold pack can save the day when things heat up.  All dogs, regardless of size, can overheat easily, but they cannot cool down as easily as humans can.  (Traveling in hot places, Raja likes a frozen water bottle zipped into the inside pocket of his travel bag.  We ask hotels to freeze them for us overnight.)

If you are planning a big trip, practice first. Overnight stays in a hotel and extended day trips prepare your dog for wider travel.  If your dog will fly, practice using the airline flight bag for local trips extensively before stuffing him in it and flying away.  Travel in cargo is always a risk.  The Travel Dog Blog has no wisdom to share on cargo travel.  While many, many dogs travel safely in cargo, we would grow wings and fly before  attempting cargo travel ourselves.

Food is easy if your dog eats a canned or dry commercial meal, but, if your little gourmand is less accommodating, do research into
local foods available in travel zone.  (I freeze and last-minute pack one home cooked meal for Raja to eat when we land, and after that, I make friends with local sources to cook something for him.  Almost every single culture in the world can manage chicken and rice.)

Bring a toy and a favorite blanket. Sharing your suitcase just a little will help your dog find a home away from home in your campsite, hotel or camel caravan.

Training a Travel Dog is the art of teaching calm while encouraging curiosity, play and optimism- the cardinal traits of the domestic dog.

When is a good age and time to get a family dog?

Posted by Raja on April 16th, 2012 — Posted in Pet Adoption

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There's room for everybody in this play house!

Raja and I were in Burbank, California over the recent holiday and we had a lovely relaxed stay doing the least adventuresome or touristical activities possible.  Raja made some new friends in the house next door and his playtime with the neighbors made us think about how important having a dog is for children– and how much well-adjusted dogs just love love love well-adjusted kids.

So we explore the question: When is a good age and time to get a family dog?

On the subject of dog age, the answer depends upon whom you are asking.  If you ask the dog, the answer is, “Now, now, NOW!  Give me a forever home now!”  If you ask the experts, the answer is that dogs do best socially and physically if they leave their dog mothers after 12 weeks, certainly no earlier than 8 weeks.  Raja, because of special circumstances, left his mother at 6 weeks.  He never looked back, probably because the smallest puppy in the litter was suddenly the top dog in his new family, but technically 6 weeks may be a little young.  (I couldn’t advise you toward it, but Raja says, “Go ahead.”)

On the subject of human age, well, maybe having a new dog coincide with a new baby would make for extra special chaos. Classically, human beings do badly dividing their attention between a baby person and a baby dog, but if you are superperson….  But seriously, if a child is mentally old enough for empathy and kindness, growing up with a dog is a very healthy element of early childhood.

Empathy and kindness coincide with early writing skills.

On the subject of time, the answer depends upon the rhythms of the household into which the dog is adopted.  For many families, summer vacation is a great time since children will be out of school, adults take summer vacations, and the schedule of life is eased so that people can give time to  socializing a new dog.

If you have been considering having a dog in your life, now, as the last two months of school close in, is a good time to discuss the dog, imagine the dog and research the dog.  If you are looking for a puppy, many pups are born in spring.  Now is puppy season.  If you plan to shop the shelter, be prepared to be less specific about what size and shape you want and just focus on those big eyes.  Which ones call to you most?

Dogs create family style fun everywhere.

On our favorite subject of travel…  if you and your family plan to travel with your dog, you will want to help him or her to be a happy nomad.  Raja and I concur that travel dogs are made not born.  Next blog we’ll begin to tell you how to help a new puppy to become a willing traveler to all destinations near or far.

Free Eye Exams for Service Dogs: Read & see if your animal can qualify

Posted by Raja on March 13th, 2012 — Posted in Health

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Raja and I are happy to share this news with our readers:

These eyes are watching out for you!

In May 2012, the 5th Annual American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists®/Merial® National Service Dog Eye Exam Event brings together veterinary ophthalmologists and thousands of service animals for free eye exams.  Registration begins April 1st for May 2012 event.

For dogs and other service animals who dedicate their lives to serving people, more than 200 board certified veterinary ophthalmologists throughout the U.S., as well as Canada and Puerto Rico, are  providing free eye exams to thousands of eligible service animals.

Registration for service animal owners and handlers begins April 1, 2012 at Log on and register your service pet!

During the exam, veterinary specialists look for problems including:  redness, squinting, cloudy corneas, retinal disease, early cataracts and other serious abnormalities.  Early detection and treatment are vital to your working animal.  “Our hope is that by checking their vision, we will be able to help a large number of service animals better assist their human friends,” says Stacee Daniel, Executive Director of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists.

A sampling of groups served since 2008 includes:  Transportation Security Agency, military working  dogs from Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, Puppies Behind Bars, local fire, rescue and police agencies, and also individual service dog owners and handlers who rely on their amazing animals daily.


To qualify, animals must be “active working animals” that were certified by a formal training program or organization or are currently enrolled in a formal training program. The certifying organization could be national, regional or local in nature. Owners/agents for the animal(s) must FIRST register the animal via an online registration form beginning April 1, 2012 at Registration ends April 30th. Once registered online, the owner/agent will receive a registration number and will be allowed access to a list of participating ophthalmologists in their area.  Contact a listed specialist to schedule an appointment. Appointments will take place during the month of May.  Times may vary  depending on the facility and are filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

Raja’s favorite eye specialists, Dr. Brown and Dr. Holmberg of the Animal Eye Center of New Jersey will be participating for a week in May out of the Little Falls, NJ office (973-890-4430).




NOW is the Time to Take Your Dog to the Beach…

Posted by Raja on March 5th, 2012 — Posted in Beach

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If you live in the coastal US North West and East Mid-Atlantic and North regions.

A fleece and a sun hat keep small dogs comfortable in the coastal winds of March.

Why?  Mild winters have made for an early spring.  The blustery days of March are not so blustery this year.  In fact, they are downright warmish.  Most coastal towns permit dogs on most beaches on the off-season, clamping down on dog visits to humans-only beaches after May 1.  In most areas, March is still open season.  So, if your hound loves the sand, now is a good time to take advantage of acres and acres of nice soft sand and space to run in the wind.

A little caution please:

Most beaches are not cleaned during the off-season so you could encounter the detritus of  unauthorized celebrations and unraked piles of seaweed and fetid fishy bits.  Dogs love rotting seaweed, or at least Raja does.  (Sad but true.)  You’ll have to be a little watchful venturing out onto the sand.

Coastal birds are always protected wildlife, lifeguards on duty or not.  Bring a Frisbee or a fly ball to satisfy your dog’s pent up desire to chase things.  (Danger to coastal birds is one main reason why dogs are not welcome on some shore points.)

If the beach you are heading for is isolated, since there will be no lifeguards and few rangers on duty, you might like to invite a friend or two to go along.

The cooler temps will make a beach day much safer for your energetic hound.  Naturally, remember that the sun still can burn even on a cold day, so sunscreen for you and nose balm for the beast.

Hoping you can take advantage of the good coastal weather and your dog can have a beach play day before the humans swarm all over it in the hot summer sun!


Update on Tonka the Great Pyrenees, the dog with the Best Dog-Mom in the World

Posted by Raja on February 22nd, 2012 — Posted in friends, Health

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Tonka with his friends!

Our blog pal Tonka has been going through a rough patch, but his brilliant dog-Mom Alice is keeping his spirits high.  Now he’s headed toward better times.  Alice has researched his very unusual and often misdiagnosed medical condition and she tells us about it in depth lest we ever encounter anything similar.  Here is Alice and Tonka’s Informative Guest Update….

I want to give a big thank you to Raja and Helen for allowing me to share Tonka’s ongoing neurological medical journey and some important information with you.

Neurological problems are very sneaky things because they can also mimic other problems.   Some are insidious and creep up slowly while others are very sudden. Slowly developing problems have some subtle signs that are easy to overlook such as toenails being worn down unevenly or the tail not being as active or held high like normal. Others are easy to dismiss as being caused by something else such as difficulty rising or laying down which can be attributed to an existing orthopedic problem or aging. Not so subtle signs are unsteadiness, toes bent under while walking (knuckling), rear legs crossing under the body or crab walking (sideways), rear leg drag, urinary and or fecal incontinence and loss of balance.

Sudden events that cause loss of use of one or more limbs, facial paralysis, sudden repeated seizures and collapse are more dramatic and time is very critical in reaching your emergency vet.

Dogs such as dachshund, basset hounds, Beagles, Corgis, Cocker Spaniels, Pekingese, Shih-Tzus , German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers and Poodles are more prone to
a condition called IVDD or Intervertebral disc disease. A dog’s spinal cord runs through the spinal column and is protected by the vertebrae. The intervertebral discs are structures that lie between adjacent vertebrae and act as a cushion between the discs. Each disc forms a joint that allows movement and every disc has a fibrous tissue outer layer that surrounds a soft inner  core sort of like a jelly filled donut. With IVDD there is a premature hardening of the center of the disc, and weakening of the outer layer leading to rupture. When the outer layer of the disc ruptures, the inner material is pushed upwards against the spinal cord. This material injures the spinal cord and results in spinal cord swelling and compression. This compression in turn pushes against the nerves within the spinal cord that correspond to the legs and urinary bladder. This will result in loss of function that can range from limb weakness to paralysis, and possibly urinary incontinence. IVDD is usually diagnosed with an MRI and depending on the severity of rupture and the immediate care given can have a positive outcome. Mandatory crate rest for 4-6 weeks is a must and anti-inflammatory drugs are usually prescribed. If the
event caused minor damage the symptoms can reverse but if the damage is severe surgery may be needed to relieve the pressure. This pressure release or decompressive surgery is called a hemilaminectomy (the removal of bone over the area of spinal cord compression). Following surgery will be very strict crate rest, medication and eventually physical therapy. The rule of thumb is a 6
month window in which to regain mobility if after 6 months there is no improvement chances are the damage is permanent.

Another sudden event is called an Fibrocartilaginous Embolism  or (FCE) also known as a spinal stroke. This is more common in giant and large breed dogs. In this case your dog could all of a sudden not able to use a leg at all or can have decreased mobility with toes knuckling under. There might be a yelp of pain initially but this condition once it has occurred is not painful. With an FCE just like the IVDD this is an event involving the disc within the vertebral column.  This time some of the jelly doughnut substance (its real name is nucleus pulposus) has leaked sideways and into the spinal arterial system. Depending upon where it catches it causes an obstruction to clot the blood supply to a portion of the spinal cord. This is also known as an infarction and depending upon what part of the spinal cord is affected will dictate the limb or limbs involved. This area of the spinal cord will die and the neurologic loss that occurs with a 24 hour window is most likely permanent. This is why it is critical to get to a vet immediately so that a course of steroids can be started quickly. After the initial treatment and 24 hours no further damage is likely and then everything you do becomes supportive care.  Helping them stand and eat, expressing their bladder if needed, and turning them so that they do not develop sores or ulcerations, keeping them clean to avoid urine scald, these are all things you may have to do. Within a week or two there should be some improvement and progress can occur for months. Additional supportive therapies can also be tried such as physical therapy and acupuncture.

A slower progressing disease that has no cure is called degenerative myelopathy (DM) and primarily strikes German Shepherds, Corgis, Boxers and mixed breeds. It presents typically around age 5 or later and uneven wear and intermittent scraping of the nails can be the first subtle sign of the onset. The dog progresses to having difficulty getting up and will be weak in the hindquarters. There is no pain but the
absence of pain also means that they can get hurt and not know it. The feet will drag and knuckle and their gait will be unsteady. The tail will droop and no longer be able to wag and eventually the legs will not work at all. Fecal and urinary incontinence are also inevitable with DM. The timeframe for this
disease to progress to a dog being totally down is several months to a year. Eventually the disease makes its way to the brain and there is nothing you can do to stop it. There is a nutrition and vitamin supplement protocol that is thought to help extend the timeframe that a dog can still be mobile but the
scientific community as a whole has yet to endorse it.

These are only a few of many types of neurological problems that can affect a dog and many can be helped with surgery or medication and supportive care. My hope is that you never have to deal with any of them but if you do there are some great support groups and a variety of commercial aides to make life for both of you much easier.

In August/September my dog Tonka started having nosebleeds and after lots of tests and a rhinoscopy
(scope of the nose to rule out cancer or foreign bodies) he was put on a course of prednisone. He did not do well on the Prednisone and I started weaning him off as soon as possible. It was towards the end of September that two very odd things starting occurring. The first was that whenever Tonka was on a tile floor he would splay out his last toe on his back leg really far to the side so that you could actually see the webbing between the toes. I thought the floors were just extra slippery and that I needed to trim the hair between his pads. The second was a little more disturbing as he started defecating while walking and Tonka has always been a very private guy when it comes to going to the bathroom. I mentioned it to the vet and we thought maybe the prednisone had something to do with it since it has such a variety of weird side effects it can cause.

Then the first week of October Tonka developed a slight limp in his left hind leg and the x-rays showed some hip dysplasia that we already knew about  from x-rays in 2009. Thinking that it was a flair up from that he went on a pain killer and a course of strict rest, we could not start an anti-inflammatory since he was coming off the steroids.  We started a series of adequan shots to help soothe, lubricate and rebuild cartilage within the joint. The limp steadily became worse and his foot started knuckling under and dragging. I called to schedule an orthopedic  evaluation and was told that with those symptoms I needed to see the neurologist. I took the first available appointment and started looking up his symptoms from a neurological view instead of orthopedic. His appointment consisted of a review of his rather long medical history and a physical exam where he was made to walk and hop and was poked and prodded in some rather sensitive areas.  The exam found some neurologic deficits that would be consistent with a problem in the lumbar (lower back) area of the spine. He was also seen by an orthopedic at that same appointment to rule out any possible problem coming from the hip or knee. There was no definitive diagnosis from either orthopedics or neurology and an MRI and Spinal Tap were suggested to find out exactly what was causing the problem.

In the first quarter to the year Tonka had heart surgery to repair a Patent ductus arteriosus, or PDA (basically a hole).   Then midyear he had the rhinoscopy to look at his nose and both of those
procedures require anesthesia as does an MRI.  I did not want to put him back under anesthesia so quickly after the last procedure so I opted to try conservative treatment and wait a while.  Conservative therapy was rest and an anti-inflammatory which we put him on as soon as the steroids had cleared his
body. Over the next few weeks he became slightly incontinent and would dribble urine upon standing and stretching or walking on any type of incline. Since he would dribble he had to wear a belly band with a poise pad inside while in the house. This progressed to fecal incontinence usually while he was asleep. At this point I had to learn to express his bladder and his bowel so that we would not have accidents at night.

Next he started with a sideways walk and could not stand at his food bowl without his hindquarters slowly sinking towards the floor. He had great difficulty rising from a laying position and would have to be helped up. He did not like to be left alone at night and many nights I would have to sleep on the floor next to him.  His walk was a shuffling gait and I could not let him on concrete without something to protect his toenails from wearing to the quick and bleeding. In the beginning, I would use dog socks and wrap duct tape around the toe area because I could not find a boot light enough to allow him to walk.

With this downward decline we went back to the neurologist and scheduled the MRI. The MRI showed nothing significant in the lumbar region and in the thoracic area findings were inconclusive. They did a cerebral spinal tap as well and the results were within normal ranges so we were back to orthopedic problems as the cause.

I had a second orthopedic surgeon evaluate Tonka and he took yet another set of x-rays and was told there is no orthopedic cause for his problems. Frustrating became the word of the month with no  diagnosis and a steady decline in his mobility. The neurologist and the orthopedist agreed that we should try some rehab therapy to try and gain some function in the leg.

Tonka started seeing an acupuncturist and some canine rehabilitation specialists along with getting B12 shots (B12 is essential for the central nervous system, spinal cord and brain, to function properly). Over the course of the next couple of months we had improvements in his mobility and ability to maintain a standing position for longer periods. He would still occasionally walk and go to the bathroom but he did attempt to maintain a squatting posture which was a good sign. We had a second neurologist look at him and his test results and the theory that perhaps there is a tumor either in his cervical (neck) area or his head was formed.  In order to find out definitively there would have to be another MRI done but his time of the brain and cervical area.  I had him measured and fitted for a cart with the hope of keeping him mobile longer and build up his muscle and being able to go to the park to “see” his friends. Unfortunately the support rings on the cart for the hind legs put pressure on the nerves that are most affected and would not work.

Over the past 5 months the canine rehabilitation (physical therapy) has done the most for him. He can now walk without crossing his legs and although he does still scuff his feet, he is not dragging his nails. He stands to eat and will stop and posture to go to the bathroom about 90% of the time. We do not have accidents anymore and he will bark to let me know he needs to go out. I no longer have to sleep
on the floor with him and most nights he sleeps through the night. He still has some difficulty getting up on his own at times but we are working on that. His therapists are hands on with him every week and for the first part of the session they listen to everything I have to say about what has changed and how he is doing. This exchange of information is very important in his recovery since I/you the owner see little things that change that someone who is not with the dog all the time does not. No-one knows your dog like you do and only you can pick up on the subtle cues of what is working and what is not.  I cannot say enough about how amazing his therapists are as they have given him back some normalcy to his days.

I have now had three orthopedists and three neurologists look at this case and all we know for sure is what it is not. His ankles, knees and hips are strong and even if he walks funny for the rest of his life it should not cause an orthopedic problem which was one of my concerns. Sometime this year we will  have the other MRI done, but it most likely will not change the type of supportive therapy/care that we are giving him now. If it is a tumor and it is operable we will have to look at the risks associated with that since that is a very intricate type of intricate surgery. For now he will continue to go to therapy once a week and twice a month he will go twice a week since we have tried that once before with some very positive results. If he will tolerate it we will add using an underwater treadmill to help strengthen and preserve muscle mass but Tonka is not a fan of water in general so we will see if that is viable.

It has been a long five months but he is making progress in the right direction. We were having good days and bad days but I have learned to stop calling them that and to appreciate every day because of something his Ophthalmologist asked me. His last eye exam also happened to be on a bad day and after having a small meltdown in the exam room she asked me if I thought he was still happy. I had to stop and think of the magnitude of that question because at the end of the day that is really what is  mportant, and he is still happy. He is always happy, happy to be outside, to be petted, to “see” someone or just to chew on a toy.  I am the one that classifies the days as good and bad not Tonka. He deals with every day as just another day full of possibilities and so now I try to look at it from his perspective.

If you do happen to have a companion with a neurological condition here are some things you may have to do or learn.

Do buy a good orthopedic bed if your dog will sleep on a bed.

Learn to watch for signs of sores and ulcers. You need to make sure to reposition your friend often so these don’t occur.

Do chart all progress and setbacks as well as medications and reactions.

Do get second and third opinions.

Learn about diapers and belly bands.*

*Carolyn at made some really nice belly bands for Tonka.

Learn to express a dog’s bladder and bowel. Knowing that they are empty makes for much less stress for you and for them. Most dogs that have been house trained do not like to soil their living area and it will cause them distress.

Do keep to a schedule to have a sense of normalcy.

Do measure them for a canine cart while they can still stand in case you need one later.

Do keep the hair trimmed between their pads so they do not slip and watch for abrasions and sores on
their feet. Their gait will be off and the normally very tough pads will be scuffed raw without protection.

Try to stay on grassy surfaces as much as possible. Do not let them slip and fall, throw rugs and
carpets become necessary on tile and hardwood areas.

Do be prepared for a roller-coaster ride of emotions, Learn to have your meltdowns away from your friend, this will  just confuse them. They don’t need to have their leader falling apart.

Do celebrate the little accomplishments as well as the big ones. You will be amazed at what sorts of
things will make your day complete. An attempt to squat to defecate can become a reason to have a party.

Learn about harnesses and slings, dog socks and boots, you may have to try several sizes of socks and different kinds of boots to find what works for your dog. You may have to use a sling or harness to help your friend get around.

Do become inventive to make life more comfortable and stress free.

Learn to plan for the weather, ice and even snow are not your friend. If your dog is still mobile but weak or wobbly even a little snow is hard to push through and walking on ice does not work at all.

Do be your friends advocate, research everything, document everything and be prepared to challenge the.  Doctors with your questions and theories. If they don’t like it get another Doctor. The Doctor should be willing to really listen to your observations and explain to you what is going on every step of the way. Have whomever is running any tests prepare you step by step what every procedure entails.*

*One thing I was not prepared for was the shaved space on Tonka’s head. He had the MRI at night
and they carried him out and placed him in the back of the SUV so I did not see him until we got home. I reached down in the dim light thinking his ear was flipped up and touched a bald Tonka head.

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