Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Molly's arthritic MCP Joint!

Yesterday was a big day for Molly as we loaded up into the car for the 120+ mile one way trip to VOSM. I was not sure who to go to in my area for a maybe-toe-but-maybe-who-knows-what injury and so I decided that mine and Molly's journey together wouldn't be complete without her one and only injury being diagnosed at the famous and incredible VOSM (Veterinary Orthopedic Sports Medicine.)

In the waiting room chair, as it should be.

I was very anxious about finding out the reality and truth behind Molly's limp because it meant facing the music and making decisions. I knew the toe was an issue, but I was also very concerned about her wrist - I was specifically worried it was a hyperflexion injury. I am really good at worrying! I didn't stop there! There is always medial shoulder instability, elbow injuries and bone cancer! Lots of things to be fretting about for no good reason!

We started by reviewing Molly's old foot x-rays from June of last year. Then we went into a large room and let Molly move around freely so that the doctor could observe her (Molly had been, to my eye, moving quite evenly as of four days prior to the appointment.) There was a very thorough clinical exam. Toes, wrists, elbows, shoulders, spine. Molly was cranked into full extension and flexion, I noticed the abduction angle of her shoulders was also tested. She tolerated it all with a "where the f**** is my f**** breakfast" stink eye and as soon as it was done she visited everybody and tried to kiss them. My heart burst with pride. Molly is so tolerant and accepting of handling. I had no food to pay her with since she had to have an empty stomach in case of any test or procedure requiring sedation. She is a Good Dog. Clinical exam revealed soundness in all joints except for a grudging pain response when the doctor pressed firmly on the toe that has been troubling Molly.

Next there were diagnostic tests. Molly's had the Gait4Dog gait analysis test, "It's a pressure sensitive walkway measurement system designed to capture and objectively analyze data in minutes." I have a super nerdy fascination with this test! What exciting technology! I was shocked to hear that Molly's gait is totally normal, no off loading. My eyes were not tricking me, Molly really was moving soundly again and not favoring her left front. There were also all new x-rays. Feet, wrists, elbows and shoulders. Frontal and Lateral (side views.) The shoulders looked great, no arthritis or other issues. The elbows also looked great with some mild arthritic changes on the left side. The wrists also looked great. The foot x-rays revealed some intense arthritic changes to the left medial toe in comparison with the opposite side. There was an ultrasound of these two areas of concern (the left toe and the left elbow) and it revealed a small bone chip in the joint, remnant of an old fracture (they said at least a year old - I cannot remember a time when Molly acted as though an injury of this sort occurred but that means nothing.) The joint has been trying to heal itself. Blessedly the tendon near this joint is quite intact. They also scanned Molly's elbow and it showed some mild thickening of the biceps tendon, which they feel is secondary to altering her gait to compensate for pain in the toe.

Molly was sedated and given steroid injections in both her elbow and toe. The doctor actually was able to drain fluid build up from the painful toe joint. That alone should give her relief, doubly so from the steroid injection. She was released a few hours later! Two weeks of leash walks only. After that I am to take her hiking and start reintroducing some  uneven footing. He wants her back in a month for a follow up visit and would like me to do some very heavy activity with her before the visit. I think Molly and Mr ChuckIt Ball could make that happen. He asked what my plan is for this year's agility season. I told him I am prepared to retire Molly but I said that we both love playing the game together so it sure would be nice if we could keep doing that. He is optimistic that Molly can continue playing agility! He said at this point he is happy to do injections as Molly needs them - time will tell how much relief they give her and how often she might need them.

One thing I am keeping an eye on is Molly's anxiety levels. She is not normally an anxious dog aside from her thunder/gunshot phobia. She is always anxious and whiney post sedation, and she definitely was last night. I remember after Molly was taking oral prednisone a few years ago she was anxious with her hair standing on end, pacing and whining and chattering her teeth. Now we have injected a steroid (cortisone) into her joint. I did notice a few times since last night, her hair was on end, although all of the times I saw that I could blame cold weather for it. (It happened when bringing her inside from a potty trip outside on two different occaions.) This evening on one occasion she was whining but it turned out she needed to go outside badly to have a poop. At this point the low level anxiety behaviors I have seen are easily explained, and we are also less than 24 hours out from a very long yesterday without food, a "stressful" day of testing and manipulation and needles and nearly 6 hours on the road. If I continue to see these anxious behaviors throughout the rest of this week, and at times when they don't make sense, I will sadly have to make the decision that the steroid shots are not a good quality of life decision for Molly. Time will tell!

I feel so much relief at what we have discovered! Arthritis and old fractures suck but you cannot do much about them and there are much worse things in the orthopedic realm of possibilities. I believe that the warm weather will be easier on the arthritis in Molly's toe. I have made the decision to no longer participate in coursing activities with Molly. While I know that Molly's toe was arthritic before this past year's coursing aggravated it into lameness (browsing old photos I can see the foot deformity as far back as at least 2016 and perhaps 2015.), I think it is smart to avoid the things that triggered acute lameness. And that includes the blue mat footing for agility. If we get to return to agility, which I really feel we will!, we have to stick to turf, grass or dirt.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Ein retires from Rally Obedience

Today I took Ein to what will be his final rally obedience trial. When I saw that today's trial would be at the same training club as our first trial, and under the same judge, and he would be able to finish his RLVX5 I knew it would be the perfect opportunity to retire him.

I did not study or bring a copy of the new signs and regulations with me and that was a big oops! We lost three points for some handler errors on our first run (Did the figure 8 the "old way" and asked Ein for a sit on a sign when we should have heeled forward.)

On the second run I did a better job of doing the new signs, thanks to a sensible competitor who had the rulebook saved on her iPad. (a good idea!) We got to do the new "Mini Spiral Left" (you can see us performing that in the video, it was the first exercise we did.). I also had to look up the Call Front Forward Left as the sign looked so different that it used to, I was worried about doing something wrong.

Ein did something unusual in that he sat on both of his Moving Stands. Ein has never done this before but I feel it was due to a lot of pain he is having in his left wrist lately. (Winter is very hard on Ein.) Ein's left front was always his good leg but I can see his left wrist starting to get that hyperflexed look that his right wrist has. On our first run I saw Ein stumble on the Moving Stand - and that makes me think that when he does that exercise he typically weight shifts to his front left. But today, it hurt him to do that so he shifted all his weight to his rear and sat instead (he has good knees!) I notice on the video when I re-cue him both times, he makes a point to weight shift to his front right because he is ready for it this time instead of doing what he has always done by muscle memory. A good reminder that when competing with a senior dog, or any dog, the importance of keeping in mind that pain may be the cause for them doing something out of character.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

February Performance Scent Dogs Trial

A little while ago I was shocked to see a PSD trial pop up local to me and pounced on the chance to play! I again did minimal entry for Molly as I feel she is still preparing for prime time, and I entered Perri in Distance, Speed and Buildings. I later decided to give Molly's Containers entry to Perri, as I felt I had worked hanging containers to a confident level with Perri, and Molly was still dealing with a lot of overarousal issues with All Things Containers, especially hanging.

Perri's first run was in Distance class. We entered the search area and I saw a bunch of little cardboard valentine's day boxes on the ground and felt a "whew", and then I saw some valentine's socks hanging behind the boxes and thought "Hmmmm." Perri worked down the row of boxes closest to the Distance line and caught odor and she followed it to the cone that marked the side edge of the distance challenge. She sniffed one of the hanging socks and did not care for it thank you very much, not a fear response but a "weeeeeeeeeeeeird I better just not deal with that.) She stressed a little and returned and looked at me, but continued searching when I asked her to. She went to a container on the ground near the sock she had searched and gave it a nose push and knocked it over, so I called Alert. And we got a "No". I feel Perri was stressed by the combination of hanging (though not suspended in air.) and ground containers and either was fringing or alerting on something she felt was more accessible, or she was just false alerting so that we could leave the search area. No matter, we have a new thing to work on: combination of hanging and ground containers. Okay!

Next Perri did "Speed" and this was our first time playing it. It is guaranteed to be a box search, awesome! In Novice, there are three groups of three boxes and in each group there will be a birch hide. (So, three total hides.) You have 45 seconds...GO. Perri did it in 41 seconds and was a very honest careful worker.

At this time I enjoyed my ability and permission to leave the trial site and go get coffee and a fabulous donut from the nearby Best Donut Shop Ever...it's nice to have relaxed rules!

After a break for Ribbons and Lunch Perri had her Container search. It turned out to be large cardboard and plastic Valentine's boxes arranged on the floor in a heart shape. Perri made quick and adorable work of locating the container and in the time I called alert and confirmed with the judge it was correct she gently slapped a second paw on the container, sassy!

Perri's day ended with Buildings. She made a "bee line" to a tire laying on the ground and took a long time sniffing and sniffing it. She left it to search some other things, returned to the tire and alerted. The judge liked my handling and wrote that Perri "just had to make sure!" Yep, that is Perri! She often makes sure to search a whole area even when she knows right where a hide is, just to be sure.

Really great day out with Perri and so much gratitude at being able to play in a venue we love so close to home! After our trial in November I was imagining we would have to be waiting much longer, or taking trips to New England to play. We got double-lucky because another area dog training club also added a trial, so in a month we get to play again.

But! Molly did get to play in Buildings. Since the search area was fenced in we were allowed to work on or off leash. I have been starting some off leash work with Molly in practice (and Perri is always off leash if permitted.) so I thought...why not. WELL I WILL TELL YOU WHY! Molly went straight to the hide, again in a (different) tire - and I thought, "Well. That has to be residual, it can't be the hide." We were later told that they would never place the same item in another search with residual odor on it. I have to wonder if I had not had the split Novice classes and already run Perri in Novice Buildings, if I would not have listened to Molly's extreme interest in the tire rather than thinking she was just searching on residual odor. Nonetheless, there was no alert which Molly is usually very regular with. The antics began! Leaping on top of a table at least five times, almost knocking a stool over several times and knocking a floor cleaner over in the search area! She was crazed! We timed out with Molly getting higher and higher and the judge suggested the leash back on. As soon as I put it on, the judge said "Now where did she spend a lot of time?" and I turned toward the tire and as I was saying, "That t-...." Molly ran over to the tire and pawed it -_- Another learning experience! I am working on a lot of overarousal and brain blowing issues with Molly and nosework so I think the leash being off was an added !!!!!!!!!! to our day that we did not need! One cool thing is that this trial, off the start line Molly was a lot more focused on searching instead of turning and staring at me immediately. That's a good thing!

Molly's next Nosework related event will be her NACSW Birch and Anise ORTs so I will turn our training focus onto keeping our brain with containers. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

One Year

I took Molly to our local dog bakery tonight to buy a special treat to celebrate...one year post diagnosis! Molly is just happy to have another special occasion to be showered with treats.

One year ago today, Molly was two days post op lymph node removal and I was finishing up my work day and my phone rang. I could tell by the tone in my veterinarian's voice when he said "Hello" that Molly's biopsy was positive for lymphoma. I felt dizzy. I also felt optimistic. My dog seemed so healthy, it would be all right.

I soon learned that most dogs with lymphoma seem "perfectly fine" when their node(s) swell and give the classic symptom of lymphoma, and my optimism was shaken. I was overwhelmed when it came time to choose an oncologist for Molly. I called two oncologists and we went to the first one who could schedule us. And not much longer after that, I became more lymphoma-savvy and left our oncologist for a second opinion.

During that time Molly had chest and abdominal x-rays, an abdominal ultrasound, and an unfortunate bonus surgery (that I regret doing.) to remove more mast cell tumors in compliance with our first oncologist's request. All imaging was clean, all further biopsies revealed that we had removed lipomas or more low grade mast cell tumors. Our new and current oncologist confirmed that Molly has low grade T-Cell lymphoma, an uncommon type of canine lymphoma, and a lymphoma that has the same prognosis with or without chemotherapy. We decided not to do chemotherapy.

One year later, a decision that was terrifying turned out to be a solid choice. One year later, my dog is still here with me. One year later I get to feel whiney that she has a foot/wrist injury and might not get to play agility anymore. One year later, she's still here. 

She's humping Perri, she's blasting in the back door without letting me wipe mud off of her feet, she's got cabin fever, she's spinning in 7 circles for her food, she's healthy, she's unhealthy, she's alive, she's my best bad girl and I love so much it makes my chest hurt.

All I can say is that I better be able to take Molly to the doggie bakery on February 8th, 2019 with no more harm to her body but a few extra white hairs on her face. 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

One foot in front of the other

It has been real...wintery around here! Winter is my least favorite season and unlike least year, we seem to be having a real winter. Steady cold, precipitation regularly coating the ground up. At least we have not had any blizzards!

I made a big decision this year to commit to weekly training with my agility club for the duration of 2018. It was a large financial and time commitment for me but I am very excited about it. Molly and I will have regular access to consistent training. I was terrified of any number of health issues coming up, between the lymphoma, GI issues and lameness...anything could happen. But still, I wanted to enjoy what training I could with my girl! Here is a clip of us enjoying a tunnel-tastic course.

We had a lovely two weeks. And with Molly in a regular training class, it gave me access to an agility ring to work with Perri. We worked on ring entrances when I could, with a lot of success. I am giving a whole lot of thought once again to the impact that the equipment has on Perri. Last year I noticed a marked difference in her attitude when we moved away from the martingale collar-over-the-head-situation. We are working hard on the slip lead removal being no big deal. We are working on her feelings about the slip lead being dropped on the ground. These are things that matter to Perri and I cannot take them lightly.

I have also incorporated a "snuffle mat" into our routine, Perri is a complete addict! We do a ring entrance and ring exit and straight to the snuffle mat. I also let her use her snuffle mat before we go into the ring. The snuffle mat keeps her from bugging out about the environment and it relaxes her to enjoy rooting and sniffing while we are waiting for our turn in the ring. I think the snuffle mat is going to be extremely valuable, as instead of me asking for tricks and giving Perri food and doing "busy work", she is able to sniff her snuffle mat and engage in an instinctually relaxing activity. We will see how it goes! (I ordered our snuffle mat from Rooting Co on Etsy.com.)

Since my bad luck has decided to not stay confined to 2017, Molly went lame after one powerhouse run in our UKI agility trial last Sunday. We scratched the rest of the day and went home early. We ran at the same place we did when she went lame on New Year's Eve, so we are definitely not going to be running there again. The plan at this time is strict rest for two weeks. When I look back to February of last year, we got to enjoy our "one last hurrah!" trial at Dream Park and the very next day Molly went in for her lymph node removal/biopsy surgery. At that time I did not know if it would be her last trial. And it is the same this year. Molly is entered in a trial at Dream Park on the 18th. I have scheduled a consult at VOSM for Molly on February 19th. Once again, nearly one year later, Molly will enjoy what could very well be her last agility trial ever and we will go for this orthopedic consult and find out what the true issue is with her foot. She was very tender in her medial wrist and not at all in her toe, which is something I just noticed this time. All of the times she has gone lame I have never felt she had any pain response in her wrist. It is time to confront exactly what is going on, and make hard decisions. This sucks.

I took this video when we returned home from the agility trial. It is sad for me to watch but I wanted to have a video, since Molly is not likely to be acutely lame when we see the ortho for her appointment. I notice not just the limping but Molly is pulling her left foot medially instead of having any forward reach (as she does with her right foot.) 

I get a chance, in this new year, to not resent Perri for being my only sound agility dog. I get a second chance. We had this exact chance last year and I failed miserably. This past Monday we went to our agility class piled high with liverwurst, the snuffle mat, tiny tiny toys I knew she would like and three bags of other treats. I am a poodle slave. But most of all, I let myself feel excited about the opportunity rather than resentful of "Plan B". Rather than "You're all I've got so let's try to do this." 

We had a first run where Perri was fast and full of drive which made me happy enough! but where I got scolded for losing connection multiple times. It was an honest assessment. A lightbulb went off in my head. Perhaps my way of running and losing connection with Perri is also causing a stress increase for her. I focus so much on keeping her motivated and happy it is hard to devote my mind to anything else. I foolishly asked my instructor to help me handle Perri in a way that would maintain a tighter connection. I got my ass beat, I was required to walk the course again and again, I was told I could not use my hands so that I would pay attention to what the rest of my body was doing - it helped a lot. I felt like a circus poodle. And it worked. I could tell Perri felt flatter for that second run but something about what I was doing appealed to her and that girl dug in there and ran with me and responded to what our slave drivin' instructor was making me do. I drove home giddy with joy. Me and my poodle worked on a thing and made progress with that thing. Learning and doing together.

And that is about all for this catch up post, but I have one more thing. This morning Perri went out into the yard and stood on the porch and started her hypervigilance scanning. It did not last long. She flutter wagged her tail and snapped out of it, and she went out in the yard and peed. Like a Normal Poodle. It was adorable and it made my heart feel big. One day at at time.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

More January agility

Back to last weekend, it was a four day event! Molly and I continued on to a USDAA agility trial on Sunday, but our awesome streak....did not continue!

Jumpers was like this! (with the rest of the course completed quite nicely after her detour.)

We got Snookered on Snooker. Standard was dead last of the day with a very long wait in between classes since it was a one ring trial. It was a nice run but unfortunately we had a weave fault. It was actually an interesting situation though. Of all of the agility obstacles, I would say that the weaves are Molly's number one most historically stressful obstacle. And right behind that is the dog walk. I have worked hard on Molly's understanding of my criteria as well as my own behavior around these obstacles, but we have a history. It doesn't help that Molly had three dog walk crashes last year, a new thing for us, and now where I am not really so anxious about faults anymore, I am anxious about Molly hurting herself.

Anyway. The Standard course started with the dogwalk right to the weaves, so there's a lot of stress build up there. On the map and even moreso on the actual course, the handler's path really converges towards the weave entry unless you really let the dog have some distance and find their entrance on their own. Molly is very capable of that but she is also very sensitive to my pressure at the weave entrance. So what did I do? I released her and walked to the weave entrance with her. Sigh. She stressed but actually shocked me with grabbing the weaves but she did leave them at about #4. It was just too much for her.

Looking back I wish I had asked her to stay on the dog walk, walked away from her and then released her to find her weave entrance at a distance. It would have been out of my comfort zone, but I know that would have made Molly very comfortable. And I know she has the skills. Next time we see DW to weaves I will be forcing myself to do that.

Further on down the course I did challenge myself (it always helps when you cannot qualify anymore!) by leaving her in her table stay and not releasing her until I was on the opposite side of the jump. And she stayed! (Being a long time CPE dog Molly does think the table down stay is foolish, though we have been doing some value building on her table stay over this winter as well as a lot of work on her "down" mechanics - in preparation for drop on recall training.)

So, that was that!

Monday was a vacation day from work. I originally intended to do some CPE runs with Perri to gain legs for her C-ATCH/CT-ATCH but that plan is on hold. I did take Ein to play a round of Snooker. The course was largely composed of tunnels which Ein does not really love. I could see some hesitation from him but he's a good ol' boy and he got it done. I love playing with him! 

Great four days of fun to start off our agility year! 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Perri Medication (Fluoxetine 4.5 months.)

After four months on Fluoxetine it was time to ask our behaviorist for a refill, but it was also a good time to think about the improvements or lake thereof in Perri's life.

  • No more bed wetting. This is a huge deal.
  • No more issues with pottying and hypervigilance in the morning. (Other factors: her bladder is not emptying overnight so she has more urgency and reason to pee in the morning. We fenced our back yard within a month of Perri starting the medication so our yard must surely feel more "enclosed" and "safe".)
  • Hypervigilance away from home has decreased, with Perri able to reorient to me on her own more readily than she used to be able to. 
Areas of No Improvement
  • Reactive behavior towards other dogs on walks and at trials is about the same. She spots these dogs from far away before they could ever possibly be a threat, and intensifies if they get close to us. However, I could be managing her a lot better in this area at trials. On walks I do a good job.
  • Fear of objects-that-make-sounds continues. As an example, just two nights ago she refused to spend time in our family room with us since we set up a metal folding table that contained New Years Eve treats. No doubt the assembly of the table was observed by her and diagnosed as a "death threat".
Not so Great Stuff 
  • Perri is more "flat" or "dull" than she used to be. I truly feel this is related to the Fluoxetine. I do not like it. She seems more spaced out than ever. (As I mentioned, I even had a thyroid level test run on her because of this behavior.)
  • Appetite is decreased still. I have to put a dehydrated topper on Perri's food or she simply will not eat. She could not care less about her evening Kong treat and will often not even want to get up off the couch for it. She used to be wild for her Kong treat. 
I wrote this post a few weeks ago, with the intent to complete it when our behaviorist and I made the decision on which medication we would switch to. But now, whether by coincidence or a small dietary change I made for Perri, everything has changed.

About a week ago, in the interest of helping Ein and Molly's arthritic issues, I decided to add salmon oil to the dogs' diets. And I had the thought that maybe I could use it to mix into Perri's food as well, instead of the dehydrated Spot Farms or Honest Kitchen. We started it last Tuesday and discontinued using the Spot Farms mix-in. Perri is like a different dog. She is "bright" again, I don't know how else to say it. She has been eating 100 percent of her meals. She wants her Kong every night and is back to her norm of sprinting around like a maniac when Vince announces Kong time. The post I made about tugging was made after this new change. She has been having pouncing zooms out in the yard again, she is teasing Molly like she used to, and she is enjoying a lot of solo play with toys as well (whereas before if she would play with a toy, it was to nibble pieces off of it.) A playful Perri is the norm now, not the exception.

I feel like I have my dog back, along with all of the benefits from the fluoxetine.

I hope hope hope this is not just temporary.