Returning to Sport Post-Abdominal Surgery Series: You Can't Keep a Good Schnauzer Down - Building Precision & Strength
Today marks day 34 post-operative abdominal surgery for Rainey, making tomorrow week 5! She continues to do great, and returned to agility class this week, where she only jumped (speed bump) 4 inches and did tunnels. No contacts or weaves. She was fast, happy and full of energy! My goal with taking her to class was to see where she was at. It will be a few more weeks before she’s allowed on contacts and the weave poles. Rainey has no self-preservation skills, and right now with her excitement level and state of body awareness that is a very dangerous thing. Plus, I’d like a little more healing on her linea and back/core strength before she jumps full height, bends her body (weaves), and runs up/down high, sometimes narrow things (dogwalk, teeter, and A frame).
This week Rainey was groomed. For her, that is a combination of rolling her coat and hand stripping it, along with clippers and scissoring for certain areas. In this week’s video you will notice the change in her appearance mid-week. She appears slightly thin coated. What’s nice about the hair cut is you can now fully see her muscles. I know my focus on her recovery has been about her core and back, but this week I started to notice that I need to strengthen her shoulders and front end. My noticing this was not due to anything she did, but rather with her hair cut I was able to better assess her overall musculature. I will be honest, 2020 was not kind to me in regards to having time for my dogs, myself, or my family. It was a very busy year work wise, and this year is looking the same. Because of this, and the cancellation of all major events, I severely slacked on the dogs conditioning and fitness. They returned to agility class weekly around late June, and had only a few one-day trials in the fall. Running in agility class is not an appropriate fitness regime. In the last year, we became weekend warriors, except our weekend was Thursday nights. I was so busy with work and moving, that without goals in my mind, keeping my dogs fit wasn’t a forethought. And it really needed to be. Aside from Rainey, I have her littermate Aurora, 12.5-year-old rescue female standard schnauzer Jade, and 10-year-old rescue standard schnauzer Sterling. Each of these dogs have their own needs fitness wise, and each has to have a plan tailored to their abilities and needs. And sometimes, it seems daunting to work with all 4 dogs. However, it only takes about 30 minutes a day to do all of their fitness, which includes each dog and the set up/tear down time. Each of the dogs have suffered from not working on their fitness in the last year. Aurora, who was spayed December 2019, use to have a very strong core, but now it is weak. After her spay, I did a slow 8 weeks rebuild with her. But then the world shut down, and so did my ambition. Fast forward to today, and her physical weakness is illustrated in her dislike for jumping 12 inches. She chooses to run around the jumps. But at 8 inches, she is all willing! I assessed Aurora the other day, and sure enough her core is weaker than it ever has been. This is most likely due to the lack of keeping up with her fitness after her spay. She went in strong, and rebuilt strong, but then it slowly faded as she didn’t receive more than 10 targeted fitness sessions from February 2020 to January 2021. Since I have been determined to not let Rainey’s body become weak, the other dogs have all benefited. In just 3 weeks, I am noticing that Aurora is more musculature and leaner than she has been in previous months. Jade’s hind end muscles (the first things to go in older dogs) are looking larger and more fulfilled. Sterling is gaining the ability to jump on furniture more easily, working on his hind end strength. All it takes is a small amount of time each day to achieve this. I know it’s daunting, but just 5 to 10 minutes a day 3-5 days a week will benefit your dog so much! If I can find the time, so can you! I mean, I do have to get up at 4:30 am during the week, but it’s worth it!
Rainey’s incision continues to heal very well. The sutures under the skin are getting softer by the day, but the cranial aspect (closest to her belly button) is slightly irritated. This is the location that all the closure knots are located, therefore the largest quantity of suture. Rainey’s core is rock hard when she is challenged by way of diagonal leg lifts. She will waver slightly on the right hind, but overall, she is looking fabulous! Aside from the other modalities and treatments discussed, I attribute the healing of Rainey’s incision to laser therapy. Laser therapy, also known as Low Level Light Therapy, Cold Laser, Soft Laser, Laser Phototherapy, and more recently photobiomodulation, is, per the National Center for Biotechnology Information defined as “a form of light therapy that utilizes non-ionizing forms of light sources, including lasers, LEDs, and broadband light, in the visible and infrared spectrum. It is a nonthermal process involving endogenous chromophores eliciting photophysical (ie linear and nonlinear) and photchemical events at various biological scales. This process results in beneficial therapeutic outcomes including, but not limited to, the alleviation of pain or inflammation, immunomodulation, and promotion of wound healing and tissue regeneration.”
Laser therapy provides painless and non-invasive safe treatment with controlled amounts of laser light to modulate natural biological processes in order to produce beneficial clinical effects. The positive effects of laser therapy include pain relief; resolving chronic and acute inflammation; reducing edema; healing and regenerating nerve tissue; promoting wound healing and tissue repair; and modulating an immune response. Laser therapy should not warm tissues more than 1-2oC and it is not considered a thermal modality. There are different levels of laser therapy machines, but the most commonly used range from 3b to Class IV. Laser therapy works on 4 levels. At the primary level, laser therapy is dependent on the actual interaction between light and tissue. These include the absorption of photons by photoreceptive molecules (chromophores) at the sub-cellular level. These interactions cause a photochemical and photophysical reaction that leads to a cascade of biological processes. On the secondary level, there is modulation of ATP (the molecule that carries energy within cells) production, which is dose dependent, as well as Nitric Oxide release and formation of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). On the tertiary level, the products of the secondary mechanisms then produce effects including gene transcription, inter-cellular signaling, and vasodilation. Finally, on a quaternary level, the vasodilation increases cellular perfusion, which allows improved oxygenation and an influx of macrophages, neutrophils, and lymphocytes to affected areas that are undergoing repair and/or infection. It also brings blood supply or re-vascularization and proliferation of cells that aid in healing. Improved profusion or blood supply will also facilitate the removal of inflammatory cells, fluids, and debris (lymphatic drainage) more efficiently. All in all, laser therapy improves wound healing, reduces inflammation, promotes cellular reproduction, stimulates nerve regeneration, and provides pain relief.
The treatment protocol for laser therapy is variable depending on the injury and chronicity. In Rainey’s case, she has been lasered every 3 days since surgery to aid in increasing the rate of healing. I am also experimenting with whether laser therapy will increase the rate of suture dissolution. According the manufacturer, the suture used will take approximately 200 days to dissolve. I would like it gone closer to 16 weeks, which is 112 days. There is no data on whether laser therapy will increase the rate at which sutures dissolve, but based on the softness of Rainey’s sutures, it seems to be helping. Even if it doesn’t help dissolve them faster, performing laser therapy every 3 days for 16 weeks will provide a much healthier, stronger linea alba, especially in combination with the use of the Assisi Loop and Tendon/Ligament Formula herbal medicine.
Day 28 to 34 – Building Precision & Strength
As I stated above, Rainey has been showing remarkable progress in her fitness. This week I decided to push her past her comfort level and try new to use exercises. I continued to expand on her quantity of repetitions and exercises, while watching her for fatigue. I also increased the complexity of some of her exercises, whether with adding stability equipment or higher angles for reaching. While making these changes, I continued to closely monitor her form. If her form suffered, whether with increased complexity or increased repetitions, I did not push her further. I stopped. This illustrates that she is tired and it has been enough. If you push a dog through this you will cause injury. In rehab the saying is ‘Quality over Quantity’. It is extremely important for handlers/owners to understand that.
With that in mind, lets look at the video….the first segment is a down to stand but on a peanut. A peanut should be fully inflated and firm. This exercise was made more difficult due to the shape of the object she was on and the fact that is it unstable. What I noticed during this video is Rainey’s back feet turn out a little more than I’d like. When in a proper down to stand position or stacked stance or square down the back feet should be pointed forward. Seeing this, I know I need to work on her form on the flat (aka ground) before moving to stability equipment.
The next exercise in the video is a pyramid structure made with Klimbs, FitPaws Disc, FitPaws Peanuts, and a Bosu ball. The goal of this exercise is hind end and front-end awareness and strengthening. We start by ascending the pyramid. The goal is for Rainey to maintain a straight back with her weight loading her hind legs. You will notice that I feel her core and her back legs while she is in this position, and I vary the location of the lure (cookie) to engage these body parts. Then you see her jump from the disc to the peanut. Note that she is PUSHING from her rear. She is not pulling herself with her front limbs. I am happy to see this appears effortless for her! We repeat the previous exercise, but this time she is more stretched out, elongating her back. Also, Rainey is beyond enthusiastic for cookies, which can make the precision of fitness training difficult at times. Then again, she jumps effortlessly from the yellow peanut to the blue peanut, which is a greater distance than the previous jump. I am happy with this. The next part of the exercise is to illustrate control on the decline. She now has to move her way downward, while maintaining her hind legs on the peanut above her. This would be very difficult without adequate core and back strength. Think tail over teakettle. She also needs the appropriate strength in for forelimbs to stabilize herself on the peanut below her. The goal of movement for this exercise is also maintaining a straight back and neutral spine. Ideally, Rainey’s head should be lower and nose pointed more towards the floor. Then she moves lower to the Bosu with forelimbs and peanut with hindlimbs. Again, I really would like a more neutral neck in alignment with the rest of the spine. That is handler error, not dog.
Tuesday was all about pushing boundaries with Rainey and seeing how much we have left to make up for. The next exercise shows a Klimb at an angle, with the FitBone resting on the angled legs and a small wobble board in front. This again asks for a straight back, stacked hind legs, and front legs under the dog. This is an exercise that focuses on the shoulder stabilization musculature and it is incredibility difficult. My critiques of our positioning are head too high and forelimbs to far forward. In reality, I should have placed something under the wobble board to stabilize it to allow for better form.
Wobble board balance work was next. This is a full body work out, challenging the body’s stabilization mechanisms. We kept things simple by luring from corner to corner and circles on the board. As you can see from the video, Rainey was lacking confidence on it and chose to crouch. Although this was not the sought behavior, it was still beneficial in its own right. It engaged the musculature in a different manner, challenging the joints differently, and providing a novel input.
Tug as an exercise – yes, that’s a thing. Watch the video of Rainey tugging. What muscle groups do you think she is using/engaging? Pretty much her whole body. Throughout our tug session, I would reach and feel her core and back legs. What you will also notice is what she is standing on. You have likely noticed these mats throughout the last few weeks. They are Flexiness Sensimats. I have 3 different mats with different textures to them. I randomize which one I use each day. Their purpose to provide a novel stimulus increases proprioceptive responses from the paw to the brain. I also like to use them for keeping the dogs straight and square. They also provide a non-slippery surface, because sadly my flooring can be slippery. Originally, I purchased them to aid in novel stimulation for the puppies, that weren’t born. The other thing to observe from this video segment is neck position. I try my best to keep Rainey’s neck in alignment with her spine. This is extremely important for longevity of neck health.
The next exercise was a rock back sit to stand. As I discussed previously, we do not want our dogs pulling themselves up, instead we want them to use their hind end. This exercise if done incorrectly, will teach your dog to pull with their front. The goal of this exercise is for the dog to propel themselves forward with their back end, strengthening their gluteal muscles and quadriceps. To return to a set, the dog must engage their core and to pop back down. What we don’t want is the dog walking themselves forward and backward with their front feet. The back feet should stay stationary during this exercise. Ultimately, the dog will be pushing themselves forward and returning to the sit with power and speed. This was literally the first time in her life Rainey performed this exercise, and I think we did well. Reward position will play into the dogs’ motion, so be careful where your hands are. Also, as with the down to stand, make sure the back feet are pointing forward.
I continued to challenge Rainey this week by working on her precision and slow movements. The next segment in the video shows a mini obstacle course set up with a wobble plank, Klimb, and FitPaws Disc, as well as a Sensimat on the plank. The goal of this exercise was similar to the pyramid set up, but with different heights. The goals of the decline and incline on the plank were to try to go slowly and work on her precision and push off (incline). Rainey does everything at mach speed, hence all the luring vs offering in her fitness exercises!
There were a few more exercises thrown in there, but if I share them all today, I won’t have anything left for next week! We are up to 19 exercises, with different variants able to be performed with many of them. The goal of her fitness is to challenge her, but only when she is ready. At the end of today, I checked her strength with diagonal leg lifts. It’s honestly hard to determine if she has weakness in her right hind or if she simple is too over excited for snacks! But her strength when her left front and right hind are lifted is definitely rock solid, as is her core strength! The last image in the video is a stacked photo of Rainey. Again, getting her to stand still is a difficult task! But she’s looking great!
Over the next week we will continue to build her strength and dexterity, regaining her balance and eventually speed. We will go to class this week, at 4 inches and only jumps and tunnels. I am very pleased with her progress, and am exited to get her back to full height! She is a fun little dog who challenges me in every way, but I wouldn’t have it any different! This week was again kept short, as I somehow ran out of time. I hope to write about her diet next week, and continue to expand on any new exercises we perform. I still intend to expand on the Assisi Loop, Tui-na massage, and a more in-depth lesson on anatomy and why things matter or why we recommend what we do for our sport dogs.
The road to recovery is long, and sometimes there are setbacks, but the time it takes to get there will always be worth it!
Take care and may the Qi flow freely for you!
Dr. Shantel Julius, DVM, CCRP, CVA, fCoAC, CVSMT, CVFT, CVTP, CVCH, CTCVMP
Millis, D., Levine, D. Canine Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy, 2nd Edition. Elsevier. 2014.
Evans, H.E., deLahunta, A. Guide to the Dissection of the Dog, 6th Edition. Saunders. 2004.
Jenkins, P. Spectrvet Therapeutic Lasers. 2017