Returning to Sport Post-Abdominal Surgery Series: A Plan Tailored to Rainey - Pushing the Physical Limits
Today is day 41 since Rainey’s abdominal surgery. Today is all the day she was supposed to delivery the puppies. It’s a bittersweet day for me. On one hand, I am incredibly grateful that she is here and doing so amazingly well, but on the other hand I try not to think about the coulda, woulda, shoulda beens. Life is complicated enough without dwelling on those daydreams. Regardless, the loss of a massive dream that I spent a lot of energy, finances, and time on needs to be mourned. Today I told myself will be the last day I dwell on it. After that, onward, my friend!
This week I continued to add complexity to Rainey’s exercises, and I decided to start grouping her exercises into a more rationale breakdown. Instead of randomly picking exercises to do, I looked at my list, and I picked exercises for specific body parts on specific days. Tuesday and Sunday were primarily for her rear end and core; Wednesday was proprioception and shoulders; Thursday was agility class; Friday whole body; Saturday shoulders and core; and Sunday basically whole body, but heavy on rear end. Having body part days helps keep me from over working a certain body part. Having the chart on the whiteboard helps me from performing the same exercise too many days in a row. Below I will go through the new exercises Rainey had this week, as well as their importance for her.
Now I want to discuss Rainey’s diet. There are a lot of ways to formulate a diet. There are wrong ways, right ways, and just to get by ways. The major myth in formulating a homemade or raw diet is that they are completely balanced without a vitamin/mineral supplement. This is not true. Even if you are feeding an 80/10/10 raw diet, you rotate all the things all the time, or your dog is eating exactly what you’re eating daily, it still needs some form of vitamin/mineral supplementation. How I learned to formulate diets for pets was from Chi University. We were taught to pick ingredients using TCVM principles, and break ingredients into percentages correlating to ounces. I will not get into the nitty gritty ways of balancing a diet, but I will say I use BalanceIT and their supplements when I formulate diets for pets. It is a complex process, and if you would like to feed your dog a whole food or raw diet, I would highly suggest contacting someone with experience doing such. There are all sorts of individuals who formulate diets for pets, the most ideal being a board-certified nutritionist. Actually, what is the most ideal is a board-certified nutritionist who also uses ingredients based on TCVM principles. There are websites that offer homemade diet formulation, and they are typically ran by human nutritionists who have training in animal nutrition. Today we are going to focus on the TCVM way to formulate a diet and what ingredients Rainey is eating and why. I will not focus on how much of things, as I do not want someone going rouge formulating a diet for their pet.
Rainey is a hot dog. When you touch her, she is warm, when you work her, she is spirited. She just runs hot. Therefore, based on the knowledge you have gained over the last few weeks you should know that Rainey needs Cooling foods. I also like to have in my healthy sport dogs diet a nice base of Blood Tonics to keep their tendons/ligaments moist to prevent injury, ingredients to nourish Qi so they do not become deficient from their exercise/work schedule, and ingredients to prevent Phlegm. Phlegm is what happens when body fluids slow down. It is the side effect of Spleen, Lung, Triple Heater, and Kidney Disharmony, resulting in accumulation of Body Fluids. In general, a healthy, non-processed diet, active lifestyle, and balanced body will prevent Phlegm accumulation.
Phlegm is a thick, damp, turbid material. In TCVM there are two types of Phlegm – Substantial and Non-substantial Phlegm. Substantial Phlegm can be described as ‘thick, sticky, condensed’ or as ‘the Phlegm having form’. This is what we think of with sputum, mucous, and greasy, lipid, or caseous material. It is also focal masses or tumors, which can be benign or malignant. Pathogens can be associated with substantial Phlegm as well – Heat, Cold, Damp, and/or Spleen Qi Deficiency. However, it is most often caused by Excessive Heat or Excess Damp. When Phlegm is caused by Heat (Heat Phlegm) the Heat from the body cooks the Body Fluids, resulting in them accumulating and congealing, forming tumors. Damp Phlegm (Phlegm resulting from Dampness) is caused from the accumulation of large amounts of sticky, Damp Body Fluids. Damp Phlegm and Heat Phlegm are the two most common forms of Phlegm accumulation seen in veterinary medicine.
Non-substantial Phlegm is something you cannot touch. It is considered something that causes a strange disease, and a the saying goes “Where there is something strange, there must be Phlegm”. Phlegm of this form may be diffuse, disseminated cryptic, or within the Channels. It can obstruct Channels, preventing the free flow of Qi, and resulting in mania or depression (‘Phlegm misting the Mind’ by blocking the Heart) or seizures (stagnation in the Liver Channel leading to Internal Wind).
Diseases due to Phlegm are various, but include Retention of Phlegm in the Lung, leading to cough and asthma; Obstructed Phlegm in the Channels, leading to subcutaneous masses or suppurative inflammation of the deep tissues; or Phlegm affecting the Heart, resulting in Shen or mental disorders, loss of consciousness, or even coma.
You can see why ingredients that treat Phlegm and keep Body Fluids happy and flowing would be important – to prevent cancer. If you’re too cold, your Body Fluids slow down and accumulate with the Dampness, forming tumors. If you’re too hot, your Body Fluids burn up and congeal forming tumors. Therefore, you must be just right. There is so much to consider when ‘Balancing’ an animal. So many reasons for a diet ingredient or an acupuncture point or an herbal medicine formulation. When an already sick animal presents, with a laundry list of maladies the most important must be chosen. But – the most important for whom? The owner? The doctor? In my practice, I try to pick what I feel is the most life threatening to the pet, while also paying close attention to what may be affecting the quality of life of the owner. As you can imagine, attempting to undue years of Excess Heat, Excess Cold, Damp Accumulation, Phlegm Production, etc is a lofty goal. But it can be done. It just takes time. As I tell my clients whose pet has multiple health concerns, it is like pealing back the layer of an onion. We will address one thing first, but as we balance that section of your pet a new issue you did not know existed may show itself. The process of balancing an individual is not easy and it takes times and patience from everyone involved. This why even if you THINK your pet is healthy, it would be best to get them assessed early in their lifetime, and ideally 3-4 times a year. As the seasons change, so does out balance. Some are more stable than others, and may only need re-assessment 1-2 times a year. However, the longer a patient goes without fixing a benign problem, the likelihood increases that it becomes a unfavorable problem. How does a practitioner find these problems if they do not exist in the physical state? By assessing everything we have previously discussed – tongue, pulse, preferences, specific acupoints, and temperature of the patient. There is so much that can be found in these simple things that can aid a skilled TCVM practitioner in catching illness early.
Now that we have seemingly gone off topic, what is in Rainey’s current diet? The answer is, a variety of things. I have also previously discussed Rainey’s supplements, noting that she receives medicinal mushrooms, probiotics, omega 3’s, and BalanceIT Canine multivitamin/mineral supplement. All of my dogs receive a variety of antioxidant, free radical scavengers to try to keep them as healthy as possible, but as I have previously stated, sometimes you can’t beat genetics. To keep Rainey the healthiest she can be, the following is what she is currently on, describing the ingredients TCVM energetics and why it was chosen:
*Beef - Sweet, Neutral -Tonify Blood, Qi, and Yin; moisten dryness; strengthen bones and sinews; relieve pain; limb weakness; fatigue;
*Turkey – Sweet, Neutral to Cool – Tonify Qi and Yin; soften the hardness; indicated for Kidney/Liver Yin Deficiency;
*Cod - Sweet, Cold - Tonify Blood and Yin, clear Heat; general Yin Deficiency; promote digestion, Stagnation, Vitamin D source;
*Chicken Egg, whole - Sweet, Neutral - Tonify Blood, Qi, Jing, and Yin, calm Shen; clear Heat;
*Sweet Potato - Sweet, neutral - Tonify Blood, Yang, and Qi, Blood Stagnation, resolve Toxins, low glycemic index, rich in Vitamin A
*Kidney Bean - Sweet, Neutral – Tonify Blood, Yin, Jing and Qi; Blood Stasis; clear Heat; benefit the Kidney;
*Black Bean - Sweet, Neutral - Tonify Blood, Jing, and Yin; relieve pain; brighten eyes;
*Brown Rice – Sweet, Cool – Clear Heat; weakness; tonify Blood, Qi, and Yin; quench thirst;
*Millet – Sweet, Salty – Relieve thirst; tonify Yin; clear Heat; resolve Toxins; it actually has anti-fungal properties that aid in treating Candida albicans overgrowth;
*Quinoa - Sweet, Sour, Neutral - Tonify Qi, and Yin; strengthen whole body;
*Spinach - Sweet, Cool - Moisten Dryness, Soothe Liver, Clear Liver Heat; nourishes Blood; strengthens all organs
*Celery - Pungent, Sweet, Cool - Send down middle Qi; clear Heat; agitation due to Liver Heat; calm Stomach Fire;
*Rainbow carrot - Sweet, Neutral - Tonify Liver Blood, Soothe Liver Qi, resolve toxins; moisten dryness; benefit the eyes
*Turnip - Pungent, Sweet, Neutral – Drain Damp; transform Phlegm; engender Body Fluids; Blood Stagnation; tonify Blood, Qi, and Yin; circulate Blood; assist in dry mouth; aid in thirst; resolve toxins; clear Heat;
*Beet - Sweet, Neutral - Tonify Blood; moisten intestines; clear Heat; detoxify; cool Blood; irritability; calm Shen;
*Red Cabbage – Sweet, Pungent, Neutral – moisten intestines; mental depression; circulate Qi; clear Heat;
*Daikon Radish – Pungent, Sweet, Cool – transform Phlegm; moisten Lungs.
Day 35 to 41 – Pushing the Physical Limits:
Rainey continues to make excellent progress in her healing. If I was inpatient, I’m fairly certain she would like to return to competing at full height, but that’s not on my agenda. I want Rainey to return stronger than when she left. Like I said last week, I have slacked in the last year with maintaining my dogs’ fitness. Rainey has a natural musculature physique, and the absence didn’t hit her as hard as her sister. But it was still noticeable. In previous years Rainey has had significant musculature definition. She always was mistaken for a boy (insert facepalm emoji). Whereas Aurora as a very feminine physique. This goes back to our discussion on being a Yin or Yang animal, and correlates some with their excess hot or cold needs. Anyway, in 2019 I had all the dogs in peak physical performance. I had started out by exercising them 4-5 days a week, with 1-2 rest days and 1 agility day. They got to the status I wanted, and I backed off to 1-2 times a week, and honestly, sometimes less. Given that they were in phenomenal shape, they were able to maintain this peak physical fitness while competing frequently and minimal fitness exercises. Until the pandemic hit. Looking at my videos of them, it’s really crazy to think 2020 was just a wash for us. It’s like the year that didn’t happen. Or maybe an extended vacation where we all just ate way too much and exercised way too little, the girls and I combined. Now I find myself 5 weeks into an intense fitness routine with the dogs, and I am getting bored. Yeah, that’s right…I’m bored with our routine. Do you see that list? There are 22 exercises on that list! 22!!! And I am bored. I circulate through each and every one of them throughout the 6 days we do fitness. I am finding that they are no longer a challenge to the dogs. Last week I introduced you to the Pyramid. It’s one of my most favorite exercises. When I restarted fitness with the dogs, the standards couldn’t jump from yellow peanut to blue peanut. They’d either fall or just thrust themselves over the top, landing on their belly. The minis were alright. Now, the standards are Mexican jumping beans, springing from yellow peanut to the blue like it ain’t no thing! And I am running out of ideas on how to challenge them! Ok, that’s not 100% true. I am running out of whiteboard space to write my ideas. But – here’s the deal – in human and canine (or equine) fitness once an exercise becomes easy, we make it more complex. We can take a boring, use to be difficult static stand on the flat or FitBone and perform it on varying sized yoga blocks or a really unstable piece of equipment. We can do those down to stands on a peanut or a low-level ramp. We can increase the height of the thing we back up to. We can add resistance bands. We can do a lot with our foundation exercises! Imagination and physics are your friend! This week I’ll cover some new exercises and some modifications to old exercises. Rainey is getting strong, and I need to keep things fresh and new for her, or she will plateau. And no one likes to plateau!
Crawls – or like I would call this, as to not be confusing, crouching. When most think of crawls, we think of extending the back feet behind the dog in order to push themselves forward. This is how I described this exercise previously, and even within the last 2 months, to owners. However, a much more muscle efficient exercise is having the dog crouch and walk lower. It puts the muscles in a contracted formation, working them a little differently, while forcing the back and core to engage to maintain stability. The idea would be to perform them slowly as to work the muscles to the max capacity.
Cavaletti – this week I added a lot of complexity to the cavaletti. The primary formation I use for caveletti’s, and what most people likely think when they think cavaletti, are bars spaced as far out as the dog is tall in order to produce a lovely even, flowing gait, while increasing proprioception and balance. This week’s version of cavaletti involved balance equipment and the bars were spaced around 14 inches or more apart, enough to get the FitBone’s in between (also, do you know understand why I have so many FitBones?). The objective of this exercise was to get her to slow down and think about her balance and where she was placing her feet. It took her proprioceptive reflexes to the next level, as well as combined stability work for her joint mechanoreceptors as she navigated the rough terrain. What you cannot see from the video is every other FitBone had a different inflation level. There were 2 FitBones that were extremely over inflated and rocked. With this exercise I was not concerned with gait patterning, therefore her slight hopping was fine.
Static Stand on an Unsteady Thing – next up was Rainey performing a static stand on an even more unsteady object. Up to this point she had performed this on 2 over inflated mini FitBones. Due to their nature, the FitBones rocked cranial-caudal (forward backward). The object this week is a Flexiness Twindisc that is over inflated, therefore it rocks all directions. I made sure Rainey was standing relatively square, not tucking her hind legs underneath her, and then asked for a variety of motions. It was definitely more difficult for her than the FitBones! Goal achieved!
Plyometric Jumps – one of my favorite exercises to do with a very fit dog are plyometric jumps. The purpose of this exercise is to get the dog sitting as close to an object as possible, and then have them jump straight up unto said object without pulling themselves with their front legs. It is all about teaching power from the rear end push off. You can see how the Rock Back Sit to Stand has set her up for success for this exercise. In 2019, Rainey was able to sit on a stabilized wobble board and jump nearly as high as my chest from a sit. That video snippet is included after current videos. Today we didn’t go quite as excessive. From the video, you can see I used a hand touch to get her close to the table, and then sat her squarely in front of it. Then I lured her to jump onto the table. I started with a single Klimb, and with continued repetitions, added 2 Klimbs on top of the initial Klimb. When the 3 Klimbs were stacked on each other I did add the wobble board as a ramp for her to get down. You will also see she completed a crouch crawl on her way back to starting position. I did this to try to limit the impact of her front legs jumping off of the 3 Klimbs. It’s important to note what repetitions and sets are. Repetitions are the number of times you repeat the exercise in a row, and sets are the number of repetitions you do. For example, I typically perform 5 repetitions of an exercise in a row, release dog, and repeat 1-2 more sets of 5 repetitions. Again, monitoring for fatigue and loss of control that would indicate the dog has exhausted those muscle sets and that exercise is no longer useful at this exact minute, and a break is needed.
Back Up to a FitBone – this is Rainey’s original back up to a thing exercise. When she started her recovery process, I used a low object (the FitPaws ramp) for her to back up to. Now that her core and back strength are significantly improved, as well as her increased body awareness, I can increase the complexity for her by raising the height of the object and increasing the distance to the object. I want you to appreciate in the video that when she gets into position, her back is straight, her neck is neutral, and no part of her body is hyperextended or flexed. Teaching the dog to do this is as simple as choosing the correct reward location and being fast with your reward placement. I don’t always lure my fitness exercises. I really enjoy shape training my dogs. This week I actually started shape training their front feet on disc and back feet on disc pivots. So far, it’s looking good!
Static Stand on Yoga Blocks – this is an exercise I have been working on for about a year with the dogs. It’s extremely difficult to perform and requires a tremendous amount of coordination and core strength. I have 4 yoga blocks, all different heights. The dog stands with each foot on a different block, and you perform slow varying head motions, sometimes tapping on hips/shoulders, to allow dog to engage their joint and muscle stabilizers differently. The height difference is a great challenge – the dog must reach with one front leg, but the other front leg is crouched (I feel like this is my word of the week) slightly. The same in the back, but no leg is on the same height block. It is a difficult exercise, and I do not recommend you try it unless your dog is cleared of all joint and muscle injuries. As you can see in the majority of the videos, when I perform exercises with my dogs, I am CONSTANTLY checking in on them. I am feeling the muscles I want or think should be engaged, I am feeling their back to make sure it is straight, and I am constantly checking their stability. Frequently assessment DURING the 10-30 second exercise is KEY to performing it accurately and injury free!
Wobble Board FitBone – this we saw last week, I believe. It is truly on of my favorite exercises simply due to its complexity and full body work out. It is an excellent shoulder stabilization exercises, but it also requires significant core engagement. This week I worked on Rainey’s form. Her front legs were more under her, with less hyperextended carpi (front wrist). She was able to hold stabilization better and longer.
Figure 8’s – a simple, yet complex exercise. Figure 8’s not only engage the spine for lateral flexion, but it helps train the joints for lateral motion and increased stabilization on turns. Throughout this exercise, I varied between slow and fast walk and increased/decreased the distance between cones. The variation in complexity allowed for her to respond and react. If we correlate this to agility, it is the foundation steps to training her muscles and joints to stabilize for sharp turns after jumps.
Peanut Balance Walking – ok, I’ll admit, I think this exercise is adorable and kind of reminds of a monkey. My ultimate goal here is to have the dog be able to engage their core so well that they can stabilize and walk the peanut without me guiding it. This exercise helps with body awareness, core strength, back end limb strength, and back strength. Important to note, you want the dog to keep a straight spine with a neutral neck. If I was able, I would be reaching down to feel her core and back legs to make sure she is properly engaging. Due to it’s complexity, this exercise is kept extremely brief and only repeated once.
There you have it – Rainey’s newest exercises for the week. She is coming along nicely! This past week she jumped 6 inches in class and was able to perform the dogwalk (thankfully without falling off). She is running fast and happy! Her overarousal and clinginess was already declining. Hopefully with more exposure she will continue to return to a level headed agility speed demon!
The last section of the video demonstrates Rainey’s diagonal leg lifts. The largest issue I have with performing these on her is she constantly wants to lick my face or hand, therefore making her look weaker than she is, as she wobbles to chase my hand or face. Despite this, I am happy to report that her stability and core strength and engagement is extremely strong! When we look at her free stack, her back is flat, her back legs are extended in a normal stacked position, her front legs appropriately underneath her, and with her new haircut, you can appreciate how tiny and tight her waist is becoming.
This week I will continue to increase the complexity of Rainey’s exercises, while building her strength and making her as agile as possible. She is such a willing and able partner that this process continues to be a joy! 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
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Millis, D., Levine, D. Canine Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy, 2nd Edition. Elsevier. 2014.