Today is day 48 post-abdominal surgery. Tomorrow marks 7 weeks. It’s hard to believe it has been that long. In agility class Rainey moved up to 8 inches. I started her at 4 inches on her first class back, and moved up 2 inches every week, adding a contact obstacle weekly. This week I added the A frame and weave poles back in. The previous weeks class showed that Rainey was gaining control of her body, and she could be trusted in the weave poles and on the A frame. That may sound odd to those of you reading this, but let me explain. Rainey has no sense of self preservation. It was 2 years ago this month during an AKC agility trial she hit the weaves so hard she LITERALLY hit the weaves. On her exit her shoulder took out the last pole. It reminded me of a cartoon when a character hits a pole, and they bounce on it before falling off, except she bounced on it, and kept right on going! It was pretty horrifying to watch in slow motion later that day. Thankfully, Rainey did not have any lasting effects. She had strong shoulders and lots of TLC afterwards that nothing ever showed itself for an injury. As for the A frame, at its apex it stands 5 feet 6 or 8 inches tall. When fierce schnauzer hits the bottom, she doesn’t always run it like the hill she’s supposed to. Sometimes she flies over the apex so fast you would think her pelvis would dislocate! Then the landing and running off is more like an abrupt thump thump on the ground and off she goes! The ideal A frame entrance and exit would appear like the dog never left the ground, like she’s running up and down a hill with smooth congruity. Yeah, Rainey doesn’t do the A frame like that. Sometimes she leaps off halfway down. Sometimes she hits her front feet so hard on the incline I have to stop and make sure she’s not actually hurt. She never is. But if I don’t watch out for her, who will?
When I took her to the side of the room that had the A frame, I walked her up and down it, as if to say ‘hey, remember this thing, please don’t kill yourself’. It was tire jump to A frame, and she ran it beautifully! We did an additional pass over it, but didn’t want to overdo it. Next were the weave poles. For those reading that do not know canine agility, the dog must enter on a specific side of the pole, and then literally weave between them for a count of 12 poles. This requires all sorts of strength, especially shoulder and rear end strength, but it also requires coordination and knowing where your feet are. When Rainey entered her steps were off. She’s typically a bouncer – keeps front feet together and bounces left to right to left as she weaves through the poles. But she was slightly walking them, until she got to pole 8 and her muscle memory kicked in. We repeated them once more and she performed them perfectly and at a distance! It had been 7 weeks since she had seen the weaves and A frame, but her muscle memory was still present, she knew her job, and she was able to perform without injury.
We took Friday off from fitness because I wanted to monitor Rainey for any signs of discomfort from the added obstacles in class Thursday night. Thankfully, there were none. That is a very important reminder – you must ALWAYS be assessing and reassessing your dog. Honestly, this goes for normal activity and when your dog is recovering or returning to sport. As your dog’s advocate and handler, you should know their normal and be able to recognize when something is off. Whether their pep isn’t as high or their gait is off. It is up to you to stand up for them and say no we cannot do this activity today.
Next week Rainey will move up to 10 inches for a jump height. I will add more speed to my running and be less of a helicopter handler for her. Then the week after, 8-1/2 weeks post-surgery, she will return to full jump height. I will watch her closely for mistakes and weaknesses. We will reassess our plan based on her performance. Then my hope is at nearly 11 weeks post-op, 3 weeks after jumping full height, she will compete in a UKI Agility Trial. She will then be reassessed for weakness, pain, or discomfort, and I will adjust accordingly. If things go as planned, she will be considered to be released to normal lifestyle. I will keep up her conditioning at least 4 days per week as I continue to improve on her muscle and power. Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel is a great thing. Rainey has exceeded my expectations in her return to function. Alongside her is her sister and her 2 standard schnauzer house mates. As I have been working Rainey, I have also been working them. Aurora, her sister, also competes in agility, and through the last 7 weeks I have seen Aurora’s speed and confidence improve as her strength improves. I am excited to see where this takes us!
Day 42 to 48 – Progress to Power
Everyone can see how far Rainey has come in the last 7 weeks. She is stronger, she is more powerful, and she is faster. As we continue our recovery journey, which will soon turn to a fitness journey, I continue to work on perfecting her exercises, looking for the square sit or down, looking for the pop up and down, seeing if she can hold her form when challenged on different equipment. And through it all, she continues to take these escalations and ask me what else do I have for her?! This week I did just that. We worked on some techniques, but then I threw in things to complicate matter to see if she could physically and mentally handle them. We also worked a lot on shaping behaviors. Rainey is becoming very good at a front feet on floor pivot, but still trying to understand shaping a front feet on disc pivot. We also spent time shaping a paw shake. Hopefully we can develop this into an adorable trick and fitness exercise in the near future!
Sit to Down to Sit – a few weeks ago I introduced this exercise to readers. In the previous video Rainey was doing a walk to down and a walk to sit. You will see in todays video, as her core strength has improved, she is able to pop into a down and does very minimal walking to a sit. She keeps her back end solidly planted on the ground.
Lateral Side Step – again, this exercise was introduced a few weeks ago, but I wanted to illustrate Rainey’s improved strength in completing it. She keeps her back feet very solidly planted, and is now able to step off with both front feet lateral and back on with OUT moving her back feet and keeping her back straight! I can only imagine the amount of core strength and engagement this takes!
Cavaletti Figure 8 – we took Figure-8’s and cavaletti’s another step further today by combining them, making an exercise for spinal flexion and body awareness. Once Rainey had the hang of the low bars, I increased complexity by angling the bars. My other dogs are able to perform cavaletti’s and Figure-8’s without a treat in their face. Rainey, on the other hand, has not mastered that yet.
Rocking Sit to Stand on Wobble Board – this made this exercise a literal rocking sit to stand! This exercise on the flat focuses on developing power from the rear. When you add this level of complexity, it makes it more about stabilization with a little bit of power. The reason it is good to mix things up is because you do not want the muscles to get use to a specific way of doing things. If you have ever weight lifted or ran, you know that after a while your body reaches a plateau where it is in a steady state and cannot get any further benefit from that work out. The same things can happen in dog. You don’t want to keep doing the same exercise week after week without any variation. You need to master it, yes, but once you do, go back to the original once a week or so, and make variations of it the other days. By performing this variant, it prepares Rainey’s body for the unexpected. If you have ever watched a dog run agility, especially a dog who lacks self-preservation, you know some pretty crazy things can happen. They can fall off the dogwalk or A frame, they can lose traction turning, they can decide to turn the other way quickly which twists the lower limbs, etc. So, it is good for their receptors to learn to react in a calm controlled environment when stimulated differently. Maybe when they do something silly on the field or in the yard it won’t hurt them so badly or at all.
Back Up to a FitBone Up a Ramp – this week I decide to increase the complexity of Rainey’s back up even more. I had her back up a very minimal incline to place her feet on her FitBone. She did great! It was a learning curve for her, but overall, she figured it out. To critique this exercise, I would not want her to hyperextend her back and elbows like she did. We only performed a few repetitions; therefore, I am not overly concerned, but I wasn’t aware it was so severe until I watched the video. Ideally, I wouldn’t want to see that level of extension in an exercise. A stretch post-exercise, yes, but not during one. To remedy this, I would place my reward further forward
Diagonal Leg Lift and Core Assessment – next is assessing Rainey’s strength and core. When lifting her right hind and left front, Rainey waivered slightly. I’m fairly certain this was due to her wanting to lick my hand and a little slipping on the Klimb. The left hind and right front lift she did not waiver at all. Both lifts, her core was extremely strong and engaged. Looking at Rainey from a stacked side profile she is looking good! Not to mention, she is getting fabulous at self-stacking for photos! Next week I will give an update about her shoulder muscle building and compare photos since it will have been a few weeks. As a reminder, what you see today is the result of what you did 2 weeks ago!
As I continue to increase the complexity of Rainey’s exercises, she continues to build strength and power. 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. But for toward, this is short and I am proud of myself for actually doing it! It has been a long week, filled with lots of downs, but hopefully this coming week is better!
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.