Archives For Gaylan’s Dogs

When you live with dogs medical emergencies can and do occur. Last week, Corey had an health crisis that required me to put my “emergency plan” into action.  It worked pretty well so I thought I’d share it with you.

Corey

Corey

Friday morning I gave Corey some medication and followed by a treat as a reward. Rather than swallow it, Corey choked on the treat. I knew instantly that it had gone into her airway.

1. Confine other dogs.  As soon as Corey gagged, the other dogs came running.  The puppy was licking Corey’s face and the other two dogs were milling around nervously. I quickly locked them away. Their behavior is normal for dogs but not helpful.  Dog fights are not unusual at times like this.  A sick dog may be frightened or in pain so may lash out. The healthy dogs may be confused by the sick dog’s behavior so may attack. It’s best to separate them to keep the situation as calm as possible.

2. Prioritize problems.  Years ago, I was taught the following priorities for human medical emergencies that I also use them for my dogs:

a. start the breathing

b. stop the bleeding

c. treat for shock, and in the case of dogs, bloat

If they cannot breathe, I cannot stop the bleeding, or they are showing signs of shock (pale gums, shallow breathing, withdrawing) or bloat, we head immediately to the vet.

3.  Think about how your dog’s history might affect the situation.  While I was observing Corey, my mind was thinking about her health and temperament.  She’s a 12 ½-year old golden retriever so she is a senior citizen.  Two years ago, she had major heart surgery to remove the sac around her heart.  She’d bounced back easily but I knew her heart was not normal.  As I watched her struggle with the cookie, I was debating about the risk of pneumonia or a heart attack.  However since she is a friendly, stable dog, I wasn’t worried about her becoming aggressive due to fear, pain or handling.

4. Assess the situation.  Since Corey was able to breathe, I watched her for 15 minutes.  She was getting air but her breathing was ragged.  She began shivering.  I could hear her stomach churning.  Suddenly, I saw her stomach expanding.  Within minutes we were in the van on the way to my vet. Why did I leave then, not earlier?

a. Breathing.  Since Corey could breathe, I was willing to wait to see if she could cough up the treat.

b. Pain.  Dogs rarely whine or cry from pain.  Instead they shiver just like they are cold.  Corey’s shivering showed she was in pain but I was still hopeful she could cough up the treat, which would fix the situation.

c. Bloat.  When Corey’s stomach began to expand, I feared she was on her way to bloat from pain and fear.  Bloat (gastric dilatation) is when the dog’s stomach fills with air and on occasion twists (gastric volvulus).  Bloat is a dire emergency for any dog.  If this is happening to your dog, do not pass “Go,” do not collect $200.  Go directly to your vet (or a closer one if your dog is showing severe signs).

5. Call the vet sooner rather than later.  I have my vet’s phone number memorized but also have it in my cell phone in case I forget in moments of crisis.  I had already called to let them know what was happening.  Once Corey’s stomach started blowing up, I let them know we were on the way.  Between the two calls, they knew what was going on so were ready for us.

Otterkill Animal Hospital

Corey’s regular veterinarian


6. Know where to go and how to get there.  You can’t call 911 for dogs so it’s up to you to know where to go during emergencies.  We ended up at the emergency clinic on Saturday so I was grateful I had done some prior planning.  Prior to Corey’s emergency, I had:

a. discussed emergency options with my vet at an earlier visit

b. Googled the clinic he recommended, looking for information and reviews

c. driven by when I was out doing errands.

d. called to get some key information

e. put their phone number and address in my cell phone

Vet Specialty Center of the Hudson Valley logo

My Emergency Clinic

Thus, when Corey and I headed to the emergency clinic on Saturday, I knew:

a. how to get there
b. how long it would take
c. they had veterinarians and technicians on 24/7
d. they accepted my credit card for payment but they needed a large deposit before any treatment

7.  Have accident and injury pet insurance.  Years ago another Corey crisis inspired me to get pet insurance for accidents and injuries.  Although I save money for my dogs’ routine care, I know how fast emergency vet bills can pile up.  Within 15 minutes, I was looking at a $1200 vet bill for a tiny little cookie.  Knowing that Pets Best would pay over $800 of that made it much easier for me to approve Corey’s treatment plan.

Thankfully, Corey is resting comfortably and should recover from her Cookie Caper within a week.

What is in your emergency plan for your dogs?

Avidog!!

March 8, 2013 — 3 Comments

This past weekend, I launched a very exciting new venture, Avidog International LLC (www.Avidog.com).  With two of my friends, I have started a business focused on inspiring and empowering dog breeders and puppy owners to raise fabulous dogs.

Taking questions in Ottawa

Taking questions in Ottawa

Avidog’s first project was a two-day seminar that I presented for the Ottawa Valley Golden Retriever Club last weekend.  The first day was on “Transformational Puppy Rearing” and covered the period from before a bitch is bred until her pups go to their new homes.  We discussed using nutrition, care of the dam, and physical, social and mental puppy development programs to rear terrific puppies.  On Sunday, we focused on “Transformational Puppy Evaluations” to match the right pup to the right home so that dog and owners will thrive.  During this discussion we had fun watching videos of the Avidog Puppy Evaluation Test (PET), which we have developed to evaluate temperament.

The breeders and owners in Ottawa were a fabulous group, asking great questions and sharing fascinating stories.  They were the perfect gathering with which to launch Avidog!  Despite travel challenges and severe sleep deprivation, they made my weekend wonderful and very interesting.

Why was I so sleep deprived?  Well, it wasn’t due to too much partying!  I will blame it on Peach who held off giving birth to the Max litter until the wee hours of Friday morning, hours before I was flying to Ottawa.  For three days, we had been watching and encouraging her, thus not getting a lot of sleep.  In the end, she gave us eight beautiful pups, six girls and two boys.  Sadly, we lost one tiny little girl on Saturday but the rest of the litter are doing wonderfully at a week.  You can see them at gaylansgoldens.blogspot.com.

Puppy paw

I am very excited about Avidog since it combines my love of teaching with my passion for breeding and raising puppies that can enrich people’s lives.  My next adventure is presenting more of our puppy-rearing systems at the Penn Vet Working Dog Conference in St Louis, MO in April.  There I’ll be talking about the Early Scent Stimulation (ESS) work we have been doing for eight years with our pups.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

Newborn pups have their limits but are not helpless.

Newborn pups have their limits but are not helpless.


I am always surprised when people, dog breeding books and even veterinarians describe newborn puppies as “helpless.”  Although newborn puppies have limited abilities, they are anything but helpless.  Just ask anyone who has tried to convince a day-old pup to nurse on a particular teat or moved a pup away from its dam.  These tiny babies know what they want and will do everything in their power to get it.  And it’s darn hard to change their minds!

I suspect we consider neonates helpless because they do not have the senses that we humans depend most on—sight and hearing.  Newborn puppies are blind and deaf at birth since neither their eyes nor ears are fully developed until between 10 and 20 days after birth.

Furthermore, young puppies cannot control their own body temperature internally so need environmental help to survive.  However, even puppies only minutes old regulate their body temperature by moving towards or away from heat sources.  They are known as thermotropic.  If they are cold, they crawl toward their dam, littermates (forming what are known as a puppy pile) or other heat sources.  If they are hot, they move away.  If they cannot find the right temperature, they become very cranky.

Hot puppies cry constantly and move around a lot. Cold puppies may or may not be noisy but usually will not nurse.  Happy puppies at the right temperature are quiet and nurse contentedly.  A quick way to tell if pups are too hot is to put them in the bathtub.  The coolness of the tub will quiet them within a minute if heat is causing the problem.  Similarly, to see if they are too cold, put them on a heating pad.  If they immediately become quiet, they need a warmer spot.

The safest place for newborn pups is next to their dam.

The safest place for newborn pups is next to their mother.

The safest place for new pups is next to their mother.  There they are more likely to be warm, well fed and clean.  To encourage this, I adjust the nursery room temperature until mom and babies stay together.  I want it cool enough so the pups seek out their mom but warm enough that they can nurse.  For my golden retrievers, that is usually 70-72°F but may be a little higher for dogs with less coat.  Unlike some breeders, I do not put a heat source on one side of the whelping box because I do not want puppies choosing between milk and warmth.  My goal is to have their mom provide both of those life-sustaining essentials.

Though limited, baby puppies are very capable of meeting some critical needs–finding their mother and her milk. Neonate puppies can crawl and cry, both often quite strongly, and they have two powerful senses, they can smell and feel.  As soon as they are born, puppies can find their mother by scent and touch.  Once they have found her, they can locate her abdomen and then a teat. Within a short time, they can identify it as a milk source and start to suckle. 

Though they can only crawl, puppies can move many feet and even yards, typically in every increasing circles, to find their mother or a littermate. And, when lost, they can make their situation known through a variety of vocalizations, including a “lost-puppy” cry that most dams respond from the time the last pup is born till they are about three weeks old.

They can identify their dam by smell and touch, identifying which parts of her are important to them, and which are not. For blind and deaf creatures, they are pretty amazing and quite determined.

Through these two important canine senses–scent and touch–that breeders can start developing their puppies’ brains soon after birth.  Next post I will discuss the exciting new ways that breeders can make healthier, smarter pups!

Tessa is Back in Action!

September 27, 2012 — 1 Comment

Tessa has been out of commission since we discovered a serious sore on the front of her carpal (wrist) joint, right under the bottom strap of her prosthesthic. Marit kept an eye on it to see if it grew, which by Friday it had. The team at Orthopets told us to do no work with the prosthesis over the weekend while they examined the photos and videos we had sent them.

Tessa9-25-12

Tessa starts again learning to use her prosthetic leg

When we put the prosthesis on Tessa on Monday, it was as if we were starting all over again from the beginning.  Both Marit and I were stunned at how far Tessa had regressed in only two days.  She was not using the new leg at all, simply dragging it behind her. I was back to moving it forward with each step. Marit and I were cheering each other up but I know I was feeling very disappointed and frustrated.

The team at Orthopets was trying to figure out what was causing the sore so needed yet more videos–standing, walking toward the camera, and walking by the camera.  Do you know how hard it is to sit on the ground and get a close-up video of a golden retriever as she walks by? Very hard because she ends up in your lap each time!

Here are a few outtakes:

Tessa, Outtake #15 (She’s still in our laps)

Take #2, Tessa says, “I will NOT use my leg.”

But finally we got them–a video of her standing and walking!

YAY!!! We finally got her walking by!

Standing wasn’t too hard to videotape

Once the Orthopets Team saw the videos, they sent us our new marching orders:

  • Rather than fasten the top strap first, start at the bottom. That one change has helped a lot all ready.
  • Do only short sessions–10-15 minutes–multiple times each day.
  • Use cold laser on the wound to get it to heal. (Huge thank-yous to Kay Scott and Barry Rosen for lending us their cold laser!)
  • Keep Tessa from licking the wound. She has been pretty good so far but we are putting a sock on it at night so she doesn’t sneak in a scrubbing session or two while Marit and Lars are sleeping.
  • Start using the carpal brace on the other leg (though I have no idea how we will do this without the prosthesis).
  • Connect with a local rehab specialist to get some guidance on both devices.

We are off and running…well, at least walking slowly…again. Please send good wishes Tessa’s way so we get a quick rebound and she is back to making progress again.

It’s Flyer’s Birthday!

September 25, 2012 — 4 Comments

Today is Flyer’s birthday so although she died four years ago, I wanted to share a little of this wonderful dog with you.  For those of you who knew her, I hope it makes you smile to remember her.  For those of you who didn’t, I hope it gives you some insight into this amazing dog.

Flyer with a Pheasant

Trumpet’s Gaylan’s Butterfly CD JH AX AXJ WCX OD VC CCA on her eighth birthday

I got Flyer while I was in graduate school in California and Andy was stationed in NY.  After watching her dogs succeed in hunt tests, I contacted Flyer’s breeder. When I heard she had a litter that was linebred on the famous CH. Pepperhill Gldn Pine’s Trumpet CDX SH WCX OD, I went to visit the puppies and at 6 weeks of age, brought Flyer home with me.

Flyer’s Puppyhood: Fur and Fowl.  Flyer may have been a goofy looking puppy, but she showed her mettle at 8 weeks of age at her first field lesson. Although the cock pheasant the trainer threw was bigger than she, Flyer grabbed that bird and ran, making us tackle her to get it back. That moment began our lifelong passion: me for Flyer and Flyer for hunting.

During her first year, Flyer continued to develop as an avid retriever and hunter.  Alas, that was also the year that the drought broke in CA. The lakes around Stanford University filled for the first time in five years drowning hundreds of wood rats that had made their homes in the lake bottoms. I had few places to walk Flyer off leash so we were stuck with the ponds and the rats–yuck!  I reminded myself that at the outset, goldens were hunters of both fowl and fur. Like a good trainer, I graciously accepted everything that was brought to me (although I did take to wearing plastic gloves on our walks).  Although it was a challenging few months, Flyer thrived and earned her Junior Hunter from the AKC and a Working Certificate from the GRCA by the time she was 14 months old.

Her First Pups.  At that point we moved to NY so I could join the faculty at West Point.  Soon after, Flyer had two beautiful litters: the Lunar Litter Dozen and the West Point FIFTEEN.

Gaylan's West Point Litter Puppy Walk

Flyer at the West Point Litter Puppy Walk. That’s a lot of puppies!

Flyer was a phenomenal dam, whelping and raising puppies with aplomb. She was unaffected by large numbers or high demands of pups. She was a practical mother so as soon as her pups were raised, she was back to hunting again.

Flyer in agility

Flyer in agility

Time to Play. After these litters, Flyer and I got hooked on agility. She debuted in 1999 and finished her Novice, Open and Excellent titles in four months. Unfortunately, the day she earned her first Open Agility leg, she slipped and fell on a practice jump. She took second in the class and went on to finish her other titles in short order but she was losing confidence in jumping. I took her to multiple vets before we realized she had fractured a lumbar vertebrae in the fall. Her agility career ended with nine Master Excellent and four Master Excellent Jumpers legs. Close but no cigar.

We then turned to obedience where Flyer earned her CD with a Dog World Award and three blue ribbons. Her second leg was earned in a snowstorm at an OUTDOOR show. Despite the snow falling around her during the long stays, Flyer was unfazed. Her back injury kept us from going on to Open and Utility but she still loved to do the work so we trained as if we would someday enter the ring.

Outstanding Dam and Grande Dame.  Flyer was honored as an Outstanding Dam by the Golden Retriever Club of American after the Lunar and West Point litters were a few years old. She went on to have two more litters: the Flying litter in 2001 and the Golf litter, consisting solely of Una, in 2002. Although the GRCA’s Outstanding Dam requires only three qualifying offspring, Flyer ended up with more than a dozen, including conformation Champions, Master Hunters, Agility Champions, Tracking Dogs Excellent, and Utility Dogs.

For over 13 years, she reigned here at Gaylan’s. She retired from hunting when she turned 12 ½ and her body could no longer hold up to a day in the field.  Six month earlier, she had picked up 60 (!) pheasants in one day at a tower shoot but now the light was gone from her eyes when we took her out. Something was clearly wrong so I went looking for the cause.

We planted a dogwood tree in Flyer's memory

We planted a dogwood tree in Flyer’s memory

Flyer had Cushing’s disease.  Sadly, in our attempts to treat it, we accidentally destroyed her adrenal glands giving her Addison’s disease. We struggled to get the Addison’s under control but could not.  In July 2008, I realized that her quality of life was gone and this majestic creature, so full of life and passion, was asking to move on.  Andy and I held her in our arms on our lawn on a beautiful summer evening, surrounded by the dogs and people who loved her, as her spirit slipped away.  I miss her still but love watching the growth of the dogwood tree we planted in her memory.

Flyer’s Legacy. Flyer was an unusual dog, different from many of today’s golden retrievers. The stories about her are legendary and most are true. She was an incredible hunter, having caught every sort of game bird, as well as squirrels, rabbits, groundhogs, turkeys and a fawn. She loved skunks because they did not run away and would go after any beaver that she could find in the water. She moused all winter, teaching the rest of the pack how to find and catch the little rodents in the snow.

Flyer did not live solely to please human beings.  She saw me as her peer not her master, and agreed to work as my partner but not my employee. I have no doubt that she could have easily survived on her own in the wild and was honored that she chose to live with me instead.

Flyer at 13 1/2 years

Flyer at 13 1/2 years

Flyer’s confidence, in herself and her abilities, was legendary. She was mentally steady and physically sound. There was nothing that concerned her and she always handled herself with self-assurance and calm. However, this also meant that she most trusted her own mind, and did not depend on her people. If you confused Flyer for a little person in a fur suit or for a baby, she dismissed you as an idiot. Rather, she was a confident, glorious, adult of her species, more than capable of surviving on her own, raising a family and conducting her own business.

She had a huge amount of energy and drive that was primarily focused on retrieving.  At the Flying Litter puppy walk, despite having nine pups to raise/nurse, she chased the ball from morning till night. Even at 12, she would chase a tennis ball or ducks/geese for as long as I let her, repeatedly swimming the length of huge lakes and ponds. I always wore out before she did.

She was my teacher and guide during an amazing journey of discovery into what dogs are supposed to be, not what our fairy tales say they are.  It was a gift to have known her so intimately, to have her children, grand-children and now great-grandchildren in my life, to see what a confident hunting dog is supposed to be, and to have had her connect me to so many wonderful people.

I hope you get a Flyer in your life some day.  Thank you for letting me remember her on this beautiful fall day.

Rub spot on Tessa's leg

The rub spot on Tessa’s leg, just under my pointer finger

Skkkrrreeeeccchhh!!  Alas, that is the sound of Tessa’s rehab screeching to a halt.  She had been doing so well since she got back home with Marit, Lars and Loki after our trip to CO.  Until Friday, she and Marit were practicing daily with her new leg…going for long walks, hanging out at home and even swimming in my pool.  She was wearing the device nearly 8 hours a day without problem and was walking miles in it.

Then potential disaster struck.  Marit found that the hair was missing from the front of Tessa’s paw, underneath the lowest strap on the prosthesis.  The spot is pretty good sized, perhaps the size of a quarter, and though it is not a sore yet, it looks like its on the way to one. Darn!

tessarub2

The rub spot with the device on but not strapped

We took some photos and mailed them off to Brook, our case manager at OrthoPets.  As soon as she saw the photos, Brook put all of Tess’s rehab on hold until she could discuss it with the OrthoPets team today.  I just spoke to them and they are still deliberating about the next steps we should take.

Skin wounds were the biggest issue we were told to keep an eye out for as Tessa learned to use her new leg. Although the device is made with lots of padding to avoid sores and wounds, apparently they do happen.  And left untreated, I guess they can cause big problems.

So Tessa is getting a little vacation while her human team makes some plans.  She probably does not mind but the rest of us are pretty disappointed.

As I continue to recover from the thousands of miles I logged since June, I wanted to share Part 2 of my Top 10 Tips for Enjoying Traveling with Dogs!

6) Stay at dog-friendly places.  Some hotels wanted my business this summer, some gave us a lukewarm reception, and others made it clear we were not welcome. I always plan ahead to find a pet-friendly hotel while on the road.  Two websites that I use to find hotels are Dog Friendly and Pets Welcome.  I often use Google Maps or Mapquest to get an aerial view of the hotel to make sure there is room to walk the dogs on the property.

BestWesternPlus

An aerial view of a terrific Best Western Plus. You can see there is lots of room to walk the dogs. They also provided dog cookies and poop bags upon check-in and did not charge a pet fee.

Be sure to check online listings or call the hotel to find out if there are limitations or extra fees for pets. Pet fees can be insanely expensive, so be sure to ask before you commit.

7) Train before (and while) traveling. A little obedience training before and during traveling goes a long way. For me, trips are opportunities to train my dogs a minute or two at a time. The three critical behaviors my dogs need for traveling are:

a. Come. I am extra cautious at out-of-town dog parks and rest areas, since a lost dog in an unfamiliar area is a recipe for disaster.  But no matter how careful you are, there is always a chance your dog will get away from you. This summer, I fell while walking the dogs when they bolted after a rabbit. The leashes came out of my hand and both dogs were loose in a parking lot. I cannot begin to tell you how relieved I was when they came when I called them. Calamity averted!

b. Stays at doors. Traveling is all about ins and outs–in and out of cars, in and out of hotels, in and out of dog parks. Dogs that wait at doors will be much safer than those who bolt through any opening. I teach this first at home and then use trips to reinforce it with lots of treats. These skills only take a minute to train but pay huge dividends while traveling.

c. Quiet. Quiet dogs are a pleasure while barking dogs are incredibly stressful for all concerned when traveling. I teach a “quiet” command at home and then reinforce it during a dog’s early trips so by the time they are a little older, we all travel in peace. If your dog barks a lot, consider a bark collar before an upcoming trip since they are much more effective than we are at delivering perfectly timed corrections for barking.

alligators

We once stayed at a hotel that had an alligator pond! Holy cow!!

8) Think safety. Just because a place allows dogs, does not mean it is safe. In my travels, I’ve experienced a range of dangerous situations from stray dogs to rat poison to an alligator (!) pond right outside my hotel room door.

When I check into a hotel, I always leave my dogs in the van while I check the room. I turn on the air conditioning, put bed sheets from home on the hotel bedspreads, lower toilet lids in case there are cleaning chemicals in the water, pick up trash cans, and check under the furniture for items my dogs might discover. I fill a water bowl and put my dogs’ toys, chew items and mats in the room before bringing them inside.

9) Bring the dog’s stuff, too. We traveled a lot when I was a kid since my dad was in the Army. My mom always packed special things for the trip—fun games, favorite books, yummy treats. I do the same for my dogs so in addition to the normal stuff–food, bowls, leashes, collars–I bring things to make the trip fun and comfortable for them. Here are some extras that I bring along:

a. Toys—I stuff a shopping bag with old favorites and a few new toys

b. Chew items—I bring a variety of these and many more than the dogs would get at home so they can while away the hours in the car and have something safe to occupy themselves wherever we are staying. I bring marrow or knuckle bones, bully sticks, pigs ears, stuffed Kongs and more.

c. Training treats—since trips are great training opportunities, I keep treats at hand in the car, hotel rooms and my pockets

d. Sleeping mats—I use packable sleeping mats to make new places more familiar and comfortable for my dogs

e. Water—I bring a few jugs of water from home to help my dogs transition to the taste of water on the road

Dog in Mountains

Traveling with dogs is the BEST!

10) Have fun! I love traveling with my dogs and hope that you will to if your dog enjoys the car, exciting places and new people. Although traveling with dogs requires some planning and forethought, you can easily fit it into your plans if you follow these tips. I have taken my dogs (and cats) all over the US, Canada and Europe. Sharing these adventures with my dogs has been a gift!

What is the most exciting place you have been or plan to go with your dog? And what is your best tip for making the trip more fun? Send me a comment below.

Tessa may not be happy with me but she is doing a great job with her new leg! I was feeling a little down this morning when I saw how unhappy she was when I got her leg out to put on. She even turned down her breakfast. After watching her this morning, I know where the phrase “hang dog” comes from. She was pitiful.

To cheer her up, we headed outside where Tessa came alive. She started using her leg better than ever before. It was a fluid part of her gait for 90% of her steps! She is bringing it as far forward as a normal dog would. I can’t tell you how good that made me feel!

I took quite a few videos: Video 1 (but my dad’s birthday is tomorrow…oops!), Video 2, Video 3.

Tessa rested for a number of hours while I packed. Then we hit the pavement again, this time for a 45-minute walk. We cruised the yard, visited the horses, and then headed up the driveway and out onto the road. This was by far the longest walk Tess has taken with her leg and she did a great job!

Glee

A Box of Glee

You may be wondering what Glee is doing while I work with Tessa. Much of the time she is moping around. She just doesn’t understand why she can’t “help” on the walks. Don’t feel too sorry for her though. I signed her up for Silvia Trkman’s Puppy Tricks class so we’d have some new ideas to play with while we are here. We are in Week 1 and Glee has reviewed easy things like hand and paw touches. We’ve also tackled Dog in a Box and Frog.

Dog in a Box teaches the dog to get into boxes, even really small ones. We don’t have a lot of training equipment here so Glee started by learning to get in the ice chest and now has learned to get into the Bravo box. She’s done well, learning this in just a few days.

Frog teaches the dog to lie down and stick their hind legs straight out behind them. I started by teaching her to lie down on a pillow and crawl over it. I marked whenever her hind legs extended backwards and sure enough, Glee is “frogging” it already.

This afternoon, Glee gets to have all the fun! We are off to visit with Emily and her 5-month old Gaylan’s puppy, Jade. Glee helped raise Jade so I’m looking forward to the reunion. Tessa has to sit this one out so she can save her energy for her leg lessons.

Tessa’s Tale

September 7, 2012 — 8 Comments

I have been getting a lot of questions about my trip with Tessa so decided to start a blog to answer them.  Here is Tessa’s story:

Tessa and Skye

3-day old Tessa and her mom, Skye

Tessa was born at my house 2 ½ years ago in a litter of 10 golden retriever pups, known as our Southern litter.  As soon as she was born, I realized that Tessa’s left front leg was deformed.  It was quite short and didn’t have a normal elbow, forearm, wrist or toes.  However, she was a healthy, active puppy so with my vet’s approval, we treated her like her brothers and sisters.  She was active, smart and determined. With just a little help from us, she figured out how to keep up with the other pups and dogs.  She played, climbed, jumped, and swam just like any of our puppies. Before sending her to a new home, we had Tessa evaluated by a number of specialists, all of whom recommended waiting and seeing how her leg and the rest of her body developed before making any treatment decisions.

Tessa at 7 weeks

Tessa at 7 weeks

At 8 weeks, she went to live with friends in our town who have given her a wonderful life—running up and down hill and dale, swimming in the lake, hanging out with the grandkids, and playing with Loki, their other golden.  Although Tessa has lived an active life, it became clear this year that the rest of her body, in particular her right front leg, was taking a beating.  In order to give Tessa the best chance at a long and active life, her owners and I decided to bring her to OrthoPets in Denver to get her a prosthetic leg to replace her missing leg and an orthotic brace to support her right foreleg.

In late August, Tessa said goodbye to Marit and we headed west. Along with Tessa, I brought my 6-month old puppy, Glee, for company for Tess.  Both dogs were fabulous on their first LONG trip.  They handled hotel rooms, rest areas, dog parks and 10 hours a day in the car without a problem. In only 1900 miles, we arrived in Denver!

Making casts of Tessa's legs

Making casts of Tessa’s legs

On Aug 31, Tessa met Dr Patsy Mich and Dusty of OrthoPets.  They examined her to be sure she could handle a prosthetic leg.  Once they decided that she could, they made casts of her front legs.  Tessa was fabulous throughout this three-hour session, tolerating all kinds of weird handling.  It helped that the folks at OrthoPets make homemade peanut ice cream for their patients to lick out of Dixie cups while casts are being made.  Tessa went through three cups but seemed to actually enjoy the process.  As we all know, ice cream makes any situation a good one!

tessa visits Aspen

Tessa and Glee get to play with Roscoe in Aspen

The OrthoPets wizards made Tessa’s prosthesis and orthotic over the next week.  After a visit with friends in Aspen, we returned on Sep 6 for the exciting event—fitting Tessa’s new leg!  I can tell you that the people were far more excited about this than Tessa.  (Here is a longish YouTube video of the first fitting of her new leg.) As we kept strapping these weird things to her legs, I could tell she thought we had lost our minds.  However, with her usual optimism, she was willing to try walking in the contraptions.  After lots of adjustments and tweaks, Tessa and I headed back to the ranch for four days of training on the new leg.  (We’ll tackle the orthotic brace once she is using her new leg well.)

Dr Mich describes what a dog goes through learning to use a prosthetic leg like learning to walk on stilts.  They have to learn where the ground is all over again.  They have to develop new ways of walking.  They have to strengthen muscles that they’ve hardly used.  And we can’t explain to them why we are asking them to do this work.  They just have to trust us.  And if Tessa does nothing else, she trusts people so is willing to do this crazy stuff just because I ask her to.

We’ve done four one-hour sessions each day since Friday.   At first, the exercises were very simple.  I tapped the new leg on the ground for her.  I rocked her shoulders back and forth so she could feel that the new leg would hold her weight.  I picked up first her front leg and then each rear leg, one at a time.  All of this helped her realize that there was a leg under her now and that she could trust and feel it.

And we walked.  Slowly.  And we walked some more.  Still slowly.

Tessa and Splash

Tessa using her new leg to visit Splash

At first we stayed inside but within a few sessions, we moved outside for two reasons.  First, it provided different surfaces, like pavement and grass, for Tessa to walk on.  Second, there were more distractions to take Tess’s mind off what we were doing.  She could watch the horses, follow the comings and goings in the neighborhood, and sniff the grass.

Last night we had three big breakthroughs.  They may sound simple but Tessa can tell you that they are not when you have a new leg.  She scratched her ear, peed on the grass, and figured out how to get up on the couch.  Yahhooo!  (Of course, Tessa’s owners are probably not going to be happy that I taught her to get on the couch but, hey, anything for Tessa!)

This morning the progress continued with a 30-minute walk during which she used her leg at least 25-30% of the time.  That was so exciting to see. We even did a little clicker-training session with the leg on, doing simple things like hand touches and backing up.

Tessa and I so appreciate all the support you have given us during this journey!  You have kept us going when things were hard.  I’m uploading some videos and posting more photos. I’ll put the links up as soon as I figure out how.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions over the last two weeks so hope I’ve answered some of them in this post but if you have other questions, just put them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them.  And I have a question for you.  Have you ever met a dog with a prosthetic leg before?  How many other Tessa’s are there out there?