This summer I have logged over 7,300 miles in the van with my dogs (and another 7,000 miles without the dogs) so travel is on my mind.  Many people have emailed me about how easily my dogs travel so I thought I would share some of the things I do to make sure trips with my buddies are safe and fun.  Whether you want to go near or far, these suggestions should help you.  I will post Part 2 later this week.

1)      I teach my dogs to love the car.  I start taking my puppies on car trips before they are 8 weeks old with short trips to fun places (NOT just the vet office for shots), usually with or to visit dog friends.  We work up to longer and longer trips, till my dogs ride calmly for upwards of eight hours at a time.

If you travel a lot, teach your dog to love the car by starting with slow, short trips on straight roads, perhaps just up and down your driveway or neighborhood street.   I find the biggest mistakes people make when teaching their dog to enjoy the car are:

a) Only taking their puppy or young dog in the car when going to the vet.
b) Driving too far or too fast in the first few trips.
c) Confining the puppy in the back of the car, away from people, too soon.

The Dogs are Ready for Our Trip

The Dogs are Ready for Our Trip

2)      My dogs always travel with restraint.  After their very first trip home, my dogs always travel in crates or with doggie seat belts, for their safety and mine.  I start my pups out in small crates on the front passenger seat where I can comfort, praise and reward them during the trip.  Only once they are calm during these early trips, do I move them further from me and confine them with seat belts or a larger crate in the back of the car.  No matter their age, my dogs have water to drink, bones to chew on, and toys to play with if they get bored while traveling.

SampleEmergencyDog Info

Emergency Dog Information For Traveling

3)      I keep emergency information and rabies certificates in the van.  Although I do not like thinking about car accidents, they happen.  I keep emergency information for my dogs on their crates and in the glove compartment just in case I am injured in an accident.  The emergency information includes a description and photos of each dog, medical information, and contacts, including my vet, with phone numbers.  I also carry copies of their rabies certificates stapled to the emergency information sheet.  Here is a .pdf copy of my form.  (You will need Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Reader to complete and print the form.)

4)      My dogs wear ID.  Although my dogs rarely wear collars at home, they always wear them while we are on the road.  Each dog’s collar is embroidered or printed with a contact phone number, their microchip number, and the word “Reward.”  (I use Reward to encourage whoever finds my dogs to return rather than keep them.)  I get embroidered collars from:

a) AKC Companion Animal Recovery–reflective collars printed with your dog’s microchip number, the CAR toll-free number and your dog’s name or “Reward”

b) Orvis–nylon and leather collars and harnesses that can be personalized

c) Cabela’s–nylon and leather collars that can be personalized

5)     We find places to exercise nearly every day.  Although I am tired at the end of a long day’s drive, my dogs are usually not.  Most highway rest areas have pet potty spots for quick visits but few offer places for dogs to relax or run (though I found some great rest areas on I-80 in Nebraska).  So how can you find places to exercise your dogs?  Here are three options:

Dog Park in Nebraska

Tessa and Glee Make Friends at a Dog Park in Nebraska

a) I often ask when I check into my hotel to see if the front desk clerk knows of local parks or trails. Many know the area well and can be quite helpful.

b)  Most GPSs have a “Park” feature that not only enables you to find parks but gets you there, too! State and national forests are often good best for open space and trails the dogs can enjoy.

c) Google “dog park” and the town you are near.  Many dog parks post their rules, photos and reviews on line, which makes it easy to determine if they are worth a stop.

Stay tuned for an update on Tessa and Part 2 later this week, including what to pack for your dog and how to avoid hotel room dangers while traveling.

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!


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?