I have been feeling a bit in the doldrums lately. With Zazzy's cut paw followed by that strange morning when she couldn't stand up, she has only been let off the lead recently after the best part of nearly six weeks. That might not sound long to you, but I can assure you it felt like a mightly long time to both of us!! I am going to seek more professional opinions on both Zazzy and Kaydee, but have cancelled all agility training and shows for the foreseeable future. Although I have enjoyed some lovely walks, including a recent outing with 30 dogs in total, I like to feel purposeful with things to plan for and look forward to, so I am not at all enjoying this lull and lack of certainty about whether any of my dogs should continue doing agility. In fact, I did reach a point recently when I wanted to give up agility altogether, just so that I can make a decision and move on! Also because I now worry so much that by asking them to do agility might lead to accident or injury. On the other hand, it also keeps them mentally and physically fit, and actually under controlled conditions I guess they are less likely to hurt themselves than, for example, running round madly out on walks where there might be all manner of dangers (broken glass, sharp branches, holes etc). I would also miss my friends if I gave up agility! And I struggle to think of anything else that is as exciting and enjoyable to do with my dogs. I have realised that agility is more than a hobby to me, it has become a way of life! It would be dull and boring without it. I love travelling around the country, camping with my friends, meeting folk, the camaraderie, developing such great bonds with your dogs, and the exhileration of competing. I am missing the training too. I dropped in on a training day to see some friends, but wow it is cold when you are not running around! I have seriously considered getting a new puppy or rescue to hopefully do agility with, and if I could afford it perhaps I wouldn't even hesitate! Instead I have decided to leave that for a bit longer, and to not to give up on Kaydee yet. I will work on building fitness - long hilly walks, strengthening (particularly strengthening her core muscles to protect her back) and suppling exercises at home (including lots of tricks to keep her thinking), plus massage and gentle stretching. I will keep up the raw food diet (with additional high magnesium foods). Hopefully I will eventually be able to build up some speed work, and finally, if all goes well, maybe some small amounts of agility. It is possible that she might never compete in agility again, so maybe I should find out about HTM! On a brighter note, I cannot see anything wrong with the way that Zazzy is moving, so I am hopefull that she will get the all clear. Then I will have an opportunity to go through all her agility training again methodically from scratch (starting with small jumps and building up slowly), to make sure that she does understand it as well as I think she does, and to build up her confidence.
What a fantastic experience going to Olympia is! The glitz, the glamour, the noise, the electric atmosphere! The first year I went there, I remember sneaking down to the arena early in the morning, and being aghast at how big the arena is (when compared to normal agility ring sizes). Oh and how absorbant the flooring is, I remember feeling like I was running through treacle and not being able to get where I wanted to be! It was a long and tiring but very enjoyable day, thanks very much to Karen for being a fantastic helping hand. Unfortunately (like very many others) Kaydee and I had the first pole down in the morning semi final, so it was all over for us rather quickly! I don't really want to dwell on any negatives as the event is very well organised by the dog agility team, especially considering the extremely pressurised conditions, however it is virtually impossible to get 36 dogs properly warmed up in a short area of busy corridor with horses and tractors needing to constantly pass through. Some dogs cope better than others with minimal warm-ups, but it might have saved a lot of first poles being knocked if dogs were allowed to use the practise arena. Dogs such as mine with her chronic muscle problems would definately benefit from a bit of running around and ideally a practise jump - well the horses get one! With dog agility firmly established now as a major attraction at Olympia, isn't it time the dogs were allowed 10 mins in the warm up arena? Despite loosing some top dogs (in all the height categories) through hitting the first pole, there was some really awesome agility to be seen. There are some videos being put up on YouTube, here are some of Saturdays semi final runs: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=5nvSkdAsghI Huge congratulations to all the finalists and winners.
Well done to everyone who has qualified for Olympia this year, it's so tough to qualify that it is a fantastic acheivement in itself. The atmosphere is amazing, there is just nothing else like it. I know everyone has worked really hard, and for some (myself included!) there have been problems and the preparation has not gone as well as hoped. I hope that everyone enjoys their day, gets a good run, will bring back nothing but good memories, and that their dogs enjoy it too! I am looking forward to experiencing the buzz of the crowd, the 'backstage' camaraderie of the competitiors, and to seeing some of the best agility in the UK. This is a good video to watch at such a time! http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=TfXGD4hP1Ro
I took a day off work yesterday and took Kaydee, Zazzy and myself to the osteopath. He has done wonders with my problematic achilles and back. Kaydee has been going to see him every month since April. I said in my last blog that I was pleased with her fitness and training, well I must have jinxed myself! At the Rugby Christmas show, she did not run well. There was no power and she was dropping her right hind leg on the poles. It looked like her old problems had returned! However, the osteopath said it was not like before, something more like she has slipped in the mud, most of her problem is in a back leg muscle, although he did work on her back as well. So I will keep her quiet and just walking, with some massage, for the rest of the week. Just two more days after today before Olympia! With a cloud hanging over me wondering whether I should retire her from agility or what other options we have, I am having trouble finding the right frame of mind for it. More so because I am so worried about Zazzy. The osteopath found a trauma in her spine above her tail, as if she had fallen back onto her bottom. He was very worried about it, as her symptoms could at worst suggest a partially prolapsed disc pressing on the spinal nerve, or it could be just bruising, but to be cautious suggested lead walking for a month. So that really scared and upset me. I have been letting her off the lead for the last few days and she has been running like a demon, just what he said not to let her do! I am also worried because she gets so bored if restricted to lead walking, her energy levels build up and she ends up going crazy bouncing round the house and garden, which is probably how she hurt herself in the first place.
It was a beautiful sunrise, colourful sky and sunshine on a white frosty world. I love my dogs because if I didn't have them, I would not have been trotting round Richmond Old Deer Park this morning enjoying such a beautiful scene. By the time we were done and I was on my way to work, the sun had gone into the clouds, and the day is now grey and ordinary. I am grateful for so many things about my dogs, from making me find time to go out for lots of walks and runs whatever the weather, for the happy grins and enthusiasm, and in truth for making me a better person. Because that has to happen when you take on the responsibility of knowing that the way they are is a result of how you interact with them. An extention of the old agility adage, 'if it goes wrong, you either trained it wrong or handled it wrong'. So I try to learn everything I can to understand the things they do, and to make me communicate and teach better. Anyway, I found myself musing on what today means to me. My dogs came top of the list of The Best Things. I have been distracted by preparing for Olympia, and suddenly find I have done no preparations at all for Christmas! Not a present bought or wrapped, or a card yet written. Getting back out running (and loosing a stone!) has been a very positive thing for me. But if asked for a prediction about Olympia, I would have to say that although Kaydee has natural talent (she is a faster more athletic dog than Becky, who has acheived so much despite not being very quick, bless her), with all her problems over the last year (and six months completely out of agility), we do not yet have consistency, the fine tuning that is needed to work courses at top speed together, that you get by competing regularly. So oddly that makes me relax, what will be will be. I am pleased with her fitness and training, and she is now a happy, huggy, cuddly little dog again which is so important to me. I wish I could say that maybe it will come together next year instead. But looking to the future I can't really say whether Kaydee is going to stay in good form, or have more problems and retire from agility. That makes trying to plan what shows to go next year a lot harder! I am very excited about next year, though. I am looking forward to camping with my friends, and hoping to get to walk up some hills or even mountains if I can afford the diesel to get that far. Also fingers crossed that there will be a puppy for me from Virginia Harry's Zoe this time next year, she sadly didn't come into season in time for it to happen this year. And of course, I have been looking foward to running the gorgeous and fun Zazzy, I just hope the scare she gave me this week is just a temporary thing.
At training last night, out of eight people that I asked, two could relate a similar tale of a one-off episode of one of their dogs not being able to stand up temporarily. The vets did not find a cause and the symptoms were transient (a couple of hours) and did not re-occur. Zazzy appears completely normal now, however I will keep her on lead walking only until she has seen the osteopath, and obviously she will not be making her debut at the Rugby agility show on Saturday, so her first run will be in 2009.
Zazzy cut her right front foot between the pads, it was a slice that took a while to heal because putting weight on the foot (and when she bounces around I guess that is quite a significant amount of pressure!) kept opening it up again. Unlike my other two who would have been on three legs and worrying about it, she didn't notice it at all. She is a very good girl and lets me fiddle around cleaning it as much as I want, and never tried to remove bandages, however I couldn't make any bandage strong enough to stay on her for more than a couple of minutes when I took her out, even when keeping her on a lead. I guess I underestimated her exuberance and joy for life, which she shows by bounding around, and restricting her exercise just made her bounce more around the house..... Anyway the cut seemed to be healing at last. Then yesterday I had an awful shock because when I woke up, my beautiful exuberant dog could hardly move. Her hind legs could not carry her weight, and she lay on her side on the ground with all four legs stretched straight out in front of her. I gathered her up in my arms and rushed her to the vet. By the time I eventually got to see the vet, she could stand and walk a bit. Frustratingly, the vet could not find anything wrong. The only unusual thing that has happened to her is the cut foot, so I wondered whether infection might have caused this response. Typically for Zazzy, she really made me laugh as she had her temperature taken for the first time, which obviously caused her some surprise as the thermometer was (ahem) inserted. Instead of the usual scrabbling/running away response the vet normally gets, she said Zazzy just turned her head to look at her with profound distain and disappointement. Her temperature was 102.5. Zazzy is on antibiotics and had an anti-inflammatory injection. I will take her to the osteopath as well to have her back checked out. She seemed pretty much back to normal by the evening although I will keep her as quiet as I can for a few days, until she has had her back checked, just in case she has had a back trauma, even though I can't see how or when that could have happened. Since cutting her foot she has been made to take it easy. Any suggestions from anyone who has seen something similar would be welcome!
I really enjoyed running the course at the weekend, there were two exceptionally good groups of lovely dogs and very competant handlers. I always thoroughly enjoy watching how each individual dog moves through each exercise, and it is always a thrill to see them figure out the various 'foot placement puzzles' that they are set. There were more naturally balanced and co-ordinated dogs in the groups than usual, but it was particularly nice to see a few who arrived at the class with a bit less co-ordination than the others, develop throughout the exercises and almost change body shape by the end. It is almost as if gangley dogs become more gathered together, looking more like a coiled spring! So overall a very fulfilling day for me, and judging by the lovely feedback I got (thank you!!) the dogs and handlers who attended enjoyed it too!
I have just discovered Susan Garretts blog, http://susangarrett.wordpress.com , and love reading it, not only because it is interesting, fun and thought-provoking, but also because her young dog 'Feature' is Zazzy's sister! Because I am preparing to run a co-ordination and balance course, today her post seems almost to have been written about my own thoughts! Spooky!! Have a look at: http://susangarrett.wordpress.com/2008/12/04/fair-weather-walker/ I strongly believe that a dog should be fit before you ask it to do agility. Twisting, braking, landing impact, and sharp turning movements are demanding on muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints and bones. A dog must be fit in order to be able to do all these things without getting injured. The slow controlled exercises such as those in the co-ordination and balance course I will be running on Saturday, help develop proprioreception, and in doing so also develop large and small muscle groups that ‘fine tune’ exact movement. These muscles stabilise joints, and therefore protect them against excessive movement leading to wear between the joints, or overstretching that may lead to injury. Also important are aerobic and anaerobic exercise that dogs will get from lots of good walks. I am happier knowing that my puppy has developed a good musculature from low-impact exercises before letting it charge around too much! As Susan Garrett suggests, I am sure that good runs over the hills, including flat-out runs as and when they feel like it, are good for developing speed, stamina and co-ordination and balance at speed. However, this kind of exercise needs to be built up slowly so that the dog does not damage itself. Just like human athletes, a well conditioned and muscled dog that is properly warmed up and not suffering from any over-use injuries, is far less likely to suffer from sprains, pulls, tears, back or joint problems. Strong muscles protect the joints and back from injury, as anyone with back problems who undertakes pilates classes will tell you.