Monday, October 28, 2013

Dazz Week Two: Urban Agility (Dog Parkour) For Conditioning and Rehab

The last few weeks we’ve been working on leg strength and hind end awareness. Her balance has improved a ton - her hind feet are tracking closely behind her front, to have a narrower stance overall. She’s also had an easier time going up the stairs - I haven’t had to “rescue her” from being stuck halfway up, she’s been able to get up them even slowly or stopping and starting again, not getting stuck without the momentum. Here’s a few exercises we’ve been doing this week:

Walking backward. This requires a lot of strength in the rear. When she gets tired, she’ll back a few steps into a sit, so we’re trying to slowly build strength and endurance at this.

4-paws-on and stepping down in control. We worked on standing with 4 feet on a box and stepping down from it one foot at a time. Her usual method is to hop off front first and let her hind feet do whatever, so we tried to do it in control so she has to balance and keep her feet under her.

Walking along narrow objects. We also worked on walking down a ladder lying on the ground, trying to keep all four feet inside. She had to focus on not tripping on the cross bars as well.

Stepping into/out of things. We've been stepping into a round sled with raised edges as well as a laundry basket. She was able to step one foot at a time into the laundry basket - lifting her back feet up and over the edge! This requires a ton of strength and balance for her, so she was only able to do it a few times, but I was impressed!

Vet Note: Dazz is showing signs of improvement. As mentioned previously, she can often be seen walking with a more normal gait. While her back legs still go into a wide base stance if she is turning or sitting, while she is slowly walking in a straight line, they track right behind her fronts! Although she tires very quickly, she is making significantly more purposeful movements with both of her hind legs.

Article by: Genevieve Abbiss, Abigail Curtis DVM

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Training Urban Agility Skills: Long Balance

Skill: Balance: dog walks across narrow curbs, walls, logs or boards
Benefits: Increased proprioception and body awareness, improved confidence, increased ability to work with distractions, and increased core strength.
Sports applications:  Agility-dog walk;  Obedience-heeling, rear end control; Flyball-box turns.
Safety: Always spot your dog, be ready to catch him or provide assistance if needed. Let your dog choose to perform the behavior, and then reward. Be aware and prepared for the fact that some dogs (like some people!) seem to be afraid of heights and might panic and jump off unexpectedly after a certain elevation. Lift your dog down from the wall or find an alternative route down if you’re balancing above your dog’s shoulder height.
How to train:
Find a low, wide wall that your dog can easily get onto. Start with a wall about mid-leg height and at least twice as wide as your dog. Have your dog walk across, reward frequently.   Gradually decrease the width of the wall.  If needed, shape the behavior of four paws on the object and start with a ramp-like object.. Start in a low distraction environment and click and treat for any paw interaction with the object.
Work at low heights when the width is challenging for your dog.  Include a variety of surfaces, such as logs, metal, and concrete walls. Have your dog balance during the day and at night, in  all weather conditions, and at a variety of places.
Separately train balance at higher heights, only working your dog on a wall width that he can consistently balance on at low heights.

Advanced Version: Train your dog to balance on rails. Teach your dog to back up on narrow walls. Balance over your head height (REMEMBER your safety rules!)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Caleb Week One : Urban Agility (Dog Parkour) For Conditioning and Rehab

We have been focusing on rear end awareness, strength and proprioception this week.
Caleb went to outdoor parkour class Tuesday night, indoor parkour class Wednesday , and we worked on parkour exercises at home Sunday. He loves the training, and is having a lot of fun. He was a little sore and grumpy and limping slightly Thursday and was limping a little after playing with a new dog Saturday. Here are a few exercises we have worked on this week:

Four feet on a box is one of Caleb’s favorite games, so incorporating this into our sessions was an easy choice. We only did this exercise on Wednesday, and are working on standing on smaller objects. This exercise is intended to increase core strength, and entire body balance and proprioception.

Backing up onto objects:We worked on backing up onto platforms on Wednesday, and stairs on Sunday. He prefers to back up with right leg first, so we are focusing on alternating which leg goes up first. This exercise is intended to increase strength.

Four feet in objects:Similar to four feet on a box is another exercise we are working on, four feet in an objects. We also only did this exercise Wednesday. This exercise has very similar benefits as on a box, but requires more rear end awareness because he has to pick up his legs and put them in the box. It is also a good range of motion exercise.

Back feet on on wobbly objects:On Sunday we added an exercise, standing with back legs on wobbly surfaces. This week we used a pillow and a foam roller. I shaped him moving his back legs on the pillow, and stabilized the foam roller with my foot, and moved it as needed. This exercise is intended to increase fine muscle activation and proprioception (awareness of body in space).

Vet Note:Caleb continues to do well overall. He was most sore from the jumping he did at outdoor parkour on Tuesday so we will be sure to keep an eye on this. We have decided to add in GlycoFlex as a supplement to his diet to help maintain joint health. At this time, we are going to use careful activity instead of an NSAID to keep Caleb pain free, though if the limping becomes a more consistent issue, we will reconsider at that time.

Article by : Karin Coyne CPDT-KA, Abigail Curtis DVM

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Urban Agility (Dog Parkour) For Conditioning and Rehabilitation

As we started to teach our dog parkour classes, we quickly recognized that urban agility (or dog parkour) had the ability to help a population of dogs that was normally overlooked when designing the average dog class. This group are the elderly or injured dogs who are in need of physical rehabilitation and strengthening to become pain free and improve their quality of life.

The structure and goals of a parkour class allows us to tailor each exercise for the individual needs of the dog. This, along with the fact that our classes are joint taught by a veterinarian, allows us to design exercises to increase strength, proprioception, and balance in dogs who are recovering from injury or have limited mobility due to age.  The benefit parkour class has over a more traditional dog sport is we have the ability to ensure there isn’t the impact on joints common in competitive sports.

Many of these dogs’ owners are given exercises by their veterinarians to help improve their mobility and strength but as they often lack creativity or are tedious there is often difficulty in having enough compliance to see improvement. This isn’t really the fault of the owner as we will be the first to admit that leash walks and foot raises can get boring quickly. Parkour has the advantage that it is fun for both handler and dog, so helps to increase owner compliance. It is simply more fun to strengthen your dog’s back legs using a surfboard than with leg raises or walking up the stairs.

Also, as participants are spending at least an hour each week dedicated only to working with their dog, it isn’t long until there are signs of improvement. The group environment at class is very helpful in this respect as both the instructors and the other participants are quick to point out when they notice improvement in any of the dogs. When improvements aren’t being made, the benefit to having both a certified dog trainer and a veterinarian as instructors is that a new plan can quickly be formulated.

It is important to note that physical rehabilitation (including using parkour in this way) is considered to be a medical treatment and as such needs to be done under the guidance of a veterinarian.

In an effort to highlight the improvements that can be made when using parkour for physical rehabilitation, we are going to introduce two different dogs with different injuries and follow them through their rehab process.

Dazz is a 12 year old Doberman diagnosed with Wobblers. It wasn’t very apparent until a hiking injury made clear a lack of hind feet awareness, and caused a loss of overall muscle. She tires easily, and will become stumbly in the front and drag her back feet more than normal. Stairs are a big challenge: going up is a strain on her front legs as she pulls herself up, a long set will sometimes cause her to get “stuck” in a puppy push up, and going down gravity is stronger than Dazz and can cause her to bail and jump to the bottom or lose control and fall down the rest. I would like to be able to confidently take her for walks and off-leash visits to the park without worrying about her trainwrecking in the grass or struggling to get up the stairs to bed afterward.
Vet note: Dazz has been diagnosed with Wobbler Syndrome or cervical spondylomyelopathy (don’t let the scary vet term frighten you!) which means that something in her neck is pressing on her spinal cord. This is a common problem in large breed dogs (particularly dobermans and great danes) and results in a “wobbly” gait. Just as is seen with Dazz, this is usually more noticeable in the hind end, but may progress to front leg signs over time. She has limited to no conscious proprioception in her hind legs and deficits to her conscious proprioception in her front legs. She has an overall reduction in strength and muscle mass, most notably in the hind end. Typical treatment options for wobblers includes both surgery and medical management. As Dazz also has Von Willebrand's disease (which makes her blood not clot appropriately) she is a poor candidate for surgical management. As such, we are attempting to manage her clinical signs and the pain and inflammation in her spinal cord with medications and physical rehabilitation instead. She is currently on 200mg Gabapentin three times a day, 75mg Thyroxine once a day (for previously diagnosed hypothyroid disease), and 1mg DES twice a week (for incontinence). The goal of her rehabilitation is to maintain, if not increase, her conscious proprioception and strength in all four limbs to allow her to continue to maintain or improve her quality of life.

Photo Courtesy of Megan Nelson
Caleb is a 5 year old, 45 lb mix breed adopted from a shelter at 8 months old. Caleb started training for agility when he was a year old, and took weekly classes for three years.  He stopped taking agility classes in May 2013 because of stress and periodic limping and has been taking obedience classes since this time. Caleb has been diagnosed with luxating patellas and will limp after exercise.  Caleb has been taking fluoxetine since July 2013, and has seen significant improvement with anxiety and dog reactivity.
Vet note: Caleb has luxating patellas (grade I/IV on the left and a grade II/IV on the right). This means that his kneecaps will pop out of place when he moves incorrectly and that his right knee is worse than his right. Often surgery is required to make a definitive fix of this issue. The hope is that by increasing rear end strength and awareness we will delay the time until he needs surgery while keeping him pain free. At this time he is on no medications for pain and only limps after strenuous exercise. His body condition score is a 2.5/5. He was also diagnosed with generalized anxiety and fear reactivity towards unfamiliar dogs and given a treatment plan including behavior modification exercises and 20mg of Fluoxetine once a day.

Authored by: Abigail Curtis DVM, Karin Coyne CPDT- KA, Gennie Abbiss

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Agility Scrabble

Every year at camp we try to come up with new, creative, yet still useful and fun activities. Some go over well, some fail miserably, but occasionally there is a new activity that becomes a much loved tradition. Dumbbell throwing contest, blindfolded cupcake decorating, blindfolded obstacle course, and making pizzas all fit into this category. Agility scrabble has yet to prove itself long term, but given the response of the campers this year it has potential to be added to this category. The game is obviously based off of scrabble, and is the result of a thrift store trip where Abigail and Karin were unable to turn down a $2 game of Jenga. While stuck inside due to a bad storm this winter, a fit of extreme boredom led us to defacing our game to create a parkour version of Jenga, which led to obedience Jenga, and finally after some brainstorming, agility Scrabble. 

We took a Scrabble Junior board (because it was $1.79), added the typical Scrabble words (triple word score, double word score, double letter score) and wrote the name of agility obstacles on back of the scrabble tiles. Each agility obstacle had a point value, with weaves being the highest value (10 points), and jumps being the lowest (1 point). 

Campers were divided into two teams of fairly equal experience. (In our case this was red cabin and blue cabin as we love to encourage cabin competition at camp!) Like in “normal” Scrabble, each team drew seven tiles from the box from which they would attempt to create a “word” or sequence of agility obstacles that connected with the tiles already played. Here is where the fun twist to this game comes into play. To be able to leave their tiles on the board (and thus collect the much desired points!) one dog/handler team had to perform the sequence on the obstacles how they were set up in the ring. If they were successful, they received the points and the tiles stayed on the board. If they made a mistake, no points were awarded and the tiles were removed. Every dog/handler pair on the team had to run a sequence once before anyone could go a second time. 

Like we generally do with new activities, we only scheduled a 30 minute time slot for agility Scrabble. We like to keep activities that could be epic failures (older campers will remember carting...) short in the event that it is going horribly. This makes it easy to end the activity before dogs, campers, and counselors become frustrated. NINETY MINUTES later, we realized that this was NOT the case with agility Scrabble as we had to on-the-fly come up with a new end to the game.  We feared that if we didn’t limit the campers to two runs apiece, they would play Scrabble until either they or their dogs were incapable of moving any longer.

What we realized is that this game did not just encourage the handler to have an honest assessment of their own dog’s capability and design an appropriate level course, it also encourages a never seen before level of intensity. The campers were analyzing the dog and handler, the fluency of their behaviors, how risky a course was, if it was worth the risk, and how they could get the most points with the obstacles they had. Dog camp tends to get intense, but the level of focus, discussion and analyzing was impressive even by our standards. As the game got closer to our designated 2 rounds finishing point, teams went for longer and longer sequences, but still within the limits of the dog/handler pair. At one point towards the end of the game Rachelle, with her dog C-ATCH Sander, completed a tricky, but high-point sequence and said “I think I was more nervous for that run than I was during my C-ATCH run.” All of the campers learned important lessons in how dog’s behaviors can change or even fall completely apart under pressure that is similar to what is felt when trialing. It came down to the final run, with red cabin catching up from behind and barely beating blue cabin by nine points. It is a game definitely worth playing again and hopefully we have stumbled upon a new favorite camp game for years to come!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Seven Simple Steps to Get the Most From Your Lesson!

Let’s do some simple math to start. Don’t be scared, I promise it is simple! You have a structured class once a week, which leaves how many days a week without a class? Six! Very good! Wouldn't it be great if there was some way for you to make progress in those six days in between classes? Yeah, that would be quite awesome. Luckily, there are some things we have discovered through practice that will help you to get the most use out of each of your lessons.

Find a training partner!
Two minds (or even three!) are better than one. Ideally, this training partner excels at different things than you do. They don’t have to be MORE skilled than you, often it will actually be to your benefit to be of similar skill level. That way you explain things in terms you both can understand.

Pay attention.
Watch the instructor, but also watch your classmates who can do the skill. See what works. Make note of the little things. Pay attention to their hand position, foot position, where they are looking and what the rest of the body is doing. If you are doing a skill one at a time, each person’s turn is an opportunity to learn something important about the movement. You are looking for movements that are smooth and effortless. Those are the ones you want to model. If you can, come up with tag points* you think might be helpful later DURING your lesson.

YouTube! Use it.
Class can teach you the basic skills and what you need to focus on outside of class. YouTube can help you refine them and come up with tag points to make them better. If you find yourself really struggling to figure out a movement, watch several different people perform that movement on video. Pay particular attention to the components that are similar between different people and where there seems to be some “play” in the performance. Things that are often key elements are often: foot placements, foot order, hand placements, and core body position.

Keep it simple.
Focus on one section of a skill at a time. This is where TAGteach is a HUGE help. Decide on a skill that you want to focus on and then break it into small components. You might have to hunt for specific obstacles that let you practice one component. Height is often the easiest and most useful element to remove. For example: when practicing vaults, find a place where the railing only has a drop on one side and gradually increase the drop on the other side.

Take video of your training sessions and use it DURING that session. Watch what seems to work and what doesn’t. The more you watch people move, the easier it will be for you to figure out how a particular muscle group contributes to a movement and how these movements will fit together into a fluidly performed skill. Don’t be afraid to experiment as the video will tell you if something is working well before you will see it on a larger scale. Find something you are struggling with, come up with a tag point you think might help, practice it a few times, and then check the video to see if you see ANY signs of improvement. If you do, great! If not, the new way you moved in this video will likely give you an idea for a new tag point. Use that.

Ask Questions.
If you don’t know something, ask! If you are struggling with a specific skill, ask. Ask your coach for one thing that you could do to make the skill better. Just one. Make this into a focus point during the session, only focus on this one aspect of the skill (for example, legs straight in lazy vault). If your coach struggles with giving you just one thing, try to pick out what you think is the key point and ask specifically if that is a good thing to focus on. When you are on own, use this focus point to guide your practice! Even better, have someone tag you. They don’t even have to know the skill. You should be able to explain it clearly enough that they can tag you with no outside knowledge.

Get stronger.
Know when something is a strength issue and when it is a technique issue. Practicing climb-ups 8 million times does you no good if you just aren’t strong enough to do good climb ups. It simply starts building movements into your muscle memory that will be difficult to fade later. Conditioning to increase your strength is as important (if not more so for some movements) than just training techniques and movements.

*Tag points are:
What you want, One criterion, Observable and definable, Five words or less

When the tag point is successfully completed it is marked with an auditory marker such as a tagger or the word yes. If the tag point is not successfully completed, learner simply tries again.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Dog Camp!

What is Dog Camp?
What do we do at camp?
Who is camp for?
The best kids in the world
Why should we come to camp?
Because it is awesome
But I’m not a teenager and camp sounds fun! Can I come to camp?
Who teaches camp?
Some people who started shovel (our endearing term for all of our projects) collecting at a very young age and haven’t learned their lesson yet…
OH… You wanted REAL ANSWERS?!

What is Dog Camp?
Dog Camp (previously known by its long name: The Ohio 4-H Teen Dog Experience) is an overnight camp where teenagers and their dogs spend three nights and four days having an awesome time while learning about training, leadership, and teaching skills.

What do we do at camp?
The short answer is a little bit of everything. The longer answer is that we do a wide range of dog activities including everything from flyball and agility to nosework and obedience so there is something for every dog and camper and ample opportunity to increase positive reinforcement based training skills. We also have sessions on becoming a more effective teacher or people trainer where campers get to practice teaching in a low stress and positive environment. As if that wasn’t enough stuff already, we also manage to squeeze in more “normal” camp activities with a dog twist including scavenger hunts, cookouts, and crafts.

Who is camp for?
Camp is for the teenage dog enthusiast! We have one camp just for 4-H members, and another camp for any teenager! If spending four days playing with and learning about dogs and dog training sounds like your idea of heaven, you will love camp. It is the perfect place to learn about science-based training, get the opportunity to refine your training skills, and see improvement in your bond with your dog.  Also, we spend time at camp discussing animal based careers and our staff are involved in a wide variety of animal-based activities so it is the perfect place to explore interesting paths your life can take with animals.

Why should we come to camp?
Ask any former camper and they will tell you that you should come to camp because you have to experience it to fully appreciate just how much fun it is! You get the opportunity to meet “dog-crazy” kids from all over the state and spend four days where no one will roll their eyes because you are talking about how adorable your dog is AGAIN. These friendships you form at camp will last long after you have left camp and you will always know you have their support whether or not you get to meet up with them at your next dog event.

But I’m not a teenager and camp sounds fun! Can I come to camp?
Eventually! Right now we only have camp for teenagers, but we are looking into having camps for adults in the future.  Be sure to let us know if you are indeed interested in coming to an adult camp because the more interest we get in having a camp, the faster we are likely to pursue it. In our opinion, camp is WAY more fun than a trial (though we might be a bit biased!)

Who teaches camp?
We aren’t going to hide the truth from you, our directors aren’t experts in competition sports (although one of our instructors has her C-ATCH and another has a highly ranked flyball Golden…) but they are indeed experts in dog training, camps, teaching teenagers, and having fun. Also, everyone who has teaching responsibilities at camp has proven themselves to be a competent and effective teacher by obtaining a TAGteach certification. Our directors are one of only a few Level 2 Certified TAGteachers and all of our staff hold at least a Primary Level certification. They have been running camp for over 7 years, teach a variety of “interesting” classes (everything from parkour to outdoor adventures) and one of them is a licensed veterinarian who works with animals who have behavior problems. Needless to say, if it is a unique dog experience, they have you covered!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Wilderness First Responders!

The first two weeks of September found Abigail and Karin sleeping on marginally comfortable dorm beds in New Hampshire, while our dogs were frolicking at “camp mom” in ohio. Now, if you know us well, you might find yourselves asking “why weren’t you sleeping in a TENT somewhere awesome?” Well, the answer to that was because we had traveled to SOLO Schools in New Hampshire in order to earn our Wilderness First Responder certification.

Splinting a humerus fracture!
Wilderness First Responder is a two week, 70-80 hour intensive wilderness first aid class, meant to prepare trip leaders, counselors and guides for anything they might come across in the wilderness.   Half the course was spent in the classroom, and the other half was spent outdoors on the 300+ acres the school owns practicing and applying skills in life-like scenarios.  We learned to assess patients, and then scenarios built upon this vital skill as we learned to manage and treat when possible: musculoskeletal trauma, medical emergencies, environmental emergencies, soft tissues injuries and anything else the wilderness might throw our way. Over the two weeks we all got ample experience in acting as an injured patient. Here you can see Abigail modeling a splint for a humerus fracture made only out of the materials found in a backpacking bag.

You might still be a bit confused about why we would go to New Hampshire for two weeks without our dogs to take an intense, but seemingly unrelated trip.   Although we got fed amazing meals for two weeks, this was not the sole purpose.  This certification allows us to pursue offering something we have been considering for a while now. We have always wanted to be able to offer people the opportunity to go on backpacking and adventure trips with their dogs. Now, with this certification, as well as a veterinarian on staff, we are able to start the process of being able to safely take people and their dogs into the backcountry for adventures.

Look for these trips in either spring or fall 2014. We would love to have you and your canine companion join us!