Thursday, April 5, 2012

Things I learned from the Spay

Tess is (almost) fully recovered from the spay, since a behavior that she used to do constantly came back for the first time last night - standing on her hind legs with her front paws crossed in front of her on the top x-pen, just hanging out.  Until she started doing that again, I knew that her incision site probably still was a bit uncomfortable when stretched. 

I want to share some things you can do PRE spay to make the recovery period afterwards go as smoothly as possible.  Based on my experience in the vet clinic and observing friends and family’s dogs at home after a spay what typically happens is this.  A young puppy is brought in.  The puppy doesn’t walk on a leash, slips on the slick floor (made worse because it’s pulling on the leash), and is stressed in the environment of the vet clinic.  Post-spay the clinic gives the pup back to the owners with instructions to not let the dog lick at the incision, and to restrict movement for 7-10 days, keep on a leash, don’t let jump or run.  The first day/night goes well and the pup is quiet.  However, trouble starts in a couple of days.  The owner does their best, but hasn’t really taught their pup to kennel well so it whines and paws and is generally annoying, it’s never eliminated on a leash, is so full of energy it pulls and jumps and bounds around.  The ecollar is driving everyone mad and the owner is tired of yelling at the dog to stop licking.  In less than a week the dog is tearing around the yard for better or worse. 

It doesn’t have to happen like this.  Although many dogs do just fine, there’s a real possibility of injury to the incision site and infection if you don’t follow a proper recovery protocol, thus incurring additional vet bills and expense - not to mention risk to your dog.  A little pre-thought before taking your dog in for a spay can reduce the stress you and your dog experience afterwards.

A note about the age of the pup at spaying…..although there are some perfectly valid reasons to spay/neuter early, there are also some REALLY good reasons to wait until your pup reaches puberty.  One of those reasons is to be able to put some time into training so that you DON’T have a crazy puppy jumping around, risking injury. 

Things I learned from Tess’s spay (both from an owner and vet perspective):

1.  Do the CBC.  Not only will it catch any problems that might cause issues during the surgery, if you do have to give additional NSAIDs or other drugs to control pain after surgery, you won’t worry about whether their liver can handle it.  Plus it gives you a base line in the future.  It was ~ an extra 100 bucks for Tess.  Well worth it - especially considering that she has a ton of recessive genes floating around - including a rather rate white recessive (less common in Brittany’s than other breeds). 

2.  The owner knows the patient best.  This was a take home lesson for me as a future vet.  If the owner says they are in pain, give it careful consideration.  Someone who didn’t know Tess may think she’s fine.  I know what’s normal for her.  I wasn’t comfortable with the level of discomfort she was exhibiting.  While the clinic gives an injectable NSAID post-surgery that should last most of the day, in Tess’s case I felt it wasn’t enough, so I called and got directions for administering additional drugs.  I can remember doing multiple spays a day in the clinic I worked at and we NEVER sent pain meds home.  We assured owners that their pets behavior was “normal”.  I was likely to brush off owner’s concerns unless they really pushed……I will never again take a clinic’s opinion so lightly.  They know the animal best.  The take-home lesson for the owner is this: If you feel like the NSAID injectable isn’t controlling the pain and you weren’t given additional meds, call the clinic.  It is important not to give aspirin or other drugs that you may have self-administered in the past to your dog after the spay, because a recent surgery AND the meds that are given for the surgery can have all sorts of interactions.  Call the clinic.

3.  Surgery is surgery is surgery.  Routine doesn’t make it any less scary or less risky.

4.  Knowing what is “normal” is a huge reassurance.  A good handout with detailed information (and a concise summary) is worth  a lot to the client.  Google is priceless if you as the owner don’t get that handout. 

5.  A follow up call would have be nice.  Especially since I had called the night of the surgery and asked for help managing what I saw as excessive pain.  This is a reminder for me as a future vet: if the owner had called in to the clinic telling you that their animal seemed to be in a lot of pain, follow up the next day - the client will probably appreciate it.

6.  Teach your dog to potty on a leash

7.  Teach your dog not to jump now, before the spay.

8.  Have a plan for wound licking management.  When you yell at your dog to get out of the trash do they listen?  Do you have to tell them multiple times in a day?  How about in a week?  If you can’t keep your dog out of the trash by yelling, do you think you will be successful if you just yell at your dog every time they like their incision?  Ecollars are a pain.  It was my goal NOT to use one.  A standard “game” that Tess  and I play with food, toys, going out side, dropped food etc. She knows that if she wants something and she waits, or stops, or does a desirable behavior like practice self control when she really wants to do something naughty, she will be rewarded with something even better.  I turned the wound licking into the same game.  My back up plan was an old T-shirt.  My point is: HAVE A PLAN. 

9.  Kennel train your dog.  This will help keep your dog calm in the hospital, and will maintain your sanity for the 1-2 week recovery period. 

10.  Train your dog to walk on slick surfaces - keep the nails short, teach to walk on a leash.  Yes, slick floors can be the bane of a dogs existence - but their stress level and their behavior on a leash has a LOT to do with it.  For ease of cleaning and disinfecting, vet hospitals have slick(er) floors.  Keep your dogs stress level low at the vets clinic is much better for your dogs health in the long term (which is why you should kennel train your dog, even if you don’t kennel at home). 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

New commitments

Susan Garrett has a great website, blog, and newsletter.  You have to subscribe to read the newsletter, but it's well worth it the trouble it takes to input your email and then click on the confirm link.

I don't get spam from her - just really well thought out articles that are always timely for something that me and Tess are going through.

The last newsletter talked about "triggers" - an unspoken language/behavior/body language between you and your dog that is fun, motivating, and relationship building.  I was doing them unconciously because it was fun (raising my eyebrows at her for example, when she stared at me, because I knew she found it stimulating and she would instantly come over and check me out) but now that I recognized the value of installing "triggers" I use them all the time throughout the day.  It's a way of making myself really run and unpredictable to Tess, and as a result she's super focused on me, even in potentially distracting situations.  For example, I might inhale sharply and dash down the hall, inviting a game of chase.  Or I might throw my hands up in the air inviting her to jump with me.  It's a way of focusing attention without toys or treats and reminds both of us that it's the strength of our bond and relationship - not which particular toy or treat I happen to have in my pocket that matters.

Today I had a dismal training session, probably one of the worst ones I've had in the past month.  It wasn't because she was naughty or zoomie - but her motivation was low, she was distractable, and left the area several times.  She just seemed bored with the whole thing. Even though she was super excited about tug and the toy, she was kinda faking it.

I salvaged it as best I could and evaluated what went wrong.  My hypothesis was:  We had been working poles every day prespay, and once she was able to do them again post-spay, have continued to do them every day.  I'm drilling her too much.  We do the same thing every day - poles: because they are sexy and I find them fun.  My solution was: give her 2 days off and just play, making sure she has off leash play time with other dogs.  Have fun, no obstacles.

After reading the newsletter that was in my inbox this evening, I immediately realized that I need to make several changes to my program.  None of the concepts are new....rather they are concepts that I follow for a while, and then gradually move back to my "M.O." - boring, predictable, drilling etc.  Practices that do NOT make Tess happy.  So here's a new commitment to working with Tess that I know works! 

1.  Avoid unnecessary timeouts (have all the equipment and treats in place before bringing her out for a session), but use them when I need to (like when she decides to leave the area - don't stand there like a date that's been stood up plantively calling her name....)

2.  Don’t reward grey areas - make criteria black and white and don't reward "close".  (When teaching something of course, shaping etc, criteria "moves" as the dog progresses).   The dog shutting down, zoomies, leaving work area etc. can be because of stress/confusion of rewarding inconsistent criteria.

3.  Plan training sessions to include skills that are brand new, developing, and well known.  I'm bad about only focusing on one skill.

4.  For dogs that you are building drive - sessions last for less than a minute.  SET A TIMER.   In all cases, keep sessions shorter than 5 minutes.   How many times do I have to remind myself of this???????

5.  Do a balance break/joy break/relationship building (with the 5 games) every 3-5 treats.  I'm good about taking breaks - but based on this recommendation I'm not doing them nearly as often enough.

I suppose I should be grateful that Tess focuses as well as she does, considering the amount of time I require her to focus on a task!  Hopefully by breaking it up more often and setting a timer, we'll both find a lot more joy in our sessions and drive/motivation will go back up.