Dog trains man

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Viva's long road to rehabilitation: the work-out

The shelter passed along to us from the former owners that Viva loved long walks. They probably meant measured in time, not in distance. Viva hardly ever stepped up in pace, let alone take a run. As we soon where to find out, every step was painful for her. Caused by spondylosis and a continuously infected paw.

She already lost a lot of muscle with this inactive lifestyle, and she was in a negative downwards spiral. After we cured the infected paw and managed the spondylosis, we guessed it would be easy to build up some muscle again. We were looking forward to getting started. We could not have been more ignorant.

The mind

What's wrong with a couch-potato?
Viva was in better health and pain free, but the mind still told her to spare her legs and back. We could notice her being more happy and playful, but the walks were like before. The first thing she had to learn was that it was alright to use her legs again.

We adjusted our walks and made sure to do a lot of uphill walking and swimming. Preferably on the beach, plowing through sand and dunes.

How to outsmart a smart dog

Building up muscle is hard work. For Viva, but even more so for us. We came home exhausted from our work-out walks - which are more like runs to us humble humans. But that is by far not good enough for a dog. Therefore we tried bicycling, but that was just to stressful for her as a fearful dog. We also tried with toys, luring her into going uphill or climbing a sand dune.

But Viva is not that easy to lure. Once up on a hill, she didn't come down anymore and enjoyed her toy by herself. Or find out a less steep slope to reach the toy. Throwing another, more valued toy, didn't help getting her down either. Walking away would get her down though. But we had to find a new hill to throw the toy. Throwing it up the same hill again, she would only look at me and think "You must be stupid ...". When I asked Kenzo's help to get the toy back he was happy to oblige. But Viva thought it was very annoying he was getting "her" toy and waited for his return downhill with an attitude. Not a good idea if we wanted to keep the peace. I had to climb up and get it myself. In the end, it was me getting the exercise instead of Viva.

The water walker

The water walker was absolutely key to make any substantial progress. Walking this underwater treadmill once or twice a week forced her to use her legs. It was also a great way to follow her progress. Not only could we increase the time for each couple of sessions, we also could get a good picture of what she could cope and put a time on it. As soon as her steps became smaller, we knew she had reached her threshold. We found the water walker to be a great and absolutely necessary addition to our daily work-out schedule.

Viva started with a five minute session. Then we slowly build this up into multiple short sessions with a break in between. Today she can do a 13 minute non-stop session without getting tired. Pretty good Viva! To compare, a healthy dog could do a 30 minute session. But I am not sure if that would be realistic for Viva because that would certainly be too stressful for her back.

Stretch those legs

Slowly, very slowly, we can see her make progress. The biggest progress we saw was when her mind made the switch that it is cool to use both of her hind legs. Her gait improved into a more dog-like style, instead of using her hind legs as bouncers. She could accelerate and stop quicker. You could see her really stretch her legs to make big steps, meaning she was using her muscles.


To keep a good track of her progress we made a simple diary with videos and pictures of Viva doing the same things on the same places. That way we could track difference better. See this video here comparing Viva walking up stairs after one month of training. The two pictures above to the left and right also shows how she is able to stretch her legs now.

Because progress is so slow on a daily basis, the diary helps us to notice improvements being able to compare over a longer time. It is a mood booster too, that keeps us going.

Finding balance

We learned the hard way that work-out is more than just working out. Viva missed one of her acupuncture treatments. It was rescheduled twice postponing it in all for 3 weeks. As she needs acupuncture for her pain management and keeping her back flexible I was such a fool to wait and not give her NSAID's instead. We kept on training, and disaster struck. When she miss-stepped it indicated something was wrong. She was rapidly going downhill once more instead of improving. We had to start all over again with step 1, convincing the mind ...

There should be absolute balance between her medical treatment AND the work-out. We learned it the hard way. We have some NSAID's around might we miss an acupuncture treatment and I will not hesitate to use it next time.

When enough is enough

Ha! you make it sound like you can keep up with me ... not!
The question I struggle with now is how far I can take this. Viva will never become as agile as she once was, and I must take care not to overdo it. I am very happy with where she is now. She can do a one hour "work-out walk" with no signs of stiffness or pain the next day and fresh for a new work-out. The way she positions her legs, turned inside to better support her body, has improved a lot but could be better. When she can position them straight it will be a great indication that her muscles are strong enough. So we continue with the work-out and the water walker. Just taking it slowly, and giving Viva a chance to show how far we can take this.

A big thank you to the awesome people of the vet clinic "Københavns dyrehospital" and the love they have given to Viva: Lea, our water walker trainer and coach, and Charlotte, a great vet with a magic pair of hands.


"Viva's long road to rehabilitation" is a series of updates how Viva is doing almost one year after her adoption:



  1. Glad to see Viva is doing better. Water provides such a gentle and safe workout.

    One thing you may want to talk to your vet about--is it possible for you to give acupuncture treatments yourself? Because our vet was so far away, he taught us how to administer some simple treatments for our dog Shadow when she was being treated for cancer. It wasn't very hard and I really loved spending the quiet time with her while we waited to remove the needles.

    It sounds like Viva's rehabilitation process is really causing you to pay serious attention to her. I bet this will strengthen your bond more and more.

  2. That Viva has got your number, training you to walk up the hill and retrieve her toys!

    Seriously, this is a very sweet story, and you're clearly finding the right balance between what is good for her health and what is pushing her too far.

    I think Pamela has a good point about self-administering the acupuncture if it's working. I know you avoid medication whenever possible and although I don't think my three week regimen of NSAIDs when he injured his back gave Frankie diabetes -- he was obviously predisposed to it -- I can't help but worry that it brought the disease on more quickly... So NSAIDs particularly scare me.

  3. M was just reading last night all about water walking and how it's great for older dogs or those with health issues. We've read about the same benefits for humans with any injuries.

    Way to go, Viva! Keep up the good work!

  4. I have been thinking about these water walkers. I think that it would be just great for the boys, such a low impact exercise. Thank you for sharing your experiences with it:)

  5. I really wish there was a water walker closer to us... I would love to use it for Riley's hip dysplasia. I've heard they do wonders! The closest one is about 45 minutes away. Sounds like Viva's coming along nicely!

    Elyse and Riley

  6. @Pamela
    Great idea, I will ask. The needles don't go in the same place every time, but depend on where she feels tensed, but the 4 in the back, next to the spine, do. I am also giving Viva her allergy shots and why not also this. Would make a great alternative.
    You are absolutely right our bond is deepening rapidly. I am also much more tuned into how she feels. On one of our vet visits because of the paw, the vet also mentioned she thought I could see something was wrong, where she found it difficult to see a difference. Yet the paw proved me right. Unfortunately :(

    Haha. I know! I better stop fighting it, I have no chance :)
    It is the use of NSAIDs over a longer period that makes me nervous. Viva should have had them for the rest of her life ... I know how you must feel - oh the guilt again - but it is very unlikely they could have caused that in such a short time.
    We are also lucky that the acupuncture helps with Viva, it is not always that way. Might her spondylosis progress, her respons to acupunctur can change. Would that happen I will definitely switch her pain management to the NSAIDs.

    They are. A very low risc for injuries when you can recognize the signals of the dogs getting tired. And they really have to start using muscle. Observing the gait in the water also gives a very good picture of there are any issues.

    @Elyse and Riley
    A lot of the other patients have hip dysplasia. It is great. They can already have benefit by one weekly session, for two months. Don't know if that helps, a 45 minute drive sounds like a long time for just that. Maybe if you have some shallow water in the area, you could walk through that together.

  7. This is such hard, tedious work. I know how hard it must be. Congrats on getting Viva back on her feet for real.

    After Ginko blew both knees when he was 3, we had trouble after getting the second knee fixed ... because he was like, "Hey, I don't need to put that leg down. I've got this one good one now and that's plenty."

    After his first surgery, he had no choice but to use the surgery leg, along with his still bad other leg.

  8. Wow, you have done so much hard work to help Viva! She is very lucky to have found you as her family. :)

  9. I am glad you are starting to see real signs of progress. I can only imagine how tough this has been for all of you. But I admire you for sticking it out. It would be so much easier to give up and let Viva give up on herself as well.

    The water walker is quite impressive. Obviously it has made a big difference, even just a little bit at a time. It is great there are now so many different treatment options. You don't have to rely on any one thing, like risky medication.

    I hope you continue to see improvement. We are all rooting for you and Viva.

  10. @Roxanne
    Thanks! We are so glad for the diary. That keeps the spirits high. On a daily or weekly basis you see so little progress you wonder if what your doing is making any sense at all.
    You also had your share with Ginko. Great when everything works out well.

    Thanks for your nice words! We feel likewise lucky having Viva.

    Thanks for your support Kristine! We didn't see it coming, and yet we did. The whole story that she was put up for adoption twice (the 2nd family only had her 3 months) had a foul smell about it.
    They was a real chance she would get euthanized being not adoptable and we decided we could not let that happen. We are so glad now. Viva is a fighter and she is full of zest for life!

  11. I'm glad to read that you are managing Viva's condition so well. It's wonderful that you are doing so much for her to get better. I hope she will improve a lot more and lose her fear of using her legs.

  12. Glad to hear the Viva is making progress... the water walker looks like a great idea.

  13. What a lovely blog! Lucky girl to have you so in tune with her needs

  14. Kenzo, I didn't know Viva was having such medical issues and problems walking. I know how frustrating it can be. Rufus B has been like this for many years. I can see you're doing a good job though with her rehab. The water walker sounds marvellous. The diary is a fantastic idea.

    I have found that massage works as well. If nothing else, it relaxes and comforts the dog. If you're familiar with muscles, it helps you notice changes (good or bad) as you get to know the dog's body better. Somedays, especially in cold weather, massage and assisted stretching helped me warm up Rufus and made it easier for him to get up and walk.

    Have a great day all :)

  15. @Lavi and @PupFan and @Casswand2Spark
    Thanks for your kind words! We are lucky to have Viva!

    Great idea with the massage. We do it way to irregular. And it could help Viva to getting ready for her walk-out. Thanks !

  16. This took me way too long to comment. =[ Sorry.

    Love this story - and the way you write. It's not often, even among friends, that I'm able to sit down and read through an article about a dog's journey through... well, anything ... without skimming or wanting to skim.

    You're one of the few bloggers I actually enjoy sitting down to read. (And my computer is not freezing itself to death, so I can comment now, too!)

    I'm *SO* glad that Viva found a home with you. I can imagine that, no matter how much you care for her, it can be trying at points. So many appointments, workouts, medication, money, and commitment.
    I tell Koda she owes me coffee for dragging my butt out of bed for her vet appointments, training, walks, etc. We're up to... Well, I can't count that high. =]

    I empathize with Viva so much about her health issues, behavior issues, and the rough life she's had until she found you. ...But I also empathize with you, because you put so damn much on your plate for that dog, and you've never had that "it's just a dog" mentality.

    Is there a respect/admiration/you-deserve-a-gosh-darn-award I can give you? Because you really do deserve one. Maybe a medal. Or a trophy.

    I mean, I honestly have trouble fathoming what you do for your dogs. Looking at it from the outside, it's mind-boggling how much effort and love you put in.

    It's awe-inspiring. And amazing.

    And you (and Jana, too!) deserve an award.

  17. I didn't even know that dogs could get spondylosis until I read your blog. I really thought that it was strictly a human disease.

    Viva is very lucky to have you as an owner! A lot of people would not put in the time and dedication to get her feeling better.

  18. @JJ
    Wow Thanks Julie ... I am speechless after so much kindness...
    And thanks for the award you send later, I put it on my FB wall, and as you can see already more people are applying for your awesome award :)

  19. @Karen
    That makes two of us, little did I know at all about spondylosis actually.
    Thanks for your kind words!

  20. I am glad to hear that Viva is back on track to building strength and I love the treadmill water therapy. I didn't know that you could be trained to do acupuncture on your own dog, so that's a surprise!

    It sounds like you are really connecting to Viva in a way you had not been, and as horribly troubling as it is to have a dog in pain, you are really stepping up and doing all you can to get her back to the best functionality and quality of life possible. You must have felt very satisfied when the vet realized you were right to bring Viva in - *that* my friend is keen observation =)

    I'll be interested to hear about her progress.

  21. @Mary
    Absolutely, being so busy on a daily basis observing and assessing her, I do note the smallest differences. Sometimes I lack the "overview" though and happy for the diary and also when we meet people that have not seen a while and note how much she has improved.
    Thanks for your kind words!

  22. Zit momenteel even op je blog te kijken leo.
    Leuk te zien dat je zo veel waardering ontvangt
    van dierenliefhebbers die je inspanningen voor viva,s gezondheid volgen


Blogger Template Created by pipdig