Rehab is going well. Angus is still favoring the leg a little but he walks and runs readily on it. Sometimes he runs on it when we'd really rather he didn't but he's a young Lab. What you gonna do?
When we started the rehab process the thing that struck me initially was that the dog's basic adaptability was working against us. You've all seen the videos and stories about the three legged (and occasionally even two) dogs who manage to get by just fine. They don't seem to understand or even remember that they once had four wheel drive. Or care seemingly. We had experienced a bit of that with Angus. He'd been going three legged for long enough that it was natural for him. He adjusted his gait and his life to the tripod system and was perfectly happy with that. No issues here, let's go! One of the things we had to do in the beginning was to remind him, re-teach him really, that he did indeed have four legs and he should be using all of them. We started with slow walks. He continued to do the bunny hop while standing on all fours. When it was time to go again it was hippity hop and off we go. We started having Lu walk just in front of him and slowed the pace way down. That made Angus pull to get even with her and the slow pace made him walk instead of hopping out ahead. It worked and pretty soon he was on four about as often as three. We also put up a small pool. We are space limited in the back yard behind the covered porch which was where we wanted the pool to go. It's an el cheapo 12 foot round above ground pool just over three feet deep. Plenty for canine rehab or lounging on a hot Summer day. It also reinforces the instinctive use of the leg while providing low impact exercise. We swim Angus for 30 minutes every day.
Sometimes I can simply hold onto his ribs and let him swim in place
But usually he requires some motivation
The water is still awful cold so when it's her turn Lu suits up in her triathlon wet suit
Angus has a huge play drive and needs little convincing to jump in and swim around but we have developed a few games to keep his interest up. Teasing works well. "Get the ball Angus!" He'll chase it around and around.
Or his personal favorite, a good game of "I've got it you can't have it" AKA Keepaway.
We figured out that all he needs is the hint of a game of tug-o-war and he'll happily swim circles forever. In a small pool you have to be inventive and keep his interest piqued.
We even found a fun way to start the sessions. Ready?
Go! Trust me, that is a very happy dog. He now runs out and sits by the pool whining whenever he sees one of us getting on the swim gear. When I bend down to get him he runs up and snuggles immediately into my arms eager for the launch. You can almost hear him thinking WHEEEE!!
When I was convinced we'd been able to rewire his brain back to the instinctive use of the leg it was time to progress. First up was back to some trail walking. We're still limiting Angus both to distance and control. He stays on the retractable leash for now. Those leashes are a blessing when doing rehab walks with a young energetic dog like Angus. He gets enough freedom to make him happy and enough distance to get a good workout but we also have the ability to keep him close enough to anticipate trouble and keep him out of it.
Standing tall and proud on four good legs. How wonderful a picture is that?
The idea has been to reintroduce Angus to his old haunts and habits as rehab progresses. It motivates him, normalizes his life and makes him use the leg in controlled conditions. That's important with a dog. You can't just tell him he has to take it easy and follow this strict rehab regimen. You have to guide, show and convince him. That leg still hurts but if you approach it correctly he'll learn to trust what you're telling him. That it's Ok to go ahead and use it. To that end we went to the pond. Not the lake where the accident occurred but a small pond near the house. Angus loves the place. It was also Chrisi's favorite spot and we have since christened it Chrisi's Pond. Did I mention that it has resident ducks living there?
You can see in this picture that in the beginning Angus was still favoring that leg. I think it was still subconscious. He'd learned that the leg was no longer available and had adjusted to that reality. That, as much as anything else, was what we were fighting.
But throw in something that took his mind off the injury, like say, oh I don't know maybe some ducks? Now he's concentrating on exterior influences and not the leg.
The pond also allowed us a place for Angus to have long uninterrupted swims. I teased him with rocks tossed around where he was swimming. He'd chase one and when he didn't find it he'd look back to me and I'd throw another. It' goes against his retriever training where this type of thing is verbotten but we're concentrating on rehab. The rest can wait. Of course the ducks also did their part. You can see the two he was chasing just above his head in this photo.
Again, walking on the bottom in shallow water on all fours. Not a care in the world. "Did I do good daddy?" Yeah pal, you did great.
When I was rehabbing from my Achilles surgery the one and only thing that really gave me pain relief was massages. To this day Lu still massages that leg and foot area and probably will have to the rest of my life. I figured if it worked for me it'd work for Angus and I was right. He loves his massage time.
He'll come immediately and lay down as soon as he figures out what's coming. I rub him from shoulder to paw, being careful not to put too much pressure on the leg repair. That plate is still quite noticeable.
This is also the time for stretching. The ligaments and tendons in that leg have all shortened up and gotten stiff. He needs to have the ankle stretched back every day. He doesn't seem to mind and I'm careful not to make it painful. A little further each day.
A happy dog at the end of another good day. He was incredibly happy when he got his couch back.
Angus is doing very well, so well that I'm even starting to be confident of a total recovery. He gets stronger literally every day. Between the walks, swims and massages his rehab is taking him back to the dog he once was and that we despaired of ever getting back. Lu and I are indebted to both of his doctors for the fine work they did and to God for giving him back to us. Seeing him curled up on his couch after another day doing his work and generally having fun has been a balm to my soul. I figure his rehab will take anywhere from 6 months to a year before I can call him 100 percent recovered but I am now convinced that, barring the unforeseen, that day is coming. We're still barely 12 weeks into this process. We have a lot of work yet to do but the heavy lifting is done and that makes me unbelievably happy. I'll do updates as the months go by but for now the Canine Broken Leg Care posts have come to an end and a wonderful end it is.
Thank you again for all your prayers, support and treats. The journey would have been so much harder without all of you. Lu and I are grateful. If you happened to stumble upon this post and would like to talk or ask questions about your own dog's recovery I invite you to drop me a line. Lu and I are always happy to do what we can to help, even if it's just to provide a sympathetic ear and a encouraging voice.
For now I'm going to say my prayers of thanks and go love my dog. We'll see you all down the trail.