Saturday, September 26, 2009


Normally, I hate websites with background music. However, I stumbled across this website and I have to admit the background music is pretty cute.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

New House, More Seizures

I haven't been particularly good about keeping this blog updated lately, although there hasn't really been much to tell either. We're pretty much settled into the new place now. Iris handled the transition very well. I think Iris is an old pro at moving. This is the third place I've lived in since I adopted her, and before that she had four other homes. She's lived in at least 7 places in her 6 years of life, not including the breeder or the shelter. That's enough to make MY head spin.

I did have to deal with a "boundary testing" stage. Yes, all of the same rules still apply in the new house. Iris just needed to check. Multiple times. However, she's been VERY good while I've been at work. There have been various people in and out of the condo (electrician, plumber, etc), and I've been told that Iris is quiet as a mouse. Quiet? My dog? I think the change has been good for her. The condo complex is A LOT quieter than the apartment. No screaming kids outside of my bedroom window.

We've done a little exploring in some of the local parks, but we haven't found a close one that I'm excited about yet. Iris isn't picky though. Any old park will do. A parking lot is good enough as long as she gets to go for a walk. The other day we ran into another red merle Aussie at the park. Cool! It's the first time I've ever seen another red dog outside of a doggie event (agility and herding have a disproportionate number of Aussies compared to the general population so they don't count)! He was quite a bit bigger than Iris, heavier boned, and had a lot more coat. He made poor Iris look like a scrappy little pipsqueak. Although I admit it, I prefer the "scrappy Aussie" look to the "show Aussie" look.

Our exploring got sidelined last Saturday because Iris started having seizures again. We ended up at the ER vet on Sat night. She was seizing every 3 hrs almost on the dot. It seems like once she starts seizing like that, she gets "stuck." The ER vet was nice enough, although she didn't really have any insight for what set off this round of seizures. She seemed to think that Iris is too old for epilepsy (she's over 5 years old) but a little too young for a brain tumor and asked if I though maybe it was a toxicity? Could Iris have eaten a penny? It sort of went downhill from there. No, I think it is very unlikely that my 6 year old Aussie ate a penny. She picks and chooses which crumbs she'll eat off the floor. The vet also pretty much said that she didn't agree with the decision to start Iris on Keppra instead of phenobrab (a decision I made after a lot of discussion with my regular vet. Mostly I was just annoyed that she was openly second guessing the decision without knowing any of the reasons for it).

Iris did have a seizure at the ER vet, so she got a Valium injection and the ER vet started her on phenobarbital (they gave her a "loading dose" - a higher than normal dose to get her jump-started because it takes time for phenobarb to really start working). They shaved her front leg to give her the first dose of phenobarb via IV catheter and did a shoddy job of shaving her. Her poor leg is all scraped up now. I brought her home, and she was one drugged up pup. She could not keep her feet under her, and I had to carry her up the stairs into the condo. Mentally she was on another planet too. She'd urinated on herself at the ER vet and desperately needed a bath. In hindsight, I wish I had a video camera during the bath. She lay down in the tub completely spacing out the whole time. Getting her to flip over so I could get the other side wasn't easy! If you could have seen us, it was pretty comical. At least Iris didn't seemed stressed out by it. I don't think she knew she was in the bath.

I talked to Iris' regular vet on Monday morning. He still thinks epilepsy is the right diagnosis, and the reason she's still having siezures is that we haven't gotten her medication right. I've heard a few times (and the ER vet definitely seemed a little hung up on this) that seizures in a dog 5 years old and younger indicate epilepsy, but Iris is 6 years old. Iris' vet doesn't think that's such a rigid cutoff.

This is the second round of seizures since she started on medication. The dosage of keppra that Iris started on is on the low end of the dosage range. We talked again about what medication to put Iris on. The reason for putting Iris on keppra in the first place was to avoid the side effects of phenobarb. With that in mind, we decided to take her off phenobarb and increase the dose of keppra instead. Keeping fingers and paws crossed that will do the trick.

So far, she's gone a week without seizures. I actually think the 4 week mark will be more of a milestone for Iris. At least the side effects from the drugs have subsided. Her balance was really affected by the meds. On Sun she could barely keep her feet under her. Thurs night was the first time since Sat that Iris was actually walking normally. For much of the week, even standing up to relieve herself was a struggle. Her butt-puff is not-so-neatly trimmed as result, but at least it helped keep her clean. Mentally, she wasn't "all there" for the beginning of the week. Very spacey. Any sort of sudden noise would make her really jump. Wed she was finally acting more like herself and Thurs was the first night she was able to do stairs on her own. I'm not entirely certain which med she was reacting to (some of the side effects are the same), although I think the worst of it was phenobarb. It was another reason for taking her off of it. Her vet said it could take up to 30 days for her to fully regain her balance if we left her on phenobarb (some dogs adjust faster). Just because she was having trouble walking doesn't mean she didn't have energy.

At least she's back to herself now.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Jan Wesen Clinic

A week ago, I brought Iris to an Intro to Herding clinic with Jan Wesen. It was worth every penny! I will definitely go to another clinic with Jan if I have the opportunity.

At the beginning of the day, Jan gave a lecture about herding basics. She has a good summary of this already on her website. She talked about the different commands used in herding (down, stop, out, back, go bye, away to me, walk). Jan teaches all of her dogs "out" (turn away from the stock and move away in a straight line until told to do something else) and "back" (back up in a straight line away from the stock). Jan mentioned that she uses "out" more with her Aussies and "back" with her Kelpies, although all her dogs know both. I think the difference is that Aussies are generally "loose eyed" and Kelpies are "strong eyed?" I hadn't realized there would be different command preferences for different herding styles, but it does make sense.

The two directional commands, "go by" and "away to me" mean to move around the stock in a circle, ideally without causing the stock to move. The length of the command helps the dog know how for to move. So "go" is a shorter distance than "goooo by." I thought it was very cool that dogs can learn these differences in the commands. You can do the same thing with "walk." "Walk" would be go slowly and "walkwalkwalk" is faster.

Jan talked a little bit about working with puppies. One on the things she suggested is pretty much the same as the space game that Katrin teaches in her beginning agility classes. I love this game because it's such a good way to get Iris to refocus. And it's applicable to so many different situations!

One other thing that Jan explained was how to teach herding commands with a toy instead of sheep. Iris isn't very toy motivated, but I think I could do it with a stuffed kong instead. I was able to find a kid's rake, so we should be able to get in some practice. I haven't been able to find a fenced in place to train yet, but there is a grassy area across from the condo where I could take Iris out on a long line.

After the lecture, all of the humans got to practice herding ducks. Two people had to move the ducks in a set pattern. Ducks are VERY sensitive to pressure. It was a great way to learn about pressure and balance points without worrying about a dog too. It only took a small amount of movement to put pressure on the ducks.

Next the dogs all got to do some herding. Each dog worked for only a short period of time, but I think they got to work about 7 times each over the course of the day! I felt like it was really good for Iris to get that many short sessions in one day. There was quite a variety of dogs, all different ages and breeds although I think almost all the dogs were very inexperienced in herding. If I remember correctly, the group had a bunch of Aussies, a few Collies (rough and smooth), a couple of BCs and Shelties, and a very cutie young CWC.

I could hear dogs barking in the cars during the lecture, and I have no doubt that Iris was one of those dogs. By the time I brought her out, she was pretty revved up. On top of that, Iris was the last dog to work. Even though she was VERY good about waiting, I had to work hard to keep her attention on me (and not on supervising everything else!)

The first exercise we did was walking the dogs through the pen. I think Jan used that as an opportunity to gauge each dog's interest in sheep. The second time I brought Iris in with the sheep, Jan came in with us. Iris was still VERY revved up. There's a reason I call her the Kool-Aid dog, and she was happy to demonstrate. I think we were supposed to be working on balance, although for Iris it turned into a "respect the rake" session.

We also did an exercise Jan calls "around the clock." You ask the dogs to preform every skill she needs (get around, stop/down, there, walk, out, get around, there, walk, back). We did it with the dogs on leash. Eventually, the handler should be able to stand in the middle of the pen and the dog should do everything off-leash. The goal is to have the dog reliably preforming all of the commands in a small pen before moving to a bigger pen.

Another exercise we did was driving. We kept the dogs on leash and had them drive the sheep around the pen. It's good for the dogs to learn that they can bring stock both to the handler and away from the handler. I think fetching and driving seem like they're very different concepts for the dogs to learn. Most of the dogs seemed like they would be happy to keep running circles around the sheep, so I can see how driving would be more difficult to learn. Jan said it's not only good for the dogs to learn both, but also it's good for the sheep. If you only work on fetching, the sheep learn that they're "safe" from the dog if they're on top of the handler.

The next thing we did was something Jan called "packed pen." It was a very small pen with three "light sheep." Iris did a lot better than I expected. I think by that point in the day she was starting to get tired. She was a lot less "wired" about being so close to the sheep. Interesting. The ultimate goal in "packed pen" is for the handler to stand outside while the dog works inside the pen.

After that, each dog got to work individually a few more times. I think we working on balance and flanking again? The dogs were off-leash for this exercise. Iris was much better than the first time I brought her out. She was less pushy and paying much better attention to the rake.

Also kind of cool, at the end of the day Jan asked me what Iris' breeding is. I told her, and she'd actually heard of Iris' breeder. Cool! I thought Iris is from a working line x conformation line cross. Pincie Creek definitely breeds working dogs, and Jan said that Dogone has a working line and a conformation line. I thought Iris was from Dogone's conformation line, but now Jan has me wondering. Either way, Jan told me I have a very nice dog.

Overall, I was VERY happy with how Iris did. The very first time I brought her herding was at a Tenley Dexter clinic. Iris was completely overwhelmed and had a lot of trouble working. During that clinic, she repeatedly went over to the fence while she was working to see what the people and dogs were doing outside the pen. Not so this time around! Iris was VERY focused while she was working. She actually ignored barking dogs (for the most part) while she was in with the sheep. By the end of the day, Iris had even gotten better about hanging out with me while we were waiting our turn. It was probably a combination of her being tired and her getting used to the environment over the course of the day. Either way, I was very happy that Iris was so willing to work with me in such a stimulating environment. This dog really loves herding.