Thursday, June 5, 2014

Saving Samurai - Finding a Road Where Healthiness Means Happiness

A low day for Samurai

The picture above was taken on the day before we almost lost Samurai.

He'd been battling a stomach virus for quite some time. On top of the fact that he'd never been a good eater and we were always fighting to keep weight on his skinny little frame.

At the time this picture was taken, he had dropped to three pounds, and still, he wouldn't eat.

The next day, it took an entire IV bag of fluids to get him stabilized.

At that point, I knew something drastic had to change. And so, from that day forward, we've tried to put together the pieces of a plan that could not only keep this fragile little dog with us, but also make him strong and happy.

Samurai's plan

Love finds a way

To back up a bit, Samurai had always been a dog with special needs. He can be reactive and volatile under stress, but can also be the most charming and loving little thing when he's in his element. 

We thought we had made it through the worst part: The conditioning against his reactivity and helping him to feel comfortable with his world.

But the diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Disorder (IBD) threw a whole new curve -- and lots of new questions to consider. 

I thought about whether to discontinue agility training and competition with him. I gave him a long break to see if it would help.

But I found he really seemed to prefer and even craves an active life. I would just have to find a way to make it safe and supportive plan that would help him stay in the game, without putting him at risk.

Samurai fights back

A little lion finds his roar.

Here are a few of the elements of Samurai's plan. He's stronger and happier now than when we started. And significantly, he's thriving on the course, as well as off.

  1. A raw diet -- It's been said many places and many times before, but a natural diet is best. We chose Stella and Chewy's diet for Samurai. Since we're partial vegetarians we appreciate that it requires minimal preparation and handling.
  2. Chinese medicine -- Although we still depend on Western medicine, the Chinese medical perspective added a crucial element of his care. Acupuncture helped him through the critical part of his recovery. Herbs helped heal and balance. And choosing a "cool" diet helps calm inflammation.
  3. Physical conditioning -- Making his little body stronger has helped make the physical demands of agility easier. Proper warm ups and cool downs prepare both body and mind and help prevent stressful reactions. 
  4. Stretching -- I can't emphasize enough how much a program of full body, fully relaxed stretching has added to Samurai's physical and mental well being. It's much more than the athletic stretch you might do after a competition. In this case, with the dog lying down and fully relaxed, it becomes more like guided yoga with the calming properties of massage.
  5. Scheduling -- I'm learning to structure and schedule Samurai's training, conditioning and rest time. By thinking first, then doing, you get more done with less stress on your dog. Every week, I look at the time available and choose his rest, training and conditioning days. Usually, that will include three training/trial days, two conditioning days and two rest days. I pick specific targets for the training and conditioning days. On the rest days, he does nothing but rest.
  6. Trial selection -- I've gotten much more selective about the trials I choose to enter. I don't need or want to enter trials "just because they're there". I want to be there for a reason. Whether it's a trial site Samurai enjoys or courses we'd love to run, it's more about total experience and less about knocking out Qs. 
  7. Happiness first -- I was fortunate to spend some time with Daneen Fox at an event recently. When you meet her, it's clear why her dogs do so well. She's got just tons of energy and she puts the dog's happiness above all. An ounce of happiness is worth a ton of pure technique when it comes to building a successful environment for your dog. It's not that technique doesn't count. It does. It's just that happiness is the glue that binds it all together. And somehow makes it all something very much more.
Success is a thing with wings.

Healthiness is happiness

I wish I could tell you this story ends in big wins, lots of ribbons and arm's lengths of titles. Almost. We've had some of this along the way.

But the main thing is, when your goal is building a healthier life, competition goals pale by comparison.

When you see your dog jumping easily and freely. Eating a whole meal without coaxing. Standing tall and confident without a back and belly pinched by pain.

It really feels like winning. And you know what? 

It is.

This article is part of the Dog Agility Blog Action Day on the topic of Success. Help yourself to lots of other great ideas by checking out the other articles on Dog Agility Blog Action Day.

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