Note: This blog was originally shared as a post in the ATA members only FB group on August 22nd, 2020
During her senior annual check-up, my 9-year old hound, Molly, was diagnosed with cancer. That was a little less than four weeks ago. She is scheduled for surgery tomorrow. When the vet gave me the diagnosis, I thought, “What do I need to do to get her ready? What skills will she need? What training can I do? (And how can I focus my energy so I don’t spend the next month worrying?)”
I made a small list of training tasks. Then I checked-in with the training goddess, Sue Ailsby, for her guidance and wisdom. She fleshed out a more comprehensive training list for me and Molly, to include:
- Ds/cc to cone
- Ds/cc to shirt (Molly will have a long suture on her side.)
- Crate training (we don’t use crates.)
- Visits to vet parking lot = good things
- Hire vet tech to work with me on handling/practice the switch off in parking lot
- Ds/cc to the table
- Ds/cc to the muzzle
- Handling while in the crate (more specifically, having the pressure of someone come into her crate, leashing her up and moving her out of the crate.)
Want access to the whole kit & caboodle of Animal Training Academy resources… CLICK HERE to see what’s on offer via your very own Animal Training Academy membership.
I then talked to my vet again, who is simply wonderful and walked me through the process and the day literally step-by-step. I suspect because we are trying to be responsible, my vet, who is insanely busy, seemed more than happy to spend time on the phone describing everything to me in detail and answering all of my questions. She mentioned Molly would be brought down narrow stairs to the crates. I told her that might be an issue as we have few stairs in our home. So instead, they will walk her outside the front door and through the basement door.
She also reviewed my training list with me. She told me that Molly will not need a muzzle. She said they can do all the pre-op work on the floor. But she did tell me that one of the hardest things for dogs is having a leg shaved in preparation for the IV. Based on our conversation, I:
- Crossed off the table and muzzle
- Avoided the narrow stairs
- Added ds/cc to razor/shave leg ahead of time
Next, I hired one of the vet techs to work with me to simulate the hand-off (our vet does curb-side because of Covid) in the parking lot and to review and work on handling. As the vet tech ran through the handling, she showed me how Molly will be put in a restraint hold where her head is immobilized. She taught me how to do it.
To my surprise, the morning I took Molly to work with the vet tech, as I was getting her ready, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I had been focusing on training and being practical. Molly looked very concerned!
I then revised my list again:
- Added ds/cc to restraint hold
- Work through my feelings
It has been so cool because we have made quick progress on everything. Molly has a strong mat behavior, so I was able to throw the mat in the crate and cue the mat. I only needed to change the cue. To my surprise, she has twice chosen to go to the crate on her own during thunderstorms. (I guess the crate is a keeper.) The rest of the training felt like going through the motions, as I suspect it all felt familiar to Molly. Because she has a learning history, when we need new behaviors, it’s really not all that hard to train them. Because I have a learning history as a trainer, I know how to teach her new behaviors and skills. While I don’t think Molly will enjoy any aspect of the day, I think, I hope, she will feel prepared, or at least like she has the skills to handle the challenges.
The feeling, the thought, that is sticking with me is ‘THIS is why I train’. I want her to feel confident and competent. I want her to feel like the world is a safe place and she can handle herself. When she does face challenges (because she will) – she will be okay. This is not the way Molly started out in life. I’m so proud of how far she has come – how far we have come together. Is it possible that the day, instead of being traumatic, might further teach her that she can handle tough challenges? Training IS quality of life. This moment is hitting home in a big way.
Postscript: It has been exactly one week since the surgery. I keep reflecting on how Molly’s surgery and recovery could have been a stressful event for her and everyone in our house, but instead it has been surprisingly wonderful. I guess we can always find the good if we try. We can never know what our dogs are thinking, but Molly seems happier and more relaxed after her surgery. Our other dog is a barometer for Molly’s feelings. I expected our little dog would be giving Molly lots of space. But the two of them have been playing and having fun every day. I have to imagine that the tumor was causing her discomfort. It must have been painful. She doesn’t mind the inflatable cone at all, nor the shirt, nor any of the limitations she must contend with. She hasn’t even tried to mess with her stitches, all 8” of them. I feel like the humans have made a big deposit into Molly’s trust bank.
Like what you see here? And want more amazing resources from Animal Training Academy. CLICK HERE to see what’s on offer for you within the ATA Membership.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: – ATA member Tessa Romita Herron
Tessa Romita Herron, MSBA, CCUI, ADT with the IAABC, is a professional dog trainer in Stone Ridge, New York. She unwittingly took her first steps into the profession when she adopted Molly, a coonhound pup with behavioral challenges. In her quest to bring Molly and their household some peace, she grew to love Molly so deeply, maybe not despite her struggle, but because of it. As they slowly put the pieces together, Tessa realized that being and working with Molly brought her tremendous joy. She decided to do what she loves for a living. In terms of Molly’s surgery experience, to see Molly not only cope, but thrive in a challenging situation makes Tessa’s heart explode with pride and love. She operates Hudson Valley Hounds (HVH) Dog Training and serves pet dog owners and their families. Tessa is also a graduate of Susan Friedman’s Living and Learning with Animals (LLA) and a perpetual student when it comes to learning about all things dogs and behavior. Tessa is a proud member of the Animal Training Academy community and grateful to be a part of such an amazing and supportive group of trainers.