Year in Review Part 2: Leo


Leo recovered from his November 2017 TPLO surgery like a champ. At his eight-week X-rays, we learned that his fibula had broken during his recovery, but had already been healing for a few weeks, so there was nothing to be done, except feel completely devastated about my failure as a nurse. But he didn’t care. He was fine. Except for the part where the drugs made him start a couple of scary fights with Mia, and redirected a bite on my upper thigh that bruised and took longer to heal than Leo’s fibula, and the fact that I could not trick him into taking his medicine, so several times a day I had to force his maw open and shove a pill down his throat and hold his mouth closed until he swallowed… Those parts were trying.

But big picture, the surgery was a success and there were few complications. He enjoyed six adorable sessions on the underwater treadmill.

Unfortunately, it’s very common for a dog who tears a cruciate ligament on one knee to wind up tearing the other. And it appears, that’s where we are.

In late November 2018, more than a year since the surgery on his right leg, Leo’s regular vet did a thorough physical exam on his left leg and found nothing at all to be concerned about. A week later, after a brisk run-around at the dog park, Leo started toe-tapping with his left leg.

It comes and goes, and when we went back to the surgeon, they couldn’t tell for sure, but he probably has a partial tear on the left knee. Some people treat this with what’s called Conservative Management where you crate rest the dog, maybe get them a brace… but with a 100-pound dog, it’s only a matter of time. I couldn’t bear to watch him limp around the house, even occasionally, if I knew there was a surgery that could fix it.


So, he’s scheduled for surgery January 11, where they will X-ray and scope, and assuming his cruciate is torn, he will have TPLO number 2.

I went into the surgery consultation thinking this is the preferable outcome, because it’s something we can treat. But it’s also a major surgery with an eight- to twelve-week (at least) recovery period. Add to that Mia’s continuing care needs, and it’s a lot.

Which makes me all the more grateful for all the adventures we had this year.

Here’s us on Christmas Day:

And here’s us on New Year’s Eve:

Year in Review Part 1: Mia

I thought I was keeping it pretty simple at the beginning of this year by setting the goal of having two ambulatory dogs.

I should have set the bar lower, because all I really needed was to have two dogs. Doesn’t matter how well they walk!

Turns out, neither of them are walking well right now.

But who cares, because they’re both here!! And I feel so lucky for that to be the case.

Every day with Mia is a gift. I’ve thought that since the moment we met her, seven and a half years ago, when she was seven(ish) years old. Which makes her 14(ish) years old now! She’s been on a slow decline for the past year or so, which I noted with my “training goal” for the year. She started having trouble keeping up with Leo on walks, making it hard for me to walk them together. One night, when Rob and I were walking them together, she sort of sagged into her back legs, as though she couldn’t walk on them. After a brief rest, she recovered, but that signaled the beginning of the end of her unassisted leash-walking career.

We appropriated the Help ‘Em Up harness that I bought for Leo’s TPLO recovery, and it was extremely beneficial for getting her up into the car, and to and from her acupuncture appointments. She gradually went from looking a little wobbly with her back legs to not using them at all.

Her front legs still worked, though, so she’d use those to scoot herself across the house. As recently as a few weeks ago, I’d come home from work to find her not on the couch where I left her, but under Rob’s desk all the way across the house.

We’d also find her stuck under chairs sometimes too, which was a little traumatizing. Up until a few months ago, she was still able to use her front legs to haul herself up onto the couch.

All this time, she has remained very much Mia. Completely devoted to Rob so that if he got up and left the room, she would either crawl her way across the house to be near him, or squeak, whistle, and squawk until one of us helped her.

Her regular vet visits and blood and urine tests have shown that everything still works. Except for her walking parts. We believe the muscle weakness is a normal result of aging. Something in the spine and lower back, and not, as everyone who sees a limping German shepherd assumes, hip dysplasia.

I dragged my feet about getting her a wheelchair, because I wrongly assumed it would cost hundreds of dollars, and it wouldn’t solve our biggest challenge, which is getting her in and out of the house to do her business.

First, we got her a wagon, which was great fun, and adorable, although she did bark incessantly while Rob toted her along. This has always been a standard Mia trait: an announcement that “I’m here!”

Once I finally looked into the matter, I learned that Best Friend Mobility sells used wheelchairs for half price. We got this one for $125! Why did I wait so long?

We’d been helping her get around for a while by lifting her up by her back legs like she’s a wheelbarrow, so she adjusted to the wheels very quickly. She powers ahead, her little back legs twitching, as though moving that fast is triggering muscle memory.


I think you can see a lot of her personality in that last video. So while it’s hard to see her slowing down, it fills me with a lot of joy to have her with us for another Christmas.

Next week, in Part 2, I’ll update you about Leo!

Dog Days of Summer with Our Senior Dog

Mia on the day we got her: June 4, 2011.

I found a handwritten (I know, right?) journal entry from Jan. 17, 2012, about six months after we got Mia:

There’s something very special about Mia. She knows her role in my heart. She stays by my side and doesn’t cause any trouble. She’s my constant companion so I’m never alone.

But what happens when she’s gone?

She has few demands, just “don’t ever leave me.”

Her muzzle is darker than Isis’s, with a half-moon of silver frosting on her upper lip. It’s what made me think she wasn’t right for us. I almost turned her down. 

How could I love this old dog?

How could anyone give her away?

Over the last couple of years, Mia’s decided to be Rob’s constant companion. And yeah, I’m jealous. She follows him around the house and hops up on the couch beside him.

We used to have a morning ritual after he left for work where she’d get up onto Rob’s pillow and cuddle with me, but she doesn’t climb up on the bed anymore. And if I sit down next to her on the couch, or on the floor, I have to be very careful not to fawn over her too much, because she’ll get up and move.

Leo doesn’t even get up on the bed with me anymore. I understand now what parents go through when their children get too big to sit on their laps. I think they call that Baby Fever.

I like to read outside, and love it when Leo comes and lies down right next to my chair. Even that doesn’t last as long as it used to, and frequently, he’ll run back into the house, and I’m out there by myself.

So we have a new ritual. Mia can’t keep up on walks anymore, so every day when we get home from work, we put her Help ’em Up harness on her, and assist her up the hill in the backyard. I lay out a blanket and lie down with my book. Somehow, this is more inviting to Leo than when I’m sitting in the chair. Or else he thinks I’m more vulnerable and in need of protecting. Either way, it’s the only time I can get both dogs to lie down beside me.

I just wanted to post this here so I’ll remember it next summer . . .

Dogs can do no wrong

This month’s Positive Pet Training theme is Mantras.

Here’s mine: My dogs can do no wrong.

Last night, Leo countersurfed a steak off a grill at the GrandPawrents’ house. We all laughed about it, because who leaves an entire steak on the counter in Leo’s presence? The only reason to be upset would be if he had burned himself on the grill, but it had cooled.

Then he climbed up into Grandma’s recliner like it wasn’t no thing.

I’ve had dogs who destroyed doors, ate parking brakes, eviscerated car seats (these dogs still live in my house), pulled the stuffing out of couches, bitten people, fought with each other, embarrassed me in public, chased after a deer or another dog with enough power to pull me off my feet and drag me through the mud or gravel, forced a bedroom remodel by tearing up the carpet…



I don’t recall ever being mad at them.

They didn’t ask to live in this world with weird rules about chewing some stuffed objects but not others, requiring them to be tethered by leashes so that they don’t run into traffic, where people mounted to wheeled contraptions whiz directly toward them. We domesticated them and forced them into a lifestyle they don’t understand.

It’s never their fault. Keeping them safe from the latter and teaching them about the former is my job, and if they get confused or make a mistake, that’s on me. (or Grandma.)

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Nothing’s Gonna Break Our Stride

My training goal for 2018 is to have two ambulatory dogs. I already had Mia on anti-inflammatories and acupuncture when Leo needed TPLO surgery in November. I already had the greatest dog step in the world for the car*, and prophetically had trained Leo to use it.

Mia got her own walks for a few days when Leo wasn’t allowed, but he was putting weight on his injured leg immediately after surgery, so he was ready for short walks. And for several weeks, Leo’s prescribed slow, short walks worked out great for Mia.

Now that’s he’s back to his old self, it’s challenging to walk both dogs together by myself. Leo wants to walk faster, and probably should for his ongoing physical therapy. I accommodate this somewhat by attaching Mia to my belt via an 8-foot leash, while Leo forges ahead on his Freedom harness with the leash attached in front and back. There’s still some tangling, and the sense that Mia is getting dragged along faster than she wants to go.

Last night, while on a ball field well away from traffic, I unhooked Mia’s leash, thinking she could trail as far behind us as she needed, but nope, she stayed within about 8 feet anyway.

Today I took her on her own walk, and let her pick the pace.

*I cannot believe I didn’t blog about the Pet Loader. This video was shot a week before Leo hurt himself.



This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop. This month’s theme is training goals, but all positive training posts are welcome. The Hop is open until Sunday. Join Wag ‘n Woof PetsTenacious Little Terrier, and Travels with Barley each month to share positive training posts, starting on the first Monday of the month and lasting all week.

Not as naughty as he looks

Since Leo is 100 pounds and leash reactive, I often assume he will be perceived as scary. He proved otherwise to me during this past month.

At the end of October, he started limping. I had to leave him at the vet for a couple of hours while they X-rayed him. I worried that he’d whine or cry or bark from the kennel while he waited his turn, but I’m told he did not. Everybody seemed totally crazy about him.

The bad news was that he had torn his cruciate ligament and needed TPLO surgery. I had never heard of this surgery before, but apparently it’s very common, and there’s a 50% chance he’ll need the surgery on his other leg too!

I took him in for the surgery two days later. A brand new place, brand new doctors. They loved him. When the surgeon called me to tell me he was in recovery, she said, unprompted, “I like him,” in such a wistful way I knew she meant it. She doesn’t say that about all the German shepherds.

After his sutures came out, we had a consult for underwater treadmill therapy and the new vet asked if our other dog is as mellow as Leo. Ha! The other dog (Mia) is the mellow one! And here a little video of him on the treadmill a week later.

TPLO surgery is serious business with a long recovery period. Leo has been a total champ. He wore the cone for two weeks without complaint, and hangs out in his crate quite comfortably. He did have a few snarly incidents (fights, if I’m honest) with Mia, triggered by his barrier frustration (vision blocked by cone plus separation with a gate), disorientation from pain meds, and pain. It’s been a few weeks since the last skirmish, so I think that’s behind us.

He’s been walking on the new knee since day one, which has led me to be too cavalier about confining him. I let him get up on the couches, because he’s tall enough to climb up without jumping. But that also leaves him with access to jump on the couch when delivery people come to the door.

And at one point while Rob was decorating the backyard for Christmas, Leo raced toward the back door, sliding across the wet floor, his legs splayed out on both sides—exactly what they told us we didn’t want to happen.

So there have been a lot of times this past month where my heart rate has spiked and I felt like the worst nurse ever. If you ask the people in my TPLO support group on FB, I might be the naughty one for not following the strict directive to confine him and keep him away from furniture.

The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is hosted by Tenacious Little TerrierTravels with Barley and Wag ‘n Woof Pets. Please share your responsible pet owner positive pet training tips by linking a blog post or leaving a comment below. 

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Senior Dog Doesn’t Want to Come Inside

This month’s Positive Pet Training Blog Hop has the theme What To Do When Your Dog Doesn’t Listen To You.

For me, that’s like every day. They do what they want. I’m not going to lie. So I don’t have any legit training tips to offer.

I mean, mostly, they’ve been good doggies lately. Leo, now that he’s seven, technically qualifies as a senior, too.

mia-portageYesterday, Mia was up to her old tricks, refusing to come in the house when it was time for me to go to work. Back in the day, when she was a spry eight- or nine-year-old, she was too quick to catch.

The night before, Rob lamented that she seemed to be slowing down. I said, “No, no, she was bouncy and happy on our walk today.” I have had to reconfigure our leash arrangement though, when I walk them both by myself. Mia gets an eight-foot-leash tethered to my belt so she can go at her own pace. The shorter tandem bungee leash was no longer working out because Leo wanted to charge ahead and move too fast.

Anyway, I shot this video to show Rob that Mia is in fact as tricky as ever, ignoring my entreaties, and running out of reach. I couldn’t catch her, and I stepped in poop while trying, which I didn’t notice until I got to the office and wondered what was that smell.

I finally lured her inside by shaking her harness in a ruse that we were going somewhere wonderful. Technically, this was still positive training, since I gave her a bunch of treats when she came in, but it was also a bait and switch. I hate resulting to trickery, because she’s too smart to fall for it too often. And it feels mean. I should have taken her to work with me. There was no reason not to.

Positive TrainingThe Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is hosted by Tenacious Little TerrierTravels with Barley and Wag ‘n Woof Pets. Please share your responsible pet owner positive pet training tips by linking a blog post or leaving a comment below. Our theme for this month is what do you do when your dog won’t listen but any positive reinforcement training posts or comments are also always welcome. The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop goes all week long. And our next hop will begin Nov. 6 on the theme “training company manners.”

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Scary Dogs Need Protection Too

When you have a big, scary German shepherd like Leo with a big, scary bark, you get used to other people thinking they need to keep their dogs (or their small children) safe from your dog.

Meanwhile, my job is to keep Leo safe from situations that overwhelm him.

Since last month’s “That’s a dangerous dog” debacle, I have trained Leo to wear a basket muzzle. He tolerates it, but if I go too long between cheese rewards, he wants to throw himself on the ground and rub the muzzle off on the grass. Also, I have to get down real low to get the cheese in his mouth.

It’s a tool I’m happy to have, but I do not know whether it would actually stay on were he to lunge mightily or scrap with another dog.

We haven’t yet walked past anyone while training with it, but I expect people will either:

  1. Feel safer because he can’t bite them, or
  2. Be terrified of the dangerous, muzzle-wearing dog, so they stay far, far away.

Both outcomes are equally satisfying to me.

Now that I am jogger-reactive, we’ve been spending more time at the dog park. Trust me, I would rather walk my dogs. My first choice at the park is to be the only dogs there (pictured above). But during the summer, when all the people are out, leash-reactive yet well-socialized Leo is safer in a fenced yard designated for off-leash dogs.

He proved this last week when another dog picked a fight. I had already decided it was time to leave because three kids under 12 had arrived with a medium-sized, pointy-eared black dog. I watched a flip-flop-wearing girl, maybe 8 years old, topple over onto the ground. She moved like toddler. Probably because of the flip-flops. She ran toward Mom and I said, “Careful about running at the dog park!” just as Leo grabbed the bottom of the giggling girl’s shirt. Mom said, “I told you. If you run, someone’s going to think you need chasing.”

Good job, Mom, I thought. But I also noticed her saying to her dog warningly, “Indy. Indyyyyy,” while her dog was nosing around Mia’s face. I wasn’t concerned, though I should have been, because the tone of that “Indyyyy” meant that the woman knew her dog was not trustworthy.

Mia was not ready to leave, so I followed her around until she let me catch up and leash her. During this time, Leo enjoyed a good chase with a flirtatious chocolate lab puppy, joined by Indy, who body-checked the lab. All typical dog-park shenanigans.

The chase ended near the woman and her kids. Again, I heard, “Indyyyyy.” And then Indy was all up in Leo’s grill. Not a Hey, you grabbed my girl’s shirt 10 minutes ago correction, but a legit, challenging, I want to fight you snarl, gnashing at Leo’s head.

Leo wasn’t having it. He barked back, but no fight escalated. He backed away from Indy, positioning himself right in front of me. I said, “You’re fine,” snapped his leash on, and left, without making eye contact with anyone.

Indy’s male person said, “I’ve never seen him do that before!”

Yes, you have. Or your lady has. At the very least, she knew he was capable of it.

To her credit, she knew it was time to leave. I heard a “Let’s go,” and they left right after I did. I feel for her. I’ve been that person, and she has it harder than I do. She has to entertain that dog plus three kids. The dog park is the wrong outlet, and I’m hoping she realizes that now.

So there, irate track coach who knows nothing about Leo. He is not a dangerous dog. He didn’t maul the running child, and he didn’t fight the dog that wanted to fight him. Even if he had done either of those things, I was right there to step in and minimize the damage. That’s in my job description of keeping him safe. And is why I never let my guard down.

He did bark at a floofy dog coming into the park as we left, and probably that dog’s person was like, “Good thing that dangerous dog left before we got here.”

On the ride home, Leo didn’t bark at a thing. Not even bicycles, and we passed a few. I kept catching his eye in the rearview mirror. He must have been pretty charged up from the near-fight, but he looked so cute and happy, the wind from the open window blowing through his fur.

This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by Wag ‘n Woof PetsTenacious Little Terrier and Travels with Barley. Pet bloggers, please join us in this hop by posting your positive pet training stories. The hop remains open through Sunday. Our theme this month is Summer Safety, but all posts are welcome.

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Little-known fact about senior shepherds

Recently, while admiring my pups, a woman asked if Mia was mixed with another breed. We don’t know for sure, but we’ve assumed she was a purebred German shepherd.

I asked the woman why she asked, and she thought Mia looked part Husky!

She wasn’t always this gray. Who knew that as they get older, senior German shepherds turn into Huskies!

Join the Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop, hosted by Blog Paws!

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Now who’s reactive?

You know how dogs can become fearful after a bad experience like another dog getting in their face at the park?

That happened to me a few weeks ago. With another person.

During the springtime, our go-to weeknight walk takes us past a ball field and up a little hill. I try to time it to avoid joggers, but sometimes I fail. Sometimes, Leo succeeds even when I fail, which you can read about in Leo vs. the Track Team.

I hadn’t seen the track team yet this year, and the bottom of that uphill trail was so muddy I didn’t think any joggers would be coming that way.

Of course that meant two joggers came up behind us, but one happened to be a friend of mine. I held Leo back while he barked at the first jogger, and then welcomed my friend to cross the muddy moat to say hello.

“Are your dogs going to attack me?” she asked.

“I don’t think so,” said the reactive dog mom who knows better than to make promises her dogs might not keep. Ha ha ha.

My friend came closer, Leo said hello and I stood and talked to her longer than I should have given that I’d already seen a jogger cross the swamp to go up the hill.

A young girl rounded the corner, and Leo barked and I said, “Are you going this way?” and held Leo back by his harness, and yeah, she looked scared, but she passed.

A minute later, a very angry dude approached and yelled that he was going to call animal control.

Now. I know I shouldn’t have a German shepherd barking at people on a jogging path. But couldn’t he have said, “Hey, I have a bunch of joggers headed up there. Could you move?” or even “Get out of the fucking way!”

Threatening to call animal control seemed a bit extreme. And frankly, I didn’t care for his attitude.

So I argued with him that I have a right to walk my dogs, and they’re on a leash, and chill out, dude.

And he said “That’s not just barking. That’s a dangerous dog.” And I said, “Go ahead. Call animal control.” And he gestured like he was going for his phone and I knew he wouldn’t really call.

Of note: Leo was not barking at him during all this.

We turned to carry on with our walk and the dude shouted, “You’ve been warned. If anything happens with that dog. You’ve been warned.”

I deduced that this guy coaches the aforementioned track team. And I get where he was coming from. I really do. I don’t want my scary dog to interfere with other people’s right to jog. But as Midnight Dog Walkers, our options are limited. That was a walking path that worked for us. Until it didn’t.

I’ve been walking reactive dogs for 10 years. I thought I’d gotten over the feelings of humiliation and guilt when other people think my dog is dangerous. But in the following days, whenever I tried to think of someplace else to take the dogs, I got scared.

Everywhere I could think of carried the risk of a jogger leaping out at us out of nowhere. There are no dog trails where joggers are banned. I ordered a basket muzzle, something I’ve never felt was necessary, because what if a jogger gets too close? After all, I’ve been warned.

And then I realized, my anxiety was not about Leo, or about joggers. It was about that dude rudely getting in my face.

Realizing this reinforced how easy it is to regress. One bad experience can create negative associations. As positive dog owners, we work hard to make sure all our dogs’ experiences are good ones. At least in this situation, I was the one with PTSD, not Leo.

This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by Wag ‘n Woof PetsTenacious Little Terrier and Travels with Barley. Pet bloggers, please join us in this hop by posting your positive pet training stories. The hop remains open through Sunday. Our theme this month is Dog Sports, but all posts are welcome.

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