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Your Dog Recovering From Severe Trauma . . . Is There A Baseline?

Posted on 03/21/13 94 Comments

As many of you will know my then 8 year old Border Collie “Encore” suffered a major traumatic event 3 months ago when she collapsed seizing one morning which could not be stopped. With good medical care and the outpouring of prayers from this dog community Encore survived where little hope of survival was given. No absolute diagnosis for Encore’s problem was ever given however we do know she has a mass in her brain (non cancerous) which may have been the cause or an artifact of  the encephalitis which brought on her the seizures.

The explanation I have been given is that it is suspected that a “long term untreated chronic illness” was what caused all of this in Encore.  This diagnosis goes hand and hand with my belief she has been suffering from some form of a tick borne illness for the past 4 years (even though only one very weak positive has ever shown up on any of the many tests that have been run . . . including one draw from her cerebral fluid).

Regardless of the “why” today focus on the “how.”  How do we get Encore to be as happy, comfortable and functional as possible. Yes we are still reducing meds (she lives in a bit of a phenobarbital fog) and monitoring her responses to avoid any relapse. But for me I am focusing on making sure Encore is mentally stimulated and physically as fit as she can be. Encore loves to work, so keeping her busy is important, but it also gives me an outlet to accomplish it all.

One of the biggest “ah ha” moments I have had throughout this journey is how incredible important body awareness exercises are to our dogs. Sure they give us something to do with our puppies, something that helps develop strong supportive muscles. And yes they can contribute to an adult dogs; flexibility, core strength, proprioception and balance. However my big “ah ha” moment came when we were trying to evaluate exactly “what” Encore could and could not do during her rehab.  By having a load of body awareness exercises and “tricks” I could ask her to perform and we could get a brilliant evaluation of what she knows. I had tons of video clips of her performing these skills before her illness and could show the neurologist what was and wasn’t possible for her before and after.

I can go back to these exercises weekly to see how far she has come or where she is still challenged and what she needs more work on. I encourage you all to create the best foundation possible of these tricks and skills for your own dog! You never know what a blessing they are to Encore and her team of specialists today.

Another “ah ha” moment I had was when I was trying to get Encore to “wave” with her right paw. Her brain injury is on her left side so her right side of her body has been most effected. Initially I asked her to wave and she didn’t move her paw an inch . . . not one inch. So I would ask for her left paw waving and rewarded that before I would try again on the right . . . I was looking for even the slight movement of the right front paw. Every time I asked her to try on her right side she would get more and more frustrated demonstrating it with her increasing vocalization. From my point of view Encore was getting frustration because she was trying to get her paw to wave but couldn’t figure out how to do it. My big “ah ha” moment happened when I thought; what if that just wasn’t true. What if rather then being frustrated because she couldn’t create movment she was frustrated because she believed she WAS moving the paw and couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t rewarding her!

Soooooo change of tact for me. What I did next was used one of my big blue FitPaws foam pads and put it on an angle in front of Encore. I cued her to touch it with her left paw . . . she did and I rewarded. She could see the paw on the blue pad as she got her reward. Next I cued her right paw . . . no vocalization as she appeared to try and try and then finally lift that paw a few inches on the the blue pad. UNFREAKING BELIEVABLE! Judging from both of our reactions you would have thought Encore just won another gold medal. Her rehab has come along so much faster with my new mindset; it isn’t that she can’t do it . . . it is that she thinks she is already doing it!

Here is an update on Encore’s progress.

For those of you that get an “error” message due to copyrighted music you can watch the video without the hip music at this link.

So the journey continues, rather than prepping Missy En for her next big agility trial we are prepping her for whatever lies ahead. To her it is all “work” and that she loves. To me it is playing with my special girl and that I love. Today I am grateful the opportunity to go through this journey with Encore and for all of those who support and help us out along the way.


  1. Maria Flore says:
    Tuesday, April 15, 2014 at 10:47pm

    We have to take good care of our dogs, they also have their feelings.


  2. Wilfred says:
    Tuesday, July 2, 2013 at 8:49am

    Great post Susan! Well, I’ll find time to read your post once I’ll encounter such problem with my dog. Thanks!


  3. Barbara says:
    Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at 8:37am

    I think the lesson is that we have to really observe our dogs to figure out what it is that they are thinking and feeling. Sometimes we think we know…but it takes patience and love to sit back and look at it from a new perspective. Something you are obviously very able to do Susan. So many dog problems stem from the fact that we just don’t get what they are trying to communicate to us…we so often think they have to get what we are trying to teach them.


  4. Rick Ebbinghouse says:
    Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 6:09pm

    Great update!!! What makes it so much fun is that you both are enjoying and having fun doing what you are doing. Make me want to take a victory lap with Encore (she would be much faster than me).


  5. Eric says:
    Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 9:16am

    Once again Susan, you show that the life we share with our dog(s) is not all about ribbons but rather about relationships. Thank you for sharing.


  6. Carolyn says:
    Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 6:01pm

    Susan – Just wondering about the tick disease you think Encore had for 4 years. Was she ever treated? Was the weak positive on the SNAP test? Tick diseases are a fact of life now, unfortunately. Congratulations on how far she’s come.


  7. Sarschips says:
    Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 4:02pm

    Thank you for the updates and new rehab ideas. I use swimming and Fit Paws equipment, but you inspire to try different ideas along with what we already use!

    I cried.. so moving to see her finally coming back. I have had so many SAR dogs with Tick diseases. They are so deadly and cause so much damage to organs and tissue in dogs. Know we continue to send you prayers and wishes for a full future.


  8. Lyn says:
    Monday, March 25, 2013 at 3:44pm

    So good to see missy En. Doing soon well!, love it


  9. Marjorie says:
    Monday, March 25, 2013 at 10:37am

    You go Encore and Susan. Amazing team you two.


  10. Joy Roberts says:
    Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 5:35pm

    Thank you for posting the progress of Encore


  11. Marg H. says:
    Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 4:57pm

    Wow – that was so inspiring! I had followed your previous blog on Encore, and watching what she can now do brought tears – I guess mostly tears of joy, but also sadness for how you knew her to be. It’s good to realize that Encore is enjoying each day the way she knows it to be in the present, especially with your love for her – what more could she want. You and Encore are both an inspiration for us all.


  12. Jayne says:
    Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 9:59am

    So inspiring, hard work but wow, what a result. It was lovely to see how happy Encoure is and the love she shows.


  13. Monique Verachten says:
    Saturday, March 23, 2013 at 8:58am

    Also I am Impressed what you do whith your dogs. And good for us that you want give us a chance to see it all.


  14. Cathy Toms says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 11:29pm

    I am so impressed with your dogs and YOU and so glad to see the recovery of Encore. I’m familiar with rehabilitation and she’s just one beautiful STAR!


  15. Cheryl says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 9:29pm

    Having worked in Emergency Veterinary I have seen the progress our 4 legged friends make following neurological insults. They are incredible.
    I am bringing my own dachshund back from disc surgery. She has been an incredible agility dog, but I didnt realize how incredible until I watched her thru her rehab. She may never make it back to agility but she amazes me everyday.


  16. Stephanie Snyder says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 9:25pm

    I have a 16-year-old Maltese with epilepsy. The vet doesn’t want to put him on phenobarbital, as the seizures are rare. I read somewhere that salt can cause seizures in dogs, so we’ve been avoiding that. Good luck to both of you!


  17. kara says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 2:56pm

    your love for your dogs comes out so clearly in these videos they always make me smile.


  18. JG says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 2:53pm

    Absolutely amazing and made me cry! What an awesome team you are! And I loved Buzzy showing off!


  19. Debby Divich says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 2:13pm

    Susan, I have a great appreciation for your articles on Encore’s rehab for brain trama. I have an 11yr old Australian Shepherd who had a 9 hour brain surgery at Texas A&M University for a tumor. The experience was eye opening but very educational as to the importance of rehab.
    I am fortunate that we can still play together and in turn he helped me overcome almost dying from West Nile Virus.


  20. Oksana Syrkin says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 1:52pm

    I can very much relate to this story. My champion in racing and half MACH Agility ridgeback rupture Achilles tendon one day in lure coursing. For now on she is a loyal companion I am grateful for her being with us. She is happy no matter what – competition or well deserved retirement!


  21. kathy trela says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 11:50am

    so happy for every tiny pice of recovery she has shwon. just like in humans brain thigns take time. i know first hand. a tiny step for us/them is huge. glad you have the love and patience to help do what is possible for her.


  22. Pam Coblyn says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 11:16am

    Thank you Susan, for posting this. Your honesty and candor about the struggle with Encore AND your decision to focus on her small and steady victories was terrific.

    I have a friend whose brilliant little BC is having a hard time recovering from ACL surgery. She just wants her precious girlie to be a “whole” dog who can move with confidence and not be confined to an x-pen or walked on leash. I sent her the link to your blog and she is so encouraged by your attitude and perspective. She said she feels like she’s not alone in her struggle to help her girlie heal.

    You are the BEST!


  23. Chris Spencer says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 10:45am

    Just Wonderful!


  24. Sue says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 9:50am

    I am so moved by not only Encore’s progress, but Susan’s dedication to her rehab. It is just amazing how much progress Encore has experienced so far, due to the grace of God and the full embrace of Encore’s needs by Susan.


  25. Carol Morgan says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 9:41am

    Love it! Great to see Encore doing so well! Really love the Bumpy Platform work, and the balance discs exercise. Buzzy is a scream, just being himself. Take another victory lap, Missy Encore!


  26. Shelley says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 9:41am

    SO precious x


  27. Amanda Jones says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 9:19am

    Thanks for the update, Susan. My Aussie dog, Gunner, suffered a severe FCE on Dec 8, 2012 in the agility ring in Jacksonville, FL (you were also at that trial and I think Encore’s seizures happened the following week). Anyway, as Encore has been recovering, so has my Gunner, from total paralysis in the rear to “almost fabulous”. We have done very similar rehab and are now working on the finite things. It is amazing what dogs can overcome, mostly (I think) because they don’t limit themselves with negative thinking. They just do it. I’m just happy that Gunner can take walk around the neighborhood, sleep on the bed, and suck on his favorite toy (my goals for him when this happened) — he can do all that and so much more now, so I am thrilled. Agility may be forever out of the question, but a happy, healthy dog is still the best outcome.


  28. Diane van Bers says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 8:40am

    It is so good to see she is a survivor and is progressing! So you feel this was tick caused. The season is nearly upon us!!!! What do you recommend that we use product wise to help prevent such an occurrence in our dogs as I have 4 of them and have several fields of winter wheat coming up beside me. Keep up the good work. P.S. wish I could have been at the Tony Robbins conference, must have been fantastic!


  29. melanieb says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 8:37am

    Thank you for posting this, Susan. I had a sharp intake of breath when I saw the look on Encore’s face in the photo…a look I can only describe as intense focus, determination…and anger, even? Forgive the anthropomorphization, but that’s what I perceived. Traits of a fighter.


  30. Wendy Rudolph says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 8:24am

    Thanks for sharing the update! So many have been wondering how Encore is progressing. As I rehab my dog back from a much less traumatic injury, I am also using our ‘bag of tricks’ as part of her ‘work’ 🙂 Our successess are often measured in the tricks we are allowed to add back in to the program. We are six months into rehab now and I am grateful that our journey should see us back on the agility field in the coming months. I continue to be inspired by your journey with Encore.


  31. Esther says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 6:14am

    Thanks for the update and sharing the progess with us. I’m delighted to see how Encore has progressed and it’s great to learn from your experience how important it can be for our dogs to know tricks and body awareness exercices.
    It is so true that our dogs live in the present moment. That’s why I call Calou my Zen master. He’s a daily reminder to me to be fully in the present moment and enjoy life with it challenges as it presents itself to each of us.
    God bless you!


  32. Woofpet says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 5:27am

    So good to see how far Encore has progressed. Thank you for sharing this joy as you share so much else.


  33. Carol W. says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 3:14am

    Encore and you are amazing individuals. If only there could be more like you. You continue to be a great team letting nothing get in your way. You are a model and mentor to all us who hope to connect with our canine friends. Thank you for sharing and thus enabling us to learn.


  34. Karen says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 2:50am

    Thanks so much for sharing your “ah ha” moment & insights into rehab. Great to see Encore doing Victory Laps.


  35. Charlotte says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 1:19am

    Happy tears and Buzz looks amazing too 🙂


  36. Jill says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 12:00am

    I am amazed at Encore’s progress. Your Ah Ha moment is a ground breaking idea .


  37. Becky says:
    Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 11:00pm

    What an amazing recovery. You and Encore an inspiration! Thank you for sharing your journey.


  38. Jonelle Wolf says:
    Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 10:20pm

    It is just wonderful to see such awesome progress with Encore. Thank you for sharing your journey with him and for giving us such insite on how to go about caring for our loved pets should such unfortunate crisis hit us. I hope for the best for you and Encore with his continued progress .


  39. Debra Jones says:
    Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 9:43pm

    I so admire your thinking process, Susan. What a “Ah Ha” moment – gives me goosebumps. I have no doubt that Encore will be the best she can be and even more – she’s been given 9 years of love and encouragement – she will surprise you with what she can do…

    I absolutely love your reminder – our dogs don’t care what they are doing…as long as they are doing it with us…


  40. Pam says:
    Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 9:28pm

    Thank-you Susan, for sharing Encore’s rehabilitation journey and progress. Very encouraging. Blessings to you both.


  41. Elin Becker says:
    Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 8:49pm

    So glad to see how far Encore has come! My Cavalier has Chiari malformation and seems to be in pain on occasion because of it. We have been told not to tug with him. So training is a challenge. We adapt things for him and he has done well. Encore has done incredibly. She (and you) are a real inspiration for others who face challenges.

    Thank you for posting her story.


  42. Carol says:
    Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 8:48pm

    So great to see the progress Encore is making. Your “next” career will be in canine rehabilitation!


  43. nellie.marsh says:
    Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 8:31pm

    Thank you, Susan, for providing a version without music for us. That way I could watch it, and I greatly enjoyed it!
    Had been wondering about Encore for a while! so thanks for the fabulous update. 🙂


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