It is something no one should ever have to hear about their not yet 7-year-old dog. I froze and my mind went whirling, I suddenly found it difficult to get out all of the questions that were racing through my head. As my Uber driver was pulling into Los Angeles Airport, I was talking to Kim on the phone, she was back home in Canada. In my absence, Kim had taken my Border Collie, Swagger, to a vet appointment for me. It was kind of a precautionary visit that I had requested because of a slight “concern” I had… a weird vibe that I got when Swagger was running full out.
It has now been 7 months since Swag had surgery for Medial Shoulder Instability. I had been more patient than Swagger with the long rehab process. I wanted to give him the best chance possible to come back to agility stronger than ever. And that he did. His times were amazing when I worked him just last week. His turns tight… he had come back his same powerful, agility-self. We were now 9 weeks away from our Canadian World team tryouts, and I was flying high with anticipation based on how good Swagger had been looking in training.
All that changed with one phone call as Kim reported that the cardiologist was shocked to discover Swagger has Dilated Cardiomyopathy.
My heart sunk.
My sadness isn’t over the realization that we will never again compete as a team in agility. Nor is it from the immediate restriction of all of Swagger’s activities. No more flat-out running with the other dogs or any other activity that may cause him to want to give a sudden explosive burst of energy (if you know Swagger that basically means most everything he does).
But my sadness does not come from that. It comes from the unknown.
The question of “how long does he have?” is all I wanted to know… but of course, no one can know for sure. Dilated Cardiomyopathy is a disease that breaks the hearts of Doberman Pinscher owners on a regular basis however as the cardiologist shared, it is rare in Border Collies. She herself had never seen it in a Border Collie in her practice. That gave me some comfort. Because it is so rare his prognosis is less known… which immediately gave me reason to be more optimistic.
I’m sharing this news today for several reasons. I’m hopeful this blog post will be shared far and wide and that someone reading it, or referring it to a friend, maybe someone familiar with this condition in Border Collies. I want to search every corner of the world and review every strategy, feeding regime or supplement possibility. I’d especially love to talk to any cardiologists who has worked with Border Collies with this condition.
I’m also writing to ask you all to keep Swagger in your prayers.
But what motivated me to write immediately was to share early diagnosis has potentially saved Swagger’s life. If I had continued to work his heart to the max, it could have eventually just given out. By following up on my hunch I have given him the best chance at the longest life possible. I think the key take away is; know your dog. Know what “normal” should be in every situation. Working, running, sleeping, breathing. Record keep times in training…not just looking at ‘course times’ but know how fast your dog should be…do your dog’s time get significantly get faster or slower after a rest and repeat. If your dog starts to do things he normally doesn’t, like drinking more, sleeping more, moving differently, take note. Don’t just assume these little things are normal signs of ageing …check things out. Trust your gut instinct.
There were several little things that Swagger has shown me starting late last fall that were “different”. All of these little things added up so that two weeks ago, I requested Swagger see a cardiologist before I continued with my plans for his return to agility. I was told the wait for an appointment would be a long because Swagger was, by all appearances, a normal, healthy dog, and it was difficult to see a cardiologist unless the situation was more serious.
As luck would have it, last week we got a call that there was a cancellation so Swagger could be seen earlier than planned. Since I was going to be in L.A. on business, Kim would take him. Which brings us up to my telephone call at LAX.
Yes, this sucks.
The nice thing about being in Los Angeles airport when you get this kind of news is that no one looks at you weird because you are sitting alone on a bench sobbing. Actually, all of the attention was diverted to what appeared to be a homeless man, who was hanging out two benches over randomly shouting out “My kitty is a good kitty…” and “The Po-lice can’t get me…” followed up by “I love dat kitty!” over and over and over.
I admit I did sit there stunned and crying for a bit before I walked off, leaving the wailing-cat-lover behind in order to check in early for my flight and start to formulate a plan for Swagger.
I’m a big believer that life happens for us, not to us.
When the highs in life with a dog are super high, the trade-off is that the lows are going to be like a massive kick in the guts. The thing is Swagger is still his same happy, kooky handsome self. Yes, I needed to grieve what I believe we’ve lost, an amazing partnership in the agility ring with a dog that I adore. However, agility is a sport we play and, as much as we both love it, everyday life with a dog that you love transcends any sport. There is no need to be morose now.
Feeling sad comes from focusing on the future rather than the present. Thinking of the future will create anxiety as I’m left thinking “but he is barely 8 years old” and other thoughts that serve no other purpose than to take me to a very dark place. Thinking of the past will bring me to a similar place resulting in me once again, feeling sorry for myself and all that Swagger has been robbed of at such a young age.
Focusing on the past or the future can’t change this diagnosis, and can’t make Swagger’s life the best it can possibly be, but acting in the present can. So I’m going to use any sign of sadness I feel as a trigger to get my head back to the present and take action on the things within my control…like writing this blog post looking for help for Swag.
It’s not a time for sadness, it’s a time to spring forward and make plans.
Swagger loves to work. Luckily for me, he also loves to watch other dogs work. So he will be able to come to the building every day to watch me training Momentum, then he will get some low impact, low energy work to keep him physically fit and mentally happy. He will need all of that and more to replace the hours he spent running, jumping and swimming as a part of his every week routine.
Enter games of mental stimulation and low-level exercise.
Before my flight took off for Toronto I had already contacted Jane Book, a long time friend and student who also happens to be an expert at Nose Work and Tracking. She is both a judge and seminar presenter… and it just so happens she too loves Swagger. So yesterday Jane gave Swag and I a private session officially starting our new hobby of nose work. We played around with it a bit after his surgery last summer…and it seems he remembered a LOT!
Currently, Swagger has been put on a couple of heart meds and a healthy dose of Taurine (an amino acid), which in rare cases, has been shown to reverse this condition. Hope certainly does springs eternal here in Alberton, Ontario, Canada.
Today I am grateful for Swagger’s early diagnosis. No more sadness, time to celebrate every single day we get to have together from this day forward. ♥♥♥
❤️❤️❤️❤️ for Swagger from me. A fantastic dog!
So sorry to hear this. Your attitude is great and thank you so much for sharing. If you are in dogs long enough we all have a similar story. Knowledge is power and hopefully we can all grow from this situation. (hugs)
Sending warm, sunny Florida hearts and hugs for you & Swagger. <3 "Living in the present" You have a talent to reframe and excell from what life throws your way. Looking forward to your "Adventures in Nose Work". <3 <3
Thanks for showing us how to live with sad news and move forward.
Such wisdom and you are so willing to share. Very Very powerful. You also might look at Dog Parkour …
You will be successful in whatever you attempt…and you have also inspired me to be successful as well. It is a mindset..and I am close to being there.
Thanks for that….. and everything else you continue to give us!!
Very sorry to hear that Swagger can not do the things he loves full out anymore. But how exciting for him to learn something new? He will find joy when you see joy in him and all his new accomplishments. I also love the message it sends to us. People who don’t have that one in million dog or the dog that just isn’t meant for Agility. It shows us that there are so many other things out there that our dogs can do. But it is up to us to find that thing or those things that our dogs can do. And that they find joy in. When my dog finds joy it fills my heart up with joy also. Thank you Susan for not giving up but moving in in a different direction. Lots of love from Exho Mn
It’s good you picked up on the changes early. I had a doberman and he died of DCM. I noticed changes and took him to the vet who sent him to a cardiologist the same day.
Sasha lasted 12 weeks on medication. The most important thing is to give him another job to do and keep his mind stimulated without over exercise. Nose work and tracking will be perfect. Look forward to his progress in these sports.
So very sorry to hear this news. A hard blow to take. I know you will teach him new activities that will make his life whole. Agility is just another game we play with our dogs. On to new games for Swagger. I wish you the best with his health and future.
A study was launched a University of Southern California looking into diet related taurine deficiency, headed up by Dr Joshua Stern.
More information can be found at the Facebook page called Taurine Deficiency in Golden Retrievers. Diet deficient taurine is considered a factor in DCM.
My heart grieves for you and Swagger as only someone who is lucky enough to share their life with bright and active collies can. My first thought as I read your post was PLEASE don’t stop him doing things but I should have trusted my instincts about you and recognised immediately that you are far too intelligent to do that. So long as your lovely intelligent lad gets to keep his idea about himself than he will be happy and that’s the most important thing. Your post has increased my determination to have my bitch thoroughly tested for everything possible before breeding from her, despite her families unproblematic history. I don’t want her to produce pups that will break future owners hearts and will do the best I can to ensure that they don’t but ultimately we all need to remember that life is what happens while we are making other plans…
I am sorry to hear this. There is good fulfilling life with heart disease.
My new agility puppy was diagnosed with heart issues at 4 months when all of his litter mates were dead. At one year old Bosley was given 6 months to live. That was 5 years ago. He was diagnosed with Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM), Ventricular Premature Complexes (VPCs) , and an enlarged heart Added to that, he is epileptic. He takes meds for everything, a total of 23 daily. Our saving grace is that he is remarkably good at self regulation, perhaps because he has struggled with heart issues all of his life he has never had the energy level of a normal Border Collie, so he does not “push” himself. Does that make sense? Honestly, he spends most of his days sleeping under my bed. He will sit on the deck watching me play with my other BC and then suddenly run out to join the games with a normal burst of energy. That will last for just a few minutes and then he will just lean in for a nice butt scratch. Nosework has proven to be a wonderful activity for Bosley. We also work on lots of tricks. Because I have never expected him to live very long, he has been spoiled rotten. Hence our need for the discipline of Recallers.
I hope Swagger can find enjoyment in a new and different energy level. I think that, and our wonderfully gifted cardiologist from University of Tennessee, Dr Rebecca Gompf have made all the difference. for us.
I wish you and Swagger the same good luck and good health that Bosley and I have enjoyed.
Hard to find the right words. So very sorry to learn of Swagger’s diagnosis. Very much hope that an appropriate cure or treatment may be found for him. Your strength and clarity regarding the situation is inspiring and amazing. Sending all possible good vibes your way and so glad you are — as always! — able to see the positive way forward. Hugs and very best wishes!
I am so sorry Susan. And also so happy you are starting Nosework. I finally found what Buzz’s great nephew can do! And I am enjoying it.
I bet Swagger enjoys it too!
He’s taking you in a new direction, full of his love of fun and of you. Sending a great big virtual hug to you both.
I’m so sorry. Reading your post through tears, as I lost my beloved dog to this horrible disease on Halloween last year. Your advice “know your dog” is right on. It applies even more once your dog is on cardiac meds, many of which have serious, potentially fatal, side effects for some dogs. I almost lost my dog right away due to serious side effects from mexiletine (to control arrhythmias). Many dogs tolerate it fine, mine did not. If you see any neuro type issues, call your cardiologist ASAP & even if they tell you side effects are “rare” (found out they aren’t that rare), ask if the meds might need to be changed or reduced. And just love your dog.
Dear Susan, thank you for sharing this sad news. I am so very sorry to hear about Swagger’s heart condition. I will share your article on FB for comments. If I come across any information that may be useful to you, I will make sure to forward it to you immediately. May God bless both of you. Wanda
A few sources:
I am so terribly sorry to hear this. My thoughts are with you and Swagger and your family.
So sorry to hear about Swagger. Thank God for the cancellation for the appointment! Our prayers will be with him. Hope he enjoys his nosework.
The Ying and Yang of this post had me reeling. The low of the news to the high of a new plan for Swagger. He is such A GREAT dog and I pray you find answers and a new way forward. Keeping you both in my prayers…
It really makes me feel better after reading this post that you view God’s providential means for Swagger with a such good perspective!! Hearts to you and Swag!!
One question: How do you start Nose Work training? I’ve been considering training for it with my corgi basset mix.
Swagger was put here on this earth for a purpose. You may not know what it is yet but when it reveals itself you will be in seventh heaven. I don’t envy what you are going through but you are a strong person and will get there. As for Swagger, I hope there is a cure for him and he lives a happy active life.
Susan, I am so sorry to hear this about Swagger. I feel as if I know him from watching your videos..I am sobbing at how hard this must be for you. I love that you are already thinking of positive solutions – like nose work- to get through this.
You can purchase a holler monitor and subscribe to a service that can interpret the data to see how his heart is currently functioning and repeat after 3,6, months or annually and see how he is responding to medication. Many Doberman owners have their own. Sorry to hear about swagger. There are other BCs with DCM here in the USA. It is not common according to the cardiologist and at this time I don’t think they have a genetic test but I can ask around and let you know.
My heart sank for you too, just as you say – the more these animals fill our hearts, the more it hurts to have such news. I know what’s most important is the quality of life and that you will find a way to make each day meaningful. Just before I read your last paragraphs I thought NW and OB! Sending good thoughts to Swagger…
Dear Susan, it was heartbreaking to read of Swagger’s new challenges but I know that with you is the best place for him. I wish I did have a suggestion for you but it seems like you have had some great advice already. If you haven’t heard of Dr Karen Becker then you may want to check her out. She seems pretty amazing and her ethos is holistic treatment when/where ever possible. All the best to you both, you are in our thoughts and prayers.
I am so sorry. Prayers for you and Swagger🙏🏻.
I just started one of my dogs in nose work.
Live in the present.
Oh dear, this is so terribly sad news. Such a brilliant agility artist stopped short a second time on his path… Your way to handle it is awesome brave and inspiring. To take so much action just minutes after getting the news…! Swagger has for sure a happy life ahead with all your ideas and actions! And that’s what is most important.
Prayers for both of you to find help and treatment and if necessary wonderful new paths to go.
Hugs and prayers for you, Susan and Swagger! Such a hard diagnosis. But it wasn’t you, if you could not find a new perfect ‘game’ for you and Swagger. His healing and blessings for Swagger ♡
I am so sorry for the news. I wanted to reiterate the info about Dr. Stern at UC Davis – he is currently linking low taurine levels in Goldens to the dogs inability to make taurine due to inhibition of the process by lamb and most importantly legume protein in the foods we feed. There is great info on this on the facebook site “taurine deficiencies in golden retrievers” – join and you can see the literature and the info he provides regarding how to test for the deficiency and when/how to supplement. Please look into this and keep us posted! Prayers to you and your Swagger.
I am so so sorry Susan, thinking of you and Swagger. Hope you both have many more years together, love from me and my fur babies xxxx
I am so sorry to hear this news, Susan. Gut wrenching. Their time on earth with us is never long enough, which reminds us to savour every moment of every day with them….something you do every single day. Swagger and you are in my thoughts and prayers. He is an amazing dog; you have an amazing connection with him.
Susan, so sorry to hear that news about your boy. Your response and attitude towards this blow is admirable. I know you feel like you’ve been kicked in the gut – there were a few times with my agility champ, my heart dog, Molly when we were dealt a rotten hand – When a pit attacked her and she suffered an iliopsoas pull it was just before our first ever collie nationals and I’d entered her and her sister in agility…Her sister pulled off a first place win, Molly was there, watching and it broke my heart that my excellent dog could not partake in “our” favorite sport. Then she suffered a shoulder injury as we were headed to our PACH with nothing but double Q’s at every trial – the vet on call refused to examine her and it ultimately was an agility career ending injury for her. Took me 6 months to announce her retirement to the world – her sister and I carried on but our hearts were not in it so we stopped. I remember contacting a friend who does animal communication. I asked her how Molly felt being unable to participate in agility while her sister continued…and her answer made me feel so much better – Molly told her she “didn’t care about agility” and “I thought I was going to be a show dog”….So Swagger will be your companion, do obedience, nosework, Rally and because it’s with you, who he adores, it’s ALL GOOD! Hugs!!!
Susan, My thoughts and prayers are with you and your boy. You remind us all to deal with the present and do what we can now to ensure the best future possible for our dogs. Swagger could not have a better advocate. You will be able to take all the energy you put into Swagger’s agility training and redirect it into designing a new lifestyle for him that will be enriching for you both. Zest and I have been doing nosework for the past several months as part of our relationship building/distraction ignoring program. 🙂 We’re having a blast! I know you and Swagger will find the joy in this and many other activities.
So sorry to hear this, but I know you will cherish every minute you have with your beautiful red dog.
What is he eating? There has been an increase in GRs diagnosed with DCM. They are responding to taurine supplementation and it is associated with kibble with high vegetable protein from legumes. UC Davis is studying this in GRs. Ideally you would test taurine levels before beginning to supplement.
My first standard poodle was diagnosed with DCM. He seemed to be responding to taurine supplementation when I lost him to cancer.
Hugs and prayers to you and Swagger. Thank you for sharing and continuing to inspire in this difficult time
Has a Chagas infection been ruled out? Its chronic phase has been associated with dilated cardiomyopathy. https://kissingbug.tamu.edu/files/canine-chagas-disease-2.pdf
Beef heart is loaded with taurine. Might try adding it to his food on a regular basis.
Definite prayers for you both, and great hope for a great long time together, with new aadventures. Hugs, hope, and good wishes.
So sorry to hear about Swagger. So happy that you thought of nosework and tracking as alternatives to keep his mind active and his body fit.Both are fantastic activities. You will have lots of fun with them. Good luck on your new journey.
I am so sorry for this diagnosis. I unfortunately don’t have any information to share other than, the best times are ahead of you two. I am also unfortunate to have had to suddenly retire not one but three of my dogs at that very age for one reason or another. They are all still with me and make me smile every day. I’ve learned to appreciate the other things our dogs give us each day that is not agility related. I revel in my now 12 year old boy who can still tug with the gusto of a 2 year old, or my border collie who keeps everyone on schedule during the day. Or my other one’s constant requests to play, play, play!
Hang in there. Healing prayers being sent!
Swagger’s pushing you to learn more! 🐕❤️
While I haven’t had this diagnosis in one of my dogs I have had others that were devastating. Healing thoughts to Swagger and prayers of strength to you.
May I join the many followers with heavy hearts to hear your sad news of Swagger Our moments of grief will hopefully join the insightfulness you have shared of your love of this magnificent dog, his fruitful life and a future of many years of health and happiness. Swagger is a lucky boy to have you
Enjoy every moment with your sweet boy. Nosework is so much fun for dogs. I’m sure he will excel at it. Sometimes, our paths must take new directions, different from our plans.
Best advice I ever got was Trust Your Dog. If dog’s behavior changes, you will know. Glad you caught it early. Hugs to you and your dog. And, to your new adventures, Enjoy!
I’m so sorry to hear of your shock with this news. I had the same thing happen to me with my very first dog. A very well known vet said to me ” stay in the moment”. I know this might sound crazy but it’s in these moments where Love is truly recognized and felt like no other time. My thoughts are with you and Swagger.
So sorry to hear this. I assigned this topic to one of my students for part of her genetic project a few years ago. Not sure I still have the information, but I will look. In the meantime, if you haven’t checked out dogaware.com, she has lots of up to date information on the topic. Sending good thoughts to you and Swagger!
A new path is before you and Swagger. May it be long and filled with fun and good times.
I am so sorry. I will keep you and Swagger in my prayers.
I did tear up reading this.. He is an amazing dog and I feel fortunate I got to be a small part of his journey. You words of wisdom are so simple, but the courage to follow through is always the hard part. Hugs to you and Swagger. On to the next chapter of learning with swagger..He will rock nose work