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. ♥♥♥
A new adventure awaits!
So powerful Susan. Sending love and healing to Swagger. If you ever feel you would like to explore Animal Communication or Energy Healing it would be an honor to work with you both.
Reminds me of when I realized that in order to control Chick’s seizures I would need to take her out of the agility ring. The medications made her to clumsy to be out there but she needs them… all of them. She will be turning 8 in March and I had to retire her 2 years ago. I desperately miss running her but to have her alive is worth more than anything. I realize I will still probably have way too little time with her but for now, she is happy and care free. Enjoy your time with your handsome boy
I am so sorry about Swagger early retirement. But I am praying for a Long life and lots of fun doing nose work and maybe tracking.
Susan, what a shock for you and such big adjustments for you and Swagger. It is pleasing to see the incredible generosity and community spirit that you model reflected back to you at this time, and I hope this makes the journey ahead easier. He is an amazing boy and so fortunate to have you as his owner! Your willingness to share information and promote knowledge about our dogs’ health is another way you contribute and make a difference in our world and the lives of our dogs. Thank you for sharing this news and your hopes! My thoughts and prayers are with you and Swagger.
I know this is like hitting a brick wall but I also know you’re already over that wall and planning new adventures for Swagger. The most amazing dog I’ve ever met that loves to learn as much as you do. What a team and what great adventures ahead for you both. Hugs for both of you.
Susan, Even faced with this uncertain news you and Swagger continue to amaze and inspire me. I will enjoy watching Swagger on his Nosework journey!
Praying for you as Swagger.
so sad it hurts
but then, reading on, I understand your refusal to dwell on being shocked, stunned, so sad it hurts, and reaching out will, I hope, yield help
And Swagger, not just your star, your buddy, but a star to all of us, a buddy to all of us who watched him grow up to be so incredibly funny and beautiful and brave and thoughtful and outstanding at anything you and he do, has the best home any dog could ever have. We watched and cheered for him as he, frustrated as all get out, healed from shoulder surgery that most people would not have done for him, but you did, and when you couldn’t do physical therapy with him you had Kim do it. Bless her. Nosework is challenging and outrageously fun and he’s gonna be crazy for it. Already is. Heck, he’s already working on hides above his head. Smarty Pants.
“Living Life In The Now” You have got this! Swag Man taught me so much about training, Never, Never give up! No matter what the challenge, there is a way to communicate and find balance. You guys Rock, enjoy the flip side XO❤️🐾
I hate DCM. I lost my two beautiful Dobermans at 6 and 6.5 to this omnipresent disease in the breed. What I learned is they have identified several different genetic types of DCM but only have a test for one type. This makes it difficult to test ahead of time in breeding pairs and you may be negative for one but not the others. The Boxers, who also have a lot of DCM, have a different type all together. In your research you would enjoy talking to the geneticists who are following the Dobes. Very interesting and promising research but it isn’t fast enough. 80% of Dobermans carry a gene for DCM. It may be too late for them. Since this is so rare in BC’s I can’t imagine it’s like what we see in Dobes. There is a normal DCM too. It’s called old age. Swagger isn’t that old either but I’m hoping with the good care he’s getting you’ll have him a good long time. All the best and you got my prayers for sure.
Susan I am so sorry…..I thought it was odd Kim cancelled his session this week….sending hope and love to you both
Susan, I am so sorry and devastated by this news. Words can’t express what one feels when reading this news. I am sure you will find lots of alternate adventures like nosework to keep Swagger happy.
Sending lots of prayers and positive thoughts to🇨🇦🇨🇦🇨🇦
Susan, remember when he was born? Swagger proved he was a fighter then, and he’s still a fighter now.
Your post took my breath away. Your bravery, strength and faith are amazing. Not only will we have Swagger in our prayers, you will have our prayers. God will help you. Your students are here for support.
We wish you all the best at this difficult time.
Thank you for posting, and letting us know about Swagger. I know how much you love him. I had to retire Kenzie from agility at 8 due to arthritis, that is why I am not in Handling 360 any longer – which we loved. We switched over to Nosework as well, to give my Border Collie Kenzie something to work on. She loves it. Seeing your video of Swagger doing it, it looks like he will enjoy the work too.
Susan, you and Swagger have been such an inspiration to me. I know that you will continue to be so as you guys enter a new field of training. And as usual, Swagger will ROCK!
I had a very similar situation with my 8 year old whippet a number of years ago. I had noticed him dragging slightly behind his sister on walks and lost a couple of pounds. I had cut his intake, so the weight loss was to be expected. Had a history of some intestinal issues due to what I thought were food sensitiviries. This dog was competing in Rally and obedience at the time. Took him to our vet and when blood work was done, it was clear he was in kidney failure, posibly due to past Lyme disease. Treated him aggressively for 4 months before his quality of life was poor and we were at the end of the line. Thing is, you never know how long they may have with kidney disease. Many stabilize and the progression of the disease can be slowed. In our case, it wasn’t meant to be. But like you said, knowing when something is not quite right is our best chance of helping our pets. Prayers for a long life for your boy.
Hi Susan –
Very sorry to hear about Swagger. I just did some reading and it sounds like there is sometimes a genetic component. Curious as to whether you’ve heard of any other instances of this is his lineage. I ask in part for selfish reasons, as my young BC is a half-brother to Swagger on the dad side. Thanks and all the best to you and Swagger.
I am so saddened to hear this and I’m very sorry for the diagnosis. But, what I am especially saddened by is that you are not continuing on with your plans for him.
I have two Dobermans and a Beauceron. Both breeds are DCM carriers.
Last fall my dobie bitch, 10 DAYS after turning 3, was diagnosed with occult DCM.
I’m not going to even try to make happy here. I was devastated. She is an agility dog. But, her passion is dock diving.
I echoed all three of my dogs on the same day. My beauceron was diagnosed with an aortic valve stenosis along with my dobie bitches occult DCM.
To say this day was memorable is an understatement. I held it together…….on a very thin thread of courage.
But, the conversation with my cardiologist goes through my head whenever I work my dogs. And that conversation was her encouraging me to not stop the activities that my dogs love.
Now, I won’t be lure coursing my Doberman bitch, but I am absolutely going to continue running her in agility and dock diving with her. These are the things that bring her such incredible joy. You can see it by the way she moves and the teamwork she shows me. So, I have come to, with the encouragement of and the pharmaceutical support of my veterinarian, the decision to let my girl pursue her passions. And if she drops dead in the weave poles, or flying into a pool, I will know she died happy.
And, as a dog owner and lover, that is all I can ask for.
I’m with Carol and Cara. I’ve had Dobermans for close to 40 years and in over 10 dogs I only had one that didn’t have DCM. You are in a good time and space Susan there is so much information available. The drug protocols are very helpful and can give them years of a great life. I really like what Cara had to say. Our precious dogs always live in the moment and to the fullest. My heart goes out to you and I do understand everything you’re feeling. Only my very best wishes and thoughts to you and your pack.
Hi Susan, my BorderCollie Charm was diagnosed at 9 years old. She is almost 12 now.
She was put on Vetmedin and enalipril, at each echo her condition had only progressed. And her liver and kidneys were showing the effects of pharmaceutical drugs. This past summer the cardiologist said we probably only have a year left with her. All this time I emersed myself in research and decided to take her off the drugs and put her on a herbal protocol from fir meadow. And pray a lot. She talked their happi heart, their fresh start to detox her liver and kidneys from the drugs and their better days for extra neutrition. She also takes 2 caps of Coq10 a day and 2 tabs of Cardio- plus from standard process. She gets a splash of raw goats milk on her raw food , it’s a great source of Taurine.
She has been like a new pup, more energy, playful, happy, awake, more like she was long before her diagnosis. In a few months I’ll have another echo done to see if there are any changes. Every day with her is a gift, and to see her enjoying her senior years like this is such a blessing, I wish I would have don’t this protocol from the beginning.
Prayers and hugs to you and your boy
So sorry to hear about Swagger but glad that you found out early. I had a Dalmatian with a similar condition who lived to 16. I worked with Cat Lane out of Quebec, Canada to help with creating a diet that would help minimize issues with her heart and kidneys. She is a certified Canine Nutritionist. She has done wonders with diet for my dogs with medical needs. https://www.thepossiblecanine.com. Maybe she will have a feeding regime recommendation that can help support Swagger.
You said you always wanted to do obedience .. crusade and swagger CKC novice titles together this fall at Hamilton kennel club seconds from your house !!! Let me know if you are game !!!
Thank you for sharing – I can only imagine how hard this is for you. I do nosework with all 3 of my dogs and you and Swagger are going to LOVE it.
The advice about supplements is so important. TAurine, LCarnitine, CoEnzyme Q10, Vitamin E, Salmon Oil, and DRibose…are all supplements that help the heart. My dobermann has been taking them for fthree years and her cardiomyopathy has disappeared. Please try them
So sorry to hear about Swagger’s diagnosis. Remember you and Swagger have a trusting relationship. You will do the best for him and be brave, love him and the rest will fall in place. Thank you for sharing this information. Love and hugs from Ginger and I.
So very sorry to hear- from the one who gives inspiration to so many- I have no words to give you…. I wish I could… and give you time… love him every day….
Welcome to the amazing world of Nosework. Hugs for you and your gorgeous man
You just never know when something is going to change what you had hopped and dreamed. I have had a similar situation. I lost my first competitive agility dog at 17 just a few months ago. But in late spring of last year my 12 year old was diagnosed with cushings. He blew up like a balloon and so our hopes of returning to competitive agility were once again dashed. It took me a while to get where it seems you are already. We do fun agility stuff and he is learning a lot of tricks. I love both my dogs dearly and health issues have certainly played a role in determining their time to retire. But herding and working dogs do need a job and it is up to us to find something safe for them to do. My hope for you is that you can find a treatment that works for Swagger and to have as many days with him as you can. The pleasure of just having them by your side for a walk is much more important.
Oh my. Such sad news. Please ask your cardiologist about the value of adding carnitine to Swagger’s meds. It is another amino acid that may help improve cardiac muscle function.
Oh Susan, I have never met you or your beloved Swagger, but I have loved (and lost) some wonderful dogs. We do have a mutual friend (K…. and a Sheltie named B…….). I have reached beyond conventional veterinary medicine for my current pup and I am so very happy with the results. Please consider everything, including holistic, integrative medicine. You will both be in my thoughts. Stay strong.
Each time I hear about a much loved teammate fall into jeopardy, I rehearse the event as if it were my dog and that has lead to a permanent focus on enjoying and living in the moment. We made the long overland trek to CPE Nationals in California from Maryland last year rather than wait for this year when it’s in more convenient Ohio. I will never have to regret missing that opportunity. And you Susan, seem to do the same and live life fully so I hope you have no regrets for your relationship with Swagger.
I’ll be prayiing for a continued outpouring of suggestions and hope that it will lead to benefits for Swagger.
We enjoy tracking in addition to agility. I keep bugging my club to also provide treiball ( spelling?) but not many teachers ( or demand?) so it hasn’t happened yet. But it seems like a very low-key herding game that might just appeal immensely to Mr. Swagger. Peace.
My beautiful 15 year old Labrador passed away last February, he had been living with Cardiomyopathy for over 4 years. The medication that the vet gave was amazing. He was his usual self until about 2 day before he died. He got an infection and his heart couldn’t cope ans he passed away in my arms. It still hurts to this day.
What I do remember is thinking the same when I got rhe diagnosis, how long do we have? I made the last 4 years of his life the best o could do, religiously giving him the tablets that kept him alive, working with the wonderful vet to make sure his medication was always the right balance.
So, there is hope for Swagger, if you would like to know about the medications then just email me. It is so hard on us but the dogs seem to take it in their stride and just adapt to the new way of life.
Much love to you and Swagger
I am sorry to hear about these bad news, but I am sure you will make the best of it and find a new activity for Swagger and he will still have a great life with you.
Honestly Susan, I have to say, it couldn’t happen to a better person :). If anyone can make lemonade it is you. I am sorry to hear this news, but I must say, I will be watching you and learning from your unexpected new journey with Swagger. He’ll be fine, better than fine, he has you.
Hi Susan, Thank-you for sharing this. I flat out had major leaky eyes reading through your post on Swagger’s diagnosis. But as I was reading, I noted you were sharing so many GEMS for all of us.
1) Know your dog
2) Everyday life with a dog you love transcends any sport
3) Act in the present; but spring forward and make plans
4) Celebrate every day
Nosework is a wonderful sport and I’m sure Swagger will excel.
You are a grounded and awesome coach for all of us and will pray for both Swagger and you.
Heartbreaking to hear about Swagger but thank you for always leading by example and showing how to make the best out of everything.
That must of been so hard to hear! Sending heart felt prayers for both of you with high hopes that you find new heights and new challenges in Nose Work. All the best to you two!!
Yeah, Nosework! We are so lucky to have more sports and activities to do with our dogs now. Whether they are fit or not, Nosework is a fun game that still celebrates your partnership.
I had this heart break with my tri border collie x aussie. He was 3.5 when I noticed something wasn’t right. We had just been ready to stset trialing in agility. I want to tell you Duncan just turned 7! Yes it’s heartbreaking seeing your future plans come to a halt. But we have managed lots of fun and we are still enjoying each gift of a new day. I would be happy to tell you more if you want. We even visited the university of MN to validate just how bad his heart was. The cardiologist couldn’t believe he was looking at the same dog to what he was seeing on the scans.
Both if you are in my thoughts and prayers.
In goldens, DM had been strongly linked to Taurine Deficiency. At times able to be reversed through supplementation and a change a diet. I am unsure if this could be an underlying cause for border collie, but may be worth looking into.
Best thoughts that Swagger has a treatable .
PLEASE have his Tuarine checked. I very close friend with a flat coat was told them same thing and she mourned for a career ended far too early, come to find out it was a Tuarine issue!!
Deficiency of Amino Acid Taurine in Dogs. … However, some dogs may suffer from taurine deficiency in relation to certain diseases and may need to have taurine added to their diets. If dealing with heart disease, the deficiency can leads to enlarged heart size (dilated cardiomyopathy).
Prayers for you and Swagger. I think it’s safe to say that everyone who follows you loves your amazing and sweet boy Swagger. He has the best mom ever! Although this was sad news, I thank you for sharing it with all of us. I know Swagger will continue to be amazing at whatever he does!
So very sorry to hear the news, sending love and prayers to Swagger.
You will enjoy Scentwork and so will Swagger, I learnt so much when I took it up with my 9 year old girl who was finding the height in agility too much. Stay strong we are all thinking and supporting you and the great Swagger.
please look into CQ10, it is a supplement known to strengthen the heart muscle. Please know you and the SWAG MAN are in my thoughts and prayers
I am deeply sorry to hear of Swagger’s diagnosis. Thank you for sharing so deeply. I had a beautiful soulmate come to live with our family at age 17 months after he was released by a service dog organization with a diagnosis of dilated cardiomyopathy (lab/golden cross). Fortunately, his echocardiograms fell within normal limits and he remained asymptomatic throughout his long life of 13+ years with excellent athletic abilities and stamina. His was a life well lived and loved. Two years ago, we brought home a lab puppy as our new baby. At age four months, she was diagnosed with moderate-severe tricuspid valve dysplasia with milder atrial septal defect. This was a crushing diagnosis for our family, as well as for her breeder, who is highly conscientious and reputable and adores her dogs. She had never had a dog with this diagnosis and fully screens/tests her dogs; there is no test available to screen for TVD (although research is being conducted). Fortunately, I had planned to start our girl in nose work classes and it has been an excellent outlet for our high-drive, extremely intelligent girl. A year ago, our trainer invited us to join her Parkinson’s Alert Dog training program (PADs for Parkinson’s), adding a new dimension to the quality of our girl’s life, which will be short according to her cardiologist. There is no crystal ball to predict how long her life will be; the best case scenario has been given of six years. However, her cardiologist (also our prior boy’s cardiologist) told me that dogs surprise him every day. This experience reinforces that every day is a gift. I have learned on a new level there are no guarantees in life. My beautiful girl has taught me many valuable lessons, at the top of the list being “accepting what is” and “living in the moment.” I take nothing for granted. Wishing you all the best and many beautiful moments as your journey with Swagger unfolds.
Dear Susan, I’m so sorry you have had this news. Your dear dog. He will love nose work. He will love to do anything with you. A career change. Sending you sympathy and positive thoughts. You help such a lot of people to reach their goals, let us support you in your hour of need. Thinking of you. 💕☯️
In addition to the taurine therapy you are undertaking, I would add 30 mg of Co-Q10 2x a day to Swagger’s diet. In DCM biopsies, Co-Q10 is deficient compared to normal heart biopsies.
Here is a pub-med link about why Co-Q10 supplementation will be helpful to Swagger.
It’s good for you too!
Hi Susan, Although I have never actually met either of you I have watched endless videos of you running Swagger and he has taught all of us so much – he has become part of the lives of so many of your students. I hope for the best for you both, and I am sure his enthusiasm will drive him to be very successful in whatever you tackle together.
My heart goes out to you for receiving this sad news but I admire how you quickly turned it into a positive, by informing others, asking for info, and planning other activities to keep Swagger happy and busy. Wishing the best for Swagger!!
Thank you for sharing this news. As hard as I can only imagine this to be for you, I have no doubt that you and Swagger will thrive in any direction you choose to take. I am not sure the world of scent work will ever be the same after you and Swagger enter in, but for sure will benefit from having you. Hugs to you and Swagger!