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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Of mountains and spines

Yesterday evening, as usual, the pups and I started our hike with some practice recalls. Starting hikes with practice recalls is one of the tricks that I've learned over the years. If the dogs have just completed a few fabulously fun sprints to me, they're much more likely to respond when a a deer, elk, or other animal crosses our path.

I left them in a 'sit-stay'.
I called them while I was still in sight. R's first move out of the blocks was to veer in front of K, almost knocking her backward, to assure that he arrived first. Then, I gave them treats as soon as they arrived, one treat at a time for more than 30 seconds, while excitedly praising them.
Another fun variation on this recall game is that I go out of sight and then hide behind a tree, shrub, or boulder. They love playing this game but they've become adept at finding me, often zeroing straight in on my location without any searching. But, if I factor the wind into choosing my hiding place, I occasionally fake them out. It's hard not to giggle as they sprint to and fro trying to find their lost human!

This morning, K and I headed out for our mountain bike ride with some trepidation, as it was opening day of rifle season for deer and the second elk season. She wore her orange vest, posing on top of our local peak. At first, she did a tongue flick, suggesting that something was stressing her out.
But then, she pulled herself together for a dignified photo.
We rolled along one of our regular routes, and I started noticing big hiking boot tracks, where I rarely see anyone's tracks but my own. I worried about encountering a hunter so we turned around to explore a trail that I've only rarely ridden.

This trail teetered precariously on the edge of a deep canyon but K felt no worries (although I sure did) about sniffing on the edge.
The view over the edge showed rough, impassable, terrain - great lion and bear habitat.
As we rolled along the trail, I remembered why I rarely ride it with K. It's mostly flat with few technical obstacles, so without even thinking, I accelerated to a speed that I thought was probably too fast for K to maintain. She seemed to easily lope along ahead of me - but I worried about pushing her too hard. Just as we reached our turnaround time, the trail became more interesting, with boulder-like obstacles and hills. Now, that section might be appropriate for me and my dog. We'll allow more time on our next exploration to check out that section.
As we teetered on the edge of the canyon, we saw views of the snowy mountains from new perspectives. Here, a close grassy hill jutted in front of the Divide.
But, a bit further along, the Divide emerged from behind the hills.
Mountain biking can be tough on a dog if the person isn't very careful. I choose technically challenging trails, with lots of rocks and logs to slow me down. That way, I find the ride engrossing and fun, and I don't whoosh along too fast for my dogs.

In K's recent pancreatitis episode, the vets started by taking xrays to figure out why her belly seemed to seer with pain. In one of the shots, they included her spine. As I looked at the xrays with the vet, we noticed that K is developing a few, fairly minor, bone spurs on her spine. Compared to the bone spurs in my spine, they're nothing. As most commonly occurs, they're developing at the endplates of a couple of vertebrae.

The photo below is of an elk lumbar spine that I found in the 'boneyard' the other day. It's oriented as it would be in a standing elk. It's an old spine, and the bone is deteriorating, but the disks between the vertebrae, red and fibrous, are holding strong.
Here's a close-up from the ventral (tummy) side of the spine. The bony endplates are starting to separate from their vertebrae but those red disks are solid! In K, the bone spurs are forming on the edge of the bony endplates.
I have to admit that I wondered why the heck this elk's disks remain so strong years after his death yet my disks are disintegrating within my living body. One theory, which the docs become increasingly convinced of when looking at the progression of my MRIs and CAT scans from over the years, is that an autoimmune attack on my disks is destroying them. Whatever the cause, they sure appear to be under siege.

Because I want to try to keep my K active for as long as possible, I've decided to start her on a regimen of Adequan, an injectable glucosamine solution. The evidence suggests that it will slow the development of spinal arthritis (bone spurs are a manifestation of arthritis) so it seems worth a try. For now, we're giving her intramuscular injections twice a week.

Giving injections is a challenge in an easily scared dog like K. We're using our 'Mannersminder', a remote-controlled training device that dispenses one piece of kibble at a time, to distract her while we do it. My vet has asked me to video an injection so that she can show other clients so I might post a video here soon.

My hope is that she and I will keep our spines healthy enough to continue rolling through the mountains together for a long time!


  1. We share those hopes so we khontinue to see such GREAT pikhs of your fun times!


  2. Hey there KB
    We are in awe of you and your dogs: particularly your fitness, your understanding of the outdoors and your animals. We are learning so much from you and enjoying the process. But I must say that every time you go out on your excursions, the fearful adrenalin does pump through our veins.
    Be healthy, happy, but most of

  3. The spine is interesting - my degenerative discs do create lots of fun (and sciatica). But constant movement does seem to be the key to keep it working as well as possible.

  4. That is my hope for you, too, KB! Keep pedaling!


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