Archive for February, 2013

About 2-1/2 months ago, I wrote a blog post about how Cooper’s coat and nails had gone to hell. His coat was woolly and thin, he had a bald patch on his back, and his nails seemed to be breaking one after another.

Cooper's back looking down from mid-back toward the tail - December 3, 2012

Cooper’s back looking down from mid-back toward the tail – December 3, 2012

Part of this can’t be helped. Cooper has Symmetrical Lupoid Onychodystrophy (SLO), and with his history of the disease, that means that his nails are going to break no matter what we do.

But they seemed to be breaking more severely and more often than they had been for several years, and plus, that coat! Terrible.

Skin and coat issues sometimes result from infection or inflammation, so we took him to the vet. Turned out he had a mild staph infection, which we treated with antibiotics and daily Murphy’s Oil Soap baths. Once that cleared up, his skin was better, but his coat was still crappy.

So the next suspect? Diet.

One common remedy for coat problems is adding Omega-3 fatty acids. But Cooper has no lack of Omega-3s. Ever since he was diagnosed with SLO, he’s gotten 6000 to 8000 mgs of fish oil every day.

So it had to be something else.

We got a lot of advice from other IWS owners, and we adopted quite a bit of it. (Thank you!)

First off, we changed his kibble. We can’t feed a raw meat diet, as many suggested, unless the meat has been immediately flash frozen, because of the danger that his compromised immune system would not be able to handle the organisms present in fresh raw meat. He had been eating Kirkland’s Nature’s Domain grain-free salmon kibble. Now we switched to Martha’s recommendion of NutriSource kibble, choosing the grain-free salmon version. Plus, we also kept up our practice of feeding flash-frozen chicken wings and Martyn’s vegetable dog soup.

In addition, Deb had mentioned that she gives zinc to her SLO dog. I’d been reading about the benefits of zinc methionine, a highly accessible kind of zinc. So we added two supplements from Nature’s Farmacy Dogzymes: Ultimate, multi-minerals and vitamins, and Gro-Hair, a source of zinc methionine. (I am not affiliated with this company at all.)

We also changed from his former SLO medication regimen to this:

  • fish oil capsules, 4-1200 mg in the morning and 3-1200 mg in the evening
  • vitamin E, 400 IU, 2x/day
  • biotin, 2500 mcg, 1x/day
  • vitamin B, super complex, 1x/day

If you’ve been reading regularly, you’ll see that we decided to drop the doxycycline and niacinimide. We just thought that all that antibiotic after so many years might not be needed anymore. (And about 6 months ago, months prior to the worst of the coat and nail issue, we had already started giving him a low dose of Soloxine, a thyroid supplement.)

So now it’s been over 2 months of the new diet and medication plan. What have been the results? Absolutely wonderful. Take a look:


Cooper’s back looking down from mid-back toward the tail – February 6, 2013

His coat is much thicker and curlier, the wooliness is just about gone, the bald patch has disappeared, and the tuft of coat at the base of his tail has even grown back in. By itself, that’s wonderful, but the incidence of broken nails has gone way down, too. Last Sunday, when I did his weekly nail filing, not one of his nails was broken or split.

I hope this improvement keeps up. Come this next weekend, we’re headed to one of our favorite training grounds where there will be some water retrieves. Cooper is happy to go into the water naked if it means he gets to retrieve something, but I’m much happier when he has a lush full coat to protect him.

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Team Cooper qualified in his 2nd UKC Novice Obedience trial with 189.5 points. The judge took off exactly the same number of points today for almost exactly the same reasons as yesterday.


Cooper’s performance did improve in some respects today. He didn’t sniff the ground, for one. Actually, today Cooper stayed with me a lot better than yesterday — no tight leash, no sniffing the ground, no going wide.

Instead, today, he decided to get creative. On the Halts, he danced forward several steps, and then leap backward to land in a sit by my side. A little more dramatic than preferred, but at least he sat at every Halt.

And he also invented some variations on the Figure 8. Instead of staying by my left side, he decided to see what it would be like to heel on my right side for several steps before going around in back of me to sit in the proper heel position at the ending Halt.

I thought his Recall was lovely. His butt stayed solid on the ground, and then he made a beautifully athletic leap over the jump. True, he arrived into a sit that was a little crooked, but then his finish was square and solid in the heel position.

He still doesn’t like the Honor down or the Long Sit, but he did them a little more calmly than yesterday, not quite so much rubbernecking. Perhaps he found the regular pounding of my heart to be calming. That he succeeded in the Honor was especially gratifying, since the working handler was using a walker for her run. That’s very unusual, but Cooper handled it well.

UKC_Novice_ribbon_130203 copy

All that aside, with that 189.5, we qualified. One more Novice leg to go, and then he’ll earn his “UCD” title from the UKC.

One of my friends pointed out, after reading yesterday’s blog post, that she distinctly remembers my promising Cooper that after earning his AKC CD title, he wouldn’t have to do Obedience anymore. I remember that, too. But you know, this morning, when I put my Obedience vest on, Cooper started dancing in circles, running to the door. I love working with that dog. He’s so enthusiastic, so happy to go for it, so willing to be happy. That’s why we’re doing it again, so I can share that happiness. Cooper doesn’t seem to mind.

Oh, and by the way, you might notice that while we got a qualifying score ribbon, there was no placement ribbon for Team Cooper today. Placing is such a matter of luck as well as performance. Today, four dogs (I am pleased to say that three of them are hunting retrievers!), did a more beautiful job than Cooper. One of my favorites, Taura the Standard Poodle, who is one of our field training buddies, earned first place today, and it was beautifully well earned, too.

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Cooper is not a dog for precision. He’s the dog you want when you’re looking for enthusiasm, a willingness to give it a shot, the confidence to try something even when he’s not completely sure exactly what he should be doing.

I’ve been working with Cooper in Rally, which I think is made for dogs like Cooper. I haven’t been working so much with him in competition Obedience, which rewards exactness and precision. But lately in practice, he’s actually been heeling next to me, even on the Figure 8 exercise.

So just for the heck of it, I entered Cooper in his first UKC Novice Obedience trial today. He did great, especially considering that this is Cooper: a 189.5 point score (170 out of 200 is a qualifying score).


And to top it off, he got first place in his class, Novice B.


AKC Novice Obedience and UKC Novice Obedience look an awful lot alike — they both have On Leash Heeling and a Figure 8 exercise, a Stand For Exam exercise, and an Off Leash Heeling exercise. But there are some significant differences, too.

The most fun difference is the Recall exercise. In the AKC version, you sit your dog on one side of the ring, walk to the opposite side of the ring, and call your dog. The dog is supposed to come directly, and sit squarely in front of you. The UKC version is just like that, except that there’s a jump between you and the dog. Cooper loves jumping, so jumping over a high jump to get to me is just plain fun.

So fun that we almost blew it. You don’t call your dog until the judge says, “Call your dog.” Then you give your command, and only then should the dog come. Today, when the judge said, “Call your dog,” I saw just a sliver of sunlight appear under Cooper’s butt. That lasted just for just a moment, and then he thought better of it and sat back down. I waited a beat and then called him. He ran, jumped over the jump, and then came right to me, just hair off square (hence the loss of 1/2 a point). If he’d actually gotten up and come to me before I called him, he’d have failed the exercise and we’d have been out.

Then there is the Long Down. In the AKC version, the Long Down is done as part of the group exercise, with the Novice dogs lined up along one edge of the ring, all in the down position for 3 minutes. The UKC does it a bit differently, and it’s called the “Honor.”

In this exercise, the “honor dog” team enters the ring first, and walks to a spot indicated by the judge. The handler downs the dog, walks to a spot about 25 feet away, and then turns and faces her dog. While this is all going on, the “working dog” team has also entered the ring, and they are waiting for the honor dog and handler to get all situated before they start their On Leash Heeling exercise. The honor dog must stay in the down position in the ring while the working dog is in the ring, too, doing the On Leash Heeling and the Figure 8 exercise.

What I didn’t anticipate was the impact of the waiting when it was our turn to be Working Dog. We walked into the ring and got into heel position, ready to go… and then waited. For several long seconds. In the AKC version, the judge would quickly get you started with the On Leash Heeling as soon as you were in position. But with this UKC version, the working team has to wait for the honor team to get settled, and those extra seconds is plenty for Cooper’s attention to go elsewhere. When the judge finally turned to us and said, “Are you ready?”, I had to say, “Just a moment” so I could get Cooper’s attention again. When he looked at me, I said, “Ready” and just then, Cooper looked away again. Argh! The judge kindly waited a few beats more and luckily Cooper looked up at me again just as the judge said “Forward!”

As you can see from the score sheet, Cooper’s heeling is still not beautiful. He lags behind me on the outside turns of the Figure 8. He sniffs the floor sometimes instead of keeping his attention on me. He forgot to sit once at a Halt. But he didn’t go running out of the ring; he didn’t get so engrossed in his sniffing that I completely lost him; and he totally stayed with me on the About Turn. All huge improvements over his qualifying performances in AKC Novice Obedience.

So we left the ring, Cooper got a quick roast pork tidbit, and then we walked back into the ring to do the Honor exercise. Cooper is actually pretty good at this. He doesn’t ignore the working dog, but he stays down, sometimes looking at me and sometimes looking at something else. Ideally, he would keep his attention on me, but this is Cooper we’re talking about. I am just happy he stayed down.

So then we left the ring again, and waited for the Long Sit, a 1 minute sit-stay done with a group of dogs. Cooper was a bit distracted, as usual, stretching his neck out first to the left to get a whiff of the dog to his left, and then turning to do the same on his right. He looked at me a couple of times, yawned once, and swiveled his head toward some noise only he heard. But his butt stayed on the floor and his front feet didn’t move, and that’s what we needed.

All in all, it was a great day. I got some ribbons to hang on my bulletin board and Cooper got a blue stuffed toy to rip up. I think we’re both pleased.

We’ll try it again tomorrow. I love that UKC allows a person to sign up on the day of the show, so that’s what I’ll do tomorrow morning. We’ll just see how it goes.

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