Age, illness, or injury can be devastating to humans and dogs alike. Making the decision to retire a dog from work or sports isn't easy or fun. At the end of the day many questions swirl in our heads. The feeling of disappointment and sadness heavy in our hearts. "How will we move forward? What will our dogs do with the down time? Will our dogs be okay?" Then there's the social aspect of competition and training. Thoughts go to our friends out there playing with their pups. Envy aside, the decision feels like you are letting your best friend down. Last fall I was faced with the decision to retire Chico, my 4 year old working Border Collie from sheep herding.
Chico doing weave poles in the back yard
Just over three years ago my husband and I adopted Chico. We picked a high drive dog because our lifestyle is very active and we wanted a dog to join in on the fun. I was interested in agility and sheep herding, but yet didn't know much about either sport. Although Chico was adopted to be a companion dog, his energy level is that of a working dog. In order for Chico to really relax and rest at home he needs 2 hours of physical or mental stimulation. He loves a job and NEEDS a job. Adding training was an easy decision for us. Herding seemed like a great choice for Chico, it's a fabulous mix of physical training and mental work. When we tried him on sheep he was a natural, truly gifted with lots of gusto and passion. Chico and I trained for over two years and learned so much together until August 2012 when Chico collapsed into a seizure like episode. After spending hours researching, time with many veterinarians, and far more money than I care to admit, Chico was given the presumptive diagnosed of a syndrome called Border Collie Collapse. The newest research from the University of Minnesota states that Border Collie Collapse (BCC) is likely a unique episodic seizure disorder that can occur in sheep-herding or ball-chasing activity in the Border Collie breed. Because BCC has proven to be a deadly disorder for some Border Collies, I knew I couldn't lose my beloved Chico to hobby sport. Adding salt to our wounds, in January Chico had a seizure unrelated to exercise. He was diagnosed with Idiopathic Epilepsy. Dogs with seizure disorders are typically strong and otherwise healthy. Chico fits this category, but he's also loving and intelligent. Doing what's right and best for your dog sometimes doesn't seem easy, but we are finding out that there is a good life on the other side of retirement.
Admittedly, the retirement decision wasn't all that simple for me. I had no idea what I would do with my feisty Fido. If you just happened to stubble upon True Dog Blog through a search engine, you may not know all about Chico's struggles. One of the reasons I decided to do herding with Chico was because he is fearful and can be reactive to anything that moves. The list includes runners, bikers, skateboarders and occasionally other dogs. Herding allowed me to work Chico and not have to worry about those other scary stimulus. With herding out of the equation I was forced to REALLY focus on Chico's behavior.
Such a good patient at the vet
With the help of many friends the past few months Chico has made amazing strides and is now able to function in normal dog training classes with happiness and confidence I've never seen from him before. He's confidently approaching new people in many settings and all around a much happier dog. We've also been working hard on lots of new tricks. I've found that Chico loves to try new tricks and learns them very quickly. Recently Chico and I have been spending time working on K-9 Nose Work and other fun scent games. He's registered to do an Odor Recognition Test (ORT) in April. That cute red nose of his seems to work pretty darn efficient! Lastly we are doing some basic body awareness and agility training. Because Chico can't work for too long or get too excited we play plenty of self control games.
Life isn't so bad after retirement!
I've too felt the disappointment and sadness that sits heavy in our hearts when our dogs become ill, injured or old. I've asked myself, "How will we move forward? What will my dog do with the down time? Will my dog be okay?" Then, at the end of the day, I knew I had to push those thoughts aside and clearly acknowledge what is best for my heart, my soul, my companion, my True Dog, Chico.