Trixie's Rehabilitation Story

Trixie was a very unusual case.  She was a toy rat terrier, weighing only 6 pounds, that had undergone knee surgery and had not used her leg ever since.  Because she was so tiny and so fast, Trixie could bounce on three legs faster and with less effort than it took to use her affected leg, and so she did not see the point in trying.  She was also The Princess of the house, who took orders from no one and resisted any attempts on the part of her loving, but older owners as well as staff members to conduct any sort of physical therapy on her.

An entirely different program had to be designed for Trixie.  An attempt was made to introduce her to the concept of clicker training, but Trixie had led such a sheltered life that she reacted negatively to the sound of the clicker and we had to abandon its use.  It was time to get tough.  Trixie was accustomed to receiving food free choice, 24 hours a day and was somewhat overweight for her size.  In order to play on her love of food to encourage her to work for treats, her owners were instructed to take up all the food and to not feed her on therapy days.  On the days that she was scheduled to undergo therapy, a home visit was made, where a variety of different surfaces (such as foam padding and raised platforms) as well as obstacles such as caveletti poles were set up.  Then, every time Trixie was observed to place her foot on the floor—however briefly, the event was marked with a cheerful ‘yes!’ and a bit of turkey or cheese.  During the course of the therapy sessions, Trixie would be encouraged to navigate the obstacles slowly enough (through the use of food lures) that she would be inclined to place her foot on the floor—thus getting rewarded.  On non-therapy days, the clients were instructed to give the ‘yes!’ marker and a treat whenever they saw Trixie use her affected leg.

Within several weeks, Trixie went from non-weight bearing to using her affected leg 90 % of the time—a remarkable improvement for a dog that no one could physically touch to perform therapy.  Trixie was smart as a whip, and kept everyone trying to think one step ahead of her in order to help her heal, but she was one of the most satisfying cases to resolve.