Category: Blog

“This blog contains Cheryl Cornett’s personal stories and experiences with dogs she has come to know and love. Cheryl is a dog trainer in Bradford, NH.”

Nosework with a Bull Terrier

Anyone who knows anything about me knows I get into the gear: tracking gear, hiking gear, nose work gear. Other women do shoes. I do gear. When Enzo and I started out doing field work for gun dog foundations, his harness and my bait bag were a matching deep plum. My field whistle was a complimentary shade of violet. Oh yes. We were a vision at that hunt clinic. Fake it till you make it or dress for success? (I’ll let you decide.)

It should come as no surprise to you that when Aoife and I started nose work, I immediately began researching the gear. There is a lot: tins, tubes, odor, containers, putty, sticker dots, lines, harnesses… I was in my glory! My instructor also said it would be helpful if Aoife had a separate harness, strictly for nose work. It would act as a cue, a signal to her what the expectation was, what behaviors she should perform. Liken it a school uniform versus Saturday play clothes. It would help set the stage.

I got right on it. Julius K-9 makes some very nice back clip harnesses. Light, comfortable, well-designed, with loads of fun colors to choose from, and–as if that wasn’t enough… the very best part?? You could order TAG LINES! YES! I know! Right?! I spent hours playing around with words. I’d seen some fun ones out there and I was excited to tag my girl. I finally decided on “Nose 2 Search”. That beautiful Bull Terrier nose, the play on words, my love of numbers and math. Perfect! Then, we had our first trial.

I signed her up with Performance Scent Dogs. I thought them to be the most beginner friendly. There was also a training center within an hour’s drive offering monthly trials. Tova Training dates back to Bess’s Barn Hunt days; my memories were of great people, loads of laughter, tons of fun. I wanted to make sure our first experience was a positive one–I knew I would get it there.

The day dawned- I loaded up the Jeep with the necessary supplies, plus some, and headed out. I had entered all three TOT’s (target odor tests for Birch, Anise, and Clove) as well as Containers and Distance. The nice thing about Performance Scent Dogs is that even if Aoife missed on her TOT’s, she would still be allowed to run. It simply would not count towards her title in that element. (See what I mean about “beginner friendly”?) No matter what happened, she would be allowed to run a search.

TOT’s ran first and when directed, we entered the building. I could see the area where twelve metal folding chairs were arranged in rows of 4 by 3. Underneath one of those chairs was a tiny tube holding 3 q-tips scented with Birch. Aoife’s job was to tell me which chair had the hidden tube. I had no doubt she would find it. We had trained and practiced for this. She loved nose work. I was excited; grinning from ear-to-ear as we made our way to the start box, where the judge and time keeper stood waiting.

And that’s when Aoife noticed… PEOPLE! Her delight simply could not be contained; she was absolutely, positively OVER-JOYED and made a beeline for them both. Dear God. (People? We had not trained for people.) It was all I could do to hold on. As I death-gripped the handle on her harness, my girl hopped, spun, bounced, whined, and wagged her entire body in a vain attempt to jump on greet the judge. Fabulous, she pointedly ignored the small white freight train trying to steam roll greet her and asked if I had any questions. I shook my head. I was instructed to search when ready. I attempted to get Aoife settled (not happening), focused (perhaps? a little?). Then, I quickly stood up from my hunched over position and cheerfully called, “Aoife, Search!” She promptly boomeranged backwards, straight out of the search area, directly toward the judge. I grabbed onto her harness handle and dragged led her over to the rows of chairs. She continued to twist, buck, and twirl, all in an effort to say hello to ‘her’ people. Red-faced, breathing heavily through my mask, and with glasses fogging over, I once again attempted to redirect her to the chairs. She vaulted sideways, knocked two chairs a-kilter, bounced up on me and made for the judge again. Winded, sweating, bent over with my back in spasm, I circled her and hung on for dear life, praying for the madness to end. Then, Aoife stilled, head twisting to one side, and gave a cursory nose touch to one chair. I yelled “Alert!” The judge boomed “YES!” as she broke out into gales of laugher. Hobbling out of the search area with my joyous companion, I seriously contemplated a new sport and wondered if there was any Advil in the glove box.

Aoife went on that day to not only Q in both containers and distances, she earned first place as well. But I have put away the “Nose 2 Search” patch. Perhaps when she’s older? Maybe. But honestly? This one suits her style MUCH better.

White Bull Terrier with nose work ribbons
#slapstick #comedycentral #neverdull #wouldn’tchangeathing

These Two

have me on a roller coaster ride between heaven and hell.

Three days after our visit to the canine neurologist, Enzo had another seizure. Even though I knew it was inevitable, I am still not used to them. But this time there was a bright side: we could now begin the pulse therapy the canine neurologist had outlined, with the medication she’d prescribed.

The clorazapate was administered as soon as Enzo was stable. Then, every 8 hours for the next three days, I gave him another dose. This, in an effort to prevent clustering, lessen the severity of the seizures, and gain more time between episodes. When the canine neurologist mentioned a 30-day time frame, I was ecstatic. One seizure a month? I could live with that! I had faith; I believed. And the best part? The clorazapate seemed not to impact Enzo’s balance, stability, or energy levels. No side effects I could discern. I was nearly giddy with relief and anticipation.

Eighteen days later, Enzo suffered a grand mal seizure just as he was heading out to our back deck. It was brutal. I cleaned him up, administered the clorazapate and began the 4-hour wait for the vet’s office to open at 9:30 am. During the interim, and to help ease him through the postictal stage, I decided our usual morning walk was needed. Both dogs were delighted with my decision. As we headed up the hill towards the field and wood-lined path, I glanced over in time to see Enzo go down into that hateful crouch, lips pulled back in that terrible grin, then watched, horror-struck as he tumbled down the embankment into the sand pit below. Petrified, I scrambled down after him. Aoife seemed to know this was an emergency, and was calm by my side as I waited out the seizure, helpless. I don’t remember much about getting home, but once there, I administered another dose of clorazapate and called the emergency number to leave a message. Covered in sand, grit, and wet with saliva, Enzo paced, whined, and barked. I went about cleaning him up– washing his ears, his beard, his bushy eyebrows. Initially, the cool water seemed to calm him. But then the pacing began in earnest, and I started to get angry. Eighteen days? That wasn’t even 3 full weeks! Where was the 30 day, once-a-month, ONE seizure?! Where?? I started to cry- Aoife came running over and I collected myself as the two of us sat together, keeping watch over our beloved boy.

After several phone calls back and forth that day between the neurologist and my veterinarian, the decision was made to increase the clorazpate as well as add another daily medication to Enzo’s current repertoire, bringing the total number of his prescriptions to six. Side effects included ataxia, stomach upset, and possibly diarrhea as his system adjusted to this new drug- Zonisamide. In the beginning the ataxia was so bad, it reminded me of when he first began taking the Phenobarbitol so many months ago. He was once again falling down the stairs, tumbling off the back deck, stumbling, and going to his knees on our walks. The diarrhea has yet to dissipate; he frequently needs to go outside in the middle of the night.

This disease is dreadful. Not only is it costly–Enzo’s medications now tally $298 per month–the emotional toll is severe. Let’s face it; there is no cure. Enzo is never going to get better. As I write this–today– the longest Enzo has gone without a seizure since beginning the Zonisimide is eleven days. When I first began this journey, I read and read and read–any and all scientific journals, experiments, and trials I could lay my hands on. One abstract sticks out. The experiment began with fifteen severely epileptic dogs, but ended with thirteen. I remember wondering that’s odd. Then, upon obtaining and reading the full paper, I discovered that the two dogs had been euthanized by their owners. And I clearly remember thinking, oh how could they?? Now, fifteen months into this hideous disease, I understand. I get it. I empathize.

Aoife is my sanity. She is the light bloom to Enzo’s dark malady. When Enzo is ill, my Court Jester, Nut-Ball, Wild Child is calmer, sweeter, and better behaved. Then, she administers her own brand of medicine; within 24-hours of a gut-wrenching seizure, I have found myself bent double with laughter, gasping for breath at her shenanigans. Within two days of Enzo’s last cluster of seizures, I found myself at a Nose work trial, walking floating out of a search area. I read her body language, I knew she’d found the hide; then, she’d turned and told me so. We were a team in sync. My “Alert!” to the judge was certain and true.

Enzo still has good days. He is now learning nose work too. And although I will never enter him in a trial, it makes my heart sing to watch him- engaged, happy, willing to work with me, and eager to search out the hide. He is having fun.

I’m learning to hold my hands up in the air and let go… of everything. There’s no cure. In life, there’s never a guarantee… of anything. So my advice? Find joy. Ride the ride. Scream when you have to, cry when you must, and laugh whenever you can.

Finnegan Moose

2007 – 2020

An easy, gentle, good natured boy. And the pain from saying good-bye to this beautiful old soul is enormous. I knew it was time; the rational part of my brain fully understood that this is the kindest act one can do for such a beloved dog- to be with him while he is gently eased from this world into the next. But my heart… oh my heart.

He was nearly 13 years old. My Chocolate Chunk. My Sausage Clown. My Finnegan Moose. He was my mountain, my rock, my ‘easy’ dog. He was my first hiking buddy, my first snowshoe companion. My first clicker-trained dog. He was my boy.

chocolate labrador retriever

I know he lived a great life- we are near a lake, so he swam and played fetch in the water often on hot summer days. We live on a dirt road in a rural area and have access to nearby woods and fields. So we hiked and took long, leisurely walks at least twice a day- early in the morning and every afternoon when I got home from school. I remember once when he was young… 9 months maybe? We happened upon three moose. They were blocking the path we would have normally taken to return home- a 5 minute walk from where we stood. I stopped cold- Moose can be unpredictable and I couldn’t tell through the trees if this was a Bull Moose with females or if they were all females. I wasn’t going to get closer to find out. Finn was up ahead and I think he spotted them the same time I did. He stopped dead, then turned to look at me. He was off leash. I bent down and started backing away, calling softly for him to come. He did. I was late for work that morning because we had to double back. That afternoon I stopped at our Feed Store and procured a Bear Bell. From then on, he was never without one, jangling merrily on his harness.

He was the first dog I ever owned that I found a dog walker for– eight hours was a long time to be left all alone. He quickly graduated from his crate and had full run of the kitchen because he was so trustworthy and well-behaved in the house. But was he perfect? Hell no. I still have a glasses case he customized with adolescent teeth marks. My mother-in-law is missing a perfectly good trowel that he stole from her gardening tote and ran off into the woods with–we searched high and low and never found it. I had to buy her another one. My husband made and installed a gate at the base of the stairs leading up to her in-law apartment above our garage. This, because Finn would climb up there to uproot flowers from her lovely pots that she had placed so carefully and artfully around her deck. I remember gardening out front, on more than one occasion, only to see him go flying by, clods of dirt and mangled marigolds hanging from his mouth. I’m not sure when we realized a gate would be cheaper than replacing her potted plants every 3 or 4 days, but I think it was soon.

He was the first dog I ever signed up with for formal dog training classes. I wanted so badly for him to earn his AKC Canine Good Citizen title. Did he? No… I simply could not tamp down his exuberant “jumping up to meet you” greeting when he was young. I should have tried again when he five years old…or was he six before he could finally sit calmly when greeting people?

He was my student dog when I enrolled in CATCH Canine Trainers Academy. By then he was nine years old. He was the first dog with which I used a clicker in order to shape a behavior- he had a glorious dead retrieve. He was an eager team mate and we had fun learning together. For one of the classes, I was to teach my student dog sit, down, recall, recall with distraction, sit/stay with distance, leave it, and go to mat from 5 feet away. Some of the behaviors he knew, but many he did not. As a family pet, he hadn’t been formally trained for any distance, distraction, or mat work. The day came for our evaluation. I was ready. He was doing an amazing job. My heart was bursting with pride. Then came our final behavior: recall past a distraction. The evaluator had me put Finn in a sit/stay and walk about 20 feet away. Then, she sprinkled kibble on the floor. Not a lot. But. Kibble. That was food. He was a Labrador Retriever. You know what happened. He came. He did. But first he hoovered up all the kibble. I was allowed a second go. My evaluator kindly asked me if I would like to take advantage and try again. Grinning and shaking my head, I replied, “No, he doesn’t need seconds, thank you.” She burst out laughing. We got a 94% and I was good with that.

I was blessed beyond measure with this dog. I am so very grateful to have had all those years with him. Yes, they flew by far too fast, but ohhh the memories. I have such wonderful memories. Thanks buddy; I love you. xo

No Answers

but she threw us a life line.

Spinone Italiano at the vet

Let me just start by saying the ride down to Massachusetts for Enzo’s neurology appointment wasn’t any where near as bad as I thought it would be. He held it together for a solid hour before he began to unravel. In an effort to appease him and take his mind off the ride, I played with the windows. We had started the journey with them up, the AC at full blast, and the radio on. Now, I rolled the front windows halfway down and the back windows all the way down so the novel smells could blow right in. He drew in deep, sniffy breaths and seemed somewhat mollified. Ten minutes from our destination though, he let out one loud, explosive bark as if to say shout, “Enough of this!” I assured him we were nearly there.

When I opened the back to let him out, he waited patiently to be released. I noted that despite my best efforts, a new seat belt would be necessary… (how? when? oh never mind.) I offered him a cool drink, but he was more interested in the sounds, sights, and smells in the parking lot. Once he was acclimated, I called the number I had been given to let them know we had arrived. Due to Covid-19, I would not be meeting the neurologist in person, nor would I be allowed inside with Enzo.

The vet tech who answered the phone had a kind voice and I had spoken to her twice, briefly, the day before. She wanted to double check some information and I began to panic… I had left Enzo’s seizure journal at home, knowing I wouldn’t be allowed in and knowing that my vet had faxed all his records here. She assured me there was no problem and they had indeed received all his records, but verification of all his medications and the dosages of each was needed. I calmed and answered her questions. Then she asked, “So, is there anything you’d like us to know?” “Yes,” I said softly as my throat closed over. “I want you to know how much I love him.” I could tell my answer wasn’t expected, but after a moment’s pause she responded, “I will do everything I can to make sure this exam is as stress-free for Enzo as possible. I promise to take very good care of him and I will bring him out to you directly as soon as the doctor is done with him if he’s anxious or upset.” I closed my eyes and nodded my thanks, not trusting myself to speak. It was only later that I realized she couldn’t see me.

When she appeared to collect him, he greeted her warmly, like an old friend. She was delighted and told him what a good, handsome boy he was. (All true.) He was fitted with a hospital collar, much like the bracelets we humans don upon admittance to a hospital. Then with absolutely no hesitation what-so-ever, he trotted briskly off with his new friend, stumpy tail wagging, not a care in the world. I grinned through tears. Such a good boy– I’d had visions of the tech wheedling, cajoling, and possibly even having to pull him along. I had been so worried–about so many things–the travel down, not being able to give him his breakfast in the morning, not being with him, on and on. This jaunty boy was a balm to my heart.

Thirty-five (long) minutes later, my cell phone rang. It was the tech calling to inform me that the neurologist had completed Enzo’s exam and would be phoning me shortly. She then asked if they could take pictures of Enzo for their Instagram page- he was having a ball, charming technicians and doctors alike. I laughed heartily. Of course they could take his picture, and if he was having such a fine time, he was welcome to stay inside, where it was cool until it was time to leave. Outdoors, the temperature was rising and it was getting hot. I got off the phone, grinning from ear-to-ear. That boy.

I had an informative and thoughtful conversation with Dr. Weiss. I liked her style. She was sensible, thorough, and compassionate. There was a warmth in her voice as she laid out the options, then her recommendations. For instance, although an MRI was an option, she did not feel it was warranted as she was 99.9% sure his epilepsy was genetically based; therefore, it would provide her with little, if any, useful information. She felt the same was true for the spinal tap. The only viable option she felt justified in making at this point in time she told me, was medicinal.

She was also blunt: Enzo’s seizure disorder is severe. It’s not going to get better. In fact, in all likelihood as he grows older, it will get worse. But for now, she feels he is an excellent candidate for pulse therapy. His next seizure, (and there will be another one) instead of immediately giving him a dose of his phenobarbital, I will immediately administer a medication called clorazapate and then again every 8 hours for 3 days. The goal is to stop the clustering. The goal is one seizure and one seizure only in a thirty day cycle. She feels this protocol may be able to provide that for Enzo.

I am glad to have the new information, even though some of it was hard to hear. I take comfort in knowing we have a therapy that may bring relief. It’s a life line, and I’m holding on fast….