Friday this spring on one of her more active days, hoping I will throw her toy for her.

Cancer is a funny thing.  No one wants to mention it, and everyone wants to know.  As many of you know if you have been following my blog, a few months ago, John’s dog Friday was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer.  Technically it is a CarcinoSarcoma in the mammary tissue.  To treat this, she had 3 of 5 of the mammary glands on one side removed, and then underwent chemotherapy.  The day that the vet gave us the bad news, he told us that the average life expectancy was about 4 months for a dog with Friday’s diagnosis.  That didn’t mean a lot of time for her!  Our best hope to help her out was chemotherapy, and rest and lots of love.  Luckily, Friday is well loved.

The day we got her diagnosis, we started the chemo.  John and I went out to a restaurant, had lunch and worked on our laptops.  John was very sad and distracted.  I was annoyed and intense.  That is just how we dealt with that particular stress.  A few hours later we went back to the Ontario Veterinary College and picked Friday up.  The staff were wonderful and complimented us on how well trained Friday was, and how easy she was to handle and treat.  Her sound genetics, early socialization, and great training made what could have been a rodeo a very easy time for her. If for no other reason, train your dog so that medical procedures are easier.

On the day she came home from surgery, Friday wore a Jafco muzzle to keep her from licking her incision. Generally we find our dogs to be much more comfortable in a muzzle than a cone. We had to teach Friday to be comfortable in a muzzle, but this works so much better for most dogs that we teach all our dogs to wear a muzzle when they are young so that we can use one if we need.

We came home to some hard realities.  No class for a week.  No long walks.  Keep her quiet.  She could die.  We handled this the way we often do; with some humour.  Friday is not usually allowed in bed with us, but now, when she looked to John to see if she could come up, and John looked at me, I took her voice and said “I’m dying you know.  If you really loved me, you would let me sleep in bed with you.”  John laughed and thus began a joke between the three of us anytime that Friday looked at us and obviously asked for something.  “I’m dying you know.  If you really loved me, you would take me to get the mail with you.  If you really loved me you would share your venison with me.  If you really loved me you would stuff a kong for me.  If you really loved me, you would take me for a drive in the car.”  The thing about cancer is that in some ways it can be very freeing.  You can absolutely justify any fun thing at all.  And we did.

“I am dying you know. If you really loved me, you would let me sleep in bed with you.” We really love you Friday. Notice that John wrapped her in the duvet.!

Friday had chemo every three weeks, which really gave us a rhythm to follow.  Right after chemo, there was really no difference in her behaviour for about 24 hours.  Sometimes she would develop a bit of nausea, but we had good medication to control that so she was quite comfortable most of the time in that regard.  She did lose some weight, but generally she ate normally post chemo; it was just that chemo takes a lot out of the dog, so she got a little thin.  During that first week, she would be very tired and she would sleep a lot. 

Friday became a prodigious sleeper in the week following chemo!

In the second week, she would recover quite a bit, and slowly, by the third week she would begin to bounce back to near normal energy levels.  What she really lost was stamina though.  Although she enjoyed going to classes in her second and third weeks, she would tire quickly and about half way through a class she just wanted to sleep.  Life as a demo dog in a school means that she has a crate of her own with her own bed and water in it, and she is really accustomed to being there, so once she had enough, she would just go to her bed.  She also lost some strength and oomph.  Throughout her chemo, we used a ramp to help her in and out of the dog training truck.  Again, her training really helped her because we were able to teach her how to use the ramp in one 60 second training session.

In the canoe! Dogs with cancer still like adventures, and it was important to us to keep looking for adventures that Friday could do, so we taught her to lie in the bottom of the canoe and go for short trips on our farm pond.

Friday was shedding her winter coat when she had chemo, and so she didn’t grow any normal undercoat this summer.  That makes her feel kind of funny when you pet her!  The veterinary oncologist, Dr. Hocker, assures us it will grow in normally during her next shed this fall.  Otherwise, we don’t notice any real physical changes with her. 

At the end of five rounds of chemo, Friday was discharged from treatment.  We could have anesthetized her and done radiographs and an ultrasound to find out if there is any more cancer left in her, however, we really didn’t want to put her through more stress when the diagnostics would not direct her next step in treatment.  In veterinary medicine we learned, chemo is not intended to cure cancer, but rather to make an animal more comfortable.  Friday is not considered cured, but we don’t have to go back for more treatment either.  If she gets sick and we think she has more cancer, we will do the minimum amount of diagnostics to find out what is going on and then we will make her comfortable and allow her to have the best quality of life until the end. 

We know that Friday likely has less than another year to live; the record for a dog with her type of cancer was one full year post diagnosis to death.  This is a bit hard, but living with a dog whose days are numbered actually has an upside.  When we start to forget to have fun with her, to spoil her a bit, or to bend the rules “just because”, one of us will look at the other and say “I am dying you know.  You should throw the frisbee.”  For the most part, Friday is bright, active and alert as they like to say, and she is very engaged again in going for walks, meditating every day with John (he meditates; she lays her head on his lap, and if it is cold he wraps her in his meditation shall with him), going to training classes and being the awesome demo dog she has been for the school for the past 7 years.  She behaves a little older now than her actual age, but in general she is herself and that is wonderful.

John meditates every day, and Friday joins him. Our farmhouse is over 160 years old, and it is quite cold, so often Friday and John would wrap themselves up before they started the meditation. This was an important part of how John and Friday continued to do things that were very normal for them, which is important for anyone living with cancer.

So Friday is done with cancer treatment for the time being, and she and John are beginning to get fit for their annual fall trip to Algonquin.  Now you know, but please, ask!  We love telling people about Friday’s journey with cancer and even when it is hard, we appreciate knowing that she is in your thoughts! 

Friday is still completely herself, and we are treasuring every day with her. Every morning she greets the world with enthusiasm and drive, and reminds us that even when you are dying, you can still do the things you love!

If you would like to know about the beginning of this journey, please read .







One plus one is 2, but two ones are 11.  I remember being fascinated by this fact when I was about six.  When I was in my early twenties and doing the family budgeting for myself and my first husband I learned that this mathematical truism has practical applications.  Each of us alone needed a certain amount of money to survive but together, somehow or another pooling our assets and renting only one apartment felt like it didn’t work out as a more frugal alternative.  There seemed to be so many things that we needed that I hadn’t felt the need for as a single person.  Even simple things that seemed like they would cost less if we were buying for two often resulted in buying two brands of the same product.  Two CAN live as cheaply as eleven.


Eco 005
Eco is the black German Shepherd and Yarrow is the White Standard Poodle. They were the very best of friends until they hit about 6 and seven months respectively. Here they are playing together when Eco was about 5 months and Yarrow was about six months.

The same is true of raising puppies.  Raising one puppy takes a certain amount of time, effort and cost.  It seems like you could only be doubling the effort if you get two dogs, right?  Plus they will keep one another occupied when you have other things to take your attention, like your children, your spouse, your home, your car or your job, right?  If only it were that simple.


I have lived in a multidog household for most of the past twenty years.  John and I usually each have one dog of our own, and sometimes one or the other of us will have a second dog who is significantly older or younger.  Realistically though, we try and space them out to a new dog every three to four years.  We are coming up to the time when we will be considering adding a new addition in the next year or so.  At various times for various reasons we have raised two dogs at the same time. 

When Eco was a puppy, we were raising a service dog candidate; a standard poodle.  They were merry friends who spent a lot of time bouncing around with one another.  The poodle was about a month older than Eco and for the first six months or so, he ran the roost.  He was faster, stronger and more developed.  And then Eco overtook his speed, strength and agility, not to mention that Eco cared a lot more about who got things first, who ran the fastest and who controlled access to resources such as me.

When the poodle puppy came home, we enrolled him in puppy classes (all of our pups go to puppy classes, both our own and those of other schools).  When Eco came home four weeks later, we enrolled him in different classes.  Why not put both pups in the same class you might think.  There are two reasons for not putting both pups in one class.  The first is that the older puppy needed to start sooner than Eco.  And the second is that jockeying for position that I mentioned above; in a class setting we might have had to restrain one pup while the other played in order to avoid the inevitable ganging up that can happen of these two closely aligned friends against all the other pups in the class!  So already, even though John and I were raising two pups and there were two of us, and we both went to both sets of classes, we didn’t double up on the enrolment and put both puppies in the same class.


Then there is the whole issue of equipment; surely with two pups, we could get by with a little less equipment, right?  Not so much.  Even with a month between the two puppies, we needed full sets of collars and harnesses, leashes, bowls, crates and beds to accommodate both puppies.  Furthermore, we had to pay for vet visits twice as often, and usually we find it is better to bring dogs separately to the vet; there is less confusion and we can focus with the vet on each dog as an individual.  That means that not only did we have to pay for two veterinary appointments, we chose to attend the vet together, with each puppy on a different day.  Considering that our vet is a fifteen-minute drive from home, that means that we had to allocate about an hour for each vet visit for each of us, and pay for an hour’s worth of gas in total to get both dogs to the vet.  In a busy family with a company, that was really quite tough! 

2 leashes. Two head halters. Two collars. And because each of these dogs was being trained for different work, each dog had to have a whole different set of equipment. Yarrow was destined to be a service dog so he had a series of packs that he needed to use in his work that Eco didn’t need. Eco on the other hand needed dumbbells, jumps and tugs related to protection work that just didn’t apply to Yarrow.

We had to allocate time to train each dog separately and again, we tried to make sure that each of us got in a training session each day with each dog.  We also made time to walk each of the dogs separately each day.  That made for more time into this project.  John and I like to teach our dogs to trail walk, and for the most part we did that together, so we could cut down some of the doubling up on that front, but honestly we didn’t save much time, and the time that Eco (the BLACK German Shepherd) to Yarrow (the snow white Standard Poodle) swamp walking, we really wondered why we had any dogs at all!

Two baths.  Two grooms.  Two classes, two vet visits, two sets of everything.  And eleven times the mess!  We have found that when we compare raising one versus two puppies at a time, having pups one at a time allows us to get to know the puppies better and creates so much less chaos in our lives that when we can, we don’t try and raise 11 puppies at once!



Originally published on November 1, 2014


When I go to the vet, I have some things I do to make the visit as successful for everyone as I can.  I try and take into account my dog’s needs, the needs of the animals I will encounter, the needs of the other clients of the veterinary hospital, the doctors, the techs, the receptionist and of course me.  The last time I was at the vet (last week) there was a lovely bulldog cross in the lobby barking and lunging at me.  “He just wants to say hi” his owner said.  I looked at the dog who most definately did NOT want to say hi, and said to the owner “be that as it may, he is being very rude and I am not going to greet a dog who is behaving that way.”  Then I shifted two seats over and out of reach, and started to think about how I go about making vet visits successful for my dogs.

Where was my dog?  Safely in the car where the snarling bulldog couldn’t make him uncomfortable.  I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I do make an effort to make the vet visit as safe and stress free for everyone as I can. I start out by understanding that there are many people to take into account when considering how to make a vet visit successful.  Each of those people and all the pets involved have a different role to play and have different needs to be met.

I like to start out with me and my dog.  I have three dogs.  Eco can be quite reactive and he is very predatory to cats.  As a service dog, D’fer has been everywhere and done everything.  Friday is not reactive, but she doesn’t have the level of experience that D’fer does.  The first thing I do is to take into account the needs my dogs have.  When I arrive, I go in and let the receptionist know that I am there, and I take a look around the waiting room.  If it is really busy, then I sit down until it is my turn.  Unless it is an emergency, my dogs will be more comfortable and relaxed in their crates in the car than they will be in a waiting room.  If your dog won’t wait in the car for a few minutes teach him how to do this.  If it is hot where you are, consider bringing a second person with you to sit with your dog with the car doors open during the wait.  My current vehicle has a hatchback opening and I will often leave my dogs in their crates with the hatch back open and a battery operated fan to keep them cool in hot weather.

I happened to go to the vet one day this summer just as Stephanie, one of our instructors was coming out with her dog. Here she shows what to do when the waiting room is too busy for your dog; she found an empty exam room to back into, and only came out after D’fer and I had left. Avoiding problems in the waiting room is everyone’s responsibility and is an important part of visiting the vet’s office successfully! Photo Credit: Sue Alexander

Let’s be honest; veterinary waiting rooms can be very difficult for pets, especially if they aren’t feeling well.  By coming in, checking in with the receptionist and then waiting our turn, I decrease the population pressure on what is often a really small space that is not well designed for the animals who end up waiting there.  If I could redesign veterinary waiting rooms, I would make small stalls with a chair and a gate so that the person and the pet can be contained without meeting every other pet in the universe.  The other thing I would do would be to have an IN door and an OUT door that didn’t require pets to pass one another.  And the final thing that I would do would be to set up appointments so that you don’t have large dogs and small pets confined in the same place!  I really worry about Eco someday being faced with a tiny dog or cat and having an undesired outcome.  He would not need to be aggressive in order to cause harm to such a pet; he would just have to trip on them to hurt them.  Given that I am not in charge of veterinary waiting rooms, I need to preplan and train for success, and that is just what I do. When I do come in, I choose what equipment I want to use with care.  Usually, when I bring Eco to the vet, we use a head halter so that I can control his head.  That way if there is a dog in the room who is staring at him, I can physically turn his head away from the dog who is staring at him and head off any reactivity.  With D’fer and Friday, I usually use a flat buckle collar, but I still choose my route through the waiting room so that if a dog stares at either of them, they won’t feel threatened.  This is a really great reason to teach your dog to walk on either side of you; putting yourself between your dog and a dog who is staring at him can really go a long way to helping your dog to feel confident about the trip through the waiting room. Next stop is usually the scale.  It is really easy to teach a dog to get on a scale and it is worth the time to teach them how to do that.  I use an aerobics step in my training classes to teach dogs to get on the scale and then to stay there long enough to register their weight.  Training this behaviour is fast, easy and fun to do at home, and incredibly useful.  If you are spending ten minutes struggling with your dog to get him to stand on the scale, you are often going to be taking up time from the receptionist or the tech or the vet.  If your dog finds getting on the scale frightening, you are setting him up to be anxious and upset when he goes into the exam room.  This is especially important when you have a large or giant breed of dog.  Practice at home and then it is easy to do at the vet’s and it helps to get you in and out of the waiting room in a hurry.

Here  is a very big dog!  He is using an aerobic step in class to help him to learn to get onto the vet’s scale.  Training ahead of time can make your vet visit MUCH easier and less stressful for both you and your dog.  Photo Credit:  Sue Alexander

Once you are in the exam room, either engage with your dog in some way, or ask him to lie down and stay.  D’fer has to go into the vet’s fairly frequently to get laser and cartrophen treatments.  When we get into the exam room, if we have to wait, I usually use that time to play some quiet clicker games; shaping head posture or playing the what else game (where he gets clicks for doing things that he hasn’t done in that particular chain) or even fetching named items.  With Friday and Eco, they aren’t going on a regular basis, and they aren’t as often in pain when they go, so they get to do a down stay; we don’t usually have to wait more than five minutes so I don’t feel this is an unreasonable thing to ask them to do.  Teach your dogs to do at least a ten minute down stay and your vet visits will be much calmer and more relaxed and frankly easier for everyone. All my dogs are taught to wear muzzles and I bring the right one to each vet visit.  If the vet needs to do something that might cause my dogs pain, I will offer to muzzle them.  Being willing to muzzle my dog and having a dog who will wear a muzzle without a fuss makes my vet’s job safer and that makes it more likely that my vet will be able to handle and treat my dog in such a way that he will get the best medical care possible.  I also spend time ahead of the visit teaching my dog that being handled and lifted and shifted and examined is a sae activity.  When a vet is spending more of his or her energy restraining the dog than examining him, they cannot get the best information to help your dog.  If your dog doesn’t like being handled, then work on it!  Help your dog out; if he is struggling and trying to escape he is more distressed than he should be.  Start simply and grab your dog’s collar and feed.  More bites happen when a dog is having his collar grabbed than nearly any other time in a vet clinic.  Then start doing a mock vet examination; it doesn’t have to be exactly like the vets do; in fact if you are clumsy and a little inaccurate then you are preparing your dog for the day that the vet mishandles your dog.  It won’t be scary for your dog if you have done the background work on teaching him to accept being handled.

Getting right down on the ground and teaching your dog to accept handling is an important thing to do to prepare for a vet visit.  Make it fun and use treats to help your dog to understand that he is safe, and do it regularly so that when the vet has to look at your dog’s body, he or she won’t be upset.  Photo Credit:  Sue Alexander

During the exam, your vet may need to do a procedure such as putting eye drops in your dog’s eyes or looking in his ears to see if there is an infection.  Once, D’fer had a stick caught between his upper molars and the vet had to open his mouth and stick a giant set of scissor like forceps in there and yank it out!  Amazingly, although I had never done this to Deef before, he sat still for the procedure and it was over before I knew it.  This was a successful procedure in part because I have done nearly everything else to this dog before we did this and he just thought this was yet another variation on handling games.

D’fer wearing his snazzy safety goggles to protect his eyes during laser therapy!  He just thinks this is one more silly thing we have to do at the vet’s office.  Photo Credit:  Sue Alexander

Once the examination is over, you have to get your dog out of the exam room and back into your car.  I will often put my dog back in the car before settling up the bill but if I DO have to keep him with me for whatever reason, I ask him to lie down and stay with his back against the counter of the clinic reception desk and my feet between him and the waiting room.  I am very careful about my dog’s behaviour in waiting rooms but I don’t expect that every owner will be as careful as I am, so I take steps to ensure that my dog will be safe right through to the end of my visit to the vet’s office.

Teaching your dog to lie down and stay between your feet provides your dog with a safe place to be if you have to pay your bill or if another pet arrives before you can leave.  Photo Credit:  Sue Alexander

As you are leaving the office, keep an eye out for new folks coming into the office with their pets.  Often I have taken a step back to allow someone else to come in so that we don’t tangle the dogs with one another in a confined space.  I like to think about my dog as moving through the world in a giant safe bubble with me.  If I could invent a giant gerbil ball for my dog, then that would keep us safe from all the things that can potentially make a vet visit possible, but until that day comes, I will keep relying upon management, preplanning and training to make things successful when I visit the vet.  I just wish I could have had that gerbil ball for the bulldog cross who just wanted to say hi when I was at the vet’s!