Over the years we have learned that the dog that we think we are taking home is never the dog that we adopt. We adopted Brando in 2010 a couple months after we lost our senior German Shepherd. Our senior shepherd had a very easygoing personality. He was confident without being aggressive which made him the ideal companion for our reactive, nervous, female German Shepherd, Stella.
We were looking for a dog with a very specific personality to keep our household balanced. We evaluated several dogs from German Shepherd rescue, the ASPCA and Helping Hounds before a Helping Hounds volunteer recommended Brando (then Rebel) to us. When Brando and Stella first met it was an immediate match. He laid in the grass calmly as she ran around playing frisbee. Periodically she would walk up to Brando and “check-in” with him, giving him a nudge with her nose or letting him sniff her rear before returning to playing. When Stella is nervous Brando comforts her. He licks her face, sniffs her rear or just sits down next to her. He can occasionally be lured into a game of chase or steal-the-toy but can generally be found sitting on the couch next to a heating source.
Brando was about 2 years old when we adopted him. Helping Hounds identified Brando as some sort of hound/pitbull mix. Brando is definitely part hound dog. He loves to dig in the yard and can sniff out any animal, whether it is a bird or a snake. Brando’s hound adventures have led to snake bites and one very unfortunate mouse dinner. We do our best to feed his strong prey drive with puzzle toys and hiding treats around the house.
We decided to get a DNA test to find out what other breeds Brando was mixed with. The results showed that Brando is a chow, foxhound, boxer mix. His coat is more hair-like, like a boxer. He has some areas where his skin has folds and thicker fur, like a chow. Brando developed skin sensitivities in the areas with extra folds or fur. He would scratch and bite these areas until they became raw and infected. After his worst flare-ups, he would have to be treated with steroids to fully recover. Steroids were very hard on Brando’s body and not worth the side effects for us. We had worked with Dr. Polly when our senior Shepherd had skin issues so we knew that she would be able to help Brando.
We initially tried acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy. While the acupuncture treatments did provide Brando with some relief, he was not good about sitting still to have the needles inserted or stay still for the 20 minutes that they need to stay in to be effective. We decided that his stress over the treatment cancelled out any benefits that he was getting. We noticed a difference with the Chinese herbs. We gave it to him daily for a couple months and then on/off for cycles of a couple weeks at a time when he had flare ups. We even mixed it with oatmeal and peanut butter to make allergy treats.
Brando’s unique breed mix gives him a bit of an awkward stance. His front legs are slightly shorter than his back legs. This combined with the stress that he puts on his front legs digging and pouncing led to lower back pain. He is very sensitive about having his lower back touched. He flinches anytime you rub or scratch him along his spine, almost like he is ticklish but it seems to cause him pain. We knew that he would benefit from chiropractic care from Dr. Polly but she couldn’t adjust his spine because of the touch sensitivity.
Dr. Polly recommended that we look in to a K-9 topcoat. This is a spandex, compression suit that is used on dogs with anxiety, allergies and other sensitivity issues. The topcoat was a huge success. When he has the suit on you can rub his back without him flinching and Dr. Polly can adjust his spine to relieve his back pain. Brando wears his topcoat during allergy flare ups, whenever he receives an adjustment and after stressful situations.
Brando used to be a nightmare after getting a bath. During allergy flare ups he gets a bath every 7-10 days. Before the top coat he would run around the house knocking over furniture and digging into the bed and carpet for several minutes before he calmed down. Now after his bath we towel-dry Brando and put him in his topcoat. He goes to his favorite chair and curls up without incident.
Brando had x-rays to confirm that he didn’t have any herniated disks or other structural problems that could be causing the pain. His x-rays were clear but they did show that he had a bullet in his side. The bullet does not cause him any pain and would cause more problems now if it was removed. Brando was rescued from a high-kill shelter in South Carolina by Helping Hounds. We can’t imagine what the first 2 years of his life were like but have been happy to spoil him for the past 7 years to make up for it.
Brando now has 3 topcoats and an assortment of clothing options. He seems to be calmest when he is swaddled in something. On cold nights, he is happy in his topcoat and underneath a fleece blanket in front of the wood stove. Even after all these years he still seems to be a South Carolina dog.
Diagnosis: Lower back pain, muscle pain in neck and shoulders, skin allergies
Treatment: Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Therapy, Chiropractic and home exercises with touch-sensitive suit