Saturday, April 7, 2012

Dog Lessons: Cooper

by Susan E. Davis, PT 

Working with dogs over the past 4 years has certainly taught me about their ability to understand and retain words and phrases uttered by humans.

A Dog's Life

Never has a one particular dog, Cooper, shown me the depth of those perceptions than he did a few short weeks ago.

Cooper is a 4-year-old white-coated Golden Retriever who had cruciate ligament tears in both of his knees and required surgery on each, only 3 weeks apart. This was quite disabling and caused him great difficulty with walking, climbing stairs and standing. He began a program of canine swimming which helped him a lot but his walking was still labored, with the hind limbs bent and crossed underneath him.

Physical therapy was recommended and Cooper’s mom Kathy got in touch with me to arrange treatment.  

She further enticed me by sending a short video of her adorable canine boy, struggling along the sidewalk awkwardly.  He stole my heart and I was motivated to offer as much help to him as I could.

The rehabilitation process lasted 7 months, with 1-hour sessions each visit. 

I worked with Cooper in his home, surrounded by his loving family of 3 generations. Each week Cooper gave it his all and the family cheered him on!  We kept a chart of his progress with range of motion, measured in degrees, plus bulk of the leg muscles using a tape measure, his standing height, etc. We watched him steadily improve and reach the pre-set goals.

Gradually I was able to reduce the frequency of PT from weekly to every other week, every 3 weeks then finally a month. 

On the last visit when I returned after a month, I found that not only had Cooper maintained all of his gains, but that he had further improved in standing taller with straighter hind legs, and with his ability to walk.

When the session ended I went into the kitchen to talk with his mom Kathy and give her my ecstatic news that Cooper was ready to be discharged!  

All of her time, effort, money, had paid off!  As we were discussing this, Kathy’s Sister Linda quietly “tip-toed” over, tapped each of us on the shoulder simultaneously and pointed to the dog, silently mouthing the words:  “LOOK AT COOPER”.

We turned to find Cooper sitting in the doorway of the kitchen with his head slumped completely down, resting on his chest. At first I thought he must be sleeping, sitting up! I went over, bent down to look and his eyes were open, but very sullen.

He looked completely despondent. 

His head stayed drooped but his eyes looked at me as if to say “are you kidding me?”!

I went back to Kathy but before I could say a word she quickly muttered “can you come back in 6 weeks?”  

”What day, what time? “came my reply!  As we scheduled another session for Cooper, we heard him walk away and then a familiar thumping sound. She looked around the corner into the living room and there was Cooper in his bed, lying on his side with his tail wagging, with each beat hitting the floor. Kathy said to me,” well, he knows you’ll be coming back, and since he has another appointment, he is happy”!   

I smiled, shook my head in amazement, went over, bent down and gave the dog a pat on his head saying “okay Coop; see you in a few weeks. Be a good boy!”


Susan E. Davis (Sue) is a licensed Physical Therapist with over 30 years of practice in the human field, who transitioned into the animal world after taking courses at the UT Canine Rehabilitation program.  She is located in Red Bank, New Jersey.

She has been providing PT services to dogs and other animals through her entity Joycare Onsite, LLC in pet’s homes and in vet clinics since 2008.

She also provides pro bono services at the Monmouth County SPCA in Eatontown, NJ.  Sue is the proud “dog mommy” to Penelope, a miniature Dachshund with “attitude”.  For more information see her website , or follow on Twitter @animalPTsue.

Sue is also the author of a fantastic book on physical therapy, Physical Therapy And Rehabilitation For Animals: A Guide For The Consumer.  

Physical therapy can do so many great things for your dog. Understanding all the possibilities physical therapy can offer will change your dog's life. This book definitely belongs on the shelf of every dog lover.

Articles by Susan E. Davis:
Functional Strengthening Exercises: the What, Why and How
One Thing Leads To Another: Why The Second ACL Often Goes Too
Compensation: An Attempt To Restore Harmony
Paring Down to the Canine Core
Canine Massage: Every Dog ‘Kneads’ It”
Photon Power: Can Laser Therapy Help Your Dog?  
Physical Therapy in the Veterinary World  
Reiki: Is it real? 
Dog Lessons: Cooper  
The Essentials Of Canine Injury Prevention: 7 Tips For Keeping Your Dog Safer 
It's Not Just Walking, It's Therapy! 
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part I)
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part II Physical Therapy)
Range Of Motion: It’s A Matter Of Degree…
The Weight Of Water And How It Helps Dogs 
By Land or By Sea? A Comparison of Canine Treadmills 
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part I)
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part II) 
Scar Tissue: Is it Too Much of a Good Thing? 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Ramps! 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Indoor Duo Dog Exercises!
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Best Practices After Your Dog’s Surgery


  1. Hey its Jet here. Thanks for sharing such an inspiring story.

  2. Hey, Jet, nice to meet you! Such a great story, isn't it? :-)

  3. Hi Y'all,

    Just hopped by to catch up on your happenings and say hello!
    We always enjoy keeping up with y'all and learn lots from reading your blog although I don't often comment.

    Have a great week and a happy Easter!

    Y'all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

    1. Hey, Hawk, good to see you. Have a happy Eater too!

  4. I am so glad I was able to stop by on the blog hop today. What a great story. I love that Cooper knew his new best friend would be coming back. Dogs are amazing. Thanks for giving me smile Jana and Susan.

    1. It's amazing how much they really know :-)