A cowlick tells a more important story

This was taken in July 2011 and shows the rougher hair around Grace's neck, different from the smooth coat over the rest of her body. It was an immediate red flag to the chiropractor, but something that I had never paid attention to.

Who knew that a cowlick had so much to say? I sure didn’t!

This picture was taken during the summer of 2005, soon after I got Grace. After Donna saw these, she said the difference was striking; the cowlick had developed over time.

But it was first thing that shouted out to the chiropractor when she looked at Grace last week. In fact, I had sent her a couple of pictures the day prior to our visit, and she said she immediately noticed it there, too. Apparently a cowlick is a major red flag that indicates issues with a nervous system. “Couldn’t it have something to do with her being a mixed breed?” I asked. “Maybe,” Donna replied, “but it is usually a signal of something wrong.”

As many of you know, Grace is a very fearful dog. Over the years, I have been focused on ways to improve the mental anxiety she has always faced. But I have never, ever, not in a million years, thought she had anything physical going on that would be affecting her. She started having seizures in 2008, but the literature said no one knows why dogs have seizures, so I left it at that.

I found this paragraph on a website devoted to dog’s health that helped me to put this into perspective: “Think of your dog’s nervous system as the control center for his body. The brain, spinal cord, and roadmap of nerves that travel to every inch of your dog’s body tell him what his senses detect and which muscles to move. They also help him learn. The nervous system also includes the intangibles that make each dog’s personality unique. So along with relatively understandable disorders, such as movement problems, behavior disorders also start here.”

All these connections were starting to come into sharper focus for me.

This generous dog chiropractor and I had agreed to meet halfway, each of us driving about two hours to a small park on the New York-Vermont border. I had assumed Donna would get a lot of information about Grace from watching her move. And Donna did observe, but she learned the most by moving her hands across Grace’s head, shoulders, neck, and then down and around her back. Surprising, and interestingly, Grace was much more willing to have this stranger come into her space than either of us had anticipated.

Upon my arrival, we walked around the park for about 15 minutes, then we sat on a sidewalk, giving Donna a chance to offer Grace some treats and a new friendship. Grace accepted both.

The change in the hair at Grace’s neck did turn out to be an accurate signal of problems, as Donna expected. With Grace, she found three significant issues: strong compression of the frontal cranial bones, a misalignment of her first vertebra, and a misalignment of the left pelvis. Donna moved her experienced hands across and around Grace’s body for several minutes, Grace allowing each movement without complaint or resistance.

The simplistic view of a dog's nervous system. After adjusting what she wanted, Donna sat back and patiently talked me through what she found and what it meant. I didn’t understand how the frontal lobes could be compressed (“isn’t a dog’s skull all one piece?” and “how can you tell the bones are compressed?” were questions I asked.)

There are many cranial bones and they are naturally expanding and contracting, I learned. But they shouldn’t remain tight and compressed, as they were with Grace. “So what does it mean?” I asked. “What’s the impact?”

“Imagine pulling on a pair of panty hose that are several sizes smaller than you need,” Donna said to me. Ohhhh, that would hurt, I thought.

“And then further imagine what your toes and your legs would feel like.” Ouch. I’m starting to get the picture. Along with the discomfort, the tightness of the bones is also causing restriction of the flow of important spinal fluids that transmit nutrients and cushioning to the entire nervous system. Donna feels that one possible theory about the fairly regular schedule of Grace’s seizures is related to the disruptive flow of the spinal fluid.

Later, I got to thinking about situations that were stressful for Grace and how much more she has been dealing with than I realized. What if she was experiencing the equivalent of a massive migraine while she’s faced with enormous fear of small children approaching her, for example? It’s amazing that she has done as well as she has.

These were old patterns, Donna said. I didn’t think to ask how she could tell, but she said it a few times and I felt that was important. In talking with my husband about the appointment, he asked if I had pictures of Grace when I first got her (of course I do…). I sent those to Donna that night and she said the difference was amazing to her. In the earlier pictures, she said her coat looks smooth just like on the rest of her body. And she didn’t see the tucked pelvis that she felt the other day.

I was telling someone over the weekend about the chiropractic visit and after just a few minutes of listening to me, he said to me: “This is impacting you more in other ways, it’s more than just ‘my dog is getting better.’ I know he is right, and yet I haven’t fully figured out all the things this process means to me.

I have always felt that when we experience something in one part of our life, it has some connection to another. That’s one of the reasons I write this blog, to help me – and others if they wish — see those connections more clearly.

I am absolutely elated that we are now working on getting Grace’s body back to a healthier state. But it is bigger than that. For me, part of it is that I moved forward with something that I didn’t even really believe was a problem, and doing something that some people might think is excessive. I tried to leave all my preconceived notions behind me. I believe there are other lessons for me and I’m still working to uncover those.

Is there a cowlick staring at you?

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11 Responses to A cowlick tells a more important story

  1. Tammy Lenski says:

    Robin, this is an amazing story. I’m sorry I didn’t see it before seeing you earlier today! You know, the more I work on building a partnership with my two dogs, the clearer I get about how complex these beings are. I’ve had dogs my whole life, but doing agility has helped me realize how much I don’t know! Grace is lucky to have such an intuitive and loving person as you in her life…your instinct drew you to seek out this chiropractor; many would have missed the signals that you noticed.

    • Thanks, Tammy! Grace is always trying to teach me something — I just need to remember to listen. I agree, agility is a fabulous way to build that partnership. It can start simple, but I can see where opportunities always exist in agiliy to find that next nuance that will raise the relationship to a higher level. I really appreciate your comments, thanks so much.

  2. We use a lead, but if we didn’t I know our youngest one would have a cowlick. Katherine took him to the vet the other day and he whined the entire 45 minutes. He wasn’t aggressive, he’s nice to the workers. But there were two escape attempts.

    • Does your dog whine a lot? It’s Grace’s favorite way to get our attention (also can be so annoying when it lasts — like the 45 minutes you describe!). Sometimes I have the hardest time figuring out if it’s because she is nervous or excited, like when we’re in the car headed for a walk in the woods. She’s uncontrollable!

  3. Kas says:

    Wow!! This is eyeopening and has me looking at each of the dogs and trying to evaluate them as we speak. Anxiety and reactivity in dogs is rooted in the brain, as you mentioned, and just like you, we’ve been working on changing the emotional responses to things that scare particular dogs. Ignore the people that think that you are being excessive … more dogs need owners like you – instead of ignoring the issues or pretending that they aren’t there, you are working towards resolving them. This is something that I’m working on with Dies in particular on a daily basis. And just like you, I feel better every single time that Dies does. Grace is so lucky to have found such a wonderful owner and you two are a wonderful inspiration 🙂

  4. This is all extremely interesting. Who would have thought a cowlick could have offered so much information to Donna! It’s great that Grace was happy to have Donna manipulate her. And that Donna was able to find areas with problems. I hope Grace stops having seizures. Does Grace have to have more treatments? Yes, I totally agree that Grace is very fortunate to have you for an owner. So many people either wouldn’t think of looking deeper into why their dog has problems or couldn’t be bothered doing anything about them.

    • I thought it was very interesting that Grace was so accepting and trusting. I’m sure it was Donna’s proper approach to her that helped, but Grace did not resist or seem frightened at all. At one point while Donna and I were sitting down on the sidewalk, Grace got up on her back legs and moved in to sniff and lick Donna’s neck. It was so funny. It proves that the way you approach a dog — or a person — can come back to you in positive ways. Grace will probably have two more treatments to get her back on track, then Donna will help me figure out a long-term plan. Thanks for asking and for stopping by!

  5. spiderpaw says:

    Wow, very insightful post Robin. I’m checking for a cowlick on Corran tomorrow.

  6. didiwright says:

    I kept checking George for a cowlick after I read this post. It’s very interesting and educational…I’m not happy that Grace’s got issues and needs help, but I am glad that you seem to have found the perfect person to help solve them. Fingers crossed!

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