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You recently learned (through experience with your dog) the difference between regurgitation and vomiting.
Your dog started bringing back undigested food that had formed a sausage shape. You thought he was vomiting, but when you showed the video to the vet, she disagreed and said the dog was regurgitating. Now you understand that regurgitation is a passive process, a bit like a car with the handbrake off, rolling downhill.
Your dog is old but otherwise in good health, and it transpires his gullet has become weak and baggy. Instead of food passing cleanly down into his stomach, his meal is stagnating in the gullet in his throat and so when he lowers his head the food tumbles out of his mouth.
The answer, you learn, is to feed the dog with his head well above his heart, so that gravity assists the food down. Indeed, further investigation leads you to the Bailey chair. The latter is a large box-like structure with a door. The dog enters and sits upright in a begging position, while he eats and for 15 - 30 minutes afterward, to aid digestion.
A Bailey chair is a piece of equipment designed to help dogs with megaesophagus. These dogs have a weakness in their gullet (the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach) which means food tends to collect there and not pass down into the gut. When a dog eats in the normal 'head down' position, the food tends to build up in the gullet and fall out again, sometimes causing the dog to choke.
The Bailey chair is an ingenious way of helping these dogs, by supporting them in an upright position while eating. This means gravity assists the food down into the stomach, which means less risk of regurgitation and choking.
Ideally, the dog should sit calmly in the chair for at least 15 minutes after eating, to wait for the food to go down. Thus, it's important the dog is relaxed and comfortable in the Bailey chair so that he sits calmly for the duration of this time and doesn't feel trapped.
Be prepared to take your time training an older dog. In addition to coming to terms with this new apparatus, he may be suffering from arthritis or a lack of agility which make it more awkward for him to sit in the upright posture. If this is the case, be sure to work with your vet to provide adequate pain relief for the older dog.
To get started you need to invest in a Bailey chair that is the correct size for your dog. Rather than buy a chair second hand and take pot luck that it fits the dog, it's best to measure your hound and take advice from professionals about which size is best suited to his needs.
In addition, you will need:
- A treat bag or pouch so that rewards are available at all times
- Pain relieving medication, should the dog have arthritis or be stiff
- A cushion or padding to make sure the chair is as comfortable as possible
- Two regular dining chairs
- Time to encourage and praise the dog as he learns to sit in the chair.
The Good Things Happen Method
Understand the idea
There's a saying about "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." Actually, you can, but it all depends on encouraging the dog and giving him time to get used to new ideas and what's expected of him. For the older dog, using a Bailey chair this means making the chair as comfortable as possible for his old bones, rewarding him when in the chair, and staying with him so that he doesn't feel trapped or abandoned. It's also crucial to let him investigate the chair in his own time, so that he doesn't become fearful of it.
Make the chair as comfortable as possible
The dog is going to be sitting upright in the chair for long periods, several times a day, therefore it must be comfortable. Be sure the chair is the correct height so that the dog can rest without his front paws or shoulders being forced into an unnatural position, and that he can rest his chin comfortably on a padded ledge free from sharp surfaces. Provide a pillow or cushion at the bottom of the chair, so that it's comfortable to rest on. You can also increase the depth of the padding in order to raise the dog up, should the height be wrong.
Become familiar with the chair
Leave the chair in the room where the dog is going to be fed. Let the dog wander around and investigate the new item of furniture, without asking him to go inside it. He needs to become familiar with it first, before being confined inside.
Praise interest in the chair
Now the dog has become used to the chair as an object, praise him when he goes near it. Your aim is to build positive links between the chair and the dog, such that he thinks he's very clever for approaching it.
Lure the dog inside
Now your older dog is relaxed around the chair, encourage him inside. Make it into a game and keep the mood light. Leave the door open but lure the dog into the chair with a favorite toy or a small treat. Raise up his front legs, briefly close the door for him to rest his paws, give him some attention and then open the door again. Gradually extend the amount of time he spends with the door closed, working upwards from a few seconds to a minute or two.
Feed the dog in the chair
Once the dog has accepted being in the Bailey chair with the door shut, you can offer him a small meal. This rewards his good behavior and helps him understand what nice things happen when he's calm inside the chair. Stay with the dog for the next 15 - 30 minutes while his food goes down. Chat to him, praise him, or engage in teaching the dog a trick while he's in the chair. All of which helps occupy him so that he isn't bored and resentful while in the chair.
The Two Chairs Method
Understand the idea
It's super convenient if the dog learns to enter the chair by himself. This can save your back from the strain of lifting and shifting the dog, especially if he's large or heavy. The trick here is to work with the dog on a low platform, such as that created by placing two chairs together. This makes it easier to teach the dog to reverse into the chair without wobbling off to one side.
Prepare the pitch
Take two regular chairs and place them seat to seat, so that the backs form an "H" shape when viewed from the side. Place the Bailey chair on one of the chairs, with its back resting against a chair back, and the opening facing the second chair.
Have the dog jump up
Encourage the dog to jump up onto the vacant chair. If he struggles with this because of sore joints, consider placing a piece of furniture to act as a step to assist him. Use a treat to orientate the dog with his back end towards the open Bailey chair.
Reverse the dog into the bailey chair
Move the treat towards the dog's breast bone, so that he tucks his head in and reverses backwards in order to get to the treat. Keep the treat moving so that the dog reverses himself into the Bailey chair.
Use a cue word
As soon as the dog backs into the chair, use a cue word such as "Chair", and praise him for being clever. Now raise the treat up so that he strains upwards, which makes it easier to close the door. Give him yet more praise and let him have the treat.
Keep practicing in this manner using treats. Once he gets the idea you can also use a small bowl of food to reward him, and then have him sit in the Bailey chair while the food goes down.
Place the Bailey chair on the ground
Once the dog has the idea you can remove the supporting chairs and let the Bailey chair sit on the ground. The purpose of the chairs is to elevate the dog and assist him to reverse cleanly, without diverting to one side or the other (as he would fall off the chair). However, once the dog has learned the knack of targeting his rear into the Bailey chair, the elevation is no longer required.
The Dos and Don'ts Method
Don't: Force the dog into the chair
Teach the dog using encouragement and praise. To force the dog into the chair may make him resentful or fearful, either of which will make him less likely to eat and more likely to struggle to escape.
Do: Take things slowly
Avoid the situation where the dog goes into the chair, struggles, and so you let him out again. This teaches the dog that if he makes a fuss he gets let out, which is the exact opposite of what you want. This is most commonly the result of rushing the training and not letting the dog take sufficient time to get used to what's expected from him.
Don't: Leave the dog unattended
The Bailey chair should not be used as a cell or prison in which to restrain the dog while you go and do other things. Key to success is the dog enjoying his time in the chair, which includes spending time with your and some one-to-one attention. As well as being a good safety measure, this will reward the dog for his good behavior, which in turn increases his cooperation.
Do: Seek veterinary help
Older dogs often have multiple problems, of which stiff joints and arthritis are especially common. This may make it physically uncomfortable to spend long periods in teh Bailey chair, which may make him reluctant to go in. If you suspect the dog has a physical problem which is getting in the way, enlist the help of your vet. They may be able to suggest a medication to ease discomfort or a different way of padding the chair.
Don't: Punish the dog whilst in the chair
No matter how naughty he's been, never punish the dog while in the Bailey chair. If you do he's more likely to associate the chair with distress, and not want to enter, than to realize he was behaving badly and that was why he was punished. Instead, teach the dog distraction techniques such as the 'look' command, so that you can get his attention and interrupt unwanted behaviors.
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 01/02/2018, edited: 01/08/2021