Working dogs

Physiotherapy for Working and Competition Dogs

Dogs such as police dogs, sheep dogs, gun dogs, and dogs who regularly compete at agility, obedience, flyball, working and field trials, are the athletes of the canine world.  They are subjected to far more stresses and strains, both physically and emotionally, than the average pet dog.  In order to perform to their optimum ability they need a good diet; sport specific conditioning and training programmes;  and advanced skills in core stability, natural balance, body awareness, concentration and confidence.

Prevention is always better than a cure; therefore I offer injury prevention and performance enhancement programs for these dogs. These include advice on competition warm up and cool down routines, stretching protocols and proprioceptive training which along with reducing stress and improving mental focus, will improve strength, core stability, balance, coordination, muscular reaction times, and increase movement efficiency.

Any subtle loss of performance or change in temperament should be investigated, as this may be due to a minor musculoskeletal injury which, if undiagnosed and untreated can cause more serious damage over time.  I also offer periodic health checks to screen for minor injuries.

General signs of injury

If you notice any of these problems in your dog you should consult your vet and request a referral for a veterinary physiotherapy assessment:

  • Shortened stride
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Abnormal posture
  • Weight shifting
  • Muscle wastage
  • Stiffness, especially after exercise
  • Temperament or behavioural changes
  • Loss of performance, endurance, concentration or enthusiasm
  • Taking down poles or not clearing obstacles
  • "Measuring" jumps
  • Faulting in the weaves
  • Crooked sits
  • Acute inflammation; pain, heat and swelling
  • Lameness

Agility and Flyball

These are high-risk sports due to the high speeds; twisting and turning; accelerating and braking forces; and concussion on landing impact, that the dogs are subjected to. This can cause a variety of soft tissue injuries, involving muscle, tendon, ligament, cartilage, or joint capsule. Agility dogs frequently have problems around the withers and shoulders from the jarring; twisting and turning can strain their abdominal and intercostal muscles; and carpal (wrist) joints can be overstretched on landing. Weaving is an unnatural movement and requires good co-ordination, and flexibility through the spine and shoulders. If dogs are lacking these elements, then they will be predisposed to back, soft tissue, and joint strains.

In addition, dogs participating in flyball are particularly at risk of sustaining carpal (wrist) injuries as they hit the box, and shoulder injuries as they use the box as a brake. They are also at risk of repetitive stress injuries as they tend to brake and turn in one direction on the ball-release.

Obedience

Obedience and
Heel Work to Music

Certain elements of the obedience test require your dog to perform movements that are un-natural.  For example, during heel work, the dogs always works to the left of the handler with their heads up and to the right; and the “slow pace heelwork” in the higher classes is particularly tiring for the postural muscles.  This may lead to muscle tension, pain, and repetitive strain injuries, which in turn can lead to muscle imbalances in the spine and limbs, due to altered movement patterns.

The competition obedience “straight sit” requires full mobility of the lower back, pelvis, hips, stifles and hocks, any joint or soft tissue restriction in these areas will result in a “crooked sit”. 

An extension of obedience is heelwork to music where dogs are taught some “trick movements” such has walking on their hind limbs.  This requires sustained contraction of the small postural control muscles of the back and limbs, which predisposes them to fatigue and injury, and stresses the cruciate ligaments of the stifle (knee) joint.

Showing

Show dogs are required to present themselves for judging both in standing and on the move. They are judged on conformation, presence, concentration, attitude and movement.  If they are tight in the shoulders or back, this will hinder any free flowing movement.  If sore in the back or neck they may resent being handled by the judge and fidget. 

Working Trials, Field Trials and Herding Dogs.

These dogs are expected to perform over many hours in all weather conditions and sometimes over harsh terrain.  Fatigue is a contributory factor to sustaining muscle or joint injuries.

Typical injuries include: cuts and abrasions; muscle strains, tears or contractures; bruising due to collisions; concussion from landing impact; and neck and back pain, especially in herding dogs arising  from  the typical low body posture maintained during driving stock.

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Working dogs

Weaving

Flyball

Obedience

Field Trials

Herding dog

In accordance with the law, veterinary consent is needed before I can treat any animal. You can download a referral form and health check form in Word format from the links below.

Veterinary referral form
Competition Animal MSK Check

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