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Special Tips for Canine Athletes


People who compete in dog sports are usually competitive individuals who seek out high energy, high drive dogs as partners. Whether we’re talking about agility, obedience, herding, field work, lure coursing, or dock diving, these dogs are driven to do their “jobs.” We, as handlers, are more than happy to go along for the ride.

The problem arises when the competitiveness of dog and handler starts to mask subtle changes in performance that could be an early sign of injury. We’ve worked hard to properly condition our dogs for their sport. We are careful to do proper warm-up and cool down. We’re very aware of uneven or slippery surfaces that could lead to injury. And still our dog’s performance is just a little off. In agility, maybe he’s dropping bars that he didn’t used to. Maybe he’s not switching leads or refusing an obstacle. In sports that require a turn, has he suddenly decided to turn in only one direction? In the timed events, are his times consistently a bit slower than normal? He might be trying to tell you something. Or maybe not tell you something, because his drive and desire to please you makes him want to go on as if nothing is wrong.

One of the most basic things to do is get to know your dog’s structure and musculature. Once a week go over him, palpating each muscle group in the shoulders, neck. back, abdominals, and large muscle groups of the rear legs. This is best done in a standing position. The changes to look for are symmetry between each side of the body, excessive firmness or softness, heat, or discomfort on palpation.

One of the wonders of the smart phone era, is that we all now have video capability at our fingertips. I’m going to go further, and ask that you get video with slow motion capability as many of the newer smart phones do. Video your dog in practice and at competitions and do it regularly. If you start to see a change in performance the slow-motion feature may show you that the dog is not fully using one of its limbs. It may just be a shorter stride, not leading with correct leg on a turn, not fully pushing off of both legs over a jump or in the weave poles. There may be other, even more subtle, changes that tell you that something is not right. Maybe your dog isn’t as excited to get on the start line. He may be yawning or stretching or looking away from you.

Regular monthly visits to a veterinarian or rehab specialist for maintenance checkups such as chiropractic or acupuncture can help detect early issues. Knowledgeable, objective eyes and hands may find problems you weren’t aware of. At Pawsitive Strides we also have a stance analyzer, which gives us a quantitative evaluation of the dog’s weight bearing.

If you think your high-performance pet may be slowing down or could use a trained eye to get him or her back up to peak condition give the experts at Pawsitive Strides Veterinary Rehabilitation & Therapy a call at 515-575-9655 today!

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