Instructor: Sue Yanoff, DVM
There are many musculoskeletal injuries that can occur to performance dogs. Some are subtle and come on gradually. We are not really sure if there is something wrong. Some are acute and come on suddenly. It is obvious there is something wrong. Some seem to come and go, no matter what we do. Some injuries are easily diagnosed and treated, and the dog is back in competition within weeks. Some are difficult to diagnose and treat, and it could take months to years to get the dog back to competition.
This class will teach you about the common, and not so common, injuries that can happen to your active dog. We will discuss what is normal, what is abnormal, how to get an accurate diagnosis, what is considered good treatments, how to know when your dog is ready for rehab, and how to get your dog back to competition. We will not cover developmental diseases (hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, OCD), other than to mention that they exist and can cause a problem. We will not cover conditioning and rehab in detail but will touch on them as they relate to treatment and prevention of injuries.
The goal of this class is to make you an educated dog owner, which will allow you to ask questions and make informed decisions about your dog if you are ever faced with an injury. The material will be presented in a way that makes it easy to understand, even if you are not a science major. This class will be open to Silver and Bronze students only. Silver students will be given homework to help you understand and use the lessons. You do not have to have an injured dog to take this class! Please note: I cannot diagnose your dog’s problem, but I can guide you in your pursuit of a diagnosis and treatment.
There are no scheduled sessions for this class at this time. We update our schedule frequently, so please subscribe to our mailing list for notifications.
Registration will begin at 10:30 AM Pacific Time.
For answers to commonly asked questions see our FAQ page.
Enrollment limits: Gold: no gold students, Silver: 25 students, Bronze: unlimited.
If you are interested in a bronze level subscription, you can sign up at any time during the registration period.
Overview: What is sports medicine? What is rehab? What is conditioning? Chronic vs acute injuries. What is a specialist? General practitioner vs. specialist. What is a good sports medicine exam? What are the signs of injury? Why is it important to get an accurate diagnosis?
The front end: Common injuries and conditions affecting the shoulder, elbow, carpus (wrist), toes.
The hind end: Common injuries and conditions affecting the hip, stifle, tarsus (hock).
The spine: Cervical and thoracolumbar intervertebral disc disease, lumbosacral disease. Orthopedic vs neurologic disease.
Muscle, tendon, and ligament injuries not previously covered (including the infamous iliopsoas). Pain control. Treatment modalities (laser, ultrasound, shock wave therapy). Alternative therapy (acupuncture, chiropractic, massage). Return to normal activity and competition.
What else can look like a musculoskeletal problem? Cardiac arrhythmia. Metabolic disorders. Prostate problem. How to prevent injuries.
This is the last lecture of the class. I have given you a lot of information over the past 5 1/2 weeks. I want to give you a chance to catch up if you are behind, review some lectures if you want to, and ask any last minute questions that you have.
Today we will discuss things you can do to help prevent injuries in your performance dog. The best way to prevent injuries is to never let your dog do anything. Since that is neither kind nor practical, we will talk about other steps you can take to help minimize the chance of an injury.
I want to preface this lecture saying that none of what I am going to tell you has been proven. By that, I mean that no research has been done in dogs to prove that any of this helps prevent injuries. The information is based on research in people, what I have been taught, what I know about dogs, and what makes sense. With that said, this is what I think you can do to help minimize sports injuries to your dog.
1. Keep your dog thin
Excess weight causes excess stress on the bones, joints, and soft tissues. You should be able to easily feel your dog’s ribs when you run your hand gently down her sides. Don’t kid yourself. If you are not sure if your dog is overweight, let a knowledgeable friend check her. This is important.
2. Keep your dog fit
Fitness includes strength, flexibility, speed, endurance, balance, and proprioception. There are other FDSA courses that address fitness and conditioning. Make sure your dog is musculoskeletally sound before starting a fitness program. Conditioning is not the same as rehab.
This video shows some of the conditioning exercises I do with my dogs. They work on strength, flexibility, balance, and proprioception. I do other activities for speed and endurance.
3. Warm up before activity
In people, warm ups warm the muscles, tendons, and ligaments, loosens the joints, increases the heart rate, increases blood flow, and improves performance. The warm up prepares the body for the activity that will follow. There is no reason to think that the same does not apply to canine athletes. There is not one “correct” warm up routine. It depends on many factors, including your dog’s age, whether it is warm or cold outside, and what activity you are doing. I will share what I did with Ivy when I was competing in agility.
I would get Ivy out of her crate about 20 minutes before her run. I would allow about 10 minutes for her to sniff and potty. I would then do a brisk walk (with no sniffing) for 2-3 minutes, then some trotting, then some short back and forth sprints with sharp turns. Next, I would do some active stretches: play bows, jumping up on me, spinning, backing up with downs and spins. Then I would go to the practice jump and do 6-10 or so jumps: a few at 8”, then 12”, then one at 16”, then one or two more at 12”. (Ivy jumps 12”.)
When there were 3-4 dogs ahead of me, I would do some heeling and obedience “doodling.” When there were 2 dogs before me, I would sit on the floor with Ivy and pet her and talk softly to her. When the dog before me was running, I would walk to the ring entrance and ask for a few hand touches. When it was our turn to walk to the line, I would ask for a “speak” and enter the ring.
Stretching should come later in the warm up, when the muscles are loose. You can do active (dynamic) stretches before the competition, but you should not do passive (static) stretches. In people, dynamic stretches are exercises that stretch the muscles while the athlete is moving. Static stretches are exercises where the athlete holds the stretch for 30-60 seconds (or more). In dogs, active stretches are stretches the dog does herself. Passive stretches are when you move the dog’s limb or body to stretch the muscles.
Studies in people show that doing static stretches before an event actually weakens the muscles and decreases performance. The same is likely true in dogs.
This video shows Ivy doing some warm up exercises with active stretching:
4. Cool down after activity
It is important to let the dog’s heart rate and respiratory rate come down to normal after strenuous exercise. It is also important to let the muscles relax and allow the lactic acid the builds up in the muscles to dissipate. In people, a cool down period decreases the likelihood of injury and improves performance in the next session of activity. A cool down period keeps your heart rate and blood pressure from dropping too rapidly, which could make a person light-headed or dizzy.
With Ivy, after her run I would run to her crate to give her a food jackpot. Then I would walk her for 5-10 minutes with no sniffing. Finally, I would let her walk for 5-10 minutes at her pace, with sniffing. When my heart rate was back to normal, I figured hers was, too.
FYI, when I say how many minutes I do this or that, I actually look at my watch and time it. If is very hard to estimate how long you have been doing something. Also, some minutes are longer than others (3 minute sit-stay?).
5. Active and passive stretching
I always did passive stretching after each agility competition (after the last run, after the cool down; not necessarily after each run), and after heavy training. While I did this, I also checked for any decreased range of motion or muscles soreness.
This video shows examples of active and passive stretches of the shoulders in my beagles:
I do active stretches as part of my dogs’ conditioning routine to improve or maintain flexibility. I also throw in some active stretches during training, mainly as an active break from training.
Anyone can learn how to do basic massage techniques on their dogs. I would massage my dogs when I got home from a competition, when they were more relaxed than at the site. I often massage them when they are sitting on my lap or in front of me, or next to me. They love to be massaged while they are sitting or standing. They do not like to be massaged when I make them lie down. Some dogs like to be massaged, some don’t.
I love getting massages. It feels so good! Research on people has shown that massage after exercise reduced the production of compounds that play a role in inflammation, thus reducing muscle soreness. We don’t really know if this will help prevent injuries in dogs, but it can’t hurt.
7. Minimize uncontrolled activity
In my opinion, many of the injuries I see in performance dogs do not occur during training or competition. They happen when the dog is launching off the porch to chase a squirrel in the yard, or fence running with the neighbor’s dog, or roughhousing with another dog, or chasing a moving Frisbee or ball. (How many of you warm your dog up before allowing these activities?)
You have to decide if you want to allow your dog to do high risk activities. Most of us allow it, which is fine. But you may be increasing your dog’s risk for injury. You might want to think about not letting the dog chase the ball, toy, or Frisbee until the motion stops. This might make them a little less frantic during the chase. Be really careful about letting your dog jump up to catch the ball or Frisbee; they could land wrong and hurt something. Be careful on wet grass, mud, ice, and snow. Be careful about letting little dogs play with big dogs.
8. Avoid strenuous activity when your dog is tired
Physical and mental fatigue are risk factors for injuries in human athletes. Fatigued muscles do not absorb shock as well. Fatigued athletes cannot react as quickly or easily to unexpected changes. Avoid training when your dog is tired. Avoid overtraining. Consider give your dog a one day break from training during the week. Consider giving your dog a break of several weeks each year. Do other activities during the break, and occasionally, do nothing. When I was competing in agility, I took 2-3 months off each winter when we did no agility. I did other activities to keep them fit. When I was ready to compete again, I took 3-4 weeks to retrain my dogs to get them back to competition fitness.
9. Cross -Training
Cross- training is the practice of engaging in two or more sports or types of exercise in order to improve overall fitness and performance in one's main sport. Often one particular activity works certain muscle groups, but not others; cross-training aims to eliminate this imbalance. Cross-training allows an athlete to train all year, without overtraining in one sport and risking an overuse injury.
Those of us who do more than one sport with our dogs naturally cross-train. I do agility, obedience, and tracking, so my dogs do lots of different activities. My favorite activity is hiking. This may not be a sport, but it is an excellent cross-training activity. I can often take my dogs off leash. They walk, trot, run, jump, and make sharp turns. Running through the woods provides many different obstacles. This activity is not only great for their physical fitness, I think it is great for their mental fitness.
Here is a video of some of the cross training activities I do with my dogs:
10. Know your dog
In vet school we were told, “You can’t learn what is abnormal until you know what is normal.” The same applies to your dog. What is normal for your dog? How does she move? How does she sit? How does she lie down? Did she recently start sitting with one hind leg a tiny bit out to the side? Does she stand with one hind leg a little more forward than normal? Is she hesitant to do a trained behavior? Does she refuse to do a trained behavior? It may be a training issue, but it may be an injury.
What is your dog’s structure? Does she have structural weaknesses that can be strengthened with proper exercises? Is she straight in the shoulder or stifle? Does she have a long back? It is beyond the scope of this class to discuss conditioning exercises, but there are other FDSA classes that do this.
My younger beagle, Ivy, has a lateral patella luxation in her right hind leg. I have exercises that she can do to keep the hind leg muscles strong to help stabilize the patella. You would not know anything was wrong with her by watching her move, but I know she has this structural defect and I will address if for the rest of her life.
11. Identify musculoskeletal injuries sooner rather than later
Your dog is an athlete. If she were a pet, and incurred a mild musculoskeletal injury, you might not even notice it. The pet dog might limit her own activity for a while, and the injury would heal. If a performance dog injures herself, we might not notice it at first. But we continue to train. We ask our athletes to do things that a dog would not do on her own. She will do them because she is driven, the activities are fun, and food and toys are involved. By the time we notice that something is wrong, the injury may have been present for days or weeks.
If you think “something is not right” with your dog, stop and think again. Could she be injured? Address it now. In general, the earlier we treat an injury, the less time it will take to heal.
12. Get a baseline and annual sports medicine exam
Only a handful of my clients bring their dog in for a wellness exam. A few bring their competition dogs in for us to examine to see if we find any areas of concern. Some bring their young dogs for an evaluation. We look at structure and discuss ways to overcome any weaknesses. We do a complete exam to find any areas of concern.
I know a lot of people don’t do it, but it probably is not a bad idea. If there is a canine sports medicine specialist in your area, you might want to have your dog evaluated.
Injuries are going to happen. There is a lot you can do to decrease the chance of injury in your performance dog. If your dog is injured, get an accurate diagnosis as soon as possible, treat appropriately, rehab correctly, and your chances of getting back to competition are good.
1. What are some activities you ask your dog to do that she would probably not do on her own?
2. Do you give your dog a break from training? When and for how long?
3. Do you do cross training with your dog? What is your sport? What else do you do?