This is the time of year when we all have a great opportunity to get a jump on our team by doing our own pre-season physicals on our dogs.A lot of kennels have started training in August and some are just into it by a month or two. We have the chance at this point to remember the dogs who had problems last year, get them into the house and look them over from nose to tail. Remember those dogs who didn’t make the team last year? Want to put some money on the fact that a lot of them didn’t make the cut because of some minor injuries that you didn’t know about? I know of two dogs in my kennel who both had right shoulder injuries; one from about five years ago and one that came up last year. They both look sound after the summer off, but I know one female will start showing problems during the middle of the training season. I don’t expect her race again, but she is able to do 8-9 miles an hour for about 10 miles PAIN FREE. She has become my puppy trainer and helps train young leaders, and she will continue to as long as she stays sound. My expectations for her have changed each year that I have used her in order to keep her pain free. I don’t ask more than she can do physically. And I won’t push her into her pain zone because once I start doing that she will start showing that chronic rotator cuff strain/tear.I have been able to work in Fairbanks and Whitehorse over the last four weeks, teaching classes on orthopedic evaluations, and I have looked at dogs from sprint, distance and agility. I have found one common denominator between all of them. Their ability to perform has dropped suddenly even though the dog seems to look and act fine. One dog stopped going over jumps and would either dive under them or go around them. That was a new behavior for this dog. When we examined the dog, her lumbar spine was only slightly tender (very stoic dog) but she never seemed to relax, never sat straight or lay down without fidgeting. Her spinous processes of the last two vertebrae were tender with provocation and she had trouble extending her back. We talked about what the easiest thing to do for the dog would be, something that all of us could do at home, and we came up with lumbar traction. After laying the dog on its side, one person held the dog from behind the forelegs while another gently pulled from in front of the hind legs. The dog took a deep breath, laid her head down and started to relax. After several repetitions, we started to add a little more pressure until the spine self-manipulated. After the treatment she was able to sit straight, she was relaxed, and she moved about freely.Another dog I recently saw came in with a sore left shoulder. His history was this: last year while running across the snow he punched through on the left. He came up lame that next morning, but he didn’t seem to be tender to palpation or with motion. After two days off they ran the dog again only to find out that he was sore the next morning and could only bear partial weight on the left front. He was rested for two weeks and during that time he was put on Rimadyl. After two weeks off they tried running the dog again, only to find the same pattern. So, he went back again on Rimadyl. As long as the dog was on Rimadyl he seemed to do fine and the dog continued to run while on anti inflammatories. One year later, he is still limping after any playing or running and has generated many vet bills with no improvement. Luckily, we have a radiology department just for animals about 200 miles away with an MRI machine. The dog had sustained a torn supraspinatus muscle in the shoulder. (See MRI) It is not certain that that dog would have recovered fully after time off, but I have had several dogs who after a full season off, were able to come back without any symptoms the following year. It is really important to catch those shoulder injuries early and give the dog prolonged rest, ice and anti inflammatories. During their recovery phase, keep the dog’s joint moving in a PAIN FREE range. Also, keep the return to activity really slow so that they re-build their muscles.One week ago a friend of mine brought in 10 of his very young dogs that he had started running last year at 6-10 months old. At that time he was complaining of reoccurring and chronic shoulder problems in several of them. We had talked last winter when they first started, and we discussed training routines and time off for rest but the injuries continued to plague him. This year, before training started, he drove them down to my house to look at them and come up with a plan. Six of the ten had repetitive popping with shoulder extension and tenderness at the supraspinatus attachment. He is a sprint musher who was training at 20 mph both up and down hill, hoping to teach that pace to the dogs. Dogs at that age haven’t fully developed and they still have an open growth plate and ligamentous laxity. It was one of those scenarios that I often see in the office with kids. I have a very high level 10 year old gymnast who has all the potential in the world but ended up with a fracture in her back from too much, too early, too hard. Remember, we are the coaches, the trainers, and often times the vet techs at home. It’s our job to be observant, get our hands on our dogs and evaluate them continually. In this way we can keep them as injury-free as possible and find the minor problems before they become major problems. The more classes I teach on orthopedic evaluations, the more I believe that we as mushers, obedience and agility trainers, or pet owners have all the tools in our hands to solve 80% of all the physical problems our dogs come up with. That’s what I enjoy the most about working with the people in those classes. When they realize the dog they are evaluating has a problem and they weren’t aware of it they wonder, “How many other dogs might be just like that and I don’t know about it?” I hope that through these articles it becomes apparent that it is important as part of our kennel management to routinely do physical exams on our dogs. The old saying that “if they are pulling well and moving well, then they are well” is not always accurate. If we go through our dogs to the best of our abilities, we can then be confident that they are also feeling well.Wes Rau is a physical therapist living in Powell Butte, Oregon. He has earned his Bachelor’s degree at Loma Linda University and holds certification in manual therapy. He is currently in private practice in Redmond, Oregon. Wes has been running dogs since 1992 and enjoys stage racing. He claims that he is “a better physical therapist than musher!”


More Posts