Noah is a 9 year old retriever mix who was brought in to see us because of such severe arthritis in his one of his carpi (wrists) that he was completely non-weight-bearing in that limb (he was holding it up when he walked). He needed to be on two pain medications and was still uncomfortable in that wrist. We started with gentle manual therapy to help increase the production and flow of joint fluid which lubricates the joint and improves its health and comfort. We used laser therapy to decrease pain and inflammation, massage for his significant muscle tightness (which was secondary to his joint pain), and ended with cryotherapy (ice) to further decrease inflammation in the wrist. We helped his owner with an exercise restriction plan and guided her through a safe and gradual return to more activity as he started feeling better. One week after his first visit, he was bearing weight on that leg again. We started exercising him in our underwater treadmill which allowed him to walk with less stress on his joints because the buoyancy of the water helped to support his body weight. We also started strengthening exercises because a stronger leg means more stable joints. Each week that followed, his limping lessened until it was completely gone 1 month later. He’s now back to walking 2 miles a day, is comfortable, and off all pain medications.
Bogey is a young, energetic, active dog who partially tore his ACL in his knee. He originally came to us with a mild lameness that had improved with rest, but recurred every time his owners tried to allow more activity. We started his rehab sessions with therapeutic laser and cryotherapy to decrease pain and inflammation in his knee. After a 2 week period of strict rest and exercise restriction, his lameness resolved and we guided his owners through a more gradual return to his normal activity. He started walking in our underwater treadmill which provides more strengthening for his muscles since he has to walk through the resistance of the water, but less work for his joints because the buoyancy of the water helps to support his body weight. We started strengthening exercises for his hind legs, back, and abdominal muscles to help prevent a recurrence of his injury. Months later, Bogey is still doing great, has not had anymore episodes of lameness, and is stronger than ever. He even starts wagging his tail when the car approaches CRCG now!
THE IMPORTANCE OF GAIT
Years ago I was getting a mini poodle ready for the excellent level of Rally-Obedience. He
needed to learn to heel backward. He had a beautiful forward heel. I assumed that it would
be easy to teach the backward heel. I was wrong. My error — I plunged head long into
teaching a skill without first making sure the dog could physically do what I was asking.
Rodeo was missing both the core strength and body awareness required to move
backward. It took several frustrating training sessions before I realized my mistake. If a dog
cannot physically do what you are trying to train, then you are training something else. In
this case, I taught Rodeo to hop backward from the sit, he looked more like a drunken frog
than a dog.
Building core strength and body awareness isn’t just for dogs in competition. All dogs
benefit from this approach to training.
Now I have an exercise and training schedule for each of my dogs. I spend time building
core strength and body awareness before I start working on specific training goals. I keep a
careful watch to make sure the dog can physically do what I am training, and I’m always
ready to adjust if things aren’t going as planned.
This is Quill, he is an 18 month old rough collie. He is a love of a dog and is very easily
distracted. We are working on sustained focus, both stationary and when moving. He is
learning to look up at me while moving forward. With limited distraction he is getting pretty
good. This photograph was taken near the start of a training session last weekend. He is
off leash and can track straight for about 30 feet before I risk losing his attention.
The photograph below was taken about 15 minutes later. Do you see the difference?
I still have Quill’s attention. His head is exactly where I want it. He is carrying his head in
almost the exact same position as the photo before, but something has changed. Quill is
no longer trotting, he is pacing. His right front leg and right rear leg are moving forward at
the same time. Once his right side hits the ground he will push off and then his whole left
side will move forward in unison. The pace is not a desired gait in the dog, at least not the
collie. There are several breeds where a pacing gait is more common and in the show ring
Why is Quill pacing, why does it matter and what should I do about it?
Dogs pace for a number of reasons. Structure, fitness, fatigue, injury or disease can cause
a dog to pace. A handler’s step can also cause this gait.
What is the most likely cause for Quill’s incorrect gait? The most logical explanation — weak
core muscles and a slow handler. Quill is a growing dog. The schedule I have mapped out
for him must not be meeting his needs. I need to add more to each workout. I also need to
change how I am moving. I’m short and I really need to move forward to match Quill’s naturally long step. I may be moving too slowly, causing Quill to slow down and start pacing.
There are several reasons I need to address this. First, this gait can quickly become a fixed
motor pattern. If I continued to practice ‘head up — focus on me’ without addressing the
pacing gait, the two behaviors could quickly become linked together. I believe I’m teaching
sustained focus with head up. Quill believes the cue for ‘head up — focus on me’ also
means to pace. The second reason this must be addressed is for Quill’s physical well being.
When a dog is pacing, his center of gravity is shifting from side to side. This puts undue
stress on his spine.
So what’s the plan? How am I going to fix this problem? First I will figure out how much of
my motion is causing Quill to pace. Handler behavior has a huge influence on canine
behavior. Maybe I simply need to move faster. I will also increase Quill’s strengthening
workouts. Moving faster might solve the issue for a time, but eventually I’ll have to slow
down and Quill will need to have the muscle strength to move with my shorter step. I don’t
think this issue is very old, so addressing Quill’s core fitness and my speed might solve the
Celebrating National Peanut Butter Lovers Month with some of our most favorite peanut butter lovers!