The biggest dog show in the world has just come to a close and whilst i was watching it on television it got me thinking…. How many of those high level agility/flyball/show dogs work even though they are in some level of discomfort?

Many people would think that they must all be pain free to be able to carry out the work load expected of them,  unfortunately this is not always the case, in my experience dogs are very lucky if their musculoskeletal well-being is considered by their owner…. so is the owner on the wrong? or just not educated?

Often I hear comments like ‘he can’t be in pain look at him run’ or ‘he can’t be in pain he is happy to work’ or even ‘he looks happy in himself he can’t be in pain’ – these are reasonable comments if dogs could actually communicate with us but they can’t!  Dogs will run through their pain and try to hide it, they find ways to compensate way before any issue becomes obvious to owner or handler!

In my equine work horse owners are so clued up and educated (in the most part) to realising if their horse’s performance has decreased or they are showing signs of lameness or pain, I get lots of calls to assess horses that just ‘aren’t quite right’ these problems are usually easily remedied by Physiotherapy treatment and ongoing exercise programmes.

So would it surprise you to hear some of the sorest dogs are I see are the high level working dogs?  Why is this? Well let me try to explain…

  1. It takes time to reach the highest grades, so dogs are often middle aged with years of experience.
  2. Dogs are often started with training at early ages before they reach maturity.
  3. In order to improve you need to train your dog regularly – repeated stress on joints and muscles.
  4. The agility courses are more difficult and this can lead to slips, trips and falls.
  5. Often dogs are not warmed up or cooled down effectively, time spent queuing can cause your dog’s muscles to cool down which can increase injury risk.
  6. The frequency in which these dogs compete – higher frequency = higher injury risk.

So although your dog is not crying, can still fly around a course and jump on the bed does not men that that canine athlete is not in pain.

So how do owners get better at recognising pain?  Get into the habit of having a good feel of your dog all over regularly, but the easiest way is ask a professional!  If we find a problem we can treat accordingly, refer back to your vet or if you are lucky we can tell you that everything is fine (that’s always my favourite comment!).

To try and highlight the importance of pain recognition in canine athletes through April we are offering a full musculoskeletal MOT for all working dogs for £40 (within Wirral), let make sure your whole team is functioning at the best of your ability!!

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