As I’ve said in one of my previous posts, one of the questions that I am often asked is, “how do you pick a performance puppy?” It came up again last night. This time I decided to take a more “personal coach” approach instead of my usual didactic one. This time I asked, “What is your underlying motivation for your new puppy?” There was a long pause, a pause long enough for me to wonder if I offended my new friend (NF). I asked the question again. This time I asked it more directly. “What are your plans for your new dog?” Just to make sure I wasn’t misinterpreted. Here’s how the discussion continued.
NF: Well, I never want to worry about injuries again.
Robin: Who doesn’t?
NF: Well, I know that structure is important to prevent injuries.
Robin: This is true, but you know that the owner is really the one responsible for injury prevention right?
NF: Of course, but I want to not have to worry every time I jump my dog that he might come up lame. I have two friends that this just happened to and it’s so sad.
Robin: So, when did your friends start their dogs doing agility?
NF: One started at 6 months, but didn’t start contacts until 12 months. The other one started at about 10 months.
Robin: Do you know if they were jumping their dogs at 10 months?
NF: Yes, but not at full jump height.
Robin: Contacts too?
NF: Yes. Those were at full height because it’s too hard for the instructor to change the height of the A-frame and dog walk.
Robin: Running or 2-on-2-off?
NF: 2-on-2-off for both because that’s what the instructor uses with her border collies and they are very successful. Anyway…… how do you pick a performance dog? I heard that a hunting dog is your best bet for soundness?
Robin: Are you thinking of getting into hunting?
NF: No. You know I like agility.
Robin: That’s what I thought, but you said you were looking into hunting dogs?
NF: I heard that hunting dog’s have great chests, which will prevent front limb injuries, right?
Robin: Do you know if our server is coming back to take our drink orders?
NF: Robin, what’s that smile for?
Robin: Well, you know great structure doesn’t guarantee performance longevity and this includes hunting dogs.
I wish things were as black and white as we humans want to make them. Everyone is looking for a recipe, a cookbook full of guarantees. My bottom line is this: There is NO ONE BEST STRUCTURE FOR PERFORMANCE DOGS. Not one that will guarantee success and not one that will prevent injury. Of course, there are biomechanical advantage points for EACH breed, but definitely not an all-encompassing definition. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of starting out slow with your dogs. Along with their growth plates their neurological systems must mature too. This seems to be a new concept for some in the dog world, but we use it all the time with our teenagers, otherwise we would have our kids drive themselves to and from all their many after school events and practices as soon as their legs could reach the pedals.
Growth plates have been the much talked about definitive test for getting the “thumbs up” to begin agility because we can see this via radiographs, but there are also tendons and ligaments that must mature too. These structures are unfortunately made of soft tissue and can’t be seen via x-ray and who wants to get an MRI? The maturation of these soft tissue structures is very important. So important in fact that little league baseball pitchers are restricted in the number of throws per game to protect these tissues from chronic stress.
Think about it. How many bone injuries vs. soft tissue injuries occur in agility? Slow and steady wins the race. As for my new friend, she’s beginning her search for a Kleinpudel, relieved that she doesn’t have to start attending hunting trials.