Well, I just spent the last three hours clearing a safe pathway for the annual Squirrel-O-Rama that happens in my backyard every year. After three hours of weed pulling, rock picking, and brush cutting I have decided that in my next life I want to return with a spider phobia so my partner will have the honors of being course designer and safety monitor for this event. It’s got to be the best excuse around. I know, I know… it’s not an excuse it’s a phobia. Just like my hate go to the grocery store phobia.
Our backyard is famous for having the largest hazelnut tree on our block and for the next few months my dogs are in heaven. Tess and Lucy (our Yorkie) make quite a team. Lucy with her amazing hearing and border collie-like reflexes is able to stay out of Tess’s path and Tess with her, well…. speed and ability to leap small dogs in a single bound, make for a wonderful partnership. It really is quite amazing to watch them work the grounds and equally amusing watching the squirrels work the dogs.
Prevention was my motive for today’s yard war. I can’t help it. I’ve worked with too many dogs that have come up lame during their own form of Squirrel-O-Rama, either by stepping in a hole (Achilles tendon avulsion), quick changes of directions on uneven surface (CCL rupture), being impaled in the chest by a sapling (torn pectoral muscles with punctured lung), and dog vs. retaining wall (dislocated hip), to just name a few. Let’s just call this form of “prevention OCD” an occupational hazard, but it’s my preventive nature that originally led me to become a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist in the first place.
Injury prevention is vital for our dog’s athletic longevity. In my opinion, injury prevention has three parts. The first part involves what we provide for our dog, which includes conditioning opportunities and well-balance nutrition. The second part encompasses the many nuances of teaching and communication that are required for our dog to know its “job” and understand what is required for a safe and successful outcome. The final step is a huge responsibility. It necessitates knowing our dog well enough to pick up on the many non-verbal breadcrumbs that they leave us on a daily basis and trusting our intuition over our desire for that Q, or improved yards per second. And it requires believing that our dog wants to please us above all else, which most times means overriding their capacity to handle the repetitive stresses that are required on their body to get us that elusive QQ and for them a joyous welcome at the end of a run.
Due to the obvious communication limitations between human beings and canines sometimes we never notice that mineralization of the biceps tendon brewing until lameness appears. I talk with MANY dog owners on a weekly basis that say “I thought something was off, but I just thought he was being stubborn” or “he just didn’t seem like himself today” or “I knew something was up when he popped out of the weaves, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it” followed by “but he did great the rest of the course so I didn’t worry”. I get it. I really do. Learning a new language is hard, especially as we get older.
Knowing your dog means putting your hands on him or her and feeling what “normal” feels like. Sparing you all the medical jargon, when I assess a dog I have an expected norm that I feel for. I start at the dog’s feet and move and poke everything starting from the toes to the tip of the tail. I push, pull, poke, and strum, with a focus to clear and rule out all the joints and muscles in the dog’s body. Why? Because dogs naturally hide their “weakness”. Their instincts tell them that injury equates to being left behind by the pack. They don’t want this to happen, especially not by you. So the detective work begins. Because Fido is not “talking”, I begin my interrogation with you and then I put your dog through an arsenal of positions to get your dog’s body “talking”, spilling the beans about any sore, aching, or painful areas. Nothing as invasive has water boarding of course, but they do usually come around, even the bull-headed Staffy with the pain tolerance of King Kong. For the high pain tolerance type breeds I take a sneakier approach. First, I get them nice and relaxed then I pounce. It might take a little longer, but it works every time.
So, back to preventions and step three. Try this, go ahead and start poking at your dog. Feel around on a daily basis. Poke on lazy days and poke right after a trial. Do you notice any difference? You just might surprise yourself and find a sore spot or two. Is your dog resistant to anything? Lightly run your hand down it’s back. Do you feel any areas of temperature change? Feeling your dog’s “normal” is prevention.
Do you know what your dog’s natural stretching pattern is? How your dog raises and lowers itself to and from the ground? Does it always lie on one side? How does it go up and down the stairs? Observing your dog’s “normal” is prevention.
How cool would it be to be able to palpate a sore spot and intervene with massage or ice before it became a chronic muscle injury? How great would it be to go to your vet with enough information about your dog to feel part of your dog’s team? How amazing would it be to identify an issue early rather than waiting for lameness to be your guide?
Knowing your dog’s “normal” is how you identify change and noticing change early is prevention.
Now, let the games begin!