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Could Your Dog Have An Agility Injury That’s Affecting His Performance?

Posted on 06/26/17 59 Comments
The other day I took what started out as an “under the radar” road trip to Baltimore to see a specialist about what I believed to be an injury that my dog Swagger endured last summer. I say “appeared” to be because to most onlookers there was nothing wrong with Swag… but to me, there were little signs that he was not himself. What I found out is that with the type of injury he had it can be extremely tough for even trained experts to diagnose without getting inside the shoulder.

Photo (c) by Olivier Morin

The other day I took what started out as an “under the radar” road trip to Baltimore to see a specialist about what I believed to be an injury that my dog Swagger endured last summer. I say “appeared” to be because to most onlookers there was nothing wrong with Swag… but to me, there were little signs that he was not himself. What I found out is that with the type of injury he had it can be extremely tough for even trained experts to diagnose without getting inside the shoulder.

You see it all started at the European Open back in July 2016 in France. It was a rainy day, and my hyper-speedy border collie Swagger got tangled in the weave poles, and then in the same run had his right leg slip off the dog walk sideways and hit the ground resulting in his entire whole body weight landing on top of his leg at full speed.

I was concerned at first but didn’t see any limping or signs of pain. Of course, I had him thoroughly checked out by three professionals at the event, but no real signs of injury could be found. Little did I know that my Swagger, like many driven dogs, is extremely resilient and can mask an injury!

Photos (c) by Jukka Pätynen / Koirakuvat.fi

Over the following 5 months, I started to notice a subtle change in his performance, especially when turning left. He began slipping more in weave poles and falling on his left shoulder almost exclusively while turning left. He knocked more bars and his turns to the left became slightly wider than to the right. His course times where down…way down. In the fall of 2016 even though he won the USDAA Grand Prix finals, his course times were down  2-3 seconds off of what he was running earlier in the year. Individually no one thing was ringing a big alarm bell because Swagger was still sound…but collectively my gut told me something was w-a-y off for a then five-year-old dog.

I sat down rewatching all our training videos and competition videos for entire 2016 season in slow motion…both those that occurred before the EO and those after. Here is a sample of what I saw.

Watching I knew then that Swagger needed to see a professional…

I confided in a close friend and former Canadian Team Veterinarian Dr. Leslie Woodcook and asked for a recommendation to an expert in the field, and she suggested Dr Sherman and Deb Canapp of the Veterinary Orthopedic Sports Medicine Group.

Their approach to medicine is second to none, and from the minute I walked into their centre, I knew I was in the right place….

Not only do they have the experience (they’ve done the exact same shoulder procedure on over 1,200 agility dogs!) they also are innovators in their approach to veterinary medicine.

While there I decided it would be in the best interest of many if I changed my mind about visiting VOSM “under the radar” and did an impromptu “FaceBook Live session” to help all agility enthusiasts better understand this rather common injury. In it I’m joined by Dr. Deb and Sherman Canapp to explain what to do if you suspect your dog has an issue, and what you can do to prevent it from happening.

Here is a recording of that FaceBook Live:

Here are some of the highlights that we go through in the video:

  1. What is “Medial Shoulder Syndrome” (MSS)
  2. Why agility dogs are susceptible to having MSS
  3. Warning signs your dog has MSS
  4. How you can test for MSS
  5. Different treatments for mild to severe cases
  6. What you can do for prevention

Plus we show you a behind-the-scenes look into Swagger’s actual procedure! (Don’t worry, it’s not gory).

I highly urge you to watch the video. Even if you don’t suspect your dog has an injury, there are so many great pieces of information that Drs. Canapp share on how to prevent agility injuries happening with your dog.

After watching this video if you suspect something is up with your dog, trust your judgement like I did and find a professional that knows sports agility and has treated thousands of dogs with similar conditions. At the end of the day, your dog is an athlete, and needs to be treated like one. You need that professional team on hand to ensure they are at their peak performance and supported in their working career.

Swagger is home and recovering well. Thank you for your well wishes, prayers and suport.

And please, please, please… if you have a young pup you hope to be an agility star one day, be PATIENT! I know there are SO many videos of agility gurus running puppies over agility sequences with bars on the ground before they are a year old. At the risk of sounding disrespectful to my fellow peers I’m going to suggest just because they are doing it doesn’t mean it is the best thing for you to do with a puppy.

Please STOP.

Just because a puppy CAN do it doesn’t mean he SHOULD do it.

Put your training hours into building body awareness, strong muscles, conditioning and when they are ready the skills to help your dog in agility. Trust me, there will be plenty of time to work on HANDLING once your dog is full grown. There are SO many puppy foundation games you can be play which will make the “sexy” part of agility (handling sequences) easy once you puppy matures into a strong, full grown dog. I personally don’t start working sequencing with my agility dogs until they are at least 15-16 months old. Starting them too young  can do lifelong damage to their bodies.

Next, once you do start training for actual agility please make sure you aren’t overtraining. Don’t “drill until you gets it right.” Take time between repeating sequences give your dog a breather, evaluate your own handling or consider why your dog may have failed before trying a sequence again. When you “drill” something like weave entries or tough sequences you are over-heating your dog’s muscles as you fatigue the dog thus creating a perfect environment for sloppiness and small muscle tears…which weakens your dog’s support for tendons, ligaments and bones. This is a recipe for a potentially career ending injury.

No one can be certain but all things point towards Swagger’s issue being caused by my decision to run him in the rain that day at the European Open. It was a conscious decision, one I felt he was fully prepared for, however accidents like the one he had, do happen.

After posting this video to FaceBook I had many people ask “can down time replace the therapy Swagger had”. The answer is highly unlikely. You see even if you rest the shoulder for 12 weeks or longer once you return the dog to full competition it is very likely he will injure it again. This comes from the Canapps who have treated literally thousands of agility dogs in their practice and have seen that exact scenario happen more than once.

Bottom line is…do what you can to keep your puppy and agility dog safe. Prevention comes from a foundation of common sense. I really hope you gain some amazing insights from this presentation, and that it might even help you address an injury your “master of disguise” agility dog has been hiding from you.

Here’s to treating our dogs like the athletes they are!

Today I am grateful to Drs. Sherman & Deb Canapp and their phenomenal facility and treatment of Swagger.

7 Comments

  1. Leanne B. Garcia says:
    Thursday, October 12, 2017 at 11:21am

    I can’t thank you enough for posting this information, Susan. I have been going from vet to vet these past few months trying to identify an issue with my own agility dog. After reading this and watching your video, so much fell into place for me! Yesterday, I visited a specialist who diagnosed Wizard with Medial Shoulder Syndrome. He is being scoped this morning. I will be continuing to watch your progress with Swagger, so that I might help my own sweet boy back to health. All the best!

    Reply

  2. Cynthia says:
    Friday, August 11, 2017 at 3:32pm

    Hello Susan-
    We just returned from VOSM with our beautiful Golden. She participated in agility. She had bilateral shoulder arthroscopies, radio frequency treatment and stem cell injections, and thus far is recovering well. I’m looking for more suggestions about how to keep her brain engaged and active while she is in the hobbles. What I’m already doing–beginning nose work skills; brain games; shaping exercises that require little movement. Please share any ideas you have!
    Thank you

    Reply

  3. Marie says:
    Monday, July 24, 2017 at 3:20pm

    Thank You so much for all this info, my 9year &5 month old border collieOreo was just diagnosed with MSS a week ago. At practice 2 weeks previous to her diagnosis, she limped coming down the A-Frame, my instructor noticed it, I did not as I was beside her, we rested her & 15 minutes later she was fine but we never worked her any more just a short walk. I felt something was off & because she has some osteo arthritis in her hind left decided to get her checked with a very highly praised sports vet. She is now on total rest & will be reassessed in 2 weeks. Thank You again

    Reply

  4. Sarah says:
    Wednesday, July 19, 2017 at 4:11pm

    i just went to my first agility class with Gingi – building foundation type of class. Homework was to have her go over a jump no higher that the hock. Gingi is 8 1/2 months old. Am I starting too soon?
    Thank you, Susan, and a swift recovery for Swagger. Big hugs to both of you.

    Sarah R.

    Reply

  5. ran gavriely says:
    Wednesday, July 5, 2017 at 1:25pm

    hi, my dog had a Partial tear in her
    Quadriceps femoris tendon(thigh muscle).
    my vet is recommending a stem cell injection to help the injury heal better.

    do you recommend this? I am a bit afraid, I also understand their is a resting period after the treatment.
    wouldnt it just be better to use that time for more physiotherapy and hydrotherapy ?

    Reply

  6. Vicki D Loucks says:
    Saturday, July 1, 2017 at 11:34pm

    Hi Susan
    I have a couple questions about comments you and the Dr made during the video.
    A comment was made about seeing young dogs do cone work and that possibly being harmful to the puppy, at what age do you start cone work?
    Do you consider cavellettis and bend jumping safe for a puppy (under 12 months).
    What activities do you recommend not starting in a pup under 12 months
    I do not start weave pole training til 14 months but hadn’t considered other things like cone work. I use bumps or keep jump height at half the height to the elbow.
    I would like to ensure the longevity of my dogs as much as possible so would love to know more
    Thank you so much for sharing Swaggers injury and recovery
    Vicki

    Reply

  7. Doris A. Walder says:
    Friday, June 30, 2017 at 2:27pm

    This is my very personal view of the problem, please don’t feel offended that I’m so frank: The story of Swagger may increase the awareness that agility is a dangerous sport and this is one of the reasons why I would never dispose my dog to high performance agility. I’m giving seminars on dogs’ body structure in Switzerland, Germany and Austria and what we see is a high percentage of poorly built dogs who should never perform agility nor flyball, nor disc dogging, they are prone to injuries during to how they are built. Even a well built dog can suffer (and mostly suffers) micro injuries during his sport career and these micro injuries result in a sudden break down of a joint or tendon or ruptures in tissue, what ever, and then it’s too late for any full recovery. Why do we run all these risks? The most common answer is that the dog so much loves this sport…. however: the correct answer is that the dog loves this sport because his owner so much loves it…. It’s great fun, OK, but other, less risky sports are much much fun too. Wishing Swagger good recovery and hoping that you Susan – if you see dogs who are poorly built and who would sooner or later break down – tell the owners frankly that it is not wise to train in this kind of sport, for the benefit of their dog. It’s all in our hands – andnot in the dog’s paws ;o)

    Reply

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