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:
- What is “Medial Shoulder Syndrome” (MSS)
- Why agility dogs are susceptible to having MSS
- Warning signs your dog has MSS
- How you can test for MSS
- Different treatments for mild to severe cases
- 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.
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.
I am sorry you and Swagger are having to go through this. I appreciate your sharing the journey and information with us.
I am afraid my dog may well be suffering from this same problem. I am so fearful of the hobbles part of the recovery. Maybe if you could share some of the things you and Swagger do to help keep him active and healthy it will educate all of us about injury and recovery.
Thank you so much for the information and candor.
Susan–I am Genie Franklin and I competed with you with Jack Russells in JRT trials way, way back. Thank you for sharing. I have had the shoulder experience with my Border Collie, Dazzle, who is now 13 years old. She came to your puppy camp when she was a pup. When she was 4 she came up with almost not noticeable lameness right front. She had been training in agility since a small puppy. Dazzle was not the frantic, speedy live for agility BC but she liked it and was naturally a very tight turner jumping. She was x-rayed and shoulder problems found but II did not like the orthopedic surgeons I found in CT so I took her to Dr. Canapp. My daughter lives nearby so I had a place to stay. Dazzle had the arthroscopic procedure using Radio Frequency. Her shoulder according to Dr. Canapp when he called me was a mess. She had what he describes in Swagger and other problems as well. I traveled back to MD once a month for recheck, PT and we worked with Chris Zink to work back into agility. Dazzle recovered very well and was a successful agility dog. But when she was 8 years old I noticed subtle changes like slowing down in weave poles and bailing off the A-Frame. I again took her to Dr. Canapp and this time it was the same problem but in her left shoulder. He repeated the procedure and we did the hobbles and Physical Therapy again. Dazzle did very well but I did not put her back into agility. We took up herding which she loves. Her shoulders are fine at age 13 but she is now being treated with doxy for Tick Borne Disease.
Dazzle was one of Dr. Canapp’s earlier shoulder cases. VOSM with the Drs. Sherman and Deb is definitely the place to go for shoulders. I feel that shoulder problems are more common than we think in BCs.
What a big heart Swagger has! It got me all teary-eyed to see him enjoying his work and giving it his all even though he was hurting. God bless his recovery. Thank you for sharing Susan
My super high drive Border Collie, Harper, frayed up her shoulders and damaged her bicep and supraspinatous on both shoulders at an early age. Drs. Canapp followed the same treatment with stem cells and she recovered well. The only warning signs were her being stiff when getting up (maybe one or two lame steps) and two footing on one side through the poles. This injury was definitely repetitive. I over trained and didn’t cross train. VERY important to cross train, not jump every day or do poles every day. And strength train. Since then, Harper has had two additional injuries. Grade two tear to her wrist and grade 2+ tear to her glutial muscle (injury Drs. Canapp have only seen in just a couple of dogs). The high drive nature of Harper seems to dampen her ability to ramp down a little bit to protect her body approriately. At 7 years she has been treated with stem cells three different times for three different injuries and is retired from agility, frisbee and other high drive activities. She is recovering well from her glutial injury and has begun swimming and is able to go for her off lead run through the woods. She is unhappy to not be doing more (she LIVED for agility) but I am happier not being quite so worried about her possibility to become injured. Thanks for providing this very important information. I suspect there are a lot of dogs (especially Border Collies) out there with injuries that the owner isn’t aware of.
Susan, heart breaking to watch your magnificent boy struggle to give his all. Thanks for reminding us to pay attention to everything our dogs are showing us. Wishing Swagger a swift recovery.
When my Abbi first started trialing I started videoing her runs to watch them after the fact for learning purposes. After that first year and a bit of trialing I felt that something was off about her when she ran but couldn’t put my finger on it. Multiple trips to the vet turned up nothing so we kept trialing and she kept running, great according to everyone that saw her, but she still felt off. The slow motion was pathetic on my VCR so when I got a digital camcorder things clearly came into focus. Now I could see a subtle hitch sometimes after landing a jump or coming out of a tunnel wider than normal. After 3.5 months of no answers from different vets I insisted on a full body MRI to see what was happening. Partial cruciate tear was what came back. Not once did her knee present any sign of weakness from a tear whether through a drawer test under sedation or an ultrasound. Thank gawd I recorded her runs or who knows how long she could have run before fully tearing the one if not both of her knees. 18 months of rest/rehab and she was back running agility again like nothing had happened. The only difference after she came back was that any slight deviation seen on film on how she ran was an immediate visit to the vet and if 3 months of rest/rehab was ordered she got 5 just in case. When she was diagnosed with MSS years after the cruciate injury it was the videos that helped pinpoint what was happening to her shoulder. Taping my dog’s runs and watching right after in slow motion is one of the best tools out there to help in early diagnosis, not just learning. If I hadn’t done that all those years ago my 14 year old Abbi wouldn’t be moving as well as she does today. I know that without a doubt.
Hope Swagger heals quickly and fully.
So sorry Swaggie got to be the demo dog for this 🙁 It’s a testament to your observational skills backed up by video history to recognize a problem. Thank you for sharing. Get well soon and speedy return to your awesome self Swagger!
Thanks for sharing Susan. In October my mini poodle went thru surgery with Dr Dycus. MSI the rehad the hobble. Thanks for sharing your story. Just two weeks before what was to be his first UKI trial he hurt his shoulder playing fetch. He has the most amazing tight turns. We r heading back to VOSM on the faith of July. Praying it is not a reoccurrence cause my poor boy went thru so much to get back to being a happy dog that loves running agility with me. For teddy it was weave pole popping that should have been the first sign. His video from surgery were bad.. Dycus said he was close to needing a shoulder replacement. I was wondering if you will be making videos during he recovery in a few months? Saying some prayers for your guy! Debbie and Teddy You can find teddy on face book Teddy the mini poodle or on IG @ted_gram watching your videos are always so valuable
Very important information about stem cell therapy, video, warm-up, cool-down, conditioning and observing your dog.
I especially appreciate the video of stem cell treatment. Had stem cell treatment done to my elbow about 2 years ago and it did a great job. Too bad it’s not covered
Wow, what a difference from Swaggers right side to his left side. It clearly shows there is a problem but most of us would probably not know what the problem is, how to find out, what to do about it and how to prevent it in the first place. Thank you Susan for sharing with us! This is an eye opening moment for all of us. In CA our shows are outdoors or sometimes in a covered dirt arena with many different surfaces dogs and handlers have had to adapt to. Often times the practice jumps are located on horrible surfaces from slippery to lumpy. It is time for people to step up and improve the surfaces for dogs and handlers. Many times the people who maintain the surfaces do not understand how important footing is in this sport. It is up to us to make sure they understand and most importantly make sure we warm up and cool down before each run! This is important for canines and humans. We need to be more patient when our dogs are young and not rush their muscle development. I often wonder what the effects of a stop AF has on the shoulders? Or the approach for that matter.
My 4 yr old lab came up lame later in the day after playing on grass in the park. Vet said ‘soft tissue injury’. Four weeks later, she is almost fully recovered. After talking with someone I know that raises guide dog puppies, I learned that they do not allow their dogs to “run”, because of risk of injury. Certainly, gave me something to think about.
Please be careful about not waiting a full 6-8 weeks before letting your lab run around actively. VOSM explained that this is the amount of time it takes for cells to regenerate and repair a soft tissue injury. Too soon a comeback and you have to begin the 6-8 weeks all over again.
Susan, thank you so much for sharing this.
I have been wondering a lot about where the sport of agility is heading, I sometimes wonder if agility is not on the road to asking too much of our dogs. Just because they can and will do what we ask doesn’t necessarily mean it is in their best interest.
A speedy and full recovery and all the best wishes for Swagger!
Thanks for sharing, Susan. I got tears in my eyes when I saw Swagger in slo-mo, slipping, but just forging ahead and giving it his all. I hope his recovery goes well!
Thank you Susan
You have always been very aware of the need for conditioning and body work for performance dogs. Your dogs are lucky you have such an eye to spot injuries due to changes in performance at an early stage. I enjoyed working with you during your trips to California many years ago. I thank you for your who dedication to educating others on maintaining the health and well being of all our canine partners.
Thanks for sharing! Prayers for Swagger!
Thank you so much for posting. Very interesting and informative. This is the most important blog you’ve ever posted!
Great imput for me and all others with dogs that are performing and have “something going on”. I have a ACD that has gone through 2 PT sessions with other eastern therapies which help but the problem recurs. I stopped all agility and anything that I thought was the problem at age 5 and he is now 7. My Physio vet. wanted me to look into plasma cell therapy and suggested this vet clinic. I really wanted something closer to Western NY but now that I have seen your video I am very interested in taking this step with him!
Thanks for showing this and always being a great resource for the betterment of dogs.
Thanks so much for this, Susan. I attended a workshop with you more years ago than either of us would want to admit and have a young girl just getting ready to go into the agility ring so I really appreciate the preventative information. Gratefully, we have so much more information now. I have followed you all along–Taylor didn’t start sequence training until she was about 2, which was a great decision as the foundation training really accelerated the handling, and really appreciate the honesty and insight you bring to the table. Love the x-pen shot; I had some similar nights after a cruciate surgery. Wishing Swagger a speedy recovery.
Thank you, Susan
Thanks for sharing, and for the slo-mo video along with your video with the Canapps. I had a Lab with a shoulder injury, was told they were the best and went thru the surgery and very long rehab process, and wish you well along with a super recovery for Swagger.
Thank you so much for sharing this information. I’m so glad you saw what was happening and could do something about it. Very well written and informative article. Thank you, again.
Thank you for sharing this and for taking the time to put together the videos with the slow motion sequences.
You always put the dogs first. 🙂
Sincerely, Heidi K.
P.S Lots of healing vibes to Swagger x
Brilliant article. I am a veterinary physiotherapist and have frequently diagnosed this problem. I have not come across the blue laser arthropscopy probe and wonder if you could give more details on this. I also fit several shoulder stability hobbles and generally tell people to take off at night, does Dr Cannapp recommend leaving on 24/7?
Great article and so good to have those video’s as in retrospect we can observe behavior and movement so much better.
Also, the reason why I have camera’s hanging all over the ranch, so in case something happens to the rescue horses or -dogs, I can scroll back in the video’s and look back at what happened and how they are behaving since then.
So much eager to show their best side and fool some like the vet, when my intuition tell me something is wrong I can show the automatic recorded videos because when they are at home with me I can film their actual behaviour.
Wishing Swagger a good recovery. Being patient and calm will maybe be the tuffest part for him.
Thank you Susan for being there for him !
I dont normally comment on any items.but wanted to here.
Thank you for coming out from under the Radar.
I am so pleased to see (some) top handlers and trainers taking things like this seriously. I am working with a GB Champ Handler who is working with others to bring awareness to the wider community on the importance of picking up the signals of a “not right” dog. She picked up on my 3 year old collie 18 months ago that he wasnt jumping correctly at full height. It was so subtle and only noticeable when jumping in a straight line. He was dropping his left back, by millimeters. Others were telling me to just keep training. I stopped and had him checked out. He had pulled a muscle in his right back hip which had led to further injury. Like swagger, he never allows pain to stop him so I hadnt notice.
He is getting better and has been checked out with xrays and MRIs but still not fit to train or compete.
If Bonny had not noticed I could so easily have permanently hurt one of my best friends.
Thanks so much for sharing the action videos of Swagger. Easy to see once you put it all together. Makes me question if agility in general is asking too much of our dogs, even when. properly conditioned and trained, as yours are….
Thankyou Susan for sharing your experience. It is a wakeup call in education with dogs and agility injury risk.
I have a 5 month old puppy BC. I have been doing body awareness and puppy foundation exercises. I also have been doing straight line jumps ( bars on ground) to teach him to take his line of jumps….and he loves it.
Since seeing your story with Swagger i will be ever so cautious with this puppy.
Thankyou and as always you are are so kind and give so much knowledge from your experience’s.
Have followed your blog for many years now
and gave learnt so much about training and about myself.
Veronica ( Australia )
Thank you Susan for sharing. This was very educational. Hopefully this will prevent other dog from experiencing this injury.. Send ing wishes for a full recovery for Swagger.
Thank you very much for posting this. It is so important that people realize there is something wrong and get veterinary help. Often the type of training also should be evaluated not only to prevent injury but also to build the body and fix a problem area. I use a lot of acupuncture, herbology (topical and parenteral) and rehabilitation exercises to help remodel the body to maintain itself even in case of a problem area.
It is great to have it all so nicely documented by you, the whole history in video and the slow motion shots, makes it much easier to diagnose the condition!
I wish more people would realize just because the dog isn’t limping, doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem or it isn’t in pain
Congratulations on the work and thanks again for sharing.
Thank you so much for sharing. This video is extremely informative. This can potentially save many dogs from tearing up their shoulder after an injury. Dr. Knapp’s clear explanation of the parts of the shoulder and videos make it easy to understand the injury and treatment. Many many 💓 💓 to the doctors and to you for sharing Swagger’s injury.
Thank you so much for sharing. I wish you the best for Swagger’s recovery. Love the photo of you sharing the pen with him. Although we do not train pups under 18 months on elevated equipment at our club, they are put over poles on the ground as you have said should not be done. I would like to share this blog with our club members as they value your experience and expertise. Would that be acceptable please? Our club is in Whanganui NZ.
Wow…fantastic information that you have shared. I rarely video, now besides the obvious reasons, look how valuable it can be. So glad that Swagger was able to be diagnosed and treated. What a wonderful team the Drs. Canapps are and so able to educate the analysis and treatment they used.
Go Susan and Swagger!
Bless you Susan–for trusting your gut to diligently check Swagger’s performances, gather evidence to support your suspicions and then take Swagger to the BEST surgeon at the BEST facility in the world.
I am lucky to live a mere 45 minutes from VOSM and take my dog there whenever I see something I don’t like. Fortunately, it was “just” a psoas strain (no surgery!!!) and some arthritis.
At the VOSM consultation, I learned the importance of proper stretching, rehab and cold lasering for soft tissue repair. Rest alone is not advised because of scar tissue build up in the fascia–that’s what makes us stiff and sore after a sprain, for example. Physical therapy with a specialist who knows what they are doing is crucial for complete healing.
One more thing–and this is a biggie. I am running my first agility dog and he is nearly 10 years old. He’s a brilliant, talented and fast border collie who made my learning curve pretty easy. We didn’t start agility until he was 2 and I’ve always felt that I wasted valuable time and he found have achieved so much more if I started when he was a younger puppy (his full brother has been on world teams). After reading what you wrote about letting puppies physically develop and enjoy their young lives, I am now thankful that I waited. I knew about the growth plates and maturing process–that’s why I took my time…and I’m glad. He got his conformation championship and some obedience titles before we even saw our first jump bar. That was a good start because I had a thinking dog and team player with me for our firstcagility class: his mind and focus were developed. I have a healthy, strong and deliriously happy “sort of” senior border collie who has his Masters titles and far surpassed what I ever dreamed possible for my first agility dog.
I want to extend a very special heartfelt thanks for advocating for the puppiescand young dogs…and for helping me stop regretting “wasted time” in the beginning. You are the best!
Thank you so very much for sharing this. Wonderfully helpful information, not just about the diagnosis and treatment but about how to help prevent these injuries in the first place. Every agility dog owner needs to watch the video!
I applaud you, Susan! For the compassion and care you offer your dogs. Also, for the courage to share your experience, in hopes that it may help other dogs. I agree, let’s train our dogs with respect for the time it takes them to develop their bodies and focus their minds. With gratitude, Linda Barton Team Leader, CKC Agility Team Canada 🇨🇦
Hi Susan..Oh my…you need to share this. This injury is EXACTLY what happened to our young male Border Collie. He was purchased at some expense from a top kennel in the US. He was an awesome young male prospect for show & obedience and other events. He was about 9 months when after a snow/freeze weekend he was running outside and “punched through” a crust of snow in a dip on our acreage land. He came up lame. We cage rested..seemed ok but unknown to us being a Border Collie toughed it out. Long story short it became cronic. Over the next 5 months we did everything we could for him.Lameness set in more than not..X rays showed nothing..it conntinues then he started chewing his leg/eating stones..We put him on medical..it reacted to make him chew more..his tail in half. We were at our wits end and ready to put him down because we knew he was in pain. Our vet asked if she could have him (chiro vet). He is after 2yrs of Chiro/physio seemingly mended. Had we only known your story. Thank you for sharing. We will be passing this on to our vets. Thank you again and again for this info.
Thank you again for opening up your life for the rest of the world to see and learn. It’s been over a year for my pup but I too am hoping for this to be the answer that will bring him more comfort in every day life even if he can’t play agility again. You may have given us an answer.
Poor Swagger, he has the best Mom. Heal up quick and well!
Thanks so much Susan, this is an education for us all.
Thank you so much for sharing this. It was so interesting, informative, and educational.
Good luck to you and Swagger in the healing and rehab.
You will have a challenge keeping Swagger
Thank you. I think my dog has this injury, but the vet has been stumped. Done the rest thing. . .didn’t make any difference. Now I know which course to pursue with my vet. Again, THANK YOU for sharing!
Thank you for sharing and being so open about what you and Swagger are going thru. I really appreciate it.
Fascinating to watch the comparative video! The FB live with the Drs Canapp was very, very informative. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks so much for sharing this information. What I take from it is s reminder to trust your instincts when you think something might be amiss with your canine partner. They want to participate in this sport so badly that they will mask pain in order to continue.
The other is a reminder not to push my dog too hard. It’s all too easy to direct the dog to excessive repetitions of weave poles or sequences when there’s a competition coming up and things aren’t going well.
The third thing is that the 1200 dogs treated for MSI are likely just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other handlers who are not as astute or don’t have the resources to seek out this level of expertise. Food for thought.
Agility courses have changed so much since the beginning; with sharp turns, difficult weave entries, “backsides”, etc.
Thank you so much for sharing this Susan. And also for your comments about taking it easy with young dogs and not drilling a dog!
People listen when YOU speak!
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with the whole “agility community”. Prayers for the healthy recovery for Swagger.
Wow! Poor Swagger. He must have been in so much pain yet kept going. The slow-mo shows it so well. He’s an amazing dog. I wish more people heeded your advice re puppies. It irks me to see 6 month old puppies doing sequences. Best wishes for a full recovery.
Great article! I might add that in addition to not putting a young dog in the agility ring too early I would also not put them on a theraball/fitpaws ball unless they had already been previously injured. There is a lot of evidence that unstable surface training in young human athletes especially can INCREASE your chances of instability and future muscle tears, not to mention slowing down your performance. It’s important not to do too much eccentric unstable surface traininf especially, as most injuries occur in the eccentric phase of contraction. And I would add that physical therapists can play a vital role in prevention and post injury rehab and not just veterinary surgeons 😉
Thanks, that’s good information.
I like the idea of agility and we fool around with some things a little bit. But I always felt that doing it as a sport would be too hard on the body. Seeing the videos is like stabs in the heart for me. And with such high activity, such things can be so easy to miss.
When Cookie had iliopsoas injury, there was nothing to put one’s finger on either. And she did that to herself, doing what she chose to do. I could never bring myself to push my dog to perform. I’m just happy to fool around, let them do things they want to do as they want them to do and just supervise for safety.
Wow! Those slow-motion videos REALLY tell the story. I don’t have a “good eye” when it comes to watching videos, but when slowed down, you can really see that shoulder giving way. I applaud you for sharing these resources and, as always, empowering us with good information.