Laurie's Blogs.


Feb 2024

Too Much, Too Fast, Too Soon…

Do you have clients with canine athletes?  Or perhaps clients who are athletes themselves?  Have you come across the client that pushes their dog a little bit too much, too fast, too soon?

Chances are, you’ve met one or two of these.


Here’s the scenario.  The dog come home from a cruciate surgery, for example.  Things are as planned for the first week… then when you start to prescribe and allow for greater activity, things don’t progress as they should.  They aren’t gaining muscle (as denoted by thigh circumference) or their weight bearing scores look less than what you would like to see (as denoted by a stance analyzer or two-scale method).  You might scratch your head at this and start asking more questions.  


How long are you walking the dog for?  How often are you doing the exercises I prescribed?  What else are you doing?  Can you show me?  


Ah ha!  Now you learn that your client is walking the dog for twice as long as you prescribed.  You might hear that they are doing a wee bit of ‘easy’ training (according to their personal assessment), or allowing a bit of off leash trotting in the yard or at the park.  The dog is doing it.  The dog isn’t worse.  What’s wrong with that?


Well, here’s what I’ve seen… more than once!  What’s wrong, is that the surgical joint isn’t fully healed.  It isn’t pain free.  It hasn’t began to properly stabilize itself, or signal to the brain where it is in space and/or how much motor control it needs.  The dog isn’t confident with the leg.  Muscle inhibition is still at play, and perhaps there is an exercise-session-dependent turning on of inflammation.  


What happens is that the dog learns to compensate in order to do the activities being asked.  In a highly trained athlete, it might be worse than the ‘potato dog’, in that the dog knows what the task is (i.e. a simple sporting dog task – jumping, weaving, retrieving, healing, etc.), and so, despite the affected joint and associated muscles functioning at suboptimal levels, he/she attempts to complete the activity.  However, since the body isn’t up to its preinjury level, the dog manages to ‘do’ the activity using compensatory mechanisms.  He or she might continue to off-load the leg, weight shift forwards, backwards, or sideways, move too quickly through a sequence, push off with the opposite leg, pull forwards with ‘front wheel drive’ versus rear wheel drive… and so on.  


The end result, 2 or 4 weeks later?  A dog that is not showing objective improvement in functional scoring measure.  A dog that, when taken through slow, methodical exercises to target the affected leg, is fatigued or becomes lame.  


Now, I wish it was as simple as saying, “For your sporting dog people you need to be very explicit about the do’s and don’ts.”  However, I’ve found that it doesn’t matter.  Unless I am legitimately afraid that they will do harm and forever injure their dog – and convey that message as such – they will just push their dog, thinking that they are getting them better faster.  So, more than once, I have come to this plateau, where I have had to use the objective measures to PROVE that their strategy has back fired. 


I guess the point of this blog is to simply expect this.  Go ahead and try to provide info ahead of time, but expect to reach this plateau, take the time to ask the question, “What is the dog actually doing at home at this stage?”  Use objective measures to prove that ‘more is not better’, dial back, and more forwards again at a slower pace. 


And if you are a client of mine reading this, and you think you recognize yourself in this blog… know that it is presented with love… but that you’re not my only client represented in this blog!!! ;)


Until next time…

Cheers!  Laurie