|This page is for
those of you who have searched high and low on the internet for information on
rehabilitating an agility dog after a strain injury. I couldn't find anything much.
Typing "Hind leg lameness" into search engines brought forth some terrifying
pages on cruciate ligament damage and hip dysplasia. The vet is the
first port of call but sometimes you need some extra help when you have an
agility dog and you want to get back into competition.
How the damage was
Jamie was a large and very boisterous dog. Behaving sensibly was never his forte
and he had a tendency to go mad dog at the slightest incentive. Thus it was when he
went for a walk with his friends. It was Lizzie who started it. Hurtling round
in crazy circles and then up into the woods with Jamie in hot pursuit. When they
both reappeared all seemed to be fine but a few minutes later we noticed Jamie was limping
on his hind leg. We weren't too concerned at this stage as he didn't seem to be in
great deal of pain and it appeared to be just a temporary annoyance. Jamie does
sometimes limp if he treads on something sharp or if you've just removed a thorn but if
you rub it better he's fine. We had no idea that he'd done anything unusual.
I started to worry when we left our
friend's house and Jamie struggled a bit to get into the car. By the time we reached
home he was clearly going to have a job to get out of the car and once indoors the
lameness was all too obvious. He could hardly put any weight on his right hind leg.
We watched him as he moved round and gradually the movement became easier. We
kept a careful eye on him and noticed that the injury seemed most painful when he had been
resting for a while. It was all very worrying and not at all like Jamie. I'd
better add that it was late Sunday afternoon and we had to decide whether to call the vet
or leave it until the next day. We decided to leave it and observe him so that we
could give the vet an account of exactly how he was behaving.
The Vet's diagnosis
Unfortunately Jamie had trained the
vet who saw him not to mess about with him too much. There are one or two vets at
the surgery who say "I'm not having that" and just carry on, but poor Richard
usually ended up plastered against the wall saying "Nice dog, just put my leg down now
would you." He wasn't too worried about the leg (That's Jamie's leg, not his).
Jamie had begun to walk more normally on it and he diagnosed a mild strain.
"Keep him on the lead for a few days and if it's not better in a week bring him back.
I'm confident that there's no ligament damage."
One week later
Jamie appeared to be back to
normal and so I let him off the lead and the first thing he did was to chase a squirrel.
Not just a little run and back again but a full blooded belt after the squirrel, up
the footpath and over a ten foot high bank that's steeper than any A-Frame. By the
time he came back he was limping again but undeterred he took off after another squirrel.
When we caught him we took him home, and this time I decided to do some
research. Only then did I discover that a mild strain can recur in the wink of an
eye and that a week is nowhere near long enough to recover. This was going to
be a long haul.... and then the implications set in. What had started
as a mild strain was now more serious.
To give the injury
time to heal there was no chance that we would be able to compete at our
match in three weeks time but maybe, just maybe we might make a show a
couple of weeks after that. I couldn't believe that my lively and
otherwise very fit agility dog wouldn't be able to run and jump again very
soon and that we would miss the start of the season. More annoying was
the fact that we had a very real chance for progression at the next show and
it might be our last chance. Jamie was then seven years old and he was
not going to get a great deal faster. Once the warmer weather came he ambled over the courses in his own time so
the beginning and end of the season were our best times for him. There was no way he's going
to get a speedy round at a summer show but the previous year he had been getting better
and better. He'd come away from every show with a rosette or two and the place
rosettes outnumbered the clear rounds by about three to one. At the winter matches
the numbers on the rosettes were getting smaller and we had been placed several times in
the top three. To think that he would miss his beloved agility was almost unbearable
but I would rather he missed agility all summer than risk causing him further injury.
Jamie didn't agree.
At first I decided
to follow the advice of the vet who'd written an article for Agility Net. I would keep Jamie
on the lead until he'd been sound for a week and then start slow trotting several times a
day on soft ground. Minimal stairs, and level ground seemed to be the order of the
day. It took three days to realise that I couldn't follow this advice and this is
1) We live in Cornwall and there is no level ground. It just doesn't happen.
Even if you go to a beach you've got a load of sand dunes to negotiate.
2) Everything in our house is steps. It's open plan and the stairs lead off
the living room. You can't put up a baby gate because Jamie would simply try to jump
it and under normal circumstances he'd do this easily. The garden is on a different
level to the house so steps have to be negotiated and we even have a step up out of the
living room and into the lobby and kitchen.
3) Jamie did not believe in sticking to plans. He was a dog, a very
lively dog and as soon as the leg felt better he wanted to run and jump. Confining him on a lead
frightened me. Carrying on like this he was making him start to leap around in the
house and it wouldn't be long before he'd start to race into the garden and have one of
his mad turns. This would ultimately do more damage. I had a raving lunatic on
my hands and I didn't know what to do.
So what do you do?
Most people would take
their dog back to the vet but with Jamie the vets found it difficult to
examine him as he kicked up such a fuss. He was a rescue dog and we
think he had been seriously mistreated in the past. The vets had said
that the only way they could examine him would be under anaesthetic but this
wouldn't be any good for manipulating the joints to see where it was
hurting. You can see their dilemma.
The only thing left to
do was to watch him and help him to recover at home. He wasn't in any
great pain but he wasn't completely sound either. Observation over three days had
confirmed that Jamie was capable of negotiating hills, stairs and steps without causing
the lameness to become worse. Day by day it was improving but I had noticed
something odd. When he stood still he shifted his weight to his left leg but
when he weed it didn't matter which leg he used. This puzzled me until I saw him
stand squarely but with both hind legs coming slightly forward. Obviously the injury
was a bit painful if the hinds legs were stretched backwards a little but he could find a
way to stand that didn't cause any discomfort. I immediately identified with
this. If you hurt something there's always one position that's more comfortable than
At this point I made a bold a possibly foolish decision. I would let Jamie off the
lead for short periods on very familiar walks and stay with him whether he stopped or
trotted. I also let him trot around his own agility garden but not jumping of
course. I decided to let him do what he could do as long as he trotted
soundly and there was no sign of lameness when he'd been resting. I've
also kept a diary of his progress.
Sasha has also had mild strains from time to time. Her vet is from the
same practice and she's very experienced with working dogs. Her advice
with strains is gentle lead walking for a week and then gradually increase
the exercise until you can start back with low jumps. If you do too
much too soon there is a risk of re-injury. Sasha is a calm dog off
the lead and she never chases anything so we have found it better to let her
walk quietly with us off lead rather than have her pulling on the lead while
other dogs race around. If Jilly should hurt herself she wouldn't be
able to control her urge to run and chase and play even if something was
hurting and so I would definitely keep her on the lead. Our vet says
that working creates such a huge amount of excitement in a dog that they'll
continue to run even with a serious injury. The excitement at the time
overcomes the pain and it's worth bearing this in mind.