Dr. Chris Zink is well known in the canine fitness world.  She is actually a Canadian who works in the US.  She is a veterinarian with special interest and training in canine rehabilitation.  So when she was going to be an hour up the road running a seminar I thought I’d check it out.  The seminar was geared to dog owners who participate in sports with their dogs not to canine rehab therapists.  The topics offered were all familiar to me, but the cost was reasonable so off I went.  Here’s what I learned:

There is a big difference in the brain workings of a vet with canine rehab training and a physiotherapist with the same training.

Case in point was her selection of exercises.  She is a big advocate of strength, flexibility an

d conditioning exercises for dogs, whether they be athletes or not.  This I totally agree with.  Like humans, walking alone is not enough for

overall fitness.  But there were a few exercises that all put the dog in the same position that I really had an issue with.  Some people call it “sit pretty” or “sit up and beg”.  But the dog is sitting with their front legs off of the floor.  This exercise is proposed to exercise a dogs core muscles.  I’m sure it does just this but my issue with this is that it is such an unnatural position for a dog and does not mimic normal positions/activities that a dog does.  There are plenty of other core specific exercises that could be utilized with all 4 feet on the ground that I think would be more appropriate.  I also worry about the risk for error when practicing such an exercise and error leading to injury. A dog’s back is lacking many ligaments and support structures that we have as humans because we are designed to walk upright on 4 limbs.  Laurie Edge-Hughes, who is a physiotherapist and canine rehab therapist out in Calgary, wrote a great blog about the topic which you can have a read of here to learn more.  Chris actually addressed Laurie’s blog when covering this exercise and defended herself by saying that there is more force through the joints of the spine when a dog is climbing stairs vs. this exercises.  Two rebuttals I have are 1.  The dog has all for feet on the ground, allowing for better support in a more functional activity and 2.   A dog takes 5-10 seconds to do a set of stairs and is moving and thus forces are changing vs. 30 seconds in a static position which is prescribed in this exercise.

Pet rescues/spay and neuter advocates are increasing the risk of injury/illnesses in our dogs

I bet I just made you say “WHAT??!!!”  That was pretty much my reaction to most of this information, but once we break it down it makes really good sense.  I did know that early spay/neuter increase risk of certain orthopedic injuries (hip dysplasia and CCL tears being biggies) and cancers but I never gave a whole lot of thought to the general populations spay and neuter choices.

What I did learn is we have all been convinced by animal control groups and Bob Barker that as responsible pet owners we MUST spay/neuter or pets if we have no intent on breeding them.  I was in that boat too…I spayed my dog on her 6 month birthday 7 years ago on the advice of our vet (who we think is fabulous by the way) but has since had 2 CCL tears and 2 TPLO surgeries that I can’t help but wonder if we would have avoided if we had left her intact.  A dog with intact sex organs supplying hormones will develop differently than one that doesn’t.  A dog that has been spayed/neutered early will have growth plates that close about 4 months later and typically have longer bones, which changes the conformation of a dog.  By removing sex organs, we are changing the endocrine system and opening them up to different diseases such as Cushings, cardiac tumors and bone cancer.

So what is the alternative?

Maybe you don’t need one if you are a responsible pet owner.  A female dog only has one or two heats a year (I HAD NO IDEA!).  During that time, you keep them away from intact males.  They are only fertile for 3 to 4 days during a heat.  Obviously there is more to keep things clean, but that’s not for discussion here.  For a male, it means training and keeping your dog on leash if they may encounter intact females.  There was also suggestion that NEUTERING DOES NOT IMPROVE BEHAVIOR – a study of vizslas showed that males neutered between 7-12months were MORE AGGRESSIVE!

But an alternative to spay or neuter (ie. desexing) is vasectomy or uterus removal.  Apparently finding a vet who will do this is a bit of a challenge.  But if we start asking for this more, we can make it the norm.  You can read some information from Dr. Karen Becker on the topic here.  There is also a Facebook group called Ovary Sparing Spay and Vasectomy Info Group that may be of interest if you are looking to troubleshoot or gain more information.

What I thought was a dog pacing might have actually been an amble…

Did I make you go “huh”?  A dog has many ways of coordinating their leg movements to move their body forward.  Take a look at this video instead of me explaining them all then come back.  So I always thought if I watched my dog’s legs when it was walking beside me because we were moving at a faster clip that if her feet were coming together on the same side she was trotting (this is still correct) and if they weren’t she was pacing (not necessarily correct).

Now I know it might be an amble which is essentially a faster walk and a dog may “get stuck” ambling instead of moving into a trot which is much more efficient.  An amble is more a sign of poor coordination or need for gait training.  Generally, a pace is usually a sign that a dog is either over weight so it is essentially rolling it’s body weight forward, or the dog may be injured and trying to unweight limbs.  Here’s a video that breaks the different gaits down again.

On my to-do list is to figure out how to take slo-mo videos of dogs gaiting so I can more easily distinguish between a pace and an amble because that has meaning to my clinical reasoning!

What did I take away from the weekend and what do I think you should take away from this blog?

Be critical.  Ask questions.  Just because someone is a “pro”, don’t take their word as gospel.  It can be easy for someone to find the evidence that backs up their beliefs but ignore the evidence that opposes it.  Do your own research.  As a dog owner you have the choice for who treats your dog and you should expect the best from them.