“Keeping Working Dogs Working” is one of the benefits of Galen Myotherapy and one of the reasons I chose to train as a Galen Myotherapist. We all put so much time and effort and money into our precious gundogs but quite often find that by around 8 years old they are, what is commonly thought to be, “showing their age” - a bit stiffer after a day in the field or training/competition, not so keen to jump over obstacles, perhaps stopping on the way out to a retrieve and returning to you. Behaviours such as these are not the dog being disobedient, they are nearly always an indicator of pain.
“Practically every lameness in a dog will be from a muscular problem and most of the conditions myotherapists see are a result of underlying conditions, old injuries or repetitive strains” - Julia Robertson, Founder, Galen Myotherapy.
Repetitive strain is very common in working dogs. Causes of repetitive strain include:
Overexertion when cold - muscles are more prone to injury when not warmed up
Jumping - over obstacles and in & out of high backed cars
Slipping on mud and ice
Even if your dog is showing no obvious signs of musculoskeletal injuries or imbalances, working dogs sustain microtraumas* often out of sight of us and if these occur on a regular basis (think jumping especially) they build up over time causing the dog to start compensating by adapting their posture in order to keep on moving and in an attempt to alleviate discomfort. Dogs don’t know there is an option to have a treatment which can help them so they just adapt and get on with life. A dog with issues in their hindquarters and back will shift their weight forward and the neck and shoulders will strengthen in order to take on the extra work being required of them, this will also put extra strain and weight through the front legs. The front end of the dog already carries 60% of the body weight so think what effect jumping, carrying a bird, carrying a bird whilst jumping will have when they are adapting and putting even more weight through this region. Working dogs commonly have neck issues and myotherapists seek to unwind a dog from front to back to ease the burden on the neck and shoulders and reactivate the hindquarters and get everything working and moving as it should.
*Microtraumas are when a small number of muscle fibres are injured and the dog may show no signs of pain.
What are the signs you can look for if they are often so subtle?
As mentioned above, reluctance to retrieve, jump, do things they used to enjoy.
Coat disturbance is a big one, where a coat used to lie flat it is now crinkled or raised or lying in a different direction - easier to see in a short coated dog to be sure but noticeable in other dogs too once you start looking!
Paws rotating inwards or outwards.
Head carriage lower or higher.
Tail clamped to the body, carried lower or not wagging as fully as it used to.
The dog is not fully stretching out their hind legs.
Behavioural changes, being intolerant towards other dogs for example.
Every dog adapts and behaves differently but these are a few common signs you can look for.
So, the big question, what can you do to help your dog live a long and pain free life?
Warming up and warming down pre and post event, remember, overexertion when cold is a big cause of repetitive strain.
Do not overdo an exercise when training, particularly running after a dummy, the sudden braking and turning is a very common cause of injury.
Dry your dog off and put a coat on them at breaks and at the end of the day.
Whilst it is not practical in the field, use a ramp for as many car journeys as possible. Start using a ramp when your dog is young to prevent injury and also to get them confident in its use when they are fit and stable, an old dog suddenly being asked to walk up a ramp will find it terrifying.
Regular myotherapy treatments even if your dog is showing no signs will prevent problems later in life. Your myotherapist will teach you some massage techniques to use at home and which you can include in your warm up and warm down routine.
Please don’t ignore lameness or stiffness.
Always consult your vet if your dog sustains an injury in the field (or elsewhere) or if you are concerned about your dog's health in any way.
Fast braking and turning on a retrieve puts a lot of pressure on the neck, shoulders and forelimbs and done repeatedly will cause repetitive strain issues.
Photo courtesy of Claire Denyer of Family Dog Services.
A quite extreme example of my Golden Retriever and coat disturbance. It wasn’t until I compared some photos of him that I realised how much there was. Yes, he’s had quite a bit of surgery to remove mast cells so there will be scar tissue from that but a lot of the disturbance you see over his neck in particular is due to unhealthy fascia and muscle. Luckily, he loves a massage so we are slowly working to unwind these issues but it took years for them to develop so it will take time to unwind.