Preventing Mobility Issues In Your Livestock Guardian Dog

 

Disclaimer: I am not a vet or canine physiotherapist. I am simply relating what has worked for me and my dogs regarding their injuries and subsequent mobility issues based on suggestions from our vet at the time, and research that I have done. You will obviously need to consult a vet before starting any exercise, training or physiotherapy program for your dog.

Our Kuvasz AJ, Brantwood’s Anna Joya, was 11 and a half when she started to show signs of mobility impairment. Naturally I went on the internet and did some research about what it could be.

She had started dragging her right rear leg.

The first and most obvious diagnosis was Degenerative Myelopathy. She didn’t really have all the same symptoms, but I kept that in the back of my mind because of the dragging back right foot.

Three years ealier, when she was eight years old, AJ completely tore her Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL). This was my fault, as I had not been doing much with her in the way of exercise and then one day took her out in the country for a run.

The injury occurred at that time.

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In the photo above, AJ is running, moments before she tore her ACL.

She hadn’t done any free running for months before this.

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The above photo shows her holding her back right foot off the ground.

This photo shows the very moment after she yelped from pain. She was just standing there and then turned her body towards me while her foot stayed in one spot.

This tore the ligament completely from the bone.

This quick turning of the foot with the knee staying in one place is what causes ACL injuries. You can do it to yourself if you plant your foot and then turn your body quickly without moving your foot. But, DON’T actually do it. Just think about it.

In the picture, you can see that AJ had quite a bit of angulation in the flank. A lot of angulation is very unstable and can cause a dog (and owner) problems, as can a leg that has too little angulation such as a straight stifle. Both are what I would personally call health issues in dogs.

AJ had surgery to fix the injury and we began months of physiotherapy at home to rebuild the muscles around the joint to stabilize it. The therapy was very successful and AJ had four more years of good quality life. She was not too keen on exercising although we did our best to get her out and I did keep up with the exercises until that last year.

Diagnosis

AJ did not pass away from DM as we had originally thought. Instead, as her hind quarters got weaker and weaker in muscle from lack of exercise, the repaired ACL (essentially piano wire was what our vet told us) had to take more and more of her weight.

It finally snapped one day and she could no longer walk.

More surgery was not possible due to her age (two months short of 12 years) and the severity of the injury. I felt that this would be too difficult for her to handle and because of the pain she was experiencing our decision was to put her to sleep. This was not something that we considered lightly.

AJ was never officially diagnosed with DM. In order to do that, you have to provide brain samples for testing, which we did not do.

I have every confidence that if we had kept her muscles strong in the first place, it would have prevented this situation and would have slowed any future issue with DM, if there was really any to begin with.

It is possible that the dragging of the right rear foot was simply the old ACL repair starting to let go. This is my own opinion.

Some Preventative Solutions – What I Did.

I have come to the conclusion that LGDs need to be given specific exercises (and their owners put aside time and effort) to do these crucial steps to prevent weakness in their dog’s hind end.Walking and trotting exercise is only a small part of the program.

I personally have found there to be a few really important exercises that have worked for me (and suggested by my vet who was specializing and taking courses in diagnosing and treating this kind and other rear end mobility afflictions).

There are several other exercises that are used and recommended by vets dealing with this issues in dogs, but I am only addressing the following three that can be trained with a normal, healthy dog.

ONE: moving from a sit to a stand. This is obviously important for a dog to be able to do, especially a large breed dog. This will assist your dog in getting up. You are simply getting your dog to lift himself off the ground from a sit into a stand.

The dog must start from a straight sit not a sloppy or “puppy” sit, otherwise the proper muscles will not be engaged during the exercise. Both legs need to be worked as evenly as possible.

Below: Huron’s Lyric’s By Gershwin (Ira) learning perch work at 11 weeks.

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TWO: pivoting around a paw target (perch work). This is also known as rear end awareness and is the most important and useful behaviour that you can train your dog to do in my professional opinion, aside from the fact that it helps strengthen your dogs muscles.

Your dog will have her paws on a low platform and learn to walk with the back feet around it. This is extremely useful in helping to strengthen the muscles because the legs are moving sideways.

This teaches the dog to learn to pay attention to what her back legs are doing – something most dogs don’t do. This may have helped prevent AJ’s injury as it was this movement, or the LACK of ability to do it that caused her to move incorrectly and thus tear her ACL.

THREE: flexing each rear leg in turn. This can be done by teaching a dog to stand on a wobble board. It can also be done by walking your dog up the stairs.

The dog needs to take each step one by one rather than leaping up a whole bunch at a time. The wobble board does more or less the same thing – flexes and strengthens the back leg muscles one after the other.

With regards to one of our other dogs, Emmett, an Australian Shepherd, I was able to heal his partial ACL tear (he was diagnosed by the vet in a thorough physical exam) by using the above methods under her guidance, starting out with complete rest of the affected leg for 8 weeks. Emmett got his injury by slipping on the floor in the house trying to run around a corner too fast (turning the body while the knee stayed in one place)

Emmett can now run and play normally and does not get a limp or get sore afterwards. This will not be the result for every dog with this issues, but improvements would likely be made anyway to help quality of life.

How Can I Get This Work Done?

Sometimes, it can seem like there is not enough time in a day to do all the things you need to do. I’ll admit that doing these measures with your dog can seem hopeless because there is rarely any immediate visual payoff.

It takes some effort and time to get the training in and actually do the exercises.

We humans like instant results, especially in our technologically advanced and fast paced world.

One alternative is to get referred to a canine physiotherapist and get the work done that way. That would also take quite a bit of time and some money, but possibly not as much time put into training to get the results.

Some people help their dogs strengthen the back legs and whole body by doing water therapy as well but that is also only part of the solution and must be recommended by a vet.

When it some right down to it though, you will need to put some time aside to do the work. There is no shortcut in this situation.

Stigma

In my professional opinion, the more you can train your dog to do the more likely your dog is to be healthy, mentally and physically. When you restrict your dog’s training due to personal biases, you are being unfair to the dog, who can do and be many more things than we give him credit for.

This will not help us dog fanciers in the struggle against the animal rights organizations, who are looking for anything to use against those who live with and keep animals, and are unfortunately making some headway in their endeavours.

It can also be difficult to feel comfortable training dogs to do anything like “tricks” at all because of the stigma. It is often thought that Livestock Guardian Dogs are troublesome or difficult to teach things to, but I have not found that to be the case. I feel that it is the method of training and not the dog that often prevents a high level of training.

The way I see it is that if the training is going to:
1.prevent injury to the dog
2.lengthen life span (because the dog won’t be put to sleep to stop pain and immobility)
3. provide stimulation for the brain which helps prevent dementia
4. help prevent animal right organizations from using our activities as fodder for taking away our choice to have dogs in our lives,

then I’m all for it.

If dogs are only used in one capacity, specifically in which they are likely to get injured or possibly killed at some point and are often kept apart from humans, you can bet the animal rights people will be all over it.

I’m just giving you some suggestions and saying that there are definitely some things that can be done to help our dogs have long, very mobile lives.

Feeling resistance to some of this information is probably natural. What is much more productive is to instead, simply take some of the information and try it, and if it doesn’t work for YOU personally, then you can try something else.

It will most likely always work for the dogs.