I have been asked twice to be the consulting veterinarian for a Pat Hastings seminar. Pat Hastings is an internationally known dog expert. She is a judge, an author, and a former professional handler. Pat is smart and well informed. You might just call me a groupie. I have gone to a number of her seminars over the past ten years. I have learned so much both as a veterinarian and a dog sport enthusiast.
The recent seminars I attended were titled “Structure in Action”. I had read the book by that title and had signed up for the seminars prior to being asked to be the consulting veterinarian. I was excited to be a part of the activity.
The basis of the seminars is to evaluate canine structure and analyze the suitability of a particular dog’s build for what it is supposed to do in life. Dogs used in sports have to be well built to prevent pain and injury. Dogs do not ask to participate in competitions or specific activity, but generally enjoy the training and time spent with their people! Dogs like to have a job, whether it is hunting, agility, jogging with their owners, or playing fetch in the yard. It is our responsibility to ensure that our dogs are in condition and have the inherent structure to do what we ask without endangering their health.
At the first seminar, a flyball team drove across the state to have team dogs evaluated for competition. It was fascinating to observe Pat go over each dog visually and then with her hands to detect slight faults that could leave the dogs prone to serious injury. I was there to add a veterinarian’s view on problems that were found. A number of the team dogs were found to have issues that made them unsuitable for the sport. Flyball is very hard on elbows and hocks. Dogs with poorly put together joints are much more likely to get hurt, therefore, really should not be participating in the sport.
At the second seminar, a lovely dog with a list of titles in various sports was evaluated. He had had a previous injury to his stifle (knee) joint that had been repaired. On evaluation, the dog was found to have a “slipped hock”, or bad ankle, in the same leg as the repair. The owner had no idea. It was most likely the cause of the stifle injury. Despite this dog having performed well in his career, he had always worked at a disadvantage, most likely working through pain and having to compensate for the bad hock joint he was born with.
I look at pets regularly with an eye developed through my experience with dog sports. How does this apply to a family pet? I can see conformational weaknesses that are going to contribute to arthritis or injuries. I may be able to advise owners what nutritional supplements or diets will help keep dogs healthy and pain free. Veterinarians do not get this kind of training in school. I enjoy this aspect of practice as it ties my avocation to my occupation and I think it makes me a better veterinarian.
photo at top courtesy of f/rome via Fickr
photo at bottom by Roxanne Franklin