Condition Your Dog to Compete (Part 2)

Maximize your dog's performance with these conditioning tips.

By | Posted: Wed Mar 23 00:00:00 PST 2005

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Two months and $2,200 later, Dancer was still lame and had lost a lot of muscle tone in the process. It was at this time that Birdsall's research turned up a physical therapist that could help her create a rehabilitation program that included exercise on an underwater treadmill, massage, and stretching to improve flexibility and range of motion. After four months, she saw enough improvement to start Dancer on a general conditioning program. She hired Desiree Snelleman, of Fido'N Friends in Long Beach, Calif., who specializes in fitness and conditioning programs for people and their dogs. "We created a program that consisted of cardiovascular work and skill work specifically for the agility dog," says Snelleman, an agility competitor herself. "It's very hard to find veterinarians who truly understand agility. Unless they've done it themselves, they think that it's just running and jumping. There's so much more to it structurally and mechanically."

"It was very frustrating, trying to find out what was wrong with Dancer," says Birdsall. "I can only imagine how much quicker we would have returned to agility if more orthopedic vets had experience in evaluating and treating performance dogs. I really got the feeling that these kinds of non-surgical problems fall outside their normal billing structure, and if there's no money in it, they don't concentrate on it." Birdsall's persistence in spite of these challenges paid off: She and Dancer went on to qualify for the AKC Nationals in both 2003 and 2004.

'Maybie,' a 7-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, was more fortunate than Dancer. She suffered injury while doing agility in the greater Chicago area, where there is a veterinary clinic that specializes in sports medicine. Maybie  took off six feet early for the first jump at an AKC trial. Although she cleared the jump, she ran the rest of the course with her rear legs tucked under her rather than stretched out over the jumps. In the next day of competition, she crashed into the first jump, and when she crashed the second, she let out a yelp. Another agility handler told owner Dana Pike, of Wilmington, Ill.,  about TOPS Veterinary Rehab in nearby Grayslake, Ill. She called Sunday evening, and was able to get a Monday morning appointment.

TOPS' evaluation determined that Maybie had sprained a ligament in her knee, fortunately not the more commonly diagnosed torn cruciate ligament that would require surgery. "We treated Maybie with acupuncture, chiropractic therapy, and cryotherapy [cold therapy] at home, and Hako-Med therapy (micro-current therapy to relieve pain). With three consecutive days of therapy, she was back to being able to giddy-up, but not doing agility yet," says Laurie McCauley, DVM, and TOPS' Medical Director. As luck would have it, a week after the treatment started, Maybie tried an eight-inch jump, twisted her body over it, and dropped the bar, straining two muscles in the same leg.

Pike continued treatment and after just two more sessions, Maybie was able to jump without twisting, and sail over a jump in the classic full-stretch position. Just in time to go to the 2003 AKC World Team Invitational!

"The staff at TOPS is at the top of their game," says Pike. "We did three or four sessions a week for two and a half weeks, and were amazed [at Maybie's progress]. And she's been doing great ever since!"

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