4 February 2014

Avoiding Injury in the Pulling Dog

All athletes are prone to injuries and pulling dogs are sadly, no exception. As I write this, I sit here with a slipped disc myself, and a dog who is recovering from a sprained knee.    This article is a good place to start with thinking about preventing injuries in your dog.    Injuries can sneak up over a longer period of time, or happen fairly suddenly.

 
If you are new to dog powered sports, start out with a good book.   Click here to read our book reviews.  Newbies should also talk to their vet and get the all clear before they harness their dog up.


If you are not new to dog powered sports, take a look, this is just to get you started thinking, as there are many factors which will help keep your dog safe and healthy.

I want to get a conversation going, and this is a start.  Have a good relationship with your vet, and always check with them if you think something is wrong.



Practise Safe Runs


This should be obvious, but run your dog where it is safe!  Skip the "urban mushing" temptation.  Go for the trails that are safe and appropriate for your activity.   Streets are for cars.  Sidewalks are for pedestrians.  When you are engaged in a dog pulling activity you are neither.  So go find a trail.

In addition, avoid asking your dog to go fast in deep snow, or on uneven trails.  Be aware of "punch through" snow, or snow conditions in which your dog will break through the top crusty layer of snow, into the softer snow.  A dog hitting this kind of snow condition can pull a muscle.  Ouch.  Not worth it.

Save your top speeds for nice groomed trails!

Do not run a fat dog!

Pulling sports are physically demanding on a dog. Your dog should be in shape before you start the season.  A dog running around with extra weight is putting more strain on his muscles, joints and heart.  Do your dog a favour, and start in the fall with the weight loss.  Get out with your training walks and build your endurance slowly, in both you and your dog. 

Eating a little more in the winter is appropriate for you and your dog, you will both be burning more calories as you exercise more and try and keep warm outside.    But your dog should never get fat, or over weight.   Keep your dog trim and slim.  

If you are unsure about his weight, talk to your vet.  Find your dog's ideal weight, and keep him there! 


Get better at ________

Pretty simple, no matter what activity you and your dog are participating in, you and your dog should both be participating!    If your dog is doing more than 50% of the work, you aren't a team member, you are upper management.
Identify goals for yourself which will make you a more valued team member for your dog.  Learn to ski, get in better shape for hill climbing, stop drinking beer the night before a run.  
A few small changes, and you will both have more fun out there!

Rest

Periods of rest are important for any of us.  Rest periods are when the body repairs itself and gets ready for the next activity.   Too much training without enough rest will result in injuries.  Allow your dog to have periods of rest in between his pulling outings.  This will also keep him happy and wanting more!  Everyone has a different answer, to how much rest and exercise pulling dogs need.   

Find what works for you and your dog, and stick to it.

Feet 

Keep an eye on those feet!  Small cracks or fissures in the paw pads can quickly become major problems!   Condition your dog's feet, and use a paw wax or cream to keep them in good shape.

Skijora answered a question for people wondering about wax vs. booties, here. It really comes down to personal preference and what sort of snow conditions you will be running your dog in.

For deeper cracks or when you see blood, contact your vet ASAP.  

Warm up, Cool Down

Don't hit the trail at full speed right off the bat!  Allow your dog, and yourself to warm up slowly as you hit the trail.    Warm the muscles, then work yourself up to your top speeds.   In the Winter, we drive our dogs to the trails with coats on, to keep their muscles warm.   We remove the coat as we are getting ready to run.  

If you are about to race, then be organised so you have enough time to warm up your dog.  Walk your dog and trot your dog for a few minutes before a race.  It will help your own muscles warm up as well!  After the race, be sure to allow your dog to cool down properly with a short walk as well, before you put them back in the car. 


Go with your gut


If your dog seems off, eating different, laying around more, less likely to play, irritable, if anything has changed at all, GO TO YOUR VET.   Have your dog's joints and muscles examined for possible injury.   The sign may be so slight, but you know your dog best, and you are their advocate.   

 

Dear readers, what tips do you have for avoiding injury with your dogs?