Hip Dysplasia and Dog Agility

bad_hip_dysplasia_xrayIt is unfortunate that we even have to discuss hip dysplasia in dog agility, but we do as it is more common than you may realize.  If you have a breed that is considered “at risk” and you have done the research to find a reputable breeder and have done all the preventative measures to keep your dogs joints healthy, you are not guaranteed that your dog will not develop this condition classified as a disease.

And for those of you with breeds that you think are not predisposed to hip dysplasia you may be surprised at the findings of the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.  What breed is at the top of the list, go ahead and guess.  Did you say German Shepard, Rottweiler or maybe a retriever?  If so, you would be wrong.  The Bulldog is at the top of the list followed by the Pug…that’s right these two “small” dogs had the highest percentage of cases with the German Shepherd at number 40 and Rottie at 33 and the Chesapeake Bay Retriever at number 34.  If you want to know where your dog’s breed came in you can check it out on their site www.offa.org.

There are many signs of hip dysplasia in dogs including, limping, difficulty getting up, refusing jumps, bunny hop run and refusal to sit.  They don’t all appear in all dogs or at the same time.  Our GSD never limped even when his hips popped with every step.  His first sign (which we were unaware of at the time) was a refusal to take jumps in agility class at 4yrs of age.  Then one day he tried to get up from laying down and couldn’t.  When we got him to the vet they took x-rays and found he had horrid joints and his hip had dislocated (It popped back when they did the x-ray).  The fact he was still walking was a miracle.  He lived out the rest of his life (13yrs) without surgery and never limped.  Of course he didn’t run agility anymore either.

What do you do if you find that your dog has hip dysplasia?  Do you operate or do you stop dog agility and find another activity your dog can do?  And does a surgery mean that you can go back to doing dog agility?  That is a tough choice as some say that if the dog has the surgery early in life it will need to have a second one.  Others have had the surgery done and gone back to dog agility and competed at National levels. We poised this question awhile back and this is what some of our viewers shared.

Jeannekins wrote:  “I was looking through the member photos section and ran across your question. there’s a guy that trains at our place that has a border collie with hip dysplasia. she had her hip replaced and once she healed, she was right back to agility. I haven’t had class with them recently, but last I knew, she was doing just fine. not even a limp on that side.”

Sharon wrote:  “I have a spaniel, and it developed patella problems despite my taking precautions for safely doing agility. I was very discouraged but attended agility events, took my dog to specialists, and wondered just how we were going to get through this. As with most agility participants, we were totally commited to the sport to the point of obsession.

While attending a trial (just as an observer), I happened to run into people running spaniels. I happened to talk to them, and as usual found that agility participants are the very nicest people on the planet. And they’d had experience with their dogs having surgery. They gave me advice (research how many times the vet has done the surgery, ask other owners about success rates, how to handle recovery, and ask about the ability to do agility afterward, etc.). Turns out that one of the dogs they run has competed at the national level after the surgery (one of AKC’s top five). So provided that you do your research, and all goes well, surgery doesn’t have to end your agility fun. And there’s always preferred class as an option to have the fun but maybe not the blinding speed. Good luck!”

While we chose not to have the surgery done, you can see that in some cases it works out.  As Sharon stated, you need to do your homework and be upfront with your vet.  Then you need to honor his input as he will be the one doing the follow up work and guiding you though the recovery process.  And be honest with yourself and do what is best for your dog.  To learn more about the diagnosis and nature of hip dysplasia you can go to www.marvistavet.com.  If you have a story on this subject either for or against, we would love to hear it.  Just scroll down to the comments and share it with us.

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Do You Practice Jumps and Weaves With or Without Stripes

Peyton-WeavesI’ve been doing a lot of reading on various boards and agility groups about striping poles (on weaves and jump bars) vs. not striping them, and what the disadvantages are to each.   One of the concerns is that sometimes tape can peel (on weave poles) and poke a dog’s eye or worse if the edge is sharp, actually cut it.  Or it might catch and pull your dog’s hair leading to dropped bars on jumps or refusals if your dog is sensitive.  So while tape has been used for decades, and can be occasionally checked for safety, the other option is painting the poles.  This option is labor intensive, but safe and long lasting if you use the proper paint and don’t leave your bars out in the weather.

Which begs the question to stripe or not to stripe!  Though not common and it may come as a surprise to many involved in agility competition, you may encounter poles that are not striped.  Others place the striping at the top of the pole, out of your dog’s line of sight.  This raises the question, “Will it throw your dog off?”  Believe it or not, that is up for debate.  One reader commented that his dog missed the weaves completely not once, but 3 times before finally ‘seeing’ them.  The reader claimed it was due to the fact that at home they only practice with striped poles.  Still others rebutted that issue saying that dog’s don’t pay any attention to the stripes, and if the dog missed the weaves it was probably for other reasons.

It would seem that even the clubs are not yet unanimous on this issue either The AKC Requires striping on the weave poles stating, “Poles must be striped with a contrasting color so as to be visible to the dog.  At a minimum, stripes must be placed at approximately 10 inches and 20 inches from the ground.”  UKC Recommends stripes stating, “It is recommended that the poles be striped with colored paint or tape to appear more visible to the dog. While not preferred, plain poles are allowed.” And while CPE Recommends striping stating, ” Bands of colored tape, along the length of the pole, are recommended for better visibility.” USDAA and NADAC make no mention of it in their rule books that I could find.

On the flip side CPE and AKC Require striping on jump bars merely stating, “striped for visibility.” USDAA Requires striping stating, “All poles and rails shall be marked with contrasting colors through striping or banding.” And UKC Requires coloring, (known for their diverse array of jump obstacles) stating that bright and contrasting colors are to be used on pole and plank hurdles to aid in visibility for the dog.  Yet, NADAC makes no mention of it in their Equipment Specs manual.

My suggestion for this dilemma?…Use both!  For your weave pole you can stripe them half way up and alternate between using the striped set and the plain set by flipping them over.  If you know you will be competing in NADAC then you may want to leave some of your jump poles plain as well.  Alternate them from time to time.  We know that dogs see contrasting colors best, but your dog should learn to negotiate the weaves and jumps with and without stripes so you don’t have any surprises in competition.

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Posted in Dog Agility Equipment

Turn Your Dog Agility Nightmare Runs Into Good News

DogPatOh those very first dog agility competitions can be such an overwhelming experience with all the emotions and stress of both you and your dog.  Add to that a bad run and many may be discouraged enough to never come back.  I know we can get busy with their own routines and prep for competition, but there is a tiny thing you can do that could mean the world to another fellow competitor.  You will have to go out of your way, however, if you see someone with a bad run and disappointment, fear or confusion is flooding their face, your supportive words may not be much but they could make a huge impact on them.

Some of our readers have shared their stories of how big a difference it made to them to have a total stranger, yet fellow comrade take the time to talk to them after one of those horrid first runs.  You don’t have to be a trainer or a scholar, just share your “first time failures” so they don’t feel alone.  And for you veterans, I would encourage you to encourage at least one novice handler at your next trial.  Watch their faces and seek them out.  It’s possible that because of your kind words, they will stay the course and not give up.

“I purchased a run for both AKC’s Novice class, as well as the Jumpers & Weaves class.   Sadly, I didn’t qualify for either.  I don’t remember what happened.  I think my dog knocked a bar for one (automatic elimination) and who knows, maybe she ran out of the ring on the other one.  (It wouldn’t be the only time, so that’s why I don’t remember!).  I was SO discouraged.  I remember, however, this nice woman coming up to me and encouraging me with her own story.  She said that a good many people don’t qualify at their first trial.  I sure appreciated her encouragement.”

DancingBeagle wrote:  “One of the best things I ever learned is that it is not what we say to people, but what we cause them to picture. When I see someone having a bad day, I try to tell them why I see them as a future star and point out everything that they did right. So often, we focus only on the one thing that went wrong or the fact that we didn’t Q, that we often fail to see that our dog may have had an amazing performance on some (or all) of the other obstacles. For me, it helps give me a sense of accomplishment regardless of the actual outcome.”

Sideway shared:  “I remember my first competition, it was a disaster! But the nice lady that caught my dog when she ran out of the ring as well as the judge encourage me.  At a competition last month I was watching this little boy I say is must be around 9 years old running his Sheltie. The last day I could tell that this dog had had enough.  The dog never left the start line and then ran out of the ring.  I went to see the boy and told him my story and that whatever happens to you in the ring has happened to somebody else.”

Take those dreadful moments and turn them into gold by sharing with others that you see struggling.  And we would love to hear more of your stories of when someone else’s kind words helped you stay the course with your dog and the sport of dog agility.  Just put it in the comments for all to gain confidence that they are not alone.

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