To most dog owners, it seems obvious that training has lots of benefits for both us and our dogs. Training is enriching and fun for our dogs, a great way for us to spend time together and build a strong relationship and it also helps ensure our dogs know how to behave appropriately, walk nicely on a lead and can be safely allowed to enjoy time off the lead. Did you know, though, that training can also help with identifying and treating illness and injury in our dogs – even in preventing future problems?
Huxley, the Hungarian Wirehaired Vizsla who some of you may have seen in some of our classes or spotted in our online content, recently developed an issue with one of his legs which could have easily and quickly become a much bigger problem and would more than likely have caused a dreaded cruciate ligament injury. Huxley’s training foundations helped at every stage in noticing the problem, diagnosing the issue and in his rehabilitation. That’s why we felt it was well worth writing a blog about how training can help both with treating problems and preventing them.
As part of our Puppy & Dog Training course, we incorporate various handling exercises to ensure you and your dogs can feel confident and comfortable with real-life situations such as grooming, vet examinations, checking your dog over for injuries or ticks, treating/cleaning wounds, checking and treating eyes and ears and even injections. Not only does this training make it much easier to take care of our dogs when it is needed, it also makes it that much easier for us to keep an eye on our dogs.
The first noticeable symptom which Huxley had was a sudden limp followed by stiffness one evening. Huxley is a large, sensitive dog and it would be very difficult to handle him if he didn’t want us to – particularly if he was in pain and worried. Thankfully, Huxley has learnt since he was small that handling is a positive experience and this history means he was able to allow us to feel his leg, checking for any signs of injury. As we could see he was not comfortable and could not see any obvious cause, he was taken straight to the vets where he again allowed me and the vet to handle him. This included feeling and flexing his leg so that the vet could assess any signs of internal injury to the joints or soft tissues.
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Lead Walking & Recall
While the vets were able to observe some stiffness and clicking in Huxley’s leg, the cause of his problem was difficult to diagnose at first. With any leg-related issues, it can be helpful to observe how our dogs move – I had noticed some abnormalities in Huxley’s gait but this can be difficult to replicate when you are at the vets due to a lack of space and because our dogs are usually a bit tense or excited while at a vet appointment. All of this can affect how they walk.
Huxley has a solid foundation both for lead walking and recall and this meant I was able to film him moving freely both on the lead and off the lead so that I could send clips to the vet and physiotherapist for their assessment. This was something we did both at the beginning and throughout Huxley’s rehabilitation, so that the professionals could get an accurate look at how he was progressing. This sort of thing can be incredibly useful in informing decisions about ongoing care and rehabilitation.
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Socialisation with People and Positive Reinforcement History with New Things
As part of Huxley’s treatment, he was referred for hydrotherapy. This was something incredibly unusual for him which he had never done before and, at the time, owners were still unable to attend the sessions with their dogs due to the ongoing pandemic.
I’ve already mentioned Huxley is a sensitive dog and he can be a bit unsure about new situations and things – this is why we have worked hard since he was a puppy to ensure he is well socialised with people and to give him as many good experiences around new things as possible. This means Huxley was happy enough to leave with the physiotherapist despite it being unusual for him and we had no concerns whatsoever about how he would behave being handled by a stranger.
The hydrotherapy treadmill can be very worrying for many dogs and Huxley was certainly somewhat wary to begin with – however, he knows that he will be given the time to investigate at his pace and he was soon happy to step in. Huxley’s resilience in facing new situations because of his learning history from puppyhood means he was able to relax, getting used to the equipment, water, movement and handling needed to carry out his hydrotherapy effectively.
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As part of Huxley’s rehabilitation, he needed to do a LOT more lead walking. As a dog with very good recall, he spent a lot of his walks off the lead. However, this was allowing him to compensate for the weakness in his troubled leg by carrying himself and moving differently, which actually made the problem worse. Walking him on the lead was the best way to slow him down and get him to walk more correctly, so he could gradually start to build the strength and stability he needed.
Many dogs who have a good recall tend to have a gap in their training when it comes to walking on the lead. This isn’t a surprise – if your dog pulls while on the lead and is perfect off the lead, it’s incredibly easy to just take the lead off ASAP and enjoy your walks! However, the time spent ensuring Huxley could walk nicely on a lead – even around distractions and when excited – meant he was able to adjust to his rehab walks easily and both he and us humans were still able to enjoy our walks together.
These are just a few of the ways that training can help if your dog develops an injury or illness. Training can also help you to become more aware of what is “normal” for your dog so that you notice behavioural or physical changes more quickly and easily. It’s also well worth noting that Huxley’s lead walking and recall skills are heavily supplemented by other aspects of training, such as work on impulse control and engagement. Huxley’s had the benefit of structured, ongoing training since day one in his home and still attends classes – both general Puppy & Dog Training classes and masterclasses – now at over three years old. This progressive approach to training means his foundation skills are rock solid and were well-rehearsed when we really needed them!