Signs your canine athlete may be dealing with an early injury or illness

Canine athletes can participate in a wide variety of events these days such as agility, lure coursing, fly ball, free style, dock diving… and many more!

  • Is your star dog off her game lately?
  • Are his times slowing?
  • Does she come off a jump with her front feet together? Or consistently go toward one direction?
  • Do you notice he’s better turning left than right?
  • Is she fine at home, even during competition, but develops a slight limp during or after training?
  • Does he hesitate on elevated or slippery surfaces? Or when loading into a vehicle?
  • Does she trip just a little in the front legs?
  • Does he sink on his wrists or ankles especially when turning or hitting the fly ball box?

Just because canine athletes may complete a task or event well, even with high drive and enthusiasm, this does not mean they are sound, pain-free, or at their optimal performance. More often than not, motivation and/or drive overrides pain or discomfort. Adrenaline kicks in and instinct and drive take over resulting in ignored pain or injury. High drive dogs are so capable of getting into the Zone, they can focus out even severe injuries. So even though they train, play, and work seemingly fine, they may still be lame, painful, or even have a significant injury. X-rays can even be normal in the face of significant soft tissue injury (e.g., biceps tendonitis, cranial cruciate rupture, iliopsoas muscle strain).

For high-performance athletes, specialized routine evaluation (every 3-6 months) is highly recommended for early detection of strains (e.g., hip flexor muscles, shoulder muscles, forelimb extensor muscles) or injuries (e.g., tendonitis), avoidance of major injury (e.g., tendon tears/ruptures), optimal effective treatment, specialized rehabilitation focused on your canine athlete’s unique needs and fast return-to-duty. Even with no obvious lameness, an underlying soft tissue (e.g., muscle or joint strain) or altered joint biomechanics (e.g., elbow, shoulder, knee, hip) can contribute to a subtle but significantly less efficient change in gait or movement, jump landing, forelimb reach, head/neck position discomfort, etc., compromising performance. VSC K9 ReC Center Rehabilitation Medicine is not just about a checklist of physical exercises for your canine athlete. Our specially trained K9 team strives to evaluate, diagnose, treat, recover and provide expert specialized and individualized rehabilitation and/or conditioning of your dog so that s/he trains and performs at her/his best!

Medical Issues

Remember medical illnesses can also contribute to pain, lameness, and even subtle changes in performance. Some examples of general health changes that may hinder performance include the following.

  • Even mild respiratory infections can lead to reduced oxygenation of tissues, overall energy loss, and subpar or declining performance.
  • High drive dogs are notorious for having stomach ulcers without having any signs of stomach upset. These can interfere with performance through altered nutritional absorption, dehydration, etc., even without signs of pain or changes in stool.
  • Mild cardiac dysfunction, often accepted as benign in non-athlete dogs, can alter canine athlete performance and may require specific conditioning and nutrition to maintain optimal performance, good health, and a long life.

The VSC K9 ReC Center not only evaluates for rehabilitation-related changes (e.g., orthopedic, neurological, soft tissue injury) but also other medical illnesses that may contribute to pain, lameness, and even subtle changes in performance.

Our specially trained K9 team understands that many things contribute to not only health and well-being but optimal athletic performance. We strive to continually better understand the finely tuned, complex, multi-dimensionality that makes up the canine athlete so that s/he trains and performs at her/his best!

Do you simply want more out of your canine athlete?

Improving canine athlete performance

High-performance canine athletes rely on far more than weekly runs on the course. They require both specialized physical and mental conditioning. VSC K9 ReC Center offers insight into how to improve performance – through specialized and individualized conditioning.

Practice does not make perfect…

Too often, conditioning canine athletes is approached simply by repeating a task over and over. Would an elite marathoner train just by running? No. Simply repeating a task, will result in increased injury during competing or even training. A repetitive approach to conditioning only induces repetitive motion stress and over-loading of tissues such as cartilage, muscle fibers, tendons, joints, etc, which increases the breakdown of these. This chronic, repetitive stress, results in performance altering (sometimes performance ending) and sometimes even life-altering injuries. At minimum, it contributes to retired athletes advanced arthritis and discomfort. The VSC ReC Center K9 Team strategically prescribes a number of different types of exercises for improving strength, agility, endurance, metabolism, body composition, etc. required to condition the tissues, organs (e.g., heart, lungs), physiology, etc., decreasing injury risk, improving the path to optimal performance and reducing long term athletic performance complications.

Because canine athletes often have moderate to very high drives, they are prone to soft tissue, muscle, and joint strain – even though they rarely reveal any painful signs of initial injury. (They usually do not show signs of pain until their compensatory resources have become strained as well.) It is essential to maintain physical fitness, reduce the effects of repetitive motion and high-intensity performance.

Finding “the Zone”

Just as in human athletes, both physical and mental (“the Zone”) conditioning contribute to not only optimal performance but also reducing injury risk. While physical training helps the body be prepared for getting the job done, it’s the brain and mental health that put the body in the right place at the right time.

VSC K9 ReC Center not only evaluates physical conditioning but mental health as well. Examples of this evaluation include:

  • ability to achieve and work in “the Zone”
  • ability to focus on a cognitive task
  • ability to focus during a physical task
  • affect (emotional) maturity and stability
  • effect of distraction on focus
  • ability to adjust to both mental and physical challenges quickly and safely
  • attachment style

Cognitive, developmental, affect (emotional) stage and stability, all contribute to a dog’s ability to focus and perform. Just like human athletes, dogs perform better when mentally conditioned (“in the Zone”) for their sport. Affect, cognitive performance/problem solving, developmental cognitive parameters, drive/motivation, generalization, aptitude, and so much more, can contribute to and alter not only mental function but also physiology, health, and most certainly performance.

We can help your dog find and excel in the Zone!






Starting Monday, April 8th through the end of September, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) will begin their road resurfacing project along Waukegan Road from Lake Cook Road to Half Day Road (IL 22). Please allow additional travel time to our hospital during the construction. Learn More: Waukegan Road Resurfacing Project