Signs your Sporting Dog may be dealing with an early injury or illness

Sporting dogs help track, pursue and locate game by indicating (e.g., bark, point), flushing and retrieving on land and/or water.

  • Is your dog off his game lately?
  • Does she seem gimpy before or after fieldwork, but fine at home?
  • Does he hesitate to point, flush or retrieve?
  • Does she seem winded after working or running?
  • Is he hesitating to load or unload from the vehicle?

Sporting dogs usually come in for decreased performance or specific injuries. Regardless of the reason your sporting dog is not performing or living up to expectations, we’re here to help!

Just because your Sporting Dog may perform well in the field, 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 Sporting Dogs, specialized routine evaluation (every 6 months), especially before their sporting season 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 Sporting Dog’s unique needs and fast return to the field. 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 Sporting Dog. 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!

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.

  • Respiratory infections – Even mild respiratory infections can lead to reduced oxygenation of tissues, overall energy loss, and subpar or declining performance.
  • Stomach ulcers – 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 the stool.
  • Vision issues – Changes in eyesight or eye infections can contribute to decreased drive or performance, even changes in personality.

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 Sporting Dog so that s/he trains and performs at her/his best!

Do you simply want more out of your Sporting Dog?

Improving Sporting Dog performance

Sporting Dogs rely on far more than field training and trials. While Sporting Dogs, in particular, are often incredibly instinctive, they still require specialized physical and often 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 Sporting Dogs is approached simply through repeating individual field tasks (e.g., point, flush, retrieve).

Would an elite marathoner train just by running? No. Simply repeating a task, increases repetitive motion stress and over-loading of tissues such as cartilage, muscle fibers, tendons, joints, etc, which increases the breakdown of these tissues. This repetitive stress results in performance altering (sometimes performance ending) and sometimes even life-altering injuries. At minimum, it contributes to a retired athlete’s advanced arthritis and discomfort. The VSC ReC Center K9 Team strategically prescribes a number of 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 Sporting Dogs 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 the 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 and mental fitness, reducing the effects of repetitive motion and high demands of the sport.

Finding “the Zone”

The Sporting Dog, in particular, requires fast mental organization of his instinct, aptitude, environmental cues (e.g., odor, motion) to triangulate the location of game/prey, followed by skillful and precise control of his behavior and footsteps! Whether he’s a bird dog or sighthound, every finely-tuned and even subtle change in behavior, posture, or foot placement could make or break the success of his trial. For the Sporting Dog, working in “the Zone” means he must find a way to be still when he wants to chase and chase without alerting his prey. He both hones and balances his instincts by understanding the end game. This requires high-order cognitive function involving planning and executing, along with emotional maturity. Yet many of the Sporting Dog breeds have an underlying high energy level! Often trembling with excessive energy. Finding a physical and mental balance is critical to optimizing their performance (and reducing injury risk).

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 humans, 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