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

Working Dogs perform services for public safety and national defense. These K9s focus on detection, tracking/trailing, and patrol.

  • Is he fine at home and during deployment, but seems to develop a slight limp during or just after training?
  • Does she hesitate on slippery surfaces, open stairs, or unloading from the vehicle?
  • Does he engage, but then seem to back off on bite work?
  • Does she have intermittent soft stool no matter what you feed her?
  • Does he sink in his wrists or ankles, especially when landing from a takedown or obstacle?
  • Is she just off her game lately?
  • Does he break focus or is he a little distractable?

Working dogs may train and work extraordinarily well, with high drive and enthusiasm, but 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 at a high level, they may still be lame, painful, or even have a significant injury. X-rays are often normal, even in the face of significant soft tissue injury (e.g., biceps tendonitis, cranial cruciate rupture, iliopsoas muscle strain, intervertebral disc rupture).

While Working Dogs get routine general health exams, they also require routine specialized evaluation beyond the general physical exam that takes into consideration the unique medical, physical, and mental demands of their job.

VSC’s K9 ReC Center’s goal is to provide
  1. Early detection of strains (e.g., hip flexor muscles, shoulder muscles, forelimb extensor muscles) or injuries (e.g., tendonitis)
  2. Avoidance of major injury (e.g., tendon tears/ruptures)
  3. Optimal, effective treatment
  4. Specialized rehabilitation focused on their unique needs including, healthy and fast return-to-duty.

Because K9s often have 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 appropriate physical fitness to reduce the effects of repetitive motion and high-intensity performance.

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), mildly altered biomechanics and compromised tissue integrity can contribute to a subtle but significantly less efficient gait, decreased mental or physical endurance, strength, explosive launch, takedown, landing, etc., compromising K9 performance and ultimately public safety. The VSC K9 ReC Center Team is specially trained and experienced in working dog handling and the unique mental, medical and physical needs their jobs demand.

Specialized exams that provide job-relevant evaluation are essential for reaching and maintaining optimal K9 performance and facilitating a long, healthy career.

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!

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 K9 performance. We strive to continually better understand the finely tuned, complex, multi-dimensionality that makes up the K9 so that s/he trains and performs at her/his best!



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