“She’s just not right, and hasn’t been for a while,” a familiar voice told me on the phone. “She’s lame in the hind legs, and it comes and goes, and she’s worse after she plays with the ball…” We chatted for a while, and then made a time for me to come and see her.
A few days later my van crunched over the gravel of a driveway I’d rolled up several times before, and I pulled up in the shade to the strains of excited barking. The dog’s owner gave me a wave, got up from fixing a sand pit for his little one, and came over to greet me. We caught up on each other’s lives for a little while, and he filled me in with what was going on with their dog.
“She’s lame, mostly on her left hind leg – it comes and goes a bit, and it’s definitely worse after she plays with the ball,” he told me.
I was watching her move around, and I could see that she was uncomfortable and stiff in her hind legs – a lovely kelpy type dog, friendly, happy, wagging her tail. She picked up a twig from the ground, excited, dropped in front of me, inviting me to throw it for her. Then she took off, and came back a moment later with a well-worn ball, her eyes now firey and super-excited. She’d obviously forgotten all about her sore bits when the ball came into play.
“She’s a bit ball crazy then?” I asked.
“She’s super crazy with the ball, she chases it really full-on, never gives up, she loves it!” he replied.
“And she throws herself about, jumps, turns really hard, while she’s chasing?”
“Oh yes, she’s mad for it!”
I called her over, and assessed her back. When I reached her lower back, it felt like a painful, stressed, bar of steel – very tight, stiff, rigid, none of the flowing, fluid, springy give that a healthy back should display under my seeking hands. And she was painful, very painful – with only light palpation her eyes shot wide open in fear, and her head spun around to stop me.
“She’s got a very sore back,” I explained. “And the ball play is probably the biggest cause – you see dogs like her with a lot of drive forget about their body while they are after the ball, and it’s very high impact on her body with the sudden stopping, turning, and jumping – it’s like an obsession for them. So you’ll need to cut out the ball play unless you can throw in the water (without her jumping in and out off the bank) – that’s low impact. And otherwise, she really doesn’t need it, in fact it’s doing her harm.”
“Ok,” he said, “We can do that easy enough – and can you do anything else to help her?”
“Sure I can – I will do some hands on work today to release pain and tension from her back, and then come back for a few more sessions over the coming weeks.”
I got set with her on a table under a tree in the garden and set to work. She was really, really sore, so I had to work very gently and sensitively. It took a long time for her body to start to let go. I had to gently persist with her, building enough trust for her to allow my hands to sink in and dissolve pain and tension from her lower back. It took time, patience and persistence, but slowly she relaxed a little, and I could feel softening and fluidity begin to open up under my hands. When I finished and put her down, she was walking much more easily.
“Ok – that’s enough for today,” I told her owners. “She’s been in a lot of pain from her back – and it’s often hard to tell with dogs – I know you’ve been aware that something is wrong, but she may have had milder back pain for quite a while before it got bad enough to notice. Dogs are very good at living with and adapting to back pain, and often people can’t tell when their dogs are sore. More than half the dogs I assess have back pain, and hardly any of their owners realise. She has responded well, though, and after a few more sessions should be back to normal.”
I sat and we chatted about life and family for a little while, and I packed up and rolled back home, through the sun-spangled shade of the forest. I thought about how many dogs there are out there suffering from undiagnosed back pain, and wished I could get my hands on all of them!