Herding Practice Runs and Chris Zink Seminar

Bandit and I were signed up for a herding practice run on cattle today. The practice runs were about a 45 minute drive from the show site. It was a beautiful drive, with some fall colors appearing. I was glad that I had my GPS along though, because just the two of us went and it would have been easy to get lost on those windy roads.

First we got to watch others do their practice runs on sheep. Then it was our turn to practice for the Pre-Trial Test on three cattle. The cattle were set out for us and then we went to work. We were able to move them along the fence to the other end of the field, turn the corner, and move them partway back down the field. But then we were supposed to stop them, reverse direction, and retrace our steps. That’s where we had trouble. The cattle were heading for the draw and they didn’t want to turn around and head the other way again. Plus they got spread out and Bandit and I had a hard time keeping them together. We had just started working cattle at the end of June and are still working on having Bandit move behind them to push them along while I walk beside them to keep them together. At first Bandit wanted to work closer to me, but we have gotten better at working farther apart.We had trouble keeping this group of three together. Once they got separated, one might bolt for the draw and then the others might follow. Or one might bolt and one might stay at the other end and graze. I realized that I needed to get much better at reading the cattle before they became separated. I was doing too much running and we were failing at turning them back to retrace our steps back to the beginning. In fact, at that point, I thought it might be easier to move up to the started class, in which you don’t have to turn around and go back around the field. By the end of our practice run, we still hadn’t completed the whole course.

Luck would have it that there was an open practice spot after the team that followed us. I asked if we could try again, and this time Amanda, who was setting out the stock, coached me. She got me moving quickly enough and cueing Bandit sooner so that we were able to move the cattle around the field and back to complete the course. I was still doing a lot of running and the cattle still got separated, but this time we were able to get them back together. We came out of the second practice run with a lot more confidence and I was thankful to Amanda for her coaching expertise…

That evening, I attended a talk by Chris Zink, DVM, the noted veterinarian and author. I had attended one of her talks and purchased one of her books many years ago and still remembered being very impressed by her. I was surprised but fascinated by one of her topics. She talked about increases in cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) ruptures in dogs that have undergone early spay or neuter. There is some evidence that, when spayed or neutered early, a dog grows taller, but not necessarily proportionately, which can cause knee ligament problems. The last epiphyseal (bone growth) closure at the knee joint occurs at around 14 months of age. According to Zink, there is evidence that dogs that are spayed or neutered before 14 months of age have an increased incidence of CCL ruptures as compared to dogs that are still intact.

The femur (thigh) bone finishes growing at 9 to 11 months and the tibia (lower leg bone) grows until 12 to 14 months (or later if spayed or neutered early). Dogs who are altered before 12 to 14 months can have disproportionate growth of the two bones, changing the angulation and putting more stress on the ligament.

Zink also claimed that there is evidence that behavior is worse in dogs that are altered young because they don’t grow up. I found all of this information very interesting because it seemed to fit my foster dog Cayenne, who was spayed at a very early age. Past 14 months old now, she is still growing taller and her legs seem to be getting disproportionately long. But I don’t know what her conformation would be if she hadn’t been spayed early, so I don’t know for sure.

I asked Zink what she would recommend for rescued dogs when we don’t want them to reproduce, but they’re less than a year old. The last thing we need is more puppies without homes. She recommended vasectomy and tubal ligation, ways to prevent reproduction without affecting the normal hormones before the dog has reached maturity, thus more likely avoiding problems with disproportionate growth. These procedures are more difficult to do and thus more expensive. One would probably have to develop a relationship with a vet who does these procedures because most vets probably don’t do them regularly (and they’re probably more expensive). There would have to be an external way to tell that a dog had been altered. Plus the females would also have to have a hysterectomy later, once they had matured, to keep them safe from pyometra and other problems. Very interesting.

You can read more from Chris Zink about early spay-neuter considerations for the canine athlete at http://www.caninesports.com/SpayNeuter.html.

Dr. Zink went on to discuss Canine structure and function, gait patterns, and age-appropriate training for canine athletes. She showed photos of dogs whose conformation had improved with proper exercise and muscle development. This reminded me of how much Cayenne’s conformation seemed to improve with more exercise. Zink talked about indoor conditioning exercises, foot injuries, and an injury that is less well known, but can cause rear leg lameness: iliopsoas strain (aka groin pull). The description of this injury made me wonder if this is what affected Bandit before we left for the trip. Zink stated that, with this injury, a dog is reluctant to fully extend the rear leg, may off-load the leg and even just toe touch instead of putting full weight on it, and may not want to go over a jump. This rang a bell with me and sounded like a description of Bandit’s problem. He had tested a weak positive for erlichia and we had treated him for that, but perhaps he also had a groin pull from training in herding and agility. I was glad that I hadn’t run him in agility in the rain. One bad slip could have badly aggravated a groin pull injury.

As remembered, I learned a lot from Dr. Zink and the evening was well spent. I bought her new book “The Agility Advantage” and purchased her DVD on conditioning the canine athlete. Maybe with this knowledge I can help Bandit and Chase avoid injuries during their herding, agility, obedience, and tracking activities!

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