“Bring it back”, but within bounds – retrieval strains the forelimbs of dogs

Training of hunting dogs like the retriever should be done with adjusted weights to avoid damage of joints or tendons. (Photo: Elli Winter/moorhunde.de)

Retriever  1

Hunting dogs such as the popular breed retriever are ideally suited for retrieving birds or small game. However, the weight the dogs carry strains their locomotor system. A motion study by experts from the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna showed that the dogs tilt forwards like a seesaw when they carry the prey in their mouths. Adjusted weights should therefore be used for the training of puppies and adult dogs and the joints should be checked regularly by specialists. The study was published in the journal BMC Veterinary Research.

Originally, retrievers were not bred as family dogs but as dogs for work and hunt. They are so-called gun dogs which can be used to retrieve birds and small game such as rabbits. This ability is meanwhile also used in competitions in which the dogs only retrieve the dummies they are trained with from their puppy age.

An adult animal can carry loads of several kilos in its mouth. “But even if gun dogs have the required attributes, the additional weight is physically burdensome for them,” said Barbara Bockstahler from the Clinical Unit of Small Animal Surgery at the Vetmeduni Vienna. Particularly the joints and tendons of the locomotor system are strained when dogs retrieve objects. But it has been unclear so far if the weight of this load is spread on all parts of the locomotor system or if it causes a one-sided strain.

Movement analysis lab for dogs to give indication

The effects on the locomotor system have been analysed in a special movement lab with ten trained dogs. The researchers walked the dogs over a so-called pressure plate with or without loads in their mouths. “By using a pressure plate, we can measure the bottom-up ground reaction force,” explained Bockstahler. This force is exerted back by the ground and equivalent to the force exerted when the weight hits the ground.

The scientists found out that the load in the dog’s mouth causes the forces to increase, but particularly affects the forelimbs. In any case and with rising weight, the dogs became lighter on their hindlimbs. Carrying the prey had an effect similar to a seesaw.

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