Some years ago, Kay Rogers wrote an article in the Pyr News and Notes entitled "A Dysplastic Dog Can Lead a Happy Life." In it, she told about using an exercise, developed at Guide Dogs for the Blind, to restore a dysplastic dog to useful service. I read it, murmured "How interesting," and promptly shoved it to the back of my mind. In 1970, I had occasion to look it up.
My oldest son, Randy, had long looked forward to a Pyr pup of his own. When on his twelfth birthday he was given a cuddly ball of fluff, it was hard to say who was more excited, the boy or the dog. From that day on, the two were rarely separated. They slept together, ate together (yes, we had trouble keeping boy at the table and dog on the floor), played together, worked together, did everything except to go school together. The pup could hardly wait for the school bus to come in the afternoon; the boy could hardly wait to finish his chores so the two of them could go for a long walk through the fields.
We routinely x-rayed our pups at six months of age, so it was with little trepidation that we x-rayed Randy's dog - just routine. Imagine our shock when we heard the verdict: the pup had been born without hip sockets!! They hadn't worn away - they just were never there. "Impossible", we said, "he moves perfectly well!" "Sorry", said the vet; "here's the proof." The recommendation was grim: immediate surgery or euthanasia. Prognosis: very poor. The pup, said the vet, was doomed to the short, painful life of a cripple. But he reckoned without the love of a boy for his dog.
Randy knows what handicaps are; he knows they must be fought, not given in to. So it was not in his nature to give in to the grim prognosis. If it was within his power to help, his pup would live. And so began a year-long battle.
At six months, the pup moved as though he hurt everywhere. He lay down to eat; sat in preference to standing, walked in preference to running, bounded with hind legs together instead of trotting. So Randy began the Pfaffenberger exercises.
Putting the choke collar high behind his pup's ears, holding his head erect, they walked quickly the length of our country road (about one-tenth of a mile) the first two days. The next two days saw the distance doubled; the days after that, trebled, and so on. In addition, hills were found to climb; plowed fields were run; creeks were swum and carts were pulled. But, every day, chain behind the ears, head high, gait the measured distance. In a little while they were travelling two miles a day. It rained, and they trotted down the road. Summer came and they ran the plowed fields. Fall found them on long hikes. Chain behind the ears, head high, trot.
We had been told that surgery was inevitable and Randy could not stand the thought of his friend in pain. Still, there was the fact that the dog could no longer be confined inside a six-foot fence. When he wanted out, he went over the top. And although the boy was now quite tall, the dog still wanted to look him in the eye, so spent a great deal of time on his hind legs.
At 18 months, we re-x-rayed. The heads of the femurs had smoothed out. They had worn false sockets in soft tissue, smoothing out the rough spots in the bone. No more grating of bone against bone and no arthritis had developed. The hips weren't normal, to be sure, but they were functional. Randy and his pup had won their battle. No surgery, no euthanasia. Just a boy and his dog, running through the fields.
Why does this exercise work? A dog is so built that his center of gravity is well forward. That is, if you were to suspend his body at a point where he was perfectly balanced, fore and aft, you would put your balance point just behind the shoulder in most dogs. As the dog lowers his head, he throws his center of gravity forward, putting more weight on the forequarters, freeing his hindquarters for drive necessary for either speed or power.
According to some authorities, 60 to 70% of a dog's weight is normally on the forequarters. If the head is raised, throwing the center of gravity (and therefore the weight) toward the rear, as much as 50% of the weight is thrown on the hindquarters. This forces the pelvic muscles to carry more load and causes them to build themselves up. As the muscles are used and increase in mass, they themselves take more of the load of supporting the dog. The wearing of the femur against the acetabulum is similar to seating a bearing. Eventually bearing and seat match each other without causing further wear. If there is pain in the early stages of exercise, this can be minimized by buffered aspirin.
Will this work with a dog who has already developed arthritis? I don't know. Perhaps for these, surgery is in order. That is up to you and your vet. But it is one argument in favor of early x-raying. If caught at an early age, dysplasia need never mean pain to your dog. Whether you elect exercise or surgery, a dysplastic dog can live a normal and relatively pain-free life (though never bred.). Kay Rogers proved it; she took a dysplastic dog to her Championship. Randy proved it: his dog is a champion in his eyes. Isn't that where it really counts?
Kitty Carpadus -1971
NOTE: Since I wrote this more than 25 years ago, I have seen dozens of dogs brought to a pain-free, functional life with this exercise. The ideal speed is a fast walk for the human, a slow trot for the dog. Great exercise for both dog and human.
Catherine de la Cruz
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