Retrieval puts stress on dogs’ forelimbs

Certain dog breeds have historically been used to help retrieve animals, like water fowl, on hunts. Adult dogs can carry several kilograms in their mouths.

Researchers from the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, set out to determine if this additional weight increased stress on dogs’ forelimbs.

The purpose of studying retrieving dogs was to determine “if vertical ground reaction forces and paw pressure contact area are increased in the forelimbs when carrying different weights, and if symmetrical weight distribution is disturbed between contralateral limb pairs.” The results were published in BMC Veterinary Research in 2016.

Dogs who do retrieval work for hunts are also often trained with weight dummies. In addition, there are people who have begun doing more sporting and working activities to play to dogs’ natural dispositions. The increase of these activities has led to an increased importance of veterinary sports medicine, and additional focus has been placed on related special injury risks. That means this research can be significant for working dogs, but also those who regularly fetch heavy objects.

The non-randomized prospective study aimed to investigate if peak vertical force, vertical impulse and paw pressure contact area are increased in the forelimbs when carrying different weights. In order to test this, researchers had ten active, privately owned, working Labrador retrievers walk over a pressure plate. The dogs walked under four different conditions: unimpeded walking without a weight, carrying a 0.5 kg dummy, carrying a 2.0 kg dummy, and carrying a 4.0 kg dummy. Measurements were only taken if the dummy was carried correctly (in the middle) and if the dog walked in a straight line over the plate without an apparent change of velocity.

They found that vertical force and impulse significantly increased in the forelimbs and decreased in the hindlimbs in all weight carrying conditions. As dummy weight increased, so did force and impulse on the forelimbs. While the extra weight altered ground reaction force distribution, it did not affect paw contact area.

While the study was carried out for dogs walking across the plate and did not measure pressure under conditions like running and jumping, the researchers thought the results from their own study are likely to be more pronounced in dogs moving at a gallop or run.

Researchers concluded that “veterinarians should advise owners and trainers to carefully train young hunting dogs to ensure that the retrieval weights do not overstress the musculoskeletal system” and that the results could be applied to other sporting dogs. Routine exams of retrieving dogs can help prevent injury from the imbalance and keep dogs healthy.

Photo credit: © iStock/artpipi

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