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While there are many ways to exercise your canine buddy, many involve risk. For example letting Rover run loose in an off-leash dog park can result in a twisting injury especially if he is trying to keep up with a smaller dog who can make much sharper turns. A typical injury in such a situation is a ruptured crucia. There is much debate about but no certainty on the ultimate cause of such ruptures and in time a genetic link may be found. Nevertheless there is an immediate cause of a ruptured crucia and it is an injury and usually a twisting injury. Crucias have taken over from hips as being the major orthopaedic injury and expense for large breeds. Not only are they costly to repair but the intensive nursing care can be quite prolonged and during the healing period the chances of the other rear leg succumbing under the strain is extremely high.

Just like a horse running in a field is susceptible to breaking leg because of ground hog and other holes, so is a dog running at full tilt. While a dog does not normally have to be put down like a horse after breaking a leg, sometimes this involves major surgery with a stainless steel pin being implanted and then later removed.

The point is that prevention is definitely the way to go and with large and giant breed dogs the answer is often draft work. In an earlier column I described how pulling gives a canine both aerobic and resistance exercise. A further benefit accrues to the handler who accompanies the dog. You know the old saying: “If your dog is out of shape, you’re not getting enough exercise.”

Between carting, sledding, skijoring, canicross, scootering, pulling of bikes, travois, ski boards or skate boards and back packing, there is a draft sport for every dog, person and season. For dogs with mild hip dysplasia, light hauling will strengthen the muscles to compensate for the orthopaedic irregularity and will not risk further injury. If your canine’s rear end is too weak to haul anything, then he may be able to carry back packs as the load is positioned over the front legs and puts no strain on the back end.

The key thing is that these draft activities do not involve actions that would result in an injury. None of the draft activities requires any form of twisting. Even a dog turning a cart on a dime (inside wheel remains in place and pivots) does so by side stepping so no twisting of limbs is needed. Except for dog sledding, the draft sports do not involve full out running and hence the chance of breaking a leg in a hole is minimized and, of course, dog sledding is usually done on packed snow, thereby eliminating the hole problem.

The only draft activity for the average dog owner to avoid is weight pulling as this is an extreme sport and could cause or aggravate an injured limb; otherwise draft work is the best land based canine exercise.

Peter Maniate has been writing columns for the Newf News, the magazine of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada, since 1979.  In 1996 he started writing a Newfoundland dog column in the Breedlines section of Dogs in Canada magazine on behalf of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada.  When Dogs in Canada ceased publication at the end of 2011 he continued the Breedlines column in the Newf Newfs.

Permission is granted for re-publication of the preceding article or excerpts from it as long as the author is credited and the name of the original publication and date of first publication is included.

Newf News

July 2009