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Top 5 Reasons All Livestock Guardian Dogs Should Have Hip Testing

The photo on the left is "Fuzz", the photo on the right is "Topaz." Fuzz has terrible hips while Topaz has excellent hips.

All livestock guardian dogs should have hip testing because this is the BEST way to protect their ability to be sound on into old age. All livestock guardian dogs are at risk of developing arthritis. Hip testing provides owners with clarity about how big a risk factor their own dogs have.

This full understanding of this one dog's conformation allows an owner to become proactive to reduce the risks as his LGD does his very important work. Many LGD owners believe that they can observe their dog and know if the hip joints are well formed. This is absolutely untrue.

This photograph shows why the mechanical movement of these two dogs walking or running is very different. I have termed the dog on the left as having "affordable hips" because he was moderately priced and produced by a breeder who does not believe and of her dogs should have their hips tested. She sites both expense and pain to the dog in the exam process as her reasons. When informed that two pups in Fuzz's litter had major hip problems she declined to make changes in her breeding program based on this physical proof and continued to breed Fuzz's sire and dam. To compare the quality of the hips of both dogs here, look at where the top of the long leg bone meets the dog's pelvis.

The video below is Fuzz walking at 5 months of age, just shortly after he was sold as a working dog. Notice how much extra movement he has with every step he takes. Seeing a pup like this is heartbreaking and much less likely to happen when pups are produced from hip tested parents.

For the dog on the left (Fuzz) his body weight is mostly supported by ligaments and soft tissue, rather than well-seated the the deep, round hip socket as they should be. He was sold at five months of age with the breeder's description of being a "calm pup." What is true is that, even at that tender age, he was in significant pain every time he stood or walked. Calm indeed; he exhibited very minimal play or chase behaviors because moving was painful.

The radiograph below belongs to Fuzz's sibling. Two registered pups were purchased by a prominent breeder of this breed. What would you do?]

The dog on the right (Topaz) has a lot of bone supporting her weight and movement with very little extraneous friction possible. It doesn't take a radiographic specialist to clearly see how the hips of these two working dogs will influence their lives going forward. Which dog would you like to own? If Fuzz had been sold to you what would you do now?

Let's take a look at the top five reasons all LGDs should have hip testing:

#1 - Arthritis is a probability in joints that are malformed because of the friction associated with the increased movement in the joint than would be typical in a well-formed joint. This is one of the main reasons all livestock guardian dogs should have hip testing. Forward management of dogs with imperfect hips can consist of weight management, which lessens the physical load on the joints, as well as the use of joint supplements that lessen the friction that movement in the joint causes. These supplements are useful before the dog shows clinical signs of pain, not after. 

Knowing how to create your dog's one best life based on the radiographic evidence of hip testing can give you and your dogs more years of productivity. 

If a dog shows evidence of pain, a veterinarian needs to be involved. Radiographs should be taken to provide a baseline evaluation of the degree of arthritis present. This will provide information about the degree of pain the dog is dealing with. This is necessary because this may dictate the appropriate pain medication and the amount.

#2 - LGDs are expensive dogs to purchase, with much time invested in training and husbandry. They are a worthy investment if they have years of service, but what if that dog can't do the work he was purchased to do? What do you do with him? A dog in pain is absolutely not as effective in protecting livestock because he is at a physical disadvantage.

Are you aware that predators, and other dogs, target weakness? A dog in pain is more likely to be attacked and injured. That is one of the reasons LGDs are such stoic dogs. They know that demonstrating physical weakness increases their risks in doing their job so they power through - day after day. An arthritic LGD may be in great pain after a night of hard work, but because LGDs are nocturnal workers it can be difficult to evaluate the soundness of the dog because most LGDs are lethargic and sleepy in the daytime.

#3 - Caring for a dog with arthritis is very expensive. Are you willing to avoid the costs of hip testing, taking a chance on the odds your dog will be one of the lucky ones with great hips? Stop, and really consider, if you would be comfortable euthanizing a young, beautiful pup such as Fuzz was. I have a lot of practical experience with LGDs and I can tell you the tears stream down my face when I have to euthanize any dog; this is particularly true if the dog's circumstance could have been prevented.

#4 - Having LGDs hips tested provides valuable feedback on the breed. With PennHIP testing, the scores of the dog are entered into the database for all other PennHIP tested dogs of the same breed. I have had hip testing done on 90-100 Maremmas over my career as a breeder and buyer of high-quality breeding dogs. It is possible to have a veterinarian take radiographs designed to evaluate the quality of the dog's hips without the added expense of submitting them to PennHIP or OFA. I seldom did that because I felt that, as a breeder, I was responsible for broadly doing all I could to support the breed. Adding to the Maremma database was important to me.

The photo below shows how PennHIP provides valuable information about the breed. The number of dogs of the breed tested to this point, the typical median score for the breed, and where this dog scores by comparison. One of the goals of hip testing is to use the information in breeding dogs to shift that grey bar to the left. The general hip scores of Maremmas have changed for the better in my ten years of involvement with the breed. I really like knowing I contributed to that as a breeder.

#5 - This is incredibly important information to provide to the breeder of your dog. Most LGD pups never have hip testing and are produced by parents without hip testing, so a breeder can produce A LOT of pups while believing it is safe to do so. In my breeding career, I did hip testing with almost all of the puppies produced here. Over these ten years, I was able to do hip testing with pups produced by pups born here. This allowed me to know quite a lot about how well my good hip-tested breeding dogs were paying forward their good genetic material in their pups. LGDs tend to produce large litters; my smallest litter was nine pups and most litters were twelve pups. I didn't breed my female dogs more than twice, but an owner who breeds annually for the typical 5-7 years of productivity could produce 84 pups in that time. Consider how many pups there could be with hips like Fuzz's and how many of those go on to produce breeding dogs who produce more and more of the same. It is flat scary to consider and it is real!

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