Understanding Working Dog Breed Joints: Common Issues and Solution

Jun 21, 2024

What are Working Dog Breeds?

Working dog breeds are known for their incredible dedication and versatility. These dogs are bred and trained to perform a variety of tasks that often require physical endurance, strength, and agility. While of course many are pets as well, they live to serve. Here are some common roles of working dog breeds, and some examples of breeds that typically work these jobs:

  • Service Dogs: Breeds like Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are commonly used as service dogs. They assist individuals with disabilities by providing essential support for daily activities, like guiding the visually impaired, alerting the deaf to sounds, and assisting those with mobility issues. They’re also used for emotional support.
  • Police and Military Dogs: German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, and Dutch Shepherds are often employed in law enforcement and military roles. These dogs help with search and rescue missions, detect explosives and narcotics, and apprehend suspects due to their intelligence, strength, and trainability.
  • Herding Dogs: Border Collies, Great Pyrenees, Australian Shepherds, and Cattle Dogs are among the breeds typically used for herding and farming. These dogs help manage livestock by herding and guarding animals on farms and ranches, and they show us exceptional agility and control.
  • Hunting Dogs: Breeds like Beagles, Pointers, and Spaniels are commonly used as hunting dogs. They help hunters track and retrieve game, using their incredible sense of smell and high energy levels.
  • Search and Rescue Dogs: Bloodhounds, German Shepherds, and Labrador Retrievers are often trained for search and rescue operations. They locate missing persons in disaster areas or challenging terrains using their superior scent-tracking abilities and endurance.
  • Guard Dogs: Breeds like Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, and Bullmastiffs are typically used as guard dogs. They protect property and provide security due to their strong protective instincts, loyalty, and physical presence.

All of this hard work can take a toll on a working dog’s joints, though. That’s why knowing the impact and how to help manage and mitigate damage can be a life-changer for your dog.

Common Joint Health Issues In Working DogsPhoto: A Border Collie herds some geese in a field.

Working dogs have many of the same joint issues that others in their breeds do, but they are even at more risk for intensity due to their work. Here are the most common joint issues in working dogs:

  • Hip Dysplasia: This common condition is prevalent in breeds such as German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Labrador Retrievers. Hip dysplasia occurs when the hip joint is improperly formed, leading to arthritis and chronic pain.
  • Elbow Dysplasia: Often seen in large breeds like Bernese Mountain Dogs and Rottweilers, elbow dysplasia comes from abnormal elbow joint development, causing lameness and discomfort.
  • Cruciate Ligament Injuries (CCL): Breeds like Labradors and Boxers are susceptible to CCL injuries, where the ligaments in the knee tear or rupture, often requiring surgical intervention. This is often similar to a human’s ACL injury.
  • Patellar Luxation: More common in smaller working breeds like Border Collies and Shetland Sheepdogs, this condition involves the dislocation of the kneecap, leading to intermittent lameness and pain.
  • Arthritis: While arthritis can affect any breed, it is particularly common in older working dogs who have experienced significant wear and tear on their joints over the years. This condition results in inflammation and pain, reducing mobility and quality of life.

Some specific breeds have specific issues they’re prone to. They include:

  • German Shepherds: Known for their work in police and military roles, German Shepherds are prone to hip and elbow dysplasia, both of which can severely limit their mobility and effectiveness in the field. In fact, it’s what often makes them have to retire from their service.
  • Labrador Retrievers: Frequently used as service and hunting dogs, Labradors are at risk for hip dysplasia and CCL injuries due to their active nature and physical demands. Their people-pleasing personality means that they often keep pushing even when they shouldn’t.
  • Border Collies: As exceptional herding dogs, Border Collies often face patellar luxation and hip dysplasia, conditions that can impact their ability to manage livestock efficiently.
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs: Often used in search and rescue missions, Berners are prone to elbow dysplasia and arthritis, conditions that can impact their ability to navigate rough terrains and perform tough activities.

In addition to these common issues, working dogs may face unique challenges based on their specific roles and environments. For instance, sled dogs like Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes may suffer from arthritis due to the repetitive strain of pulling sleds over long distances. In that same vein, search and rescue dogs working in disaster areas might be at higher risk for acute injuries and joint trauma due to the unstable surfaces and debris they encounter.

Causes Of Joint Issues In Working Breeds

The rigorous physical demands and activities placed on working dogs can heavily contribute to their development of joint health issues. Strenuous activities, such as running, jumping, climbing, and navigating difficult terrains, put a lot of pressure on their joints and muscles. Over time, this continuous strain can lead to wear and tear, and can lead to conditions like arthritis, ligament injuries, and dysplasia. High-impact activities, especially those involving sudden stops and turns, can increase the risk of acute injuries, such as cruciate ligament tears, which are common in highly active breeds like Labrador Retrievers and Border Collies.

Age-Related Joint Issues

As working dogs age, they become more susceptible to joint issues because of the cumulative effects of wear and tear over the years. Older dogs often naturally deal with declining joint health, which leads to conditions like osteoarthritis, which causes chronic pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. The cartilage that cushions the joints can deteriorate with age, and that results in bone-on-bone contact that just increases their discomfort and inflammation. Age-related joint degeneration is especially common in breeds like German Shepherds and Bernese Mountain Dogs, which are prone to genetic joint disorders.

Impact of Obesity on Dog Joints

Obesity also heavily impacts joint health in working dogs, no matter how old they are. Extra body weight puts additional stress on the joints, which only speeds up the wear and tear process and increases their risk of developing a joint-related condition, especially in their hips. Overweight dogs are also more likely to suffer from arthritis and cruciate ligament injuries because of the excessive load their joints bear. The added weight also means they can’t be as active as they’d like, or their work requires, and this just creates a cycle of reduced mobility and further weight gain.

Maintaining a healthy weight is so important for preventing and managing joint issues. A balanced diet and regular exercise routine can help control weight and alleviate unnecessary joint strain. Monitoring a dog’s weight and adjusting their diet and activity level as needed can be a significant strategy for maintaining their joint health and overall quality of life.

Role of Nutrition in Joint Health For Dogs

Nutrition may be most important when it comes to maintaining joint health, especially for working dogs that experience significant stress and strain on their joints. A balanced diet that’s rich in specific nutrients can help reduce inflammation, support cartilage repair, and enhance overall joint function. While traditional supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM have been widely used, recent research suggests there are more effective alternatives with stronger scientific backing. Popular doesn’t always mean truly effective.

More current studies actually show the limitations of glucosamine and chondroitin in effectively managing joint pain and improving joint health. For instance, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that these supplements did not significantly reduce pain in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee compared to a placebo. This suggests that while they may offer some benefits for a subset of individuals, they are not universally effective and may not be the best choice for joint health in working dogs. ​

That said, ingredients like curcumin, boswellia, and omega-3 fatty acids have shown more consistent and significant results in reducing joint pain and improving mobility. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has been extensively studied for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Research published in the Journal of Medicinal Food demonstrated that curcumin can significantly reduce joint pain and improve mobility in individuals with arthritis. This makes it a promising alternative for supporting joint health in working dogs​ (eScholarship)​.

Boswellia, another potent anti-inflammatory agent, has also shown efficacy in managing joint health. Clinical trials reported in Phytomedicine have indicated that boswellic acids can effectively reduce inflammation and improve physical function in patients with osteoarthritis. This natural extract works by inhibiting pro-inflammatory enzymes, thereby providing significant pain relief and supporting joint health​.

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in ingredients like flaxseed oil, anchovy oil, and green-lipped mussel, are also well-documented for their anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that these fatty acids can reduce joint pain and stiffness, improve overall joint function, and even slow the progression of joint diseases. Research from Arthritis & Rheumatology has demonstrated that omega-3 supplementation can lead to significant improvements in joint health, which makes them a valuable addition to the diet of working dogs​​.

Other beneficial ingredients for joint health in dogs include green tea extract and blueberry powder, because both are rich in antioxidants. Green tea extract has been shown to reduce inflammation and prevent cartilage degradation, while blueberry powder helps reduce oxidative stress, both of which are critical for maintaining healthy joints. Studies published in Arthritis Research & Therapy and research from the University of Maine have confirmed the efficacy of these ingredients in managing joint health and reducing inflammation​​.

By focusing on these scientifically supported, natural ingredients, we can offer a more effective and reliable solution for maintaining joint health in working dogs. Ensuring that these dogs receive the right nutrients can help them remain active and healthy throughout their demanding careers and then allow them to enjoy a better overall quality of life.

Preventive Measures for Working Dog JointsPhoto A Husky digs for a search and rescue event.

To minimize the risk of joint issues in dogs, and especially working breeds, it’s super important to be proactive with preventive measures that cater to the specific needs of working dogs. Some effective strategies include:

    • Proper Training Regimens: Gradual training increases activity levels and allows dogs to build strength and endurance without overexerting their joints. Incorporating low-impact exercises like swimming can help maintain fitness while reducing joint stress.
    • Balanced Nutrition: Providing a diet rich in essential nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, can help maintain joint health. Specialized joint-supportive diets can further enhance joint strength and reduce inflammation.
    • Weight Management: Maintaining an optimal weight is critical in reducing the strain on joints. Overweight dogs are more prone to joint issues, so regular monitoring and appropriate portion control are essential.
  • Proactive Strength Conditioning: A dog’s front end plays a big part of its performance in working tasks. Their front lim is attached to the body by a muscle, and not a joint, so it’s more prone to injury. Conditioning can help support them to reduce that risk.Supportive Gear: Utilizing equipment like joint braces, supportive harnesses, and orthotic devices can provide additional support during physical activities, reducing the risk of injury.

Solutions for Maintaining Healthy Joints in Working Dogs

So what can you do if your working dog has joint issues? While there may be various pharmaceutical options with varying degrees of efficacy, there are also many more natural and holistic options for your dog.

Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation For Working Dogs

Physical therapy really is a cornerstone of managing and improving joint health in working dogs. Various types of physical therapy may help alleviate pain, enhance mobility, and strengthen muscles around the joints. Manual therapy involves hands-on techniques like massage and joint mobilizations to reduce pain, improve circulation, and increase range of motion. Therapeutic exercises like balance training, controlled walks, and specific stretching routines are tailored to strengthen muscles, improve flexibility, and support joint stability. Additionally, hydrotherapy, which includes water-based exercises like swimming and underwater treadmill walking, provides resistance while reducing the impact on joints.

Hydrotherapy offers several advantages for joint health. The buoyancy of water supports the dog’s weight, reducing stress on joints while allowing for effective exercise. The resistance provided by water helps build muscle strength and improve joint flexibility without the risk of injury. Warm water can also soothe sore joints and muscles, providing pain relief and promoting relaxation. Other beneficial modalities include cold laser therapy, which uses low-level lasers to reduce inflammation and promote tissue healing, and heat and cold therapy, which can relax muscles, increase blood flow, reduce inflammation, and numb pain, providing short-term relief for joint discomfort.

Alternative Therapies For Working Dog Joint Issues

Alternative therapies like acupuncture and laser therapy offer additional, more holistic options for managing joint health in working dogs. Acupuncture involves inserting fine needles into specific points on the body to stimulate healing and pain relief. This ancient practice can help manage chronic pain by stimulating the release of endorphins and other natural painkillers. By targeting specific points related to joint health, acupuncture can enhance circulation and reduce inflammation, improving overall mobility. Our own Bernie has permanent gold acupuncture beads that have helped him tremendously.

Laser therapy, also known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT) or cold laser therapy, uses specific wavelengths of light to penetrate tissues and promote healing. The light energy helps reduce inflammation and pain, making it a valuable tool for managing joint issues. Additionally, laser therapy can stimulate cellular repair and regeneration, speeding up the healing process for joint injuries.

By incorporating physical therapy, hydrotherapy, and alternative treatments like acupuncture and laser therapy, dog parents can significantly improve the joint health and overall well-being of their working dogs naturally and holistically. These holistic approaches offer effective pain management and enhance mobility and quality of life.

Bernie’s Healthy Hips: Joint Health For All Dog Breeds

At Bernie’s Best, our journey began with the deep love for our own Bernese Mountain Dog, Bernie, who struggled with hip issues. We want the best, cleanest, and most effective ingredients for ourselves and him. That’s what sent us seeking the healthiest, most natural solutions to improve his hip and overall mobility, as well as his overall quality of life. This led us to research and develop a supplement that didn’t just use what was popular, like glucosamine and chondroitin, but what was scientifically backed as effective while also being holistic.

We knew we had to be different, and better, because our own Bernie was our “Why”–and he’s the reason we want better for your dogs too. Because of their proven anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties, we blend curcumin from turmeric, boswellia, omega-3 fatty acids, green tea extract, blueberry powder, astaxanthin, and undenatured type II collagen. They’ve been shown to help reduce pain, support cartilage repair, and improve overall joint function. Research shows that these natural ingredients can significantly enhance joint health and offer a more effective solution for maintaining mobility and reducing your dog’s pain.

It’s simple; we believe better mobility is a key to a happier life for dogs. We want to make sure that every dog can enjoy an active, joyful life, free from the pain of joint issues, and Healthy Hips is our way of doing so.


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