By: Terry Lackmeyer, My Pet’s Brace Customer Service Representative
People are always worried about how their dog will adjust to a brace and rightfully so. A custom leg brace is a time and financial commitment and you want your dog to like to wear it. Well, the truth is dogs are far more adaptable and intelligent than we give them credit for being. Put yourself in your dog’s place. Someone puts this foreign object on your leg, your injured leg no less and expects you to walk on it. No explanation, nothing, just starts calling your name and expects you to walk. Most of us would not react too well. We would grumble, yell, cry, refuse to walk, maybe even throw a tantrum, yet we expect our canine friends to just do it. Here’s the best part…with a little help, usually they do!
When we fit a brace here in our clinic, the average length of the appointment is forty-five minutes to one hour. The fitting process for each dog is basically the same – the brace is placed on the dog’s leg, the fit checked and adjusted, if needed, and the dog walked up and down the hallway. Just about every dog has a similar reaction. They will look down/back at the brace as if to say, “Hey, what is this thing on my leg?” Sometimes, they kick their leg out oddly as they walk down the hallway doing what we call “kicking sand.” Other dogs will hold up the leg and not want to put it down. Dogs with hock or carpal braces may make a loud “thump” when walking with their braced leg. However, by the end of that appointment most dogs have a normal walking motion while wearing the brace and are not paying any attention to it. Overtime, limping will decrease as the brace provides the necessary support and the injury heals.
So how do we make that magic happen? Dogs need to learn to trust the brace and realize that they can again put weight on that leg. Since we can’t explain to the dog what they need to do or how the brace will feel, we need to help them do that. The most important step to take to get your dog used to the brace is to walk them SLOWLY on a short leash. Walking slowly forces them to put the braced leg down and keeps you in control while they are learning.
Some dogs require more of our involvement than others, especially if they are adjusting to a hock or carpal brace. When dogs are used to walking on three legs; that’s far faster, in their mind, than learning to use their injured leg again. So we need to retrain their brain. In these cases, we sometimes need to “walk for the dog.” That means we actually do a walking motion with the dog’s leg – manually picking their leg up and putting it down for them, repeatedly, walking up and down the hallway over and over until they get the idea. Repeatedly may mean two or three times or it may be dozens of times; it depends on how determined the dog is to continue to do things their way.
Each step is accompanied with LOTS of praise and, sometimes, treats. At home, we encouraged you to associate the brace with your dog’s favorite things- walks, going outside, kisses and extra treats. We need to convey the idea to the dog that this is what we want.
Over the years we have watched thousands of dogs respond to a new brace and seeing that “Aha” moment in a dog never gets old. The ears go up, the tail goes up and the gait becomes quicker and more animated. The moment the dog finally understands that he can trust that leg and start to use is pure magic!