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Can it really affect a dog’s speed?

Many therapies are aimed at keeping our agility dogs as healthy as possible, but robust evidence supporting the benefits is scant. In this article, Tina Lowes puts McTimoney Chiropractic into the spotlight. Her interest in dog agility spans over two decades, both as a competitor herself and supporting her daughters’ competitive endeavours. As a practising chiropractor, she decided as part of her Masters degree in Animal Chiropractic that she would research the effect of McTimoney Chiropractic on the performance, namely speed, of agility dogs.

Most of us at some point have had or know of someone who has had chiropractic treatment, whether it be on a person, dog or horse. In animals, owners tend to seek chiropractic for musculoskeletal or behavioural problems with permission from the animal's vet. However, remedial treatment is just one side of chiropractic.

Improving sporting performance is another area where chiropractic is becoming used increasingly. For instance, the Americans believe that chiropractic offers their athletes real competitive advantages through optimisation of performance and in rehabilitation. As such, for many years chiropractic was considered the secret weapon of the USA Olympic teams!

The need for speed
I think we are all aware that agility competitions are timed to within one-thousandth of a second. Therefore, small increases in speed are extremely significant when competing.

Three key things affect speed in dog agility, the ability of the dog to:-

  1. Turn quickly

  2. Jump cleanly

  3. React instantly to the handlers commands

If these three things are performed effectively, then maximum speed can be achieved.

So how was the study run?
RVA dog training club kindly provided the venue and participants for the study. Eighteen healthy competing dogs took part and their speed was measured using electronic timing equipment, supplied by K9Time, around a short circular agility course which was run both in the clockwise direction and the anti-clockwise direction.

To try and align to best practice in clinical trial design, the study was set up to be randomised, double-blinded and controlled. But what does this mean?

  • Randomised – The dogs were randomly assigned to one of two groups - either the chiropractic group or the control group. There was no pattern or criteria for their assignment

  • Double-blinded – Neither Tina, as the investigator, or the dogs' owners or handlers knew which group the dog had been assigned to and, therefore, they did not know whether the dog received treatment or not

  • Controlled – The dogs in the control group received no assessment or chiropractic treatment. By having a control group, any non-treatment related effects that could influence the outcome are removed. So, for instance, you could say you would expect a dog to get faster the more times it ran a specific course. Having a control group allows us to remove this variable.

After completing their set of runs, the dogs were separated from their handlers or owners and nine of them were treated with chiropractic. The other nine did not receive treatment. The only two people who knew whether the dog had been treated or not were the chiropractor Wendy Willetts, and her assistant who took the dog from the handler/owner. One week later all dogs ran the same exact course again.

Agility course design
On agility courses, distance between obstacles is measured in metres. Obstacle numbers represent an anti-clockwise course. The course was reversed to run clockwise.

What did we measure?

Two things:

  1. Speed – The difference between the time the dog ran the course clockwise and anti-clockwise before and after treatment. The difference in the chiropractic group was compared to the difference found with the control group.

  2. Position of two key bones – The atlas (first bone in the neck); and the pelvis (in two orientations: rotation (whether it was level) and tilt (whether one side was further back than the other side). We then looked to see if this affected the speed of the dog in either direction, i.e. anti-clockwise and clockwise.

Was there a difference?
We have to be careful when interpreting the results due to the relatively small number of dogs in the study but, in essence, yes there was a difference between the group treated with chiropractic and the control group which was not.

Chiropractic caused an increase in speed greater than that seen in the control group. There was a difference at a numerical level, even though it was not statistically significant, in the amount that the speed increased in both directions between the two study groups. However, more exciting was the large dog sub-population, where the increase in speed in the anti-clockwise direction was shown to be statistically significant (p<0.05) in the chiropractic group versus the control group.

Also the position of the pelvis impacted speed. There appeared to be a relationship between the position of the skeleton and directional speed. Using an odds ratio (OR) analysis, the orientation of the pelvis upwards or forwards was over three times more likely to occur on the side that the dog ran the slowest.

Want to know more? If this article has sparked an interest and you would like to know more or would be interested in holding a chiropractic clinic at your club, then please contact Tina on m. 07890 656237.

About the authors...
Tina Lowes
(High Peak Chiropractic) is a registered chiropractor (GCC 03112) and holds a Masters degree in Animal Manipulation, mainly practising in horses and dogs. She is a member of the McTimoney Chiropractic Association in the Human and Animal Faculties, and the Royal College of Chiropractors. She is also a qualified Equine Bodyworker.

Based in Derbyshire, Tina accompanies her daughters Penny and Lucinda on the agility circuit and can be frequently found at shows with the RVA crew.

Wendy Willetts is a registered human, canine and equine chiropractor in Stourbridge in the West Midlands. Wendy is an avid horse rider competing in dressage and attends weekly agility sessions with her black Labrador. Wendy can be contacted on m. 07711 643690.

Both Tina and Wendy trained at the McTimoney College of Chiropractic.

For more information on a career in chiropractic, please visit:

Please note: in accordance with the Veterinary Act, chiropractic is always carried out with the permission of the animal’s veterinary surgeon.

First published 26 August 2013


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