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Sports medicine and rehabilitation therapy...

Many agility handlers might have wondered about the benefits of seeking professional advice on a competition dog that didn't seem to have any perceivable problems. They might have questioned why Gemma Osmond felt the need to have Ella checked over at the Smart Clinic when she had competed so successfully that year. It's simple really! Gemma felt it made sense to consult the experts when it came to the health and well-being of someone as important as her dog.

Dogs can't tell us if there's a problem and we won't always be able to work it out if it's not obvious. I know a dog in pain is potentially a dangerous animal through no real fault of their own. As a mum of two toddlers, it made sense to take Kai and Ella to see the experts. Plus, I felt that Ella being so successful for me last year was reason enough to have her checked over.

I first visited the Smart Clinic in Cardiff at the beginning of October 2009 with my two collie dogs Kai and Ella. From my point of view, the visit was mainly for the benefit of my boy Kai who lost his front right leg in a car accident, aged 18 months old. Ella, my current competition dog, had done very well that year, so I didn't expect she would require much, if any, treatment at all.

My first impressions of Lowri Davies, the vet who runs the Smart Clinic, and her veterinary physiotherapist, Hannah Price were very positive. I felt that my dogs were in very good hands.

Gemma & KaiKai
We started the appointment with Kai. Lowri's diagnosis of Kai was more upsetting than I had prepared myself for as I became aware of the level of pain he was living with on a day-to-day basis, but even that was balanced with her confidence that the quality of his life could be dramatically improved. That has indeed proved the case, and I now have a much happier - and naughtier - collie dog than I had previously!

Then it was my girls turn in the spotlight. The first part of the initial assessment involves taking a detailed case history of the dog including any injuries it might have sustained, any worries the owner might have etc. The second part involves walking the dog up and down in a straight line and then in circles to the left and right. This gives an enormous amount of information about how the dog is currently using their body and what adjustments might need to be made.

In Ella's case, her clinical history included a fall from a sea wall whilst out walking when she was just six months old where she had broken her back right leg. At the time, she had seen an orthopaedic specialist to have the leg plated back together. The plate remains in her leg to this day. This had never caused her any obvious problems during any part of her agility training, or dampened her enthusiasm for any of the obstacles.

Ella jumpingI had only worried slightly about this back leg once during the 2009 competition season, and even at that point it wasn't an obvious problem that involved her knocking poles or being lame. It was just a feeling that she wasn't quite right and being Ella she wasn't going to make a fuss or let it get in the way of her agility!

It would be fair to wonder why I'd bother to have her checked over at all, and in truth, perhaps I wouldn't have made that visit to Cardiff if it hadn't been for Kai. After all, I had been recommended the clinic from friends with dogs who had quite serious mobility problems that they'd helped sort out. Kai clearly fitted into that category, but Ella certainly didn't. It seems that once again I have reason to thank him, for leading me to meet yet more remarkable people who can better improve the quality of my dogs lives.

Observations & Treatment Program

When I first examined Ella in 2009, she was only ever so slightly lame on her right hind leg when walking certainly not lame enough in the conventional sense to take her to the vet. When standing, Ella appeared uncomfortable and would move her weight around from one leg to another. Further examination demonstrated significant muscle spasm and pain on her first day she rated 7 out of ten on the SMART Clinic pain scale with one being no pain and ten being the very worst. So despite not showing any significant lameness Ella was a very sore lady indeed. This is often the case with most poor performance issues or intermittent lameness in our competing dogs. This is also the best time to start treatment before a mild lameness becomes a serious ligament injury or muscle strain.

Ella had started to alter the way she moved after she fractured her leg and although she had in some ways made a good recovery there remained very little muscle on her right hind leg. She had learnt to do with out it in some ways during her agility. This only works for so long however before pain and discomfort start to affect performance. The other problem with Ella was that she had become very stiff through her back and chest which meant that she was permanently off balance when working.

Ella was treated with a combination of acupuncture, physiotherapy and gait retraining in the treadmill. Gemma was sent home with a list of very specific exercises to do which she carried out to the letter. This meant that by her second visit, Ella's pain score had already come down to 4 and she was moving much better in general. Ella underwent a progressive rehabilitation regime which has improved her balance and co-ordination and strengthened her right hind leg. She no longer competes in pain, and her will to win is stronger than ever. Lowri Davies

It was Kai who started me on my long held line of thinking that there are experts in every walk of life, and it makes sense to consult them when it's about the health and well-being of someone as important as your dog. Unless there's something blindingly obvious like Kai's missing leg, they can't tell us if there's a problem and we won't always be able to work it out if it's not obvious. I particularly owe it to my dogs to make sure they're comfortable as I'm also a mum to two toddlers and they occasionally have to suffer a small child bumping or landing on them. A dog in pain is a potentially dangerous animal, through no real fault of it's own.

Plus, I felt that Ella being so successful for me last year was reason enough to have her checked over. She has always worked her socks off for me. The Easter weekend is a classic example. Over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend we competed for three days at Kernow K9 show, and in all the wind and rain Cornwall had to offer. Believe me, it was extreme! Ella was her usual fantastic self, now well muscled, more powerful and even faster than before.

Now as a result of the large number of runs, running in those slippery conditions, and probably never really getting properly dry and warm over the weekend, Ella was found to be very stiff and sore at our following visit. Some treatment has made her more comfortable and I went to our next show knowing she was fit and well.

Personally speaking, I know I feel myself to be a better handler for having had her checked over. And it's only fair to Ella. She is the better half of our agility team, and more than deserves the best, not least because she never gives me anything less than that herself.

The SMART Veterinary Clinic
Founded in 2004. it was the first specialist referral veterinary rehabilitation centre in the UK. Through the development of individually tailored programmes it has succeeded not only in helping numerous dogs return to full athletic activity but also has improved the quality of life of countless pets through better pain management and a proper exercise regime.

Whether your dog is recovering from surgery, overweight or simply getting older at the SMART CLINIC they will design a complete management programme to suit your needs. Equally if your dog is an athlete and not performing as well as he or she should then a detailed assessment at the clinic may well be able to pinpoint the problem and develop a treatment plan.

All appointments are by veterinary referral. For more information about treatment and courses, visit

About the author...
Gemma Osmond shares her home in Yatton, Bristol with her husband Mike, sons Jamie and Callum and dogs Kai (WSD), Ella (BC) and Diva (Shetland Sheepdog). Ella is her current competition dog who made the leap from Grade 1 to Grade 5 in 2009 and won into Grade 6 at her first Kennel Club show of the 2010 season.

Gemma has been doing agility for about seven years. She, is an Agility Club Approved Instructor - First Class, and has recently passed the exams to become an agility judge. She also runs her own dog training and pet care business in her spare time. For more information go to

She is a full-time mother.


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