Co-sponsors of the 2023 Winning Out Certificates

Is your dog suffering in silence...

Eva the lurcher has shoulder instability and receives regular massage to manage her conditionShoulder injuries are especially common in agility dogs. The symptoms they present and the severity of the injury can vary, making it difficult to identify the problem. Canine massage therapist Karen Young details some of the signs that indicate that your dog may be carrying a shoulder injury. She offers one therapeutic solution to help them get back on course.

Our dogs can dazzle us with their speed and control because they have highly mobile shoulder joints which allows for a wide range of movement. But it is this mobility that also makes them susceptible to injury. It is essential that, if an injury is suspected, the appropriate care is given immediately to reduce the risk of further damage and to support the healing process.

The main causes of injuries in agility dogs include the things we commonly do in training and while competing such as abrupt changes in direction, sudden stops, falls and awkward landings and impacts with obstacles or other dogs which can cause the shoulder to dislocate.

How to tell if your dog has injured its shoulder
Signs will vary between dogs depending upon the severity of the injury, but the most common symptoms of a dislocated (luxated) shoulder are:-

  • Acute, sudden lameness in one leg

  • Swelling and bruising around the shoulder

  • Decreased movement with the dog unable to fully extend or flex the affected leg

  • Signs of pain including whining, whimpering, trying to exit the ring or displaying signs of distress including ‘whale eyeing', licking the lips, shivering or freezing in place

Happily many dogs will not experience a full joint dislocation, but agility dogs are at a higher risk of injury due to the repetitive actions in training and competition which can also lead to over-use injuries. Over time, small strains and sprains can cause the shoulder joint to become less stable. This wouldn't be diagnosed as a luxation, but any shoulder instability increases the risk of further damage and will result in arthritic changes in the joint over time.

Here are some things to look for in your dog that might indicate some instability and pain in the shoulder joint:-

  • Intermittent or persistent lameness which gets worse with exercise

  • Localised swelling and touch sensitivity

  • Changes in posture to reduce weight bearing on the affected limb

  • Difficulty standing up from a down position

  • Choosing to lie down on one side only with the unstable shoulder uppermost

  • Changes in the way your dog lies down, particularly with a wide front leg position

  • Coat changes including changes in directions, texture and sometimes colour

Other symptoms can be more subtle and may only show up when you are training or competing and include:-

  • Consistently slower times

  • Reluctance to weave, coming out early or moving slower through them

  • Wider turns – usually only in one direction

  • Falling onto the inside shoulder on a turn – which would usually indicate an issue with the outer shoulder

  • Reluctance to jump or refusing to turn immediately on landing a jump

Diagnosis & treatment
If you suspect your dog has a shoulder injury, the first step is to seek veterinary advice. In addition to a physical exam, the veterinarian may need to organise imagines such as X-rays and CT scans.

For a shoulder injury in agility dogs, treatment typically involves:

  • Pain management - In most cases your vet will initially suggest medications such as Metacam to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. If your dog has shoulder instability, the anti-inflammatory medications may have no or limited benefit.

  • Rest and restricted activity - The body is designed to heal itself and, for minor injuries, this can be extremely efficient so long as the dog is able to rest. Avoid strenuous activities and prevent sudden movements and direction changes to allow the joint to heal properly. This includes preventing your dog jumping into and out of the car or accessing furniture. If you haven't already done so, ensure all hard floors the dog accesses are covered with non-slip mats.

  • If dislocated - A closed reduction might be attempted. This involves the veterinarian attempting to manipulate the joint back into its normal position under anesthesia.

  • Surgery - May be required in severe or recurrent cases to stabilise the joint and prevent further dislocations.

  • Rehabilitation - Once the initial rest phase has been completed, it is sensible to start gently getting the dog back to fitness. Managed exercise and clinical massage can speed up the recovery process, strengthen the shoulder and prevent future injuries. Indeed, massage and gentle exercise corrects* the body, thus allowing healing to take place.

*A note on correction – any body, whether it be yours or your dogs - will sub-consciously adjust how it moves to work around an injury. But if the injury doesn't heal well or takes a bit of time, it can become fixed in this new pattern of movement which can cause lameness and pain. It is for this reason that I would recommend any dog that has suffered an injury has some form of bodywork such as Clinical Massage as part of their rehabilitation.

As shoulder injuries can vary in severity, the treatment will vary depending on each individual case.

Clinical Massage and your injured dog
It's important to note that massage therapy should be conducted by a well-trained and experienced therapist. Your therapist should have a good understanding of canine anatomy, proper techniques and use precautions specific-to-shoulder injuries. This is where the Canine Massage Guild comes in. All Guild therapists are fully trained, insured and work to a code of ethics that means you can be confident in the quality of support your dog will receive.

Whilst Clinical Massage cannot ‘fix' a dislocated shoulder joint, here are some of the ways it can aid in the overall recovery process:-

  1. Pain Relief - Massage therapy helps alleviate pain and discomfort around the affected joint, but it can also relieve the pain in other parts of the body that are working harder to allow the dog to continue moving around their injury.

  2. Reducing Swelling and Inflammation - Massage techniques such as effleurage and lymphatic drainage can reduce swelling and inflammation in the affected area, helping to remove excess fluid which also provides pain relief.

  3. Relaxation and Stress Reduction - Injuries can cause stress and anxiety in dogs just like they do in us. Massage therapy calms the mind, promotes relaxation and increases the release of stress relieving hormones that help the body to heal and the mind to become less worried.

  4. Increasing Circulation - Massage stimulates blood flow to the affected area, which delivers essential nutrients, oxygen and the immune cells needed for tissue repair and healing. Improved circulation also assists in removing metabolic waste products and cellular debris which can be another source of localised pain for your dog.

  5. Promoting Range of Motion - After the initial phase of healing, when the shoulder is stable and the veterinarian approves, deeper, more focused massage techniques and passive range of motion (stretching) can help gently mobilise the joint and surrounding tissues. This reduces stiffness, improves joint flexibility, and returns the body to pre-injury mobility.

  6. Scar Tissue Management - As the dog's recovery progresses, massage can help remodel the initial scar tissue using gentle cross-fibre friction and myofascial releases. Scars are initially very haphazard in the way the collagen fibres are laid down as the initial priority is to ‘bridge' the damage. Massage helps the collagen fibres in the scar tissue to re-align with the surrounding undamaged tissue, improving tissue flexibility and movement. Massage can also break down and reduce adhesions (where tissues get stuck together) and increase lubrication of the area making movement more comfortable.

This is William sporting scar tissue from a collision when running at speed. Scar tissue is like an ice berg – what you see at the surface is usually a fraction of the actual scar which will often run deep into the tissues.

Massage, like any therapy, should be respectful to the dogs needs and pain levels.  Your therapist should be attentive to your dog's responses and work within the dog's pain tolerance. Every session should be adjusted to meet the current needs and so no two sessions look exactly the same.

In summary
Clinical Canine Massage can support the rehabilitation of shoulder injuries by promoting pain relief, reducing swelling, enhancing circulation, reducing stress and aiding in tissue healing. So to reduce the risk of shoulder injury in your agility dogs, consider the following measures:-

  • Do proper warm-ups and stretching before intense exercise or performances. Do not use a tug toy as your only warm up exercise.

  • Training and conditioning - There are specific exercises that can help strengthen and build resilience and, thereby, reduce injury risks.

  • Do not be tempted to train for too long or too often - Many shoulder injuries occur as a result of repetitive or excessive training.

  • Technique and handling - Focus on good handling, with and without the obstacles, as well as good posture, core strength and body awareness. Remember a slower dog will often win in the ring because they are more precise in their movement.
  • A good cool-down routine can ensure your dog recovers faster after each training session and competitive run. It helps to flush the hot tissue of metabolic waste material and any cellular debris, ensures the tissues cool and return to resting tone effectively and reduces the risk of post-exercise aches and pains.

  • Regular massage will help find and treat any areas of soreness or small injuries which will prevent the dog subconsciously adjusting their movement to work around such areas.

A person lying with a  shaggy, grey dog

Description automatically generatedAbout the author...
Karen Young
is a member of the Canine Massage Guild. She runs Safe Hands Clinical Canine Massage in Hemel Hempstead and also offers Canine Core Conditioning.

Before setting up Safe Hands, she led international projects in Peru, Brazil, China and the Middle East and ran European-wide schools programmes. She left this successful career in 2014 and adopted her first lurcher that same year.

She enrolled on the Canine Massage Therapy Centre’s two year Practitioner course and the one year Canine Conditioning Academy’s Coach course. Safe Hands was established in January 2017 and Karen has been supporting dogs and their owners ever since.

She adopted both her lurchers when volunteering at local rescue centres and has, therefore, been banned from anymore volunteering as 'the house is not big enough for any more dogs!'

You can find out more about Karen at

About the Canine Massage Guild...
 After 10 years, the Canine Massage Guild continues to lead the way with a network of highly skilled Clinical Canine Massage Therapists, based around the country. They specialise in soft tissue rehabilitation and provide chronic pain management for orthopaedic conditions.

In clinical trials with Winchester University which studied the efficacy of the Lenton Method®, 95% of dogs responded positively to clinical canine massage therapy, as published in Vet Record by the British Veterinary[JY1]  Association. Available here[JY1] [JY2] 

Providing results you can see and your dog can feel!

Find your local Canine Massage Guild therapist at

 Photos: Guild member images

First published 13th October 2023



© Copyright Agilitynet