What if I told you there were a couple of simple tests you could perform on your dog to know if they weren’t balanced and that an injury may be brewing? Read this week's blog to find out more!
What is Symmetry?
Have you ever looked at your dog and thought something was off? It can be alarming when you're sure something is wrong but not sure what it is you're seeing. This is something I see with new clients all the time! Owners will come in and tell me that something seems "off" with their dog - perhaps it's a subtle hitch in an otherwise normal gait or an awkward standing position; but whatever it is, a subtle hint can clue an observant owner to a potential underlying issue with their dog. What I've found is that owners are often picking up on a lack of symmetry in their dog.
You can find symmetry all throughout nature and studies have found that both humans and other animals are highly attuned to symmetry in each other. Humans are naturally attracted to symmetry and we often use it to gauge beauty. Many animals choose mates on the basis of symmetry, or a lack of asymmetrical features. Biologists believe the absence of asymmetry is an indicator of fitness (good genes), since only a healthy organism can maintain a symmetrical plan throughout its development in the face of environmental stresses, such as illness or lack of food. Therefore, a symmetrical animal is usually a healthy animal. Sensitivity to symmetry, it seems, is ingrained into our behaviour. And this is why often we see clients who are identifying something as “off” in their dogs without necessarily knowing what the issue is!
One of the basic goals in conditioning and rehabilitation is to help your dog achieve symmetry. In a broader sense, symmetry means well-proportioned, well-balanced, and unity between several parts which integrate into a balanced whole. When we talk about symmetry and dogs what we’re looking for is an equal strength across their centre line, and that they aren’t favouring their left or right side. Their standing posture should be balanced, meaning both front/hind feet are even and not positioned in a staggered position. Muscle distribution/bulk should look the same on both the right and left legs, their tail should wag evenly, and their legs should be held in approximately the same position with their joints at similar angles. A lack of symmetry in your dog can force them to compensate so that they can't maintain normal movement or posture. If this compensation continues, your dog can be at greater risk for pain and further injury. Sometimes, when a significant injury has occurred the lack of symmetry in your dog can be quite obvious.
How can we assess symmetry in our dogs?
The first step is to look at your dog! You know your dog best so keeping an eye on their movement and observing trends is an excellent way to spot asymmetry! Try taking a monthly picture of your dog in a natural stack position from all angles (both sides, their front and back end) and monitor how your dog is standing - is a particular foot forward, does their head bend to the side, is their stance staggered? These can all clue you into asymmetry in your dog. You can use these monthly photos to help track changes that are occurring in your dog's symmetry and take better control of preventing injury and promoting health and wellness.
How to Test Asymmetry in your Dog
To start, walk your dog around on level ground and get them to suddenly stop. Do they stop in a balanced position or are either of their front/hind feet staggered? Next, have your dog stand on a level and stable position in a natural stacked position. This means, their front feet are underneath their shoulders and hind feet/hocks are perpendicular to the ground. Slowly lift one of their hind legs ~1-2 inches off the ground. Ideally, your dog should appropriately weight shift and keep their pelvis level with minimal pelvis/spine movement or rotation. Not only are you gaining a sense of how they are weight shifting with this test, but make sure to note how much force you have to apply to lift that hind leg up. Does your dog fight you? Is it like lifting a heavy brick or does their leg lift up easily with no difficulty? Now switch and try the same thing with the other back leg. Is there a difference in how your dog reacts or how their pelvis compensates? Is the force on your hand noticeably different?
Move to the front legs and perform the same test. When lifting the leg does your dog’s supporting wrist slowly sink into the ground? Do they wobble around? Where is their weight shifting to? Do they put their weight into their foot to prevent you from lifting it from the ground? Are you noticing any displacement or stress behaviours? These are all clues to an underlying asymmetrical issue. Repeat the exercise with the other leg and compare the outcome.
Ideally, we want your dog to maintain their body without a great deal of movement on just 3 legs. They shouldn’t be wobbling around and there should be an even amount of weight distribution between the 3 legs.
Once you’ve determined poor symmetry in your dog how do you address it? Unfortunately, when fixing asymmetry there is not a “one size fits all” solution; instead it will require knowing the areas of your dog’s body that is causing the unbalance. If your dog is struggling with this test then it’s a sign of an underlying weakness and it may be worthwhile looking into for an underlying cause and seeking the advice of a veterinarian or canine physical rehab specialist. Performing these tests regularly is an excellent way to monitor your dog’s progress and can provide early warning to potential injury.