This sports-medicine vet is totally in touchwith what affects our dogs’ every move

By Ranny Green

Photos by Shibaguyz Photography

Tory stood erect as a statue on a table at Family Dog Training Center in Kent as Dr. Patti Schaefer inserted one ½-half-inch needle after another about his face and scalp. He knew the drill and didn’t shudder once while the veterinarian poked and prodded.

The 7½-year-old Belgian sheepdog, owned by Kathy Lang, longtime dog trainer and owner-handler, was the perfect patient and showcase model for the trained eyes and expertise of Schaefer, who specializes in sports medicine and rehabilitation for dogs.

Dr. Patti Schaefer checks Falyn, a Belgian sheepdog puppy, owned by Kathy Lang, of Federal Way, for asymmetries.
Dr. Patti Schaefer checks Falyn, a Belgian sheepdog puppy, owned by Kathy Lang, of Federal Way, for asymmetries.

“Patti’s practice,” says Lang, “is as much art as it is science. She has an ‘eye’ that allows her to watch a dog move or jump and then isolate areas of weaknesses. She can then use her hands to feel the dog’s body. That allows her to isolate the exact area of the body that is weak – and explain why. She also knows when she needs more information and to request X-rays, MRIs, etc.”

Schaefer, who visits Family Dog Training Center twice monthly, also sees patients at three veterinary clinics in Tacoma, McKenna and Olympia on a regular basis, providing acupuncture, chiropractic and laser treatment as needed. She also uses Chinese herbs and other holistic approaches.

Maintaining a good rapport with other veterinarians in the area – general practitioners and specialists – has been key to her success the past two decades. “About 50 per cent of my clients are referrals from area veterinarians,” she explains. “About 80 per cent of my patients are performance dogs and the other 20 per cent are pets.”

Her involvement in dog-performance events gives Schaefer a unique perspective of what troubles her patients, whether they are conformation, agility or rally performers.

“As a handler, I have competed in several dog sports,” she says, “and have studied many others to familiarize myself with what is required of the dog’s body, different training methods, ways injuries can occur, including handler error. I know what it’s like to want to compete, go to a regional or national and do well in my sport.

Schaefer probes the jaw muscles of Tory, a Belgan sheepdog, for spasms and tone. The dog, owned by Lang, had been experiencing trouble holding his dumbbell in competition
Schaefer probes the jaw muscles of Tory, a Belgan sheepdog, for spasms and tone. The dog, owned by Lang, had been experiencing trouble holding his dumbbell in competition

“As a veterinarian, I want to make certain that I condition and train my dog to move in what I consider to be correct form, to prevent injuries with overstressing and overtraining , even if I want to continue training in that session. From a veterinarian’s perspective, there are some moves that I don’t want my dog to do so I work to prevent these.”

Lang adds, “Patti practices what she preaches. She doesn’t just treat the symptoms, she gets to the underlying cause and helps the owner understand why the problem occurred, how to help the dog recover and how to help prevent the problem from recurring.

“Since Patti knows dog sports, she knows what’s involved to train and condition a dog and compete at various levels of obedience, agility, Schutzhund, etc. She can tell a client that they can train the basic skills first and raise jump heights or increase jumping frequency later. That concept wouldn’t be discussed with a vet who had never participated in dog sports himself or herself.”

Lang credits Schaefer for helping her with stretching and conditioning exercises for her dogs, adding, “I’ve learned how to teach these movements to my students so their dogs can also benefit from my experience.”

Back to Tory and his face full of acupuncture needles.

While Falyn moves about the floor Schaefer watches the puppy’s gait.
While Falyn moves about the floor Schaefer watches the puppy’s gait.

Six months ago he began experiencing trouble retrieving his scent articles, dumbbell and glove. Initially, Lang had her general-practitioner veterinarian perform a complete dental evaluation and cleaning. This revealed missing enamel from one of the dog’s teeth, which was repaired. Lang assumed Tory would then resume retrieving.

However, he continued to struggle with retrieves, prompting her to ask Schaefer to watch him do a few pick-ups to see if she could ascertain the problem. Quickly, she spotted a swelling in his jaw, which was out of alignment. It has taken several months of twice-monthly acupuncture and adjustment to get Tory back in top retrieval form.

“If not for Patti, I would probably have retired Tory from obedience,” Lang says. “In retrospect, I hadn’t noticed that even his play retrieving had fallen off over time. I simply thought that he didn’t enjoy those games as much as he was aging. Now that his jaw is feeling better, he’s back to bringing me toys around the house and he is a whole lot happier.”

Tory has titles in obedience, agility, rally, herding and tracking.

With new patients, Schaefer has a wide mix of questions she asks the owner. Here are just a few: What sport are you participating in? What is the reason for seeing me? How long has the problem been going on? Do you have radiographs? What treatments have been performed already and have they helped? Are you giving the dog any medications or supplements? What type of diet is the dog on? What are the dog’s regular exercises and conditioning protocol? When do you see the problem most?

“Once my exam starts, there may be more questions pertinent to the patient, depending on my findings,” adds Schaefer.

Schaefer’s exams are not limited to performance dogs. She also treats police dogs, service dogs, older pooches with arthritis and other issues and performs litter evaluations for breeders and individual puppy evaluations for potential purchasers.

With the latter, she watches puppies move through all gaits and in different directions. “I evaluate the structure for angulation, balance, length of back, loin, legs and put the joints through range of motion. I look at how well they maneuver their body for their age and how they hold themselves while doing so.”

Fees vary on whether she is doing an evaluation, consultation or treatment, ranging from $65 to $135.

Schaefer collects some needles in her hand prior to beginning acupuncture treatment on a patient.
Schaefer collects some needles in her hand prior to beginning acupuncture treatment on a patient.

Schaefer conducts area seminars and workshops as well on canine structure, movement, conditioning, etc. While addressing a wide gamut of attendees’ concerns, she teaches them how to go over their dog and recognize problems. “If they can catch something early, often it can head off a major problem later,” she emphasizes.

When asked to cite a few things she has learned from Schaefer through the years and how they have helped her in maintaining the health of her dogs, Lang responded, “Every dog I’ve owned since my first German shepherd in the late ‘70s, which had major structural issues, has been bred and selected for proper structure. Not all of them finished breed championships but all had good conformation and movement.”

Lang has attended dozens of seminars, read countless books and been mentored by top breeders, judges and competitors in her quest to better understand the mechanics of the dog and how to treat what ails it.

“Through Patti, I have learned to trust my eye. I’m not a veterinarian, but I am experienced and this subject is a passion of mine. Not only has she helped my dogs have longer performance careers, she has enabled them to live happier, healthier and longer lives.”

Chilly, an 11-year-old golden retriever owned by Sharon Colvin, of Bothell, has been a patient of Schaefer’s periodically for eight years. A top high-in-trial winner at obedience trials for years, Chilly was diagnosed with minor elbow dysplasia at age 2, hence Schaefer performs regular check-ups to maintain his health.

Schaefer palpates the elbow of Chilly, an 11-year-old golden retriever, while his owner, Sharon Colvin, of Bothell, steadies the dog, one of the Northwest’s premier obedience performers.
Schaefer palpates the elbow of Chilly, an 11-year-old golden retriever, while his owner, Sharon Colvin, of Bothell, steadies the dog, one of the Northwest’s premier obedience performers.

“Patti does chiropractic and acupuncture as needed to help him maintain his strength and be able to compete. She has also suggested supplements that would help him,” says Colvin.

Like Lang, Schaefer is one of Colvin’s first stops after getting a new puppy for a thorough check-up “to see if there are any concerns or anything I need to be aware of in training.”

For three years, Schaefer has worked closely with Kelly Healy, of Yelm, and his service dog Jake, a chocolate Labrador retriever, 14. Healy, who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, obtained Jake as a puppy in 2000 and by 2002 the dog was trained to perform service-dog skills.

“Being a service dog is stressful,” explains Healy, “consequently activity and play is essential for his well-being and health.”

Jake has torn both cruciate ligaments and developed arthritis in his back. Add to that, he was diagnosed with severe arthritis in his right foot in 2011. At that point, Healy and Jake were referred to Schaefer.

Jake immediately began undergoing acupuncture and chiropractic treatment to relieve the pain and balance his body, enabling him to perform his duties more efficiently. Schaefer also recommended dietary supplements.

“The result has been amazing,” says Healy. “He moves and acts like an 8-year-old. He demands a walk every evening of a third or half mile, easily hikes with us for a mile or more, jumps in and out of the back seat of the car unassisted and most recently has taken to chasing rabbits.”

Jake has retired as an active service dog but is enjoying the liberties of just being a dog and Healy’s “buddy.”

Chilly’s hind leg is put through a passive range-of-motion test by Schaefer.
Chilly’s hind leg is put through a passive range-of-motion test by Schaefer.

Lang, when asked what Schaefer’s expertise means to her, replied, “A sense of relief and confidence. I have complete trust in her. I appreciate having complementary treatments that don’t conflict with, or contradict, those offered by traditional veterinary medicine.”

October seminar

Dr. Patti Schaefer will conduct a conditioning and structure seminar from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 12 at Family Dog Training Center.

Participants will learn how to evaluate gait, movement and structure through demonstrations, videos and/or hands-on examples with pre-selected demonstration dogs. Following the discussion and demonstration on structure, Dr. Schaefer will take participants attending with their dogs through her system of warming up prior to, and cooling down after, each performance. She will teach and demonstrate a number of flexibility, strengthening and cardiovascular exercises that will help make your pet and companion healthier, and aid your dog’s ability to perform at its best.

The seminar fee is $85 for participants with dogs (one dog per handler, maximum of 20 dogs) or $65 for those auditing without dogs.

For more information: 253-854-9663 or office@familydogonline.com.

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