Over the years I’ve been really lucky to have dogs who have had long and mostly injury free sports careers. Even though PBGVs aren’t built like typical agility dogs, they are a long lived breed, especially if they are in good physical condition. Unfortunately, I haven’t been so lucky with Juno the GBGV.
From an early age, Juno displayed subtle hints that her hips were going to be problematic at some point. These were small things that could have easily been missed or written off as training issues, like reluctance to sit by the end of an obedience class, her flat out refusal to jump sixteen inches (her “real” agility jump height) more than once in a session, or her ongoing struggle to stay in the weave poles. Particularly since Juno isn’t the most biddable dog in the world (okay, so she’s possibly the least biddable dog I’ve ever met….), sorting this out took some detective work. However, it was clear that her sits were okay when she wasn’t tired, she was totally willing to jump twelve inches (preferred height), and she could weave just fine for about a week after a chiropractic adjustment. Hmmm, maybe throwing more cookies at these issues isn’t going to fix them. (We won’t even discuss how a traditional trainer might have dealt with these challenges.)
As it turns out, Juno does have a valid reason for many of her ongoing performance issues- significant hip pain. In some ways her lack of drive for sports may have prevented further damage, because her sense of self preservation overrides her desire to please. This doesn’t mean that she can’t do dog sports or other activities, but it has made a big impact on her training and competition schedule. For now, we are still working in obedience but I keep practice time short and only show one day on the weekend. She knows the open exercises well and will retire when (if?) she completes her CDX. Since Grands are on the list of breeds that can jump 3/4 of their shoulder height, the jumping requirement as much of a problem as the many sits required. We aren’t doing much agility, because I don’t feel comfortable training and competing frequently with a dog who needs to see a chiropractor before every event. Juno will probably do one last Invitational this year, but I don’t know that we will trial otherwise. Instead she is learning nose work, which gives her a job but can easily be adapted to her physical ability. Keeping Juno pain free is my primary goal, even if she never competes again, but having a training schedule encourages her to be more active and remain more mobile.
I want to stress that Juno is the result of a breeding of two dogs with good hips. Her breeder did everything right- sometimes bad things happen anyway. Hips are a polygenetic trait with some environmental influence, so hip dysplasia will probably never be completely eliminated in dogs. That being said, Grands are not small dogs and a GBGV with poor hip structure is probably going have problems that will impact quality of life at some point. Juno’s issues would not have been apparent at the age when most dogs are shown or bred unless she had been x-rayed. Many Grand breeders are doing a good job of ensuring that all of their breeding stock have appropriate health clearances, including hips, but this is not happening universally. If you are considering adding a GBGV to your life, ask about hip results for as many of the dogs in the pedigree as possible. If the x-rays weren’t sent to OFA for some reason, digital copies should be made available on request. X-raying hips is a routine procedure in Europe as well, so the information should be available on imported dogs and litters also. Breeding only dogs with good hips is not a guarantee, but dogs with hip dysplasia do not belong in the gene pool if the goal is to produce sound puppies.
Even though hip dysplasia is a complicated trait, it is not impossible to make significant improvement to a gene pool. During the ten years that I managed a service dog breeding program, we were able to make a dramatic reduction in the number of puppies released because of hips. This was accomplished by doing PennHip x-rays on every single puppy in the program at 8 months. Yes, doing so is very expensive. However, the knowledge that can be gained this way is huge. Not only can the best dogs be selected, but overall trends can be seen that might easily be missed in the typical show litter, where only the best 1-2 dogs are health tested and considered for breeding. PennHip has a advantage over OFA scores because every dog gets a distraction index, which is a number between 0 and 1 showing how much laxity is present in the hips. This is a more specific and objective rating system than OFA offers.
I know there are some in the GBGV world who blame Juno’s hip issues on the fact that she has had a more active lifestyle than many others of the breed. Yes, I’ve asked more of Juno than you would ask of a show dog or couch potato pet. But Grands weren’t bred to be couch potatoes- if you really think Juno’s life has been too physically demanding I would encourage you to spend more time watching hounds hunting.