working dog health

Heading Towards Retirement: The Story of One Working Dog Part I

Heading Towards Retirement: The Story of One Working Dog Part I

Have been deciding wether or not to share this part of the story. They live incredible lives, and do things for us that we will never be able to reciprocate. We are merely human. 

US&R K9 Tactical Emergency Casualty Care Course May 2017: Ventura County, CA

US&R K9 Tactical Emergency Casualty Care Course May 2017: Ventura County, CA

Search and Rescue K9 Handlers, and US&R Medical Specialists came together at the Ventura County Fire and Police Regional Training Center in Camarillo, CA to learn skills that may one day save the lives of one of their K9 team members.

Disaster K9 Workshop/USAR K9 TECC Course November 2016: VA Beach

K9 search teams and support personnel from 18 states came together to challenge their skills and share training concepts at our combined Disaster K9 Workshop/K9 Tactical Emergency Casualty Care Course at Virginia Beach Fire and EMS Training Center November 28th - December 1st, 2016.

Superfit Canine returned to VA Beach this fall after a very successful event in July this year. The event started with our 2-day Disaster K9 Workshop. Attendees were teamed up with one of our experienced group leads as they worked through search problems in a variety of scenarios. The VA Beach Fire and EMS Training Center offers several FEMA Type I rubble piles, an agility yard, wide areas, and a 4-story burn tower. As a new addition, we were fortunate to offer an 18 hole golf course to provide very wide areas and an abandoned building for search operations. 

Live Find and HRD K9 teams rotated through stations where they were able to work through rough terrain, and scent/sound distractions. Thanks to the incredible rigging support from VA Beach Fire and EMS training center, attendees were able to be lowered with their K9 from the 4th floor of the burn tower to the ground where they were able to immediately send their dog into a search problem. 

Following our 2-day Disaster K9 Workshop was our 2-day USAR K9 Tactical Emergency Casualty Care Course. This valuable course was provided by our friends from Veterinary Tactical Group, a company that offers veterinary emergency training for dog handlers, tactical medics and veterinary personnel. Attendees were presented with the latest evidence-based knowledge of the most common life-threatening injuries in working canines. Not only did students learn what can be done to mitigate the risk of injury, they also learned what steps can be taken in the field to improve survival using TCCC/TECC guidelines adapted specifically for the unique anatomy and physiology of the K9. In addition to case presentations and lecture based learning, students had an opportunity to practice their skills hands-on throughout the course in field scenarios. 

Several media agencies attended the event, and were very excited to share the incredible service that search dogs and their handlers provide across the country. 

The entire event could not have been successful without the incredible support from the folks at VA Beach Fire and EMS Training Center and VA-TF2. Their dedication to supporting the mission of improving the deployment readiness of K9 teams across the country is greatly appreciated by all of us. 

For a full gallery of images of this event, please visit our Photography Event Page

If you are interested in attending one of our future workshops, please check out our Disaster K9 Workshop page. We're adding new events all the time!

Preventing Heat Injury in Working Dogs

Recognizing the Signs of Thermal Stress

There is no arguing the impact that heat injury has made in the working dog world. Many of us know the signs of heat stroke and how threatening this injury can be to the life of a working dog, but the key to reducing mortality is early recognition of signs. This blog post is brought to you by Dr. Janice Baker and our friends at Veterinary Tactical Group


Body temperature alone can’t predict whether a dog is nearing heat injury. Some dogs can reach as high as 107° F and be perfectly normal, while others may succumb to heat injury at much lower body temperatures. The best method of predicting when your dog is getting too hot may be other signs of thermal stress related to behavior and performance, combined with knowledge of your dog’s usual “working temperature.” Some signs of thermal stress are described below. 

Uncontrolled Panting: Can’t distract your dog from panting

Uncontrolled Panting:
Can’t distract your dog from panting


Controlled Panting: Stops panting when distracted with a reward

Controlled Panting:
Stops panting when distracted with a reward

Panting is a dog’s main method of regulating body temperature. As a dog’s body temperature elevates, they will pant to blow off excess heat. At lower body temperatures, they may be easily distracted and stop panting when shown their reward or other object, praise, etc.. As the body temperature reaches near dangerous temperature, they may not be able to control their panting and may not stop panting or show interest in the reward.

Shade seeking: Lying Down Without Command

Shade seeking:
Lying Down Without Command


As their temperature rises, you may notice your otherwise enthusiastic dog sit or lie down without a command to do so. They may also seek shade or cool places to lie down. Remember, YOU may be a source of shade for your dog. Watch to see if he repositions him or herself based on where you are standing.


During repeated actions such as chasing a ball, multiple runs of a search, etc. your dog may seem like there are “not listening” to your commands, or their return to you is slow, appears distracted, or off track. This may be your dog delaying their return to you because they anticipate that once back to you, they’ll be asked to repeat the activity or do more hard work. They may actually be trying to take a bit of a break to cool down.

While you can’t always predict how an individual dog will react to heat or succumb to heat injury, there are several common risk factors that may make any given dog more likely to have it happen to them. Before you work your dog for training or in a real-world operation, consider if your dog fits any of these situations. If so, you should take extra caution, as your dog may be at increased risk for heat injury.

1. Rapid change in ambient temperature: This often occurs in late mid to late spring when temperatures fluctuate greatly from one day to another. Are you deploying for an operation or visiting another area for training? Compare the temperature where your dog usually works and trains compared to where you are deploying. Is there a difference in the average temperatures over the past week or two? A change in temperature even 10-20° F degrees may feel like a welcome change for you, but can cause significant difficulty for your dog in keeping cool during exercise. It’s important to note that the difference in temperature from what the dog is used to may be more important than the actual temperature outside. Dogs from cold weather areas used to zero and subzero temperatures have been known to heat stroke at ambient temperatures of only 30° F!

2. Long periods off work (greater than two weeks): Dogs can quickly lose condition when not working. Have you been too busy to work your dog lately? Has bad weather prevented you from training and exercising your dog? Be honest with yourself on how much exercise your dog has had in the past month prior to an event or deployment, and take extra caution if he may have had a little too much “couch time” prior to being asked to work hard again.

3. Recent weight gain: This often goes along with time off work, above. A few extra pounds on a dog can mean a significant change in their fitness or how hard they have to work to carry the extra weight. We recommend that you weight your dog at least once a week and keep a running chart, which may make it easier to see trends in weight gain or loss over time.

4. Working harder than their current level of fitness: It may be easier in training to limit your dog’s exercise and provide adequate rest breaks compared to when you’re in a real-world operation. You may be influenced by a strong desire to help, distracted by the situation and your surroundings, or may be feel pressure from leaders or others to keep working. Many dogs will keep working until they drop, so we have to keep in mind their actual level of fitness. Have they worked this long and hard before? You can only expect them to be as physically fit and acclimated to heat as you have prepared them in their training. If it is hotter than they are used to, or the work is more strenuous than you usually train, then your dog is at higher risk for heat injury than during training. The best way to prepare your dog to tolerate hard work and heat is to train at or above the level of fitness required during real-world operations.

For Hands-On training in how to respond to life-threatening K9 injuries in the field, check out our  events  page for a  K9 TECC  course

For Hands-On training in how to respond to life-threatening K9 injuries in the field, check out our events page for a K9 TECC course

For more in depth information about heat injury in working dogs, check out this free webinar brought to you by Veterinary Tactical Group

Disaster K9 Workshop October 2016: Australia

Disaster K9 Workshop October 2016: Australia

Canine search teams and support members from several agencies joined us for a 4-day Disaster K9 Workshop in Melbourne, Australia October 29th - November 1st 20

Sudden Lameness in a Working Dog: Searching for the Cause

The sudden onset of lameness in a working dog is surely enough to make a canine handler’s heart skip a beat. I know this because it happened to us today with 7 year old Disaster SearchDog Ben after a morning of agility, directional training, and rubble search. He just turned 7, and Eric and I work hard to keep him fit to avoid injury. 

We finished our morning with a short, two person search on a small rubble pile. Ben performed his usual acrobatics on the pile, leaping around fearlessly, and flawlessly. He was paid promptly with a few tugs and he did his victory lap with the toy on the way back to the truck. That’s when I noticed a very slight lameness of the left hind leg.

I performed a thorough musculoskeletal evaluation. I palpated each joint, putting them all through their full range of motion. I squeezed every toenail, looking for a cracked one (which is Ben’s specialty), and looked in between each toe, looking for a puncture (above is the photo of his paw). I probed each muscle belly in the affected limb, looking for a clue. No signs of pain, heat, or swelling, but he was still having an intermittent, mild decrease in weight bearing on his left hind leg (we’d call this a grade 0-1 out of 4 lameness).

Getting ready to pass it off as a soft tissue strain, I noticed him licking his left hind foot (his usual M.O. when he’s cracked a nail) and so I investigated further. Squeezing each toenail, spreading the toes….again. Then, there it was…a superficial abrasion of the metacarpal pad, the weight bearing, and shock absorbing portion of the hind limb. 

These abrasions are often seen as small flaps of paw pad tissue, and are often difficult to identify when the surface area of the abrasion is very small, and the small flap is still covering the wound. More severe abrasions can involve the entire paw pad, several paw pads, or multiple limbs. The rough, superficial tissue of the paw pad is a very specialized material designed to protect the sensitive and fragile epidermis that lies underneath. When the protective pad is worn away, the epidermis is exposed, causing discomfort when bearing weight.

The good news is, with superficial abrasions like this, the treatment is to keep it clean, and rest while it heals (and, in case you didn’t know…rest is a working canine team’s nemesis). A more severe abrasion (such as when the entire epidermis is abraded) might require more intensive veterinary care which may include bandaging, foot soaks, or even surgical debridement. Of course, always seek veterinary advice when treating things like this. 

Prevention? Well, That can be hard for a working dog. In my experience, these abrasions often happen after intense tugging, or retrieving on rough surfaces, such as asphalt, or gravel. The repetitive skidding of the paw pad against the ground causes loss of the superficial protective tissues. Limiting these activities when possible may help to prevent injuries like this.

Thanks for reading. Now….. off to tell Ben about the prescribed REST. Wish me luck!