Working Dogs Need Protective Gear | Opinion

DEAR READERS: In December, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association published an article about the American Animal Hospital Association’s new guidelines for working, assistance, and therapy dogs. The JAVMA article was accompanied by a photograph with the caption: “Sniper, a search and rescue dog, works on the rubble”. This was concerning, as the photo showed a totally unprotected and collarless search and rescue dog at work.

This prompted me to immediately read the new AAHA guidelines, in which I found no reference to protective gear. No gear was included, advocated, or even acknowledged in the AAHA report.

I think the AAHA should explain their position. A quick internet search will reveal the extensive manufacture, marketing and use in the United States of ear, eye, body and foot protection equipment – in various situations and climates, including ballistic protective vests – for military and police dogs.

British Army dogs have long been fitted with protective gear. In a 2016 article about an extended training exercise, the Daily Mail said each participating dog “has their own body armor; ear defenders, which allow them to be exposed to loud noises; and goggles, for sandstorms and helicopter landings. They even have boots specially designed for dogs, which allow them to walk safely on dangerous liquids and uneven floors.

In contrast, a 2008 press release from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio described donations from a local canine obedience club: sponsors provided “protective cooling vests, goggles and booties for dogs to military working dogs that were heading to places like Iraq and Afghanistan”.

Is the situation such that the US military must rely on public donations for canine protective equipment, and the veterinary profession has no influence on the effectiveness and risks of various equipment? Leaving all of this to handlers and trainers is like leaving the selection of bits and bridles to trainers and owners (which has also received little attention beyond the pioneering work of veterinarian Robert Cook) .

As a consultant for the US Army Veterinary Corps’ “Superdog” research program during the Vietnam War, I was pleased to see the Corps eventually incorporate behavioral medicine into its care of military working dogs. However, I couldn’t find any reference to veterinary evaluation and advocacy of protective gear for these dogs. I don’t believe this issue should be the sole responsibility of dog handlers and trainers involved in search and rescue, police and military services.

DEAR DR. FOX: Our 10 year old boxer was recently diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy. The first symptoms appeared about a year ago, but we just thought he was slowing down due to age. We take him for several short walks a day, and he still goes up and down the stairs, but it gets more and more difficult as his hind legs become very unsteady.

Do you have any suggestions on what we can do to help him and make him more comfortable? His vet’s suggestion was to keep him active as much as possible. In addition to his walks, we play with him when he wants. Max has always been very active and used to play fetch all day. Now, when we throw his toy, he slowly approaches and brings it back maybe three or four times before stopping. — JW, Pinnacle, North Carolina

DEAR JW: Unfortunately, there is no known cause or cure for this chronic degenerative neurological disease, which affects the nerves in the spinal cord. There may be a genetic basis, as it is more common in German Shepherds, Irish Setters, and Boxers than in other breeds.

Moderate exercise to help maintain joint flexibility and muscle tone, as recommended by your veterinarian, is prudent. It’s important to keep your dog’s body weight light, so feed him a diet high in protein, low in carbohydrates and low in fat, including some essential fatty acids from a few drops of cod liver oil or wild salmon. I would also give her a daily dose of vitamin B complex, vitamin E and L-carnitine.

Watch out for chafing and ulceration on the hind leg. Protective boots might help, as might getting your dog used to being in a sling with rollers to move around. Many dogs with loose hind legs still enjoy some quality of life in such “K-9 carts”. Urinary and fecal incontinence may develop, requiring periodic urine samples to check for bladder infection.

My book “The Healing Touch for Dogs” provides all the steps you need to give your dog daily therapeutic massage therapy, which could make a big difference in helping to maintain his mobility and quality of life.

Send all mail to or Dr. Michael Fox c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal responses, but direct questions and comments. general interest will be discussed in the next columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s website at

Bette C. Alvarado