A number of years ago Oscar woke up with a crick in his neck. The poor thing presented with an inability to lift his head higher than his chest without wincing - in fact, if he didn't have to lift his head from the spot where he was curled up, he just plain wouldn't.
Immediate reaction would typically be to truck it to the vet, where (after eliminating potentially serious issues) the likely prescription would be rest, limited activity and an NSAID for pain relief and inflammation. Feeling a bit unconventional that particular week, I consulted some expert sport-dog friends, one of whom gave me the suggestion to look into a canine chiropractor... why not?
Lucky for me, I quickly found AVCA certified Dr. Tamara Palmer through some good old-fashioned googling (the AVCA maintains a handy listing of practitioners around the country), and we've been making regularly scheduled visits with her ever since. Dr. Palmer's pet practice, Chiro-4-Pets, is a satellite to her human practice, and she's gained a loyal canine (and feline) following in the years since opening her doors to companion animals. Our very first meeting lasted about 30 minutes and gave Dr. Palmer time to familiarize herself with Oscar's particular anatomy and history of injury (we even brought along some recent X-rays - taken for a completely unrelated reason - that proved surprisingly informative). Using gentle pressure and flexion she slowly worked out kinks in his neck, back and shoulders, and gave each of his major joints a small adjustment. The results were immediate: after sleeping LIKE A LOG straight through he rest of the day, Oscar awoke the next morning, head held high, ready to do a few Ridgeback spins in the living room (his cue for breakfast). How about that?!
Our appointments now tend to last all of about 10 minutes, and they serve primarily as maintenance (once skeletal mis-alignments are re-positioned by the skilled hands of the chiropractor, muscles must acclimate - and develop new muscle memory - in order to provide correct internal joint support). A "tune-up" 4 or 5 times a year appears sufficient to keep this Beast from suffering serious episodes (plus, he seems to quite enjoy the extra attention - Dr. Palmer quickly secured a spot on his "bestie" list).
Joint re-alignment should always be done by someone trained in veterinary anatomy and chiropractics, but there are exercises that every dog owner can perform with their critter that will contribute to healthy, limber skeletons and maximize joint range of motion. An Oscar Dog favorite (perfect for warding off stiff necks), "Cookie Reaches" are exactly what they sound like: held in front of pup's nose, a treat is slowly moved left, right, up or down. The goal is for all paws to stay squarely planted, and as the head follows the treat, the neck and spine are effectively stretched. A few repetitions a day - especially in an aging dog - can work wonders on overall flexibility (plus, they're so easy your dog will think you're literally GIVING away cookies!). Illustrated above and below are a few of our favorite iterations of this "game".
*Read more about the many benefits of canine chiropractic work in this archived article from the great Whole Dog Journal.