Assisi Animal Health is excited to share our recent conversation with Dr. Judy Korman, VMD, MBA A.K.A. Judy Wiltsek. Dr. Korman graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 1987 and from the Wharton Graduate School of Business in 1988. She has been actively competing in dog agility for the past twelve years. She has trained more than 10 of her own dogs (representing 7 different breeds) and has repeatedly achieved Master Agility Dog Championships on multiple dogs. Skyla, her five year old Stabyhoun, will be competing in the 2016 AKC Agility Invitationals and her three year old Sheltie, Kiss, has qualified for the 2017 AKC Nationals. In addition to owning a mobile veterinary practice, Dr. Korman also started All About Dogs Agility Training Center, where she trains her dogs and helps other agility handlers learn and hone their skills.
Assisi: Let’s start by learning more about you.
Judy: My name is Dr. Judy Korman and I am a veterinarian and an agility competitor. I attended the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, graduating in 1987. At the same time I was attending the Wharton School of Business. That was a joint degree for me and I spent one more year in business school after graduating veterinary school, so I graduated Wharton in 1988.
You must have been incredibly busy!
I was. It was a whirlwind. But at the time I didn’t even think about it. It was just something I did. When I graduated vet school I practiced small animal medicine in New York right outside of the city in Yonkers. I was still completing my last year of business school so what was interesting about that is I had to commute from New York to Philadelphia once a week because I stayed in Philadelphia, I had my classes consolidated so I could just practice on the weekends, go to Philly for three days during the week and then come back and practice on the weekends. It was a busy time! After graduating Wharton, I went into business consulting for about twelve years. I practiced shelter medicine in Connecticut where I lived, and then a few years later moved down south to North Carolina where I opened a mobile pet house call practice in 2006. So, that is my background in a nutshell. It’s a combination of business, medicine and agility.
I’ve been competing in agility since 2004. What got me into agility was my daughter’s sheltie, Jingles. We got him when she was five years old and he was my first agility dog. At the time, I was looking to do something with him that was fun and not as restrictive as obedience. I love training, but obedience is a little bit too regimented for me. And so I found agility. I found a local trainer and her group and I started taking classes, and as most people do, started training – more with the obedience mindset, which is very different from how I train today. It was a great beginning, and Jingles was an amazing dog. It made agility really fun for me. He was very accurate and he was moderately fast. He would have been a lot faster if I had trained him the way I train now, but he would just be so perfect in what he did. We easily got into what they call a MACH, which is sort of a high level of AKC agility and we went to the Nationals and did a lot of fun things together. Then, I started to train more agility dogs and time went on and Jingles got a little older. I have trained a total of 10 dogs – my own dogs – in agility. I have also started many other people out in the sport as well, consulting with them and starting to train them from the ground up.
That’s excellent! The dog that will be competing at the AKC Invitational, that’s Skyla, right?
Yes. Skyla is going to be competing at the AKC Invitationals. This is her second year competing there. She is a five-year-old Stabyhoun. I went over to the Netherlands to collect her. She’s not my first Stabyhoun. My first one started out in agility but had to have an amputation of her rear leg due to a disease, so she couldn’t compete any longer. And she was phenomenal. I was looking for another Stabyhoun and also looking for one that might be talented in agility. I worked with the breeding association here in the States to find Skyla and her litter and when it was time to pick her up I flew out there with my son and we made a little holiday of it. I collected her from the breeder and then brought her on the plane with me and she’s been with us ever since! She’s a wonderful dog. They’re great family dogs, this breed, and also very happy athletes.
As far as agility, she’s still getting her paces. She had a litter of puppies, so she’s had time off from agility. She’s coming back now from maternity leave. Last year was her first invitational. She won the 2013 UKI U.S. Open in the Steeple Chase Class for her jump height. She’s a fun dog. She loves Frisbee, she loves swimming, she loves ball playing. She doesn’t love the indoor format of some agility trials.
The Invitational is a very big venue. It’s lots and lots of noise and chaos and dogs. I was quite impressed that she handled it all very well last year. There are only about 300 Stabyhouns in North America and Canada, that’s how rare they are. So, Skyla is the only Stabyhoun that you’ll see at the Invitational. She’s the only one that has made it this far to get the type of points you need to go to an event like the Invitational. The Invitational is named that because the AKC invites the top 5 dogs of each breed to come and compete in agility. They have to be competing throughout the year and gaining points. That is how they qualify for the show. Skyla is the only Stabyhoun who’s been invited the past two years because unfortunately, nobody else is up to that level.
What kind of traits can you see in a young puppy that will indicate that they may be good at agility?
That’s a very good question and one I had to educate the American Stabyhoun Association president on. She flew out to the Netherlands in advance to look at the litter and to do some business in the Netherlands regarding Stabyhoun. She picked out three of the puppies based on what I told her. What I like to see is a lot of movement and motion and inquisitive nature. I don’t want the puppy that is hanging back, waiting for the others to go first. I want a puppy that has drive, and you can see that in a 4-week-old puppy; you can see how comfortable they are on different surfaces, taking them out of their litter and putting them on a hardwood floor or a tile floor or carpet. I want to see how they handle new situations. That is one of the main things I look for. I skyped with Skyla’s breeder when the litter was 6 weeks of age. I had the breeder show me the puppies, and take a little spoonful of wet dog food and hold it in front of them to see what they did for it. What sold me on Skyla was that she kept pawing at it, offering her paw to get at it. She does that today. It’s her favorite trick. I call it a wave. Motion is good in agility. That’s what you want. Not necessarily an obedient dog that just stays by your side, but one that’s going to run and run and run.
I’m sure that you’ve seen quite a few injuries, having trained 10 dogs in agility. What would you say are the most common types of injuries that you see?
Injuries are quite common in agility dogs. One study that I read showed that that one third of agility dogs get injured at some point in their career. The types of injuries that we see most often are soft tissue - strains and sprains and bruises and contusions. These usually occur at the points of contact with the equipment, like the shoulders or the back. Also, the neck, because it’s used a lot in turning and looking for the handler over a jump for example, and the toes because they can jam toes on the equipment. One of the most common diagnoses in agility dogs is a psoas muscle tear. That has been diagnosed time and time again in agility dogs that are starting to drop bars or refuse the A-frame and things like that.
What are the most common, conventional treatments for these types of injuries?
Similar to human athletes, it’s rest, initially ice and then, after 72 hours, I like heat. If the injury is significant enough we can add laser therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic manipulation, and therapeutic massage. If the injury is going to keep the dog out of agility for a while we may add a rehab program that might include things like the underwater treadmill, controlled walks on leash, and physical therapy exercises.
Do you see any drawbacks to these traditional types of treatments?
Most of the active modalities used like lasers and acupuncture, those need to be administered by a veterinarian or a physical therapist, a trained therapist. It’s not always convenient for owners to take their dog for appointments as frequently as they should be administered. Especially if the owner works. They have to fit it in to a schedule which may not be ideal for the treatment but is practical for what they can do. So, I think that’s one of the drawbacks for those modalities. They’re not portable, you can’t take it with you or have it with you at a trial when you might need to start administering it.
But now, you’ve found the Assisi Loop! Would you say it is a good complimentary treatment option?
Yes! I would say that the biggest advantages to the Loop are that it’s portable and it can safely be used by owners at home or at the trials. Once the professional, whether it’s a vet or a therapist or the chiropractor that is at a trial, once they’ve identified the location of the injury, it makes sense to provide that adequate anti-inflammatory and pain management control that the Loop provides. It can also be used in conjunction with other therapies and that is another advantage. You can start with the Loop or the physical therapist can start with the laser when they are starting a rehab program and then the owner can follow up with the Loop at home. It’s portable so they can travel with it. They can even take it to agility trials. Let’s say, for example, that the dog has had an injury of its psoas muscle and it’s recovering from that or has recovered from that. It’s been given the clearance to go ahead and start agility trials again. The owner/handler can have the Assisi Loop with them and after a run, can use that loop to reduce any remaining inflammation or flare up of that old injury and keep the animal happier, sounder and pain free. I would also add that it can be safely used by owners at home or at trials. With lasers, even if people may have acquired them, they’re not experienced enough in all different types of injuries to know what setting to use, to even have the goggles on. I’ll see people at agility trials using lasers for their own dogs but they’re not taking the precautions that they should.
With all the agility dogs that you’ve had, I’m sure that you’ve seen many injuries and treated some with traditional modalities and some with the Loop and some with both. Can you describe any differences that you’ve noticed since adding the Loop into your treatment regimen? Have you seen different results, faster healing?
I used it on Zino, my koolie – that’s a dog that I haven’t mentioned yet. I’m currently running 3 dogs. Skyla is one, and Kiss, my 3-year-old sheltie is another. He is a very fast, driven dog. Unfortunately, you won’t see the fastest of my dogs at the Invitational. The Australian koolie is a breed that is not well known outside of Australia but kind of looks like and is the size of a border collie. Zino is a blue merle and he’s two years old. When he was five months old, I diagnosed OCD, osteochondritis dissecans, in his shoulder and had to have a friend do a surgery to get the flap out. He was recuperating from that rather well but then he reinjured that leg on a walk with my kids. He tore a biceps tendon and superspinus ligaments and several soft tissues. I used the Loop in his rehab in the shoulder and I do think that it contributed to his speed of healing and the solidness, if you will. The efficacy was there to make it a good recovery, so now that he’s two, he’s gone back to training and competing and it is holding up very well. It’s a real solid heal. I also used a PT program, the rest and the exercise, the underwater treadmill. I incorporated the Loop into that regimen. I’ve also used it on my sheltie when he’s had some tough tumbles or an incident in competition. One of the obstacles, it’s called the A-frame and while it’s wide enough for dogs, it’s fairly steep. They have to go up it and then come down it and sometimes, with speed and/or with losing some footing, they will tumble on the way down. Once, when Kiss was young, he took one stride up it and flew off and over the top of it like a Superman dog. He went right over it and it’s as if he thought it would continue but there was nothing on the other side of it. He came down really hard on his shoulder. Those are the situations where I’m glad I have the Assisi Loop with me at the trial because after rest and icing, I can start using the Loop in acute mode to help heal the injury that I know must be there, having watched the injury happen.
Yes, that does sound painful! So, what message would you like to send to handlers and veterinarians in competitive agility about the Assisi Loop?
For veterinarians, I think that they should encourage their agility competitors to have it on hand and for competitors. I say “Don’t leave home without it!” You’ve got your leash, your water bowl and I think the Assisi Loop should be in every competitor’s bag. We’re the ones that see these injuries happening. They may not be full blown injuries that take the dog out of agility competitions but they’re significant enough. If there is a massage therapist or a chiropractic vet at the trial that can identify where that soreness is, where the minor injuries have happened, that’s the place where I see that the Loop should be used first and continue to be used after that, in the acute mode.
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