Working Hard for Working Dogs - Centre for Service and Working Dog Health: An Update on Research at the Centre
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2013
Kate Hill
Centre for Service and Working Dog Health and Research, Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand


It has been reported that New Zealand has more working dogs in the farming sector than all other countries except Russia. Despite this, very little has been published regarding the health and welfare of working farm dogs in New Zealand. In 2008 staff of the Centre for Companion Animal Health, Massey University Veterinary Teaching Hospital and the EpiCentre met to identify areas for future research of relevance to the NZ community. Working and Service dogs were identified as the core focus of the development of a new Research Centre, namely the Centre for Service and Working Dog Health and Research (CSWDHR)

The CSWDHR was established within the University framework as a focused research centre with close ties to the agricultural sector, the NZ Police, Guide Dog Services, and the Department of Conservation. The CSWDHR combines researchers across several disciplines: medicine, surgery, epidemiology, behaviour, legislation and welfare.

The Centre for Service and Working dog Health and Research has its mission; "to be a World leader in advancing working dog health and welfare"

The key objectives of the Centre are to:

 Better the health and working life of New Zealand service and working dogs.

 To study health issues by scientific enquiry, retrospective and prospective analysis and scientific investigation.

The Centre is supported by donated funds and by research grant income for specific projects. Any funds donated to the Centre will be used to support activities and projects of the Centre. The Directors are responsible for all projects and initiatives of the Centre.


Andrew Worth, Nick Cave, Kate Hill, Naomi Cogger, Paul Hughes, Roy Farman, Boyd Jones.

Working Farm Dog Focus Group of Veterinarians

A focus-group of practitioners under the leadership of Roy Farman has been set up to stimulate discussion and debate and to find out which issues are relevant to the agricultural community and which require further investigation.

Roy is a retired veterinarian with an interest in bettering the health of NZ working farm dogs. An e-mail newsletter keeps the group members informed of subjects of interest.

An Update on Recent Research

The Centre has many studies underway and many that have been funded directly by the Centre. This presentation will focus on an update of some of these studies listed below.

1. Demographics and husbandry practises for New Zealand working dogs. A. Jerram, N. Cogger, M. Stevenson

In 2008/09, 119 sheep and/or beef farms in the Manawatau-Wanganui region, New Zealand were visited by a researcher to collect information about working dogs that had been on the farm in the previous 12 months. The median number of dogs per farm was seven, although numbers ranged from one to 66. In total data was collected on 1,231 working dogs: 512 female, 697 were male and 21 for which the sex was unknown. The rate of desexing was extremely low with only 9% (n = 48) females desexed and 3% (n = 23) male dogs desexed.

Six hundred and ninety eight dogs were fully trained working dogs, 134 were retired or semi-retired working dogs and 399 were commencing training. The median age of fully trained working dogs was five years of age, although values ranged from 0.5 years to 16 years. All fully trained working dogs received some commercial dry food, other elements of their diet included home kill, commercial loaf and house food scraps. Of the 698 fully trained working dogs 80% were fed once per day in the evening, 17% were feed less than once a day or only when working and a further 3% were feed more than once a day.

2. An investigation of selected diseases and aspects of husbandry of working dogs on sheep farms and sheep and beef farms in New Zealand in 2010. A. O'Connell, N. Cogger, B. Jones, P. Hughes, C. Irving, K. Hill

A cross-sectional study of 202 working sheep dogs and 56 owners was undertaken in 2010 to investigate the dogs' age, gender, breed, body condition scores, aspects of their husbandry, prevalence of and risk factors for nematode and protozoan parasitism, and prevalence of and risk factors for chorioretinopathy in working sheep dogs. Faecal analysis found 68/170 dogs (40%) had a nematode and/or protozoan parasite infection. Nineteen per cent (33/170) were infected with parasites from the Nematode phylum: Toxacara canis (9/170, 5%), hookworms (Uncinaria stenocephala or Ancylostoma caninum) (20/170, 12%) or Trichuris vulpis (8/170, 5%). Prevalence of protozoan infections was: Sarcocystis spp. 35/170 (21%), Isospora canis or Isospora ohioensis 9/170 (5%), Neospora caninum and Hammondia heydorni 4/170 (2%) and Giardia spp. 13/170 (8%). Younger animals had a significantly higher prevalence of Toxacara canis (P < 0.0001) and Giardia spp. (P < 0.0001). Prevalence of chorioretinopathy in the working sheep dogs was 44/184 dogs (24%). Older animals and males had a significantly higher prevalence of chorioretinopathy than younger animals (P = 0.0007) and females (P < 0.0001) respectively. Body condition scores for 197 animals found that: 29 had a BCS less than or equal to 2/9, 78 had a BCS of 3/9, 77 had a BCS of 4/9 and 13 had a BCS equal to or greater than 5/9. The BCS varied significantly between breeds (P = 0.002) with Huntaways comprising 23/29 of the dogs who were BCS two or less. The mean age of the working sheep dogs was 4.8 years, 85/200 (43%) were Huntaways, 84/200 (42%) were Heading dogs and 173/191 (91%) of the working sheep dogs were entire. Seventy-eight per cent of owners fed their dogs a diet consisting of commercial food and home kill sheep meat once a day.

3. CT measurement of inclination angles and motion of the SIJ in German Shepherd dogs and Greyhounds. F. Saunders, N. Cave, K. Hartman, E. Gee, A. Worth, J. Bridges, A. Hartman

The sacroiliac joint (SIJ) has been implicated as a cause of back pain in people and horses but its significance in dogs is unknown. This study measured rotational and translational motion of the SIJ, and the degree of obliquity of the SIJ from the sagittal plane, in vivo in dogs using computed tomography. We selected two performance breeds of which only one, the German Shepherd dog (GSD), is predisposed to caudal back pain. The SIJs of GSDs had less rotation and less craniocaudal translation, but similar dorsoventral translation as compared to greyhounds (GHs). The lower SIJ motion in GSDs may increase SIJ loading which could lead to joint degeneration directly or may transfer those forces to other structures. Future studies are planned to determine if these differences are associated with caudal back pain in GSDs.

4. Causes of loss in NZ Police GSD. A. Worth

Current or previous Police dog handlers (n = 149) completed a postal survey for each dog they had worked with during their career including their current dog. Causes of loss were categorised as either retirement, euthanasia whilst still in active duty, death from illness/natural causes, or being killed whilst on duty. Of 182 dogs with completed questionnaires, 48 dogs were still in service leaving 134 that were retired (94), had been euthanased (24), had died (11) or had been killed (5). The mean and median age at loss for all dogs no longer in service was 6.6 years. The nominal age for planned retirement (8-years) was only reached by 40% of dogs. The single most important cause of retirement was the inability to cope with the physical demands of the job (61/94 dogs or 65%). Degenerative musculoskeletal disease was cited as the primary factor in 42/61 of these dogs (69%). When both retired and euthanased dogs where considered together 27% were retired or euthanased due to back/spinal problems. Of these 73% involved the lumbo-sacral joint. Research is underway in to preventative strategies for hip dysplasia and lumbosacral disease.

Studies in Progress

1.  Canine infectious respiratory disease (CIRD) in working dogs in New Zealand (E. Acke).

2.  NT-proBNP concentrations in resting and working sheep dogs (K. Hill).

3.  Leptospirosis in working dogs (Harland, Cave, et al).

4.  Osteoarthritis in the working dog: improved mobility with Trocoxil (J. Bray).

5.  A non-invasive technique to measure energy expenditure in working dogs (Thomas, Cave et al).

How To Become Involved

 Contact Roy Farman to join the Working Farm dog focus group: Ph: 06 378 7282

 Andrew Worth:

 Nick Cave:


 Centre for Service and Working Dog Health and Research website:


Speaker Information
(click the speaker's name to view other papers and abstracts submitted by this speaker)

Kate Hill
Centre for Service and Working Dog Health
Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences
Massey University
Palmerston North, New Zealand

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