Working dogs and their handlers perform vital functions that improve human safety and quality of life worldwide. These teams are highly effective for mission-support tasks such as explosives detection, drug detection, detection of agricultural pathogens, personal protection, patrol and sentry, mobility assistance for people with head or spinal injury, search and rescue operations, fire accelerant detection, and tracking for missing persons. To perform their duties, working dogs often need to be able to maintain a high level of athletic performance for 8-10 hour shifts. Tasks may include walking or running for long distances, jumping into and out of high places, climbing stairs, restraining an adult human on command, and repeatedly standing on its hind limbs in an upright position. Lower back pain is an important problem that can limit the duration of active duty capability and mission-readiness in these valuable animals. Our team focuses on the use of advanced diagnostic imaging, biomechanical analysis, and genetic testing to improve understanding of the causes of lower back pain in working dogs, improve early diagnosis of lower back and other spinal diseases, and improve measurement of novel treatment effects.
Diagnostic imaging techniques such as radiography, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasonography, and dual xray absorptometry allow animal researchers to non-destructively quantify characteristics of internal structures, conduct longitudinal studies and decrease the total number of animals needed. Our laboratory collaborates with animal model researchers to help them develop, validate, and apply non-invasive diagnostic imaging techniques to answer research questions.