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Angle is responsible for getting the dogs in tiptop shape. “Just like football players condition every day, we swim them and run them,” he says. “We want to improve their muscular endurance because the jobs they have to do are athletic in nature. If they have to do a perimeter or open area search, they may cover 10 miles — and the whole time they’re having to regulate their breathing, so they can sniff.”
It's interesting to note that Angle's background is in human sports biomechanics. “I just fell in love with the dog side,” he says. “Animal sports medicine is a new field, and there’s so much research to be done.”
Between dogs and humans (and even horses) on campus, there are many behavioral differences that Angle needs to consider. For instance, a dog’s heart rate may shift because he sees a butterfly and gets excited. On the flip side, dogs don’t sweat, so electrolyte issues aren't as much of a factor.
In total, 80 dogs are “maintained” on campus at all times. Angle focuses specifically on Pointers who find pheasants and duck-hunting dogs who sprint and swim through swamps. The department even works with sled dog kennels on nutrition and veterinary consults.
It’s Dr. Gillette who marries the many facets of the program. While studying at Kansas State’s veterinary college in the 1980s, he worked evenings at a Greyhound and horse-racing track, which inspired him to study the kinesiology of human performance and get his master's in biomechanics. In 1997, he came to Auburn — and took over the program just three years later.
Although Dr. Gillette’s focus is largely on the canine side of things, he has partnered with equine expert Dr. John Schumacher, DVM, MS, DACVIM, ABVP, to do gait analysis on the university’s horses.
In fact, the duo came up with a somewhat revolutionary idea to videotape horse meets, so riders on the university's equine team could review them and improve their performance. The team has since won three championships.
“They asked if I’d like an NCAA national championship ring,” Dr. Gillette says. “It’s not every day that you get one of those.”
To hear Dr. Gillette talk about it, he has the best job in the world: “I come to work and play with dogs every day. What could be better than that?”
And from his perspective, the biggest difference between working in animal sports medicine and veterinary medicine is the preventive element.
“As veterinarians, we’re usually trained to deal with lameness or sickness,” Dr. Gillette says. “Sports medicine is a change in the paradigm because you’re working with nutrition and physiology to optimize the dogs’ metabolic health. A lot of the behavioral problems are reduced, too, because they’re happier. It’s truly a partnership between us and the dogs, and we strive to be a leader, to make this the best program it can be.”
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