Injuries are a concern to anybody who wants to get involved in agility, so how can we make sure we minimize the chances of things happening?
Look, injuries happen. A great example of this is when Lumen had had abdominal surgery a couple of months before an agility fun run. I’d been building up her stamina and wanted to take her over a couple of low jumps and in a tunnel just to get her in the ‘trial environment’. I was told I wasn’t allowed to do this as she may have still had internal stitches. Later, I took all my dogs and my friends’ dogs (with my friends) out to let the dogs have a run together. It was fairly dark at the time but something happened to my 10 year old dog while running that caused him to be unable to put weight on one of his front legs and have a limp for a few days after. My point is that the dog who may have gotten injured was fine, and my healthy dog was randomly injured. It can happen.
But of course, with all the physical strain we put on our dogs when doing agility, they are more likely to be injured than pet dogs. So how can we help keep them injury free?
Fitness, fitness, fitness.
Let’s be honest – would you like to be asked to sprint as fast as you can, turn sharply and jump over hurdles if you’re traditionally a couch potato? Probably not. A 10 minute amble around the block isn’t enough for a dog if you are asking them to do agility. I try and do at least an hour of walking/running with my dogs every day. Sometimes this is at the beach, sometimes I let them off-lead in the bush, plus they get plenty of running around full-speed together in our paddock. Of course, I’m lucky and can do this so people in more suburban environments might need to be a bit creative. I don’t necessarily agree with going to the park and throwing a ball for an hour, I think this is too hard on their joints if they’re sliding or grinding to a stop. So think about how you can get your dog walking, trotting and sprinting for a good length of time. I also swim my dogs once a week for 30 minutes at a pool and this is a great cross-training exercise. We love the beach for this reason too – plenty of swimming, but also sand-running, scrambling over the fallen trees there, and more sand running!
You know how people always go on and on about how important a strong core is for preventing injuries in people? Especially back injuries? The same holds true for dogs. Having a strong core means less injuries to their legs, shoulders and back. They are more balanced and more able to correct themselves as they run and jump. In order to develop a strong core, check back here often for Fitness Friday posts, get yourselves a Peanut (from a human store, or a dog-specific one), and/or some balance cushions, and get your dogs balancing! Here‘s an exercise to start you off!
But surely it’s not just the core that’s important, right? Yep! Legs, shoulders, back all need conditioning. How? Tricks. Tricks are a not-so-secret weapon in conditioning your dog. Ever done a squat? Feel the burn in your legs? Train your dog to sit pretty, then go from that position to standing on its back legs, then back to sit pretty again. Here is a hilarious video of a dog doing exactly this trick (but using the wall for help!). Sit pretty-drop-sit pretty works the back muscles, targeting with one or another leg works the other leg muscles, sit to stand works legs and hips, etc. Keep an eye on Fitness Friday for more ideas.
Warm up, cool down
You wouldn’t get off the couch and go for a sprint, would you? Nope. So we need to warm our dogs up, too. Your exact routine might vary by dog, for example, Lumen needs a gentle walk or jog for 5 minutes, some quick tricks and then straight into training or she becomes bored and unmotivated. Loki could probably go for a 5km run and still be ready to go flat-out when he got back. Of course I don’t do that, but he helps me set up, wanders around, plays with the ball. We might do some spins in either direction or wrap a wing multiple times to help him limber up, or sometimes we’ll get home from a 30 minute walk and train right then – he’s already warmed up from the walk.
The same applies in reverse after training – a bit of a walk to cool down and maybe some stretches to follow. Since Lu injured her iliopsoas muscle, we make sure to stretch out her sides especially if she’s been bending or weaving. Usually cool down for us is pretty informal, walking around and helping pack up, Lumen likes to go check out the rabbit holes. Cool down stretches are something I need to try and practise more. Stretching individual legs forward and back, lying on the ground and ‘supermanning’, or going into ‘frog’ position are great ways to start.
Lastly, something I hope I don’t have to write too much about and that is weight. If your pet is overweight and you’re making it do agility, stop. Your dog can’t run full speed if it’s carrying weight, and it’s not good for his joints. Keep your dog lean and fit, and they’ll enjoy running agility as much as you.
Hopefully this gave you some pointers. As I said, keep an eye out here for specific tricks and exercises to help build your dog’s fitness, and to learn some stretches and core exercises.