Preventing injuries in an agility dog.

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!

log jump

Free running like this is the BEST.

Core

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!

Work that core, feel the burn!

Work that core, feel the burn!

Iron-dog!

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.

Weighty issue

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.

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Fitness Friday: Sit to Stand

Every Friday I’ll put some exercises and tricks here that will help your dog get fit and conditioned for agility (as part of a wider conditioning program, regular walks and runs, etc). Obviously if your dog has any injuries or issues, consult with a vet or rehab specialist before doing any of these exercises.

Today’s exercise is another really simple one that you can do with no equipment, can start really easy and build up to much harder.

It’s a simple sit to stand! The trick with this one is to make sure the front feet don’t move around when the dog stands up. This way all those nice juicy back-leg muscles get a great workout. This exercise is also great for working the muscles around the hip without putting stress on the hip joint.

Step 1...

Step 1…

You can start with this just on the flat, getting your dog to sit, and then luring into a stand (or use a verbal stand command if you have one). Reward, then sit, reward, stand, reward. You can do this 10 times, or as many as you like assuming your dog isn’t showing signs of fatigue.

Once your dog is pretty pro at doing this on the flat, you could either take it onto a couch cushion, balance cushions or a peanut. You can start with the peanut pushed up against a couch and held in place by your body if your dog is just starting. Later, you can have it ‘freer’, by being kept still by paw pods or a cushion or two and a light hand rested on top.

Step 2!

Step 2! (I have my hand on her chest to help keep her still while the photo was taken!)

training schedule

I thought I’d post our training schedule up here. It was something I asked Silvia about during her class and something I’m constantly trying to find the right balance in. Maybe you’re just starting out in agility training – that’s great! But you need to remember your dog’s fitness is so important. So how does our week run?
I’ll admit, I’m not great at keeping a schedule, so this often changes day-to-day, depending on the weather, energy level of the dogs (if Lu is being particularly happy or keen, I’ll train her in agility), whether I have other commitments, etc. But this is a rough outline.

Monday-Friday: Morning walk for 30-45 mins. Nic sometimes takes Lu for a 5km jog. Play ‘controlled fetch’ with Loki in the bush to help improve his coordination. Let dogs run around in the yard while I get ready for school. Crate Loki, Lu and Mal are in the lounge together. May give the dogs a Kong. When I get home, we might do 30-45 mins of agility (split between Loki and Lu) but more often than not, we’ll pack up the car and head out for another bushwalk, usually about an hour. Come home, dogs can have a run together if it’s still light (important since Lu is currently on-lead during all our walks) do stretches and core exercises with Lu, and the same for Loki if there’s time. Occasionally either Loki or Lu will come to school with me where the kids will walk them around during lunch and recess – this is a pretty slow, ambling walk though so I don’t necessarily count it as exercise.

I try and fit in a rest-day but our walks are pretty relaxed with Lu on lead so a day where we just walk kind of counts as a rest.

In terms of the agility training, I try and mix it up: 1 day of running contacts, 1 day of weaves for Lu, 1 day of wraps for Loki, 1 day of tunnels for Loki, a break, back to running contacts, etc. I don’t want to do 2 days of wraps in a row, for example.

Saturday was traditionally our day to go to an external club for training, however we haven’t been for a few months due to Lu’s rehab. After training, we would usually go for a beach run for about 2 hours. On a big day like this, I would try and do a few of Lu’s stretches after the agility training, but not the whole routine. We also try and mix it up and throw in some herding every now and then. I find that mentally, a half day of herding does wonders for my dogs, who sleep away the rest of the day!

Sunday is either a ‘busy at home’ day, which means lots of running together in the yard, helping dig holes, jumping in water troughs, etc., or we aim to do another 1+ walk together. Stretches and balance exercises in the evenings.

Writing this, I realise that we don’t do nearly as many tricks as we used to. I’m not sure if this is necessarily a bad thing as I feel that the time taken doing tricks is now being used to walk and condition the dogs instead. Because of the strength and balance exercises, we do still get some tricks in there – part of Loki’s repertoire is his ‘sit pretty’ and ‘side legs’ tricks, and him learning to hold his nose against my hand during stretches. So in a way there are tricks incorporated into our strength, stretch and balance time, but not in a formal ‘trick teaching’ kind of way.

I once heard a Canine Rehab person say that for every hour of agility you should be doing 2 hours of conditioning. I’d say that we are working well above that, and I’m happy. I feel like Lu is stronger in her core than ever, though her cardio fitness has suffered as a result of the on-leash walks and 6 weeks of restricted exercise, and I feel like Loki will have a good solid base as his training continues and will hopefully help prevent injuries going forward.

Do you consider conditioning to be an important part of your training routine, or is it something you’d like to consider more?