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!)

Fitness Friday: 3-leg standing

I like blogs that do columns, so I think 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:

3 Leg Standing (now with photos!)

Lifting the front leg

Lifting the front leg

This is a super easy exercise that really helps strengthen so many parts of your dog. Deep leg muscles, core stabilising muscles, back muscles, shoulder muscles. This was prescribed as part of Lu’s rehab for her iliopsoas and I do it with Loki as well to keep him nice and strong.

Difficulty: Easy

Time required: 5 minutes

Setup: Non-slip floor for beginners, then a peanut ball, some treats or peanut butter or something.

 

Get your dog standing nice and straight on the floor (or, eventually on the peanut). I usually have the bowl of treats directly in front of my dog so they’re looking forward. Lift one leg. Hold it up for a minute (or start with whatever they can do – 30 seconds or so). Place it down. Lift the next leg, hold it up. Repeat for each leg. Easy!

Tips: You want your dog to not be leaning on you like a crutch. You might find they will put a lot of weight in your hand at first but as they get stronger they will rely on you less and less. You should feel them twitching as they adjust and shift their weight in tiny little ways.

If your dog becomes un-straight or is standing weird, I tend to make my dog either sit or drop, then stand up again from that position.

Some dogs who are used to shaping or clicker training may find this hard at first as they want to offer behaviours. A friend of mine places her hand on her dog’s chest and she seems to know that this means ‘stay still’ – with Lu, I gently rub her tummy. This also helps stop her from sitting or laying down before the time is up.

In order to make the exercise more difficult, once the dog can do it easily on the floor for a minute, move to a peanut pushed up against a couch or chairs to stop it moving. Then have the peanut be more ‘free’ but still supported with your hand to help keep it still. You can see I’m just resting my knee on it in these photos.

I don’t use a traditional human ‘swiss ball’ as it makes them roach their back too much. This peanut I bought from a yoga store near the city so you don’t have to specifically get dog-made equipment.

Lifting the rear leg

Lifting the rear leg