top of page
  • bartonj63

7 Ways to Prevent Injury in Your Agility Dog

For many people who own a sporting dog, agility training isn't just a hobbie, its a passion! And those who compete will know the frill of taking on a challenging agility course with such determination and precision. This is why...


It is vital to set your agility dog up for success by preparing their body for any challenges they may face.


In my last blog 'The 3 Most Common Injuries in Agility Dogs' I discussed common agility injuries and how they are likely to occur. In this blog we explore seven preventative measures to safeguard your dog's wellbeing whilst maximising their agility potential.


Skip to section:



1.Warm ups

Establishing a good warm up routine before commencing exercise is crucial if you want to prevent injury as it offers the following benefits.



  • Increases blood flow - delivering fresh oxygen and nutrients to the soft tissues.

  • Warms tight muscles – reduces muscle tension and improves elasticity and flexibility.

  • Warms synovial fluid - synovial fluid lubricates joints allowing for freer movement.

  • Engages neural pathways – activates muscle memory and improves coordination, proprioception, and spatial awareness.

  • Enhances performance – increases Range of Motion (ROM), flexion and extension, power and speed.

 

Ideally warmups should be completed no more than 15 minutes before exercise and should take around 10 minutes. They should be split into four components to ensure a gradual increase in intensity.

1.     Light Cardio – walking & trotting

2.    Global Movements - Exercises that work your dog’s entire body, in different planes of motion (directions).

3.    Active Range of Motion – Exercises to encourage your dog to perform active stretches to promote joint mobility and full range of movement.

4.    Sport-Specific Drills – mimic movements that your dog will be doing on the agility course.


Warm up massages can be interspersed before the start of your warmup and at the end especially if your run has been delayed. Warm up massages are designed to stimulate blood flow which improves the elasticity and flexibility of the muscles. This in turn, can dramatically increase the range of motion, strength, and power.

 

Important – Do not stretch your dog prior to competition/ exercise!

Performing passive stretches (when you physically manipulate you dog’s limbs) can be damaging and reduce performance. Active stretches (when your dog stretches on their own) are fine as your dog is unlikely to over stretch beyond its comfort zone.



2.Cool downs

Cool downs are critical for your dog’s overall wellness and recovery in the following ways.

 

  • Regulates circulation – slowly bringing the heart and breathing rate down to normal.

  • Regulates temperature – dogs cannot sweat like humans. Cooling down gradually helps them regulate their body temperature.

  • Removes metabolic waste – lactic acid is a by-product of exercise.

  • Reduces DOMS - Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness and stiffness

  • Reduces muscle spasm – a sudden involuntary contraction of a muscle/s which fails to release due to a muscle being overworked or fatigued.

  • Shortens recovery time – enables your dog to transition from a sympathetic state (fight, flight, freeze) to a parasympathetic state (rest & digest) allowing the repair/healing process to occur.


Cool downs should take around 10 minutes or until your dog’s breathing rate has returned to normal. They should include a gradual intensity decrease, with the following components:

1.     Light Cardio – trot to walk

2.    Stretches – Passive Range of Motion (PROM)

 

Cool down massages can be done when you return home or finish completing/training for the day. They are designed to reduce recovery time and reduce muscle stiffness and fatigue. Cool down massages also promote the removal of toxins and metabolic waste from the muscular tissue.



3. Diet & Hydration

There isn’t a single, optimal way to feed your sporting dog. Each dog is an individual and their diet will depend on a range of factors including their breed, size, age, activity levels, health status and so on. Despite this having a basic understanding of the essential nutritional needs of your sporting dog is crucial to enhance their performance and reduce recovery time.




There are six classifications of nutrients that must be supplied in a dog’s diet: water, fat, protein, carbohydrate, vitamins & minerals.

  1. Water – makes up around 65% of a dog’s body weight. Even mild dehydration will affect our dog’s ability to exercise, learn and thermoregulate. Therefore, constant access to clean, fresh water is essential. Research has shown that the use of ‘nutrient enhanced’ water can support increased water intake and may support thermoregulation and recovery after exercise.  

  2. Fats – Dogs can use dietary fat as a source of energy. Active, working and sporting dogs benefit from diets high in fat (20% plus).

  3. Protein – is essentially the building blocks of the body. It supports tissue repair and recovery. Protein needs to be of high quality and easily digestible. It should make up around 20/25% of an agility dog’s diet.

  4. Carbohydrates – are a major source of energy and can help replenish muscle stores of glycogen (sugar) which have become depleted after exercise. There is no minimum dietary requirement for carbohydrates in a dog’s diet as they can make their own through a process called gluconeogenesis. Despite this, carbohydrates can be beneficial for active dogs (especially those taking short-duration, high-intensity exercise), and can make up to 50% of your dog’s diet.

  5. Vitamins & Minerals – The amount of vitamins and minerals required in our dog’s diets are small in comparison to other nutrients. The most important vitamins that dogs need are fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and water-soluble vitamins C and B. Most complete and balanced dog foods will supply adequate levels of vitamins and minerals so there is usually no need to supplement.

 

Understanding the essential nutritional needs of your sporting dog is critical however this is just the tip of the iceberg and I strongly encourage you to do your own research. Why not start here ...

There is also a great website called allaboutdogfood where you can find a wealth of information.



4. Conditioning & Fitness 

This is more than just exercise! Canine conditioning & fitness involves completing a progression of unique science-based exercises and programmes - from foundation to advance - to prepare and enhance your dog’s physical performance. Exercises are designed to mimic and rehearse movement patterns associated with agility - in a safe and low impactful way - and improve the mobility, strength and stability of your dog. In doing so it allows your dog to adapt to the high demands of the sport, thereby improving performance and reducing the risk of injury.  



Conditioning and Fitness is designed to develop your dog's strength from the inside out.

More specifically their core! A strong core ensures complete stabilisation of the spine and hips so that the movement muscles can function correctly. A weak core causes the movement muscles to act as stabilising muscles. This can cause:

  • back spams

  • instability and weakness

  • increase risk of injury

  • impact performance

Therefore, it is vital that you establish a conditioning and fitness programme for your dog.

 

The Canine Conditioning Academy uses science-based programmes, focusing on correct form which leads to correct function. I highly recommend you check out their website!



5. Overtraining/ Over-phasing

Everything in moderation. It is important to remember not to overdo it. Tired muscles are more prone to injury and repetitive or excessive training can cause microtraumas to the soft tissue. Do not be tempted to train for too long or too often. Be vigilant about over-training or pushing your dog further than they are ready for (know their limits and capabilities), check ground conditions and lookout for signs of fatigue and stress.

 

This includes:

  • excessive panting

  • avoidant behaviours

  • making mistakes (that they wouldn’t normally make)

  • clumsiness

  • slowing down

This can be achieved by getting people to watch your training or videoing your runs. If you don’t have someone on hand to help you can set a timer on your phone or count the number of times you train a certain piece of equipment/ obstacle or skill. 



6. Rest & Sleep

It is important that you create the right balance between activity and rest. Dogs need between 12 – 14 hours of sleep per day. Unlike us humans who should average about 7- 8 hours per day. Sufficient rest and quality of sleep is important as it allows your dog’s body to regenerate and self-heal. This is important especially if they have had a busy completing weekend, exerted themselves, had a hard training session or a stressful event. Ensure your agility dog gets the rest that they need by creating a calm, quiet, comfortable and safe space in the home away from distraction, noise and activity.




7. Maintenance Massages

Canine massage is a key element in maintaining our canine athletes as it not only enhances their performance but also helps aid recovery. It also acts as a vital tool for detecting early soft tissue dysfunction before it becomes an issue.

 

Massage can help prevent injury in your sporting dog by:

  • improving circulation - this not only increases the flow of fresh nutrients and oxygen to the tissues, but also promotes the removal of toxins and metabolic waste from the muscular tissue.

  • reducing muscle tension – relaxes tight, shortened and overworked muscles and promotes normal, healthy muscle tone.

  • addressing areas of specific soft tissue disfunction – this includes microtraumas, strains, adhesions, trigger points and myofascial restrictions.

  • shortening recovery time – by improving circulating and reducing muscle tension

  • providing hands-on assessment – using the art of advanced palpation, the dog’s soft tissue is examined to search for deviations in the muscles natural tone, temperature and texture. Thereby detecting issues that may become an injury if left untreated.



If your dog has done a lot of intense training and competitions over a short period of time their muscles are likely to tighten and shorten. Therefore, post event and mid-season maintenance massages are essential to improve flexibility and PROM. How many massages your dog will need will depend on many different variables including age, breed, goals for the season, pre-existing conditions/ injuries and number of training sessions, shows, events completed over a period of time. However, at a minimum it is my recommendation that sporting/competing dogs should receive a maintenance massage at least every three months to keep them in peak performance.

 

Summary

By implementing these seven preventative measures you are not only safeguarding your agility dog's physical wellbeing but also safeguarding their future. Remember, injury prevention is not just about enhancing performance it is about ensuring you dog's longevity and happiness in the agility ring.


So make every jump, weave, tunnel, wing wrap and contact count! Here's to many more years playing agility.

If you have any questions related to preventative measures raised in this blog or have an agility dog who you think may benefit from maintenance massage please get in touch!

80 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page