Nearly 1 in 3 agility dogs will suffer an injury that is directly related to their sport. To put it into perspective it means that between you and your two agility besties - one of you is going to be out of the game for a bit. Or, another way to look at it, if you have 3 dogs that run agility, one of those dogs is going to get injured doing it.
The dog with the highest probability of being injured is the inexperienced (less than 4 years in the sport) border collie. The statistics show that:
So how do you avoid being the one with the injured dog? How do you prevent having to take a month or more off your favorite activity because the other half of the team can’t participate? Read on to discover 6 things to do to reduce the risk of injury happening to your dog.
The first thing to do is to understand the physical demands that agility places on your dog’s body. Agility is running, jumping, navigating obstacles, balancing on equipment, tight turning with precision and all at top speeds. And don’t forget about stopping power. Your dog has to be able to control all that speed and stop without getting hurt. Remember, our K9 Fitness pyramid shows that agility requires the highest level of fitness from our dogs.
You must know the capabilities of your dog. This can be limited by many things including breed (remember the Internet video of the mastiff strolling through the agility course?), age, previous injury, drive and experience level. A dog with strong drive but with little experience in agility is more likely to get hurt. A dog with previous injury is more likely to get hurt. Take a realistic look at your dog’s strengths and weaknesses. Only then can you work on those weaknesses to reduce the risk of injury.
The best way to reduce injury is to institute a well developed, comprehensive and individualized fitness program for your dog. Experts in canine sports medicine and physical rehabilitation agree that this program should include elements like strength training, balance training, body awareness development, and endurance development. Each program should be geared to your dog’s current personal level of fitness with the goal of helping your dog reach the level of physical fitness needed to stay injury free and active in the chosen sport. Once your dog is at that level, your dog will need to continue a fitness program to maintain that level. It is a lifestyle of fitness and health which allows you and your dog to participate in the addicting sport of agility!
To reduce the risk of injury, your training should be regular and consistent but not excessive. Weekend warriors are dogs (and people too) that do intense activities and sports periodically with little to no conditioning in between. Once a week isn't enough to condition your dog’s body, and especially not for the sport of agility! Overtraining will also increase your dog’s risk of injury. When there is not enough time for the body to recover, performance will decrease, injury risks increase, and your dog may even show signs of burnout in the sport.
Be cautious training dogs under 24 months of age. Your young dog’s body is still developing - the bones are still growing and muscles and nervous system control over those muscles is still developing. Body awareness is not necessarily fully developed so control may not be there. Repetitive impacts on potentially open growth plates can cause damage that will retire your dog from the sport long before retirement age. Don't let agility become a sport of only the young - look at the sport of gymnastics in people - you are a has-been by the time you are 30. It isn’t uncommon for agility dogs to be retired as early as 5 or 6 years old.
Do a proper warm up and a proper cool down.
My last blog went through the changes that occur in your dog’s body when you do a proper warm up and how those changes help your dog perform better and with less chance of getting hurt. A proper cool down is just as important in allowing your dog’s body to return to physiologic normal. No excuses. Just do it.
Reference: JAVMA, October 1, 2013, Vol. 243, No. 7, Pages 1010-1018
doi: 10.2460/javma.243.7.1010 “Internet-based survey of the nature and perceived causes of injury to dogs participating in agility training and competition events”
Veterinarymedicine.dvm360.com “Preventing injury in sporting dogs” Apr 01, 2012
By Wendy Baltzer, DVM, PhD, DACVS