Agility is a physically demanding sport. With its high speeds, sharp turns, and obstacle performance requirements, and then add the surface and course variations, agility demands a great deal from your dog!
While its variety is exhilarating and the speed is addictive, it is not a sport for the weak of mind or body. Fortunately, most agility competitors understand that agility is not exactly a walk in the park and that our canine teammate is taking the brunt of the intensely athletic nature of the sport.
Every competitor must ask themselves if they have done everything they can to physically prepare their four legged teammate for the challenge. Strength is the number one component of fitness that must be improved (and then maintained) in your dog throughout your dog’s sporting career.
So you must ask “Is my dog strong enough?”
Just because your dog can run a course doesn’t mean your dog is strong enough to train and compete for months and years. It doesn’t mean your dog has the strength to recover from a misstep, wrong move or miscommunication with you.
So how do you know if your dog is strong enough for the rigors of agility training and competition?
We have devised a strength assessment just for agility dogs. This assessment will help you determine if your dog has at least sufficient strength for this sport. Once your dog knows and understands the exercises, then you can test your dog to determine if your dog is indeed strong enough.
The Agility Strength Assessment
There are 3 areas of your dog’s body to focus on - the front assembly, the core, and the rear assembly. These 3 exercises assess these 3 areas.
Remember, though, that in dogs, since they walk on four legs, that the body works as a unit and it’s hard to isolate “upper body” and “legs” like in people. We jokingly talk about how every workout is “leg day” when it comes to dogs!
So we have chosen exercises that focus on these 3 areas while still giving an overall full body strength assessment.
The exercise we feel most accurately tests your dog’s front assembly strength is the Push Up. Now let me clarify what we mean by this. We are not talking about what’s been called the puppy push up. (Something called the puppy push up can’t possibly assess the strength of an adult canine athlete right?) We are not talking about doing a down to sit, in which your dog uses the front end to “push” themselves up into a sit. This type of push-up is what we consider a modified push up since part of your dog’s body (the hind end) is resting on the ground the entire time (think of the push ups we girls did in junior high with our knees on the ground. Again, this doesn’t seem like the right choice for determining the strength of our athletic agility dogs.)
No, we are not looking at puppy push ups or modified push ups. We are talking real push-ups - nose to the ground, shoulders flexing, chest rippling, triceps bulging, core tight, weight transferred forward kind of push ups! The agility dog should be able to perform push-ups easily, consistently, and with proper form.
The video of the pushup is on YouTube at https://youtu.be/Z4kVsciLUlU
The exercise that we feel is a good assessment of core strength without placing any undue stress on the spine is Extended Planks. Again, when done with proper form, this strength and stabilization exercise forces the core muscles to engage and maintain for a period of time. Repetition and duration are key here. If your agility dog can hold a proper extended plank for a combined time longer than an agility run we are good. And, bonus - the slight extension of this plank is key to your dog demonstrating the ability to stabilize the shoulders and hips too!
Watch at YouTube at https://youtu.be/TEUZkbVmiao
The Rear Assembly
It will come as no surprise to those who know us that we love the Squat for a test of true rear limb strength! While others may do sit to stands, our canine athletes do squats! Just as in people, what a great display of strength in the quadriceps complex, the hamstrings, the gluteal muscles and again - bonus - the core! Squats are not the easiest to perform correctly but are a must for the agility athlete. Your dog should make it look easy, over and over again, and every time. Then, and only then, can you rest knowing your dog has developed appropriate rear assembly strength!
See this exercise on YouTube at https://youtu.be/d99S1Ggk2hI
How to Perform the Test
Being able to perform these 3 exercises isn’t quite enough though. Again, we are looking for consistency, repetition, proper form, and duration. All the exercises should be tested on the same day, at the same time, after a proper warm-up, of course! It doesn’t matter what order the exercises are in as your dog should be able to do them any order, back to back.
This strength test should run as a circuit with 1-2 minutes of rest between each exercise and 2 minutes of rest between sets.
Repeat the circuit 3 x to equal 3 sets.
These 3 exercises are a great display of strength but we do recognize the limitations of them. All of these exercises are performed in the same plane - the median plane. We know that agility dogs don't just move in the median plane and so they need strength in all planes. There are other exercises to assess strength, but this is a great starting point. If your dog isn't strong enough in the median plane, it's not likely your dog is strong enough in the dorsal or transverse planes either.
And we recognize that strength is not the only thing an agility dog needs. That's why we utilize the K9 Fitness Pyramid. The pyramid reminds us of ALL the fitness components needed for a true agility athlete.
Click here to download a form to track your dog's results for this assessment.
For help in creating the strength in your dog including the exercises included in this Sport Readiness Assessment try our minicourse Total Body Strength Workout 2.