The Single Best Way to Lower Your Dog's Risk of Injury in K9 Sports

One of the primary reasons that we encourage fitness training for our canine athletes is to reduce the risk of injury in dog sports. Strength training using resistance (also called resistance training) is an accepted and well researched way to reduce the risk of injury, as well as improve performance, in people participating in sports. A quick online search on strength training for nearly any sport, will clearly lead you to the importance of strength training for sports.

There are many benefits to strength training. But in addition to the improvements in performance, did you know that strength training, more than any other type of fitness training, will reduce the risk of injury the most?

How does strength training reduce the risk of injury? Strength training can help identify weaknesses and screen for imbalances between agonist and antagonist muscles in strength. A discrepancy in agonist/antagonist muscle strengths can predispose athletes to injury. Resistance training can correct any identified imbalances, thus reducing the risk of injury. Strength training can reduce the risk of injury in many other ways, including increasing core strength, strengthening the muscles of posture, strengthening the support structures of the joints, and increasing bone density.

In a 2013 study, researchers in Copenhagen did a retrospective study of the research on preventing injury, scouring hundreds of studies to find 25 different trials that met their study criteria. They examined more than 26,600 people in various programs including flexibility training programs, proprioception training programs, strength training programs and combinations of these. Results clearly indicated that the best way to reduce injury was to strengthen!

As this study says, the evidence increasingly supports physical activity as important in all age groups to reduce the risk of many medical conditions and as a treatment for medical conditions, in people. We strongly believe this is true for our canine counterparts, as well. The one, and really, the only drawback to participating in sports is injury. These injuries are difficult to diagnose and treat, time-consuming to deal with and costly to manage.

However, this study clearly shows that the risk of sports injuries can be reduced significantly by participating in fitness programs that utilize strength training. As the study points out, access to strengthening programs, like ours here at K9 Fitness Solutions, are now available worldwide. No weekend warrior, recreational athlete, or professional athlete, should be prevented from having access to safe, effective fitness training that includes strengthening.  (Interestingly, that is exactly how we feel about it and it’s our mission here at K9 fitness Solutions! We believe that every dog participating in dog sports should have access to safe, effective fitness training from qualified experts and that’s why we do what we do!)  

Many studies have been done on specific injuries, specific sports, or specific types of interventions in people. This study, however, looks across sports and fitness programs, while also helping to identify if the risk for acute versus overuse injuries could be reduced.

This review of the literature and studies demonstrates that strength training has the most benefit in reducing the risk of injury while participating in sports, regardless of age (the studies ranged from adolescence to adults of varying ages.) Strength training, more than training proprioception or flexibility, will reduce the risk of injury by nearly 68%.

The risk of injury declined for both acute and overuse injuries. Strength training reduces the risk of acute injury by nearly one third and it reduces the risk of overuse injuries by nearly one half.

                                                 The photo shows the push up exercise - a great front end exercise

Both acute and overuse injuries are common in human athletes and canine athletes. Overuse injuries are more common than acute injuries in people. In dogs, we are still learning the incidence of injuries for dog sports.

In 2009, the retrospective survey that Dr. Levy et al, created and reported results on, gave us an idea of the prevalence of injuries for agility dogs in America. Handlers reported on injuries that occurred while training for or in agility over the course of 2 years. Handlers were advised to report if there were no injuries during those 2 years, as well. Over 1600 agility handlers provided survey results. The overall prevalence of injury, of some sort, as reported by these agility participants, was that nearly 1 out of 3 agility dogs has suffered an injury of some sort that was related directly to the sport.

Acute injuries are injuries that occur suddenly, in an instant. These types of injuries in dogs are typically easier to identify and they are usually easily associated with the cause - in the case of the 2009 Levy survey - agility training or competition. The agility dog injury survey results from 2009 are likely close to accurate for this classification of injury, although decreased memory (remember this survey asked handlers to report on the previous 2 years) may have resulted in a decreased reporting of the actual incidence of acute injuries.

                                                   A sudden unexpected turn can cause acute injuries.

In people, studies show that overuse injuries are more common in sports. Overuse injuries are often subtle and develop over time. Because these types of injuries develop over time, it is possible that the 2009 Levy study could have underestimated the incidence of this as well. An overuse injury is damage to a bone, muscle, ligament, nerve, or tendon due to repetitive stress without allowing adequate time for the body to heal from the microtrauma that occurs with the repetitive movements.

                                                        Jumping is one potential area of overuse in agility.

Common causes of overuse injuries in sports, for people, include errors in technique and training errors. Improper technique, even technique that is only slightly off, can result in overuse injuries. This can occur in both sport skill training as well as fitness training. The athletic or fitness coach is vital in identifying improper technique and correcting it to help reduce the risk of overuse injury.

The other main category for contributing to overuse injuries is training errors. Training errors involve training too long without appropriate rest/active recovery in between. Training too much too soon is a common training error. This can be pushing to do activities or exercises that are beyond the current athletic ability OR exercises that are not appropriate for the age and developmental stage (overuse injuries are common in youth. ) And training errors include simply doing too much of one type of activity, like jump training. Structural or biomechanical factors may predispose an individual to overuse injury.

Exercise applies a physiologic stress to your dog’s body and your dog’s body adapts by thickening and strengthening the tissues involved so that muscles get stronger and larger, tendons get stronger and bone density increases. But, if the exercise is applied in such a way that your dog’s body cannot properly adapt (training errors or technique errors), the excessive overload can cause microscopic injuries, leading to inflammation, which is the body's response to injury. Signs of overuse include swelling, which may or may not be noticeable, heat or warmth to the touch (which can be subtle in dogs with lots of hair), redness, and impaired function of the body part/tissue affected.

Since we are in the beginning stages of truly understanding the prevalence and risk of injury in dog sports,  we can draw upon and learn much from the studies in people. In people, different sports carry different risks and inherently we know this to be true for dog sports. In human athletics, we know the value of evaluating risk factors for injury on an individual basis and then doing everything within our control to reduce the risk of injury. This 2013 study is a great compilation of data across different sports to show that there is something each one of us can do to help reduce the likelihood of getting hurt doing sports we love. We can strengthen. And we can help our dogs strengthen.

                                                 Planks - Another great strengthening exercise

Cullen K.L., Leah R. Bent, Jeffrey J. Thomason & Noel M. M. Moëns (2013). Internet-based survey of the nature and perceived causes of injury to dogs participating in agility training and competition events, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 243 (7) 1010-1018. DOI:

Levy M., Trentacosta, N., & Percival, M. (2009). A preliminary retrospective survey of injuries occurring in dogs participating in canine agility, Veterinary and Comparative Orthopaedics and Traumatology, DOI:

Sports Med. 1986 Jan-Feb;3(1):61-8. Value of resistance training for the reduction of sports injuries.

Fleck SJ, Falkel JE.


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