An inside look at how a vet physio gets a dog fit for agility

Updated: Mar 28

Getting our dogs fit and ready for training and competitions can be a daunting task. Even if they have just had a few weeks off, just like us, our dogs can lose fitness and endurance making them more susceptible to injury.


We all want to avoid injuries in our dogs more than anything else but how? Is there a way to help reduce the risk of injury?


Don’t worry the answer is YES!


So let’s dive a little deeper into:


  • How to prevent injuries

  • How to assess your dog’s fitness

  • How to improve fitness

  • How to know when to go back to training and competing


How to prevent injuries in agility dogs?


First, let's take a look at some common injuries. If you want to know more head to (https://www.fitpetphysio.com/product-page/the-common-injuries-of-agility-and-flyball-dogs).

But the most important injuries to be aware of and the easiest to avoid is overuse injuries leading to sprains and strains of the ligaments, tendons and muscles. Overuse injuries occur when we do too much with our dogs this can lead them to get stiff and feel off for a day or can lead to tiny injuries we can’t see which over time weaken the tissues and then lead to injuries becoming more common.


SO a super-easy way to prevent these injuries is to not overwork our dogs. Seems simple right but how do we know then how much to do?


First, we have to assess our dog's fitness.


How to assess your dog's fitness.


I find the easiest way to assess my dog's fitness is to look at what they have been doing recently. Have they had lots of time off? Have they still had normal walks?


If your dog has had time off due to an injury contact your local Vet physio and book a session to work through their specific rehab and back to fitness plan as you’ll need to build from the ground back up.


If your dog has had a break from their normal walks/routine, first focus on building these back up to their normal level before adding in any additional agility training. But what you could do is to start to add in is some fitness exercises. Focus on core strength and range of motion.


If you’re already doing normal walks and just want to get back to training and competing, you can start slowly building up from fitness exercises to full training.


So the question really is how do you know when to take the next step? Now, this can be a hard one, especially in dogs who are super excited and enthusiastic as they tend not to tell us when they need a break so it’s up to us to notice when they need a break, but how?


Some common signs you can look out for during dog training are:

  1. A change in form or gait such as turning wider or jumping long and low

  2. Slowing down or having less drive

  3. Overarousal

  4. Increased HR and RR that don’t quickly decrease with rest

  5. Holding onto toys or taking longer to eat treats than is normal for them or the opposite



Each dog is an individual and they will all show you they need a break in their own way so watch your dog when out walking at dog agility training and around the house to get a feel of your dogs ‘normal’. Then when you’re training take a step back from what you are trying to achieve each exercise and have a look at your dog assessing their physical and mental capabilities. It’s so easy to get caught up in what we are trying to achieve and forget to see the bigger picture.


How do we improve our dog's fitness?


Now we have assessed where our dogs are and have an idea of when to stop how do we get started?


With their core fitness. Without a core our dogs would fall apart, so that is always my starting point. You can find out more about core fitness training here (https://www.fitpetphysio.com/product-page/complete-canine-core-conditioning-program).


But my dog's favourite exercises are:

  1. Weight shifting

  2. Down to stands

  3. Paw exercises


Once you're going strong with your core exercises think about adding in some more agility specific training foundations such as wing raps, contacts and jumping.


With all of these exercises and with all aspects of dog training remember to take a step back and look for those signs of fatigue.


Next step is when to get back to full out training and competitions?


This is something that again varies depending on the dog's past experience and current fitness level but what I like to do with my dog is to start from the ground up after any break that first thing I do is get back to normal walks, add in my core exercises and then get going with my agility specific exercises. Then I’ll head back to classes and training starting with simple sequences and building up from there. Only once my dog can comfortable complete all skills and have progressed to running 60 plus obstacles per class without tiring will I begin with competitive agility. This is not to say that going to shows and doing training runs is out but I would push for competitive timings just yet.


It's worth noting that my dog is very accident prone so I am always airing on the side of caution so it takes us a good 6months to a year to work through all these stages but for you and your dog you may progress quicker than me.


If you take nothing else away from this post please remember to take a step back and see the big picture, but if you would like to know more you can here (https://www.agilitynet.co.uk/training/comingbacktotraining_aftercovid_zoehindle.htm).


If you need help with this please don’t hesitate to get in touch at zoe@fitpetphysio.com.


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