Agility is a great sport for both us and our dogs helping to keep us fit and happy plus it's always really fun.
But let's not forget about fitness and safety. If we want our dogs to enjoy agility for a long time to still be happy, loving pets at home and we need to make sure that we've got that fitness and safety top of mind before starting agility.
So how can we improve our dog's fitness for agility?
We can start by introducing so hydrotherapy!
Hydrotherapy is a great way of increasing muscle mass strength, coordination and proprioception. It's also a really low impact exercise because the water takes the weight off of the joints of our dogs. It also provides increased resistance, which helps to increase cardiovascular fitness and muscle mass quicker then exercise on land and without the impact on the joints as well.
Swimming VS Underwater Treadmill
When our dogs swim, we're increasing the range of movement of the joints as well as then the strength of the muscles that do that. And when we use underwater treadmills, we can help improve proprioception so where dogs awareness of their feet are in space and also coordination which is obviously a key skill that is needed for agility so that our dogs don't knock poles off or fall off the dog work for example. Therefore I suggest a combination of both pool and underwater treadmill is the most effective way to use hydrotherapy for conditioning your agility dog.
So now your dog has got some hydrotherapy on the go what can you be doing at home?
So my first goal is always to improve core strength because if we improve our core strength, then this has a knock on effect for the strength of all of the limbs and the proprioception and it helps to make sure that we've got equal muscle mass in all of four legs. And I prefer starting with sit to stands and weight shifts because they're dead easy to add into your day. And they are really quick and easy to do. And they're things that you're probably doing anyway, so without adding too much time on to your day.
For more conditioning exercises check out- https://www.fitpetphysio.com/product-page/complete-canine-core-conditioning-program
Now that we've got all our fitness sorted, let's have a look at preventing injuries and safely playing with our dogs.
So there are some common in dogs in agility dogs, including:
-Cruciate ligament ruptures (within the knee joint)
-Patella, luxation (movement of the knee cap)
-Spinal injuries (disc injuries causing loss of feeling)
-Fractures (breaks in bones)
-Paw injuries (cuts and grazes)
And the types of injuries that dogs get will depend on their breed, conformation and surface type, age of the dog and can also be affected by handler experience. And so it's really important that we do everything we can to reduce these injuries.
For more on agility injuries check out this webinar- https://www.fitpetphysio.com/product-page/the-common-injuries-of-agility-and-flyball-dogs
So obviously we have safety standards for equipment, and we make sure that our dogs are fit and healthy before we do any running. And then another great way to reduce injuries is to make sure that our warmup is safe and effective.
What to include in your warm up
So in your warm up you want to slowly increase the speed. You want to make sure that your dog's core is engaged because again, this improves their awareness of where they are in space. And you want to get some self stretching to make sure that all of their joints and the muscles are ready to go. Especially because we need that explosive speed for agility and so you want to do a little bit of a longer warmup than what you think you need. And you want only a few agility specific skills in there.
Want to know more about agility warm ups? You can find out more here- https://www.fitpetphysio.com/product-page/what-no-one-tells-you-about-warm-ups-and-cool-downs
We can also help keep our dogs safe by using safe play as a reward. When we're rewarding our dogs we obviously love to play with them and that's a great way of rewarding them. And but what can we watch out for to make sure that our plate is safe. We want to reduce jumping, sudden stops. So avoid things like throwing balls and sticks and instead stick to target and where your dog's feet stay on the ground.