Your dog may not be a working or sporting breed, but he can still play with the big dogs! Activities like Schutzhund, agility, tracking and flyball are growing in popularity, and many breeds can excel at these sports. Engaging in athletics can make active pets prone to injury, but with careful training, you can help prevent injuries that might sideline your four-legged superstar.
The most common injuries to sporting dogs are repetitive stress injuries. The occasional torn toenail or cut foot pad does occur, but generally veterinarians watch for soft tissue injuries like muscle aversions, tendon and ligament strains or tears, and joint injuries.
The key to preventing injuries in sporting dogs is conditioning. Work with your veterinarian to develop a training program appropriate for your dog’s needs, and stick to a schedule.
Discuss these tips to help keep your canine competitor healthy and injury-free:
tailor your workout. Athletic training should be matched to each pet’s needs, with consideration for her breed. If you’re starting from scratch, build up exercise gradually and allow your dog to master a maneuver before adding something new. For example, start with short sprints uphill and downhill to mimic the A-frame obstacle in agility trials. Once your pet is comfortable doing those, introduce her to the A-frame.
incorporate warm-up and cool-down periods before and after each conditioning session. A short, brisk walk will prepare your dog’s muscles and mind for the exercise ahead. After training is finished, gradually slow your pace to allow your dog’s heart rate to return to normal. And don’t forget to stretch!
discuss diet. Like human athletes, active pets have different nutritional needs than more sedentary pets. Talk to your vet about ensuring your pet is eating a balanced diet and getting any additional nutrition she might need.
avoid weekend warrior syndrome. Space out training two or three times a week to keep your dog in tip-top condition. Letting her play couch potato all week and then pushing her on the weekend will only spell trouble for training.
be careful not to over-train, as this can predispose your athlete to the very injuries you are trying to prevent.
don’t underestimate simple exercises. What looks like a simple sit-to-stand exercise really equates to a series of squats. Walking uphill or through sand is a free exercise that challenges your dog’s leg and core muscles. Exercises involving body weights, wobble boards and balance balls all increase strength and limb awareness in athletic dogs and are a simple addition to any training regimen.
A note for young aspiring athletes: high-intensity training is not recommended for most dogs under 9 months of age, as their growth plates are still open and can be injured with intense exercise. Check with your veterinarian about the best time to start your puppy on the path to MVP.