Up, On Deck, In The Hole!
Are You And Your Dog Ready?

(continued) The sport is very demanding on the musculoskeletal system. Agility performed at a high level is fast moving and quite intense. As much as we strategically plan our approach to handle a course whether in practice or in competition, we need to be prepared to improvise and make split-second decisions on what to do and where to go. This can put us in compromising positions. Our minds can do it. Can our bodies? Conditioning is therefore a must for both the handler and the canine partner.

Benefits of a cardio-respiratory warm-up for both the handler and canine athlete

- Increases blood flow to active muscle tissue.
- Increases tissue temperature which may allow more extensibility in the working muscles.
- Increases metabolic rate.
- Prepares the body for the subsequent workout or performance by stimulating the neuromuscular system and the cardio-respiratory system.
- Improves overall function of the body which may allow for more efficient and effective movement patterns which ultimately could decrease the chance of injury.
- Increases motivation to "work." (Increase mental readiness.)

Because of these sport specific demands, dog agility does not come without risk. The occurrence of injury is high for both the handlers and the dogs. Most injuries occur either from improper use of the body over time (referred to as cumulative injury cycle or from an acute event. If movements are inhibited or compromised for one reason or another, it becomes difficult to have fluid, sound and efficient movements on the field and we will unconsciously start to compensate and create undesirable muscle imbalances that could lead to pain and potentially long lay-offs.

To worsen the scenario, most of us (along with our dogs) are “weekend warriors,” which makes our odds for possible injuries even greater. Couple that with the humans' chronic sitting behaviors on and off the job, and we have created a fairly honest assessment of our dilemma.

General warm-up
The general warm-up consists of movements that do not necessarily have any movement specificity to the actual activity to be performed. The general warm-up should take a minimum of 5 minutes. It should start out with a light cardiovascular activity such as mild play or through performing a sequence of exercises that slowly allow the body tissues to adapt to increased workloads, demands and stress. The warm-up response is an increase in blood flow, an increase in the supply of oxygen and nutrition throughout the body tissues and ultimately in an increase in intramuscular temperature.

General Warm-up

- Walking
- Jogging
- Playing tug etc.

Remember, there needs to be a gradual buildup or progression of intensity throughout the warm-up. Going too fast too soon can be counterproductive to the team.

Many people design their stretching routine by watching how others prepare for an event. Your routine should be individually designed to address both you and your dog’s physical condition (strengths and weaknesses). If you and/or your dog have never had a structural or functional assessment, it might be good to consult a physician, physical therapist or a vet to gain the appropriate information with regards to what particular stretches you and/or your dog should or should not do. Do not attempt to perform stretches with yourself and/or with your dog unless someone qualified has demonstrated them to you.

Specific Warm-up


- Wide figure eight
- Tight figure eight
- Large circles R
- Large circles L
- Tight turns R
- Tight turns L
- Around
- Through
- Spin
- Quick, short sprints
- Play bow
- Sits
- Downs
- Low jumps with R and L combinations

Specific warm-up
A specific warm-up consists of performing activities or “drills” that closely mimic those movements that you and your dog will be asked to perform on the agility field.

Always start with the less intense movements, wider turns and lower jumps. Then progress to the more intense movements with tighter turns and higher jumps.

Completing this full routine allows both the dog and the handler to gain smooth and rhythmical movement patterns before performing challenging courses. The freedom of movement and improvement of coordination will make the team more capable of navigating through demanding obstacle sequences.

Benefits of Cool-Down
- Allows the cardiovascular system to settle to lower demands
- Removal of waste by-products via the blood
- Decrease muscle “soreness”
- Relaxation/wind down

Immediately following physical and mental exertion should be the cool-down.
A cool-down provides the dog and handler with a smooth transition from performance back to a resting state. Essentially, a cool-down is the opposite of the warm-up. As mentioned before we often find ourselves with major time constraints (in particular when we compete with several dogs) and we have a tendency to skip the cool-down altogether. We often times end up crating our dogs while we, the humans, will either rest in our chairs or go and perform our volunteer duties. This is not to anyone’s advantage. Both physiologically as well as psychologically it is a far better option for the team to perform a 5 – 10 minute cool-down.

As part of the cool-down, while the muscles are still warm and receptive to stretching, it is a prime time to perform final stretches. This is where we can re-set the muscles length-tension relationship and even improve the dog’s and handlers ROM. Each stretch should be performed ideally for a minimum of 30 seconds.

If we all take the time to properly prepare for each event, we should not only reduce the risk of injury, but we should be able to perform more consistently over multiple event weekends and we should wake up Monday morning ready to take on another week of work and practices.

Good Luck!


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