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Some practical advice...

Agility dogs are expected to run flat out, jump, twist and climb at speed – almost the canine equivalent of a hurdler or gymnast. However, unlike the human athlete, many agility dogs are not suitably warmed up prior to exercise. They are often confined in the car or crate, and may go straight into the queue for their class and run with little or no advanced preparation. This inevitably increases the risk of injury and also prevents dogs from performing at their best. Animal therapist Liz Harris explains how you can prepare your dog for agility work and how to tell if your dog needs to see a therapist.

It is widely accepted that warming up reduces the risk of injury to muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints. A warm up plan including exercise, massage and stretching is a great way to help your dog. It is also important to cool your dog down after exercise, rather than putting them straight back into the crate.

Some benefits of warm-up are:-

  • Raises heart rate in preparation for exercise

  • Warmed muscles utilise oxygen and nutrients more effectively and can contract and relax more quickly

  • Reduces risk of injury and stiffness

  • Mentally prepares dog and handler for exercise. (Warm up is for you, too!)

Warm up for agility can include:-

  • Taking your dog for a 15+ minute walk immediately before agility, with the opportunity to run free or play with a retrieve toy or tuggy. It is preferable for the dog to be able to gallop and stretch all their muscles prior to commencing agility work.

  • At a show, facilities for warm up can be limited but, if possible, find an area where dogs are allowed off-lead. If this is not possible, then brisk lead walking for at least 15 minutes is recommended, followed by massage and stretching, if possible (see below).


  • While queuing, massage the major muscle groups which the dog is going to use – the neck, shoulder and triceps, chest, back, and all large muscle groups in the hind leg. This has a dual benefit of both preparing your dog’s muscles, and keeping him relatively calm – a calmer, attentive dog is better able to concentrate on you in the ring compared to one which shoots off like a coiled spring and does his own thing!

  • You should also stretch your dog’s major muscle groups – see pictures.

  • Massaging your dog will also reduce your own blood pressure and help avoid those pre-run nerves.

 Some benefits of cool-down are:-

  • Helps the body to eliminate toxins such as lactic acid, consequently reducing the risk of stiffness after exercise.

  • Gives an opportunity to identify signs of injury quickly after an event.

  • Allows the heart rate to return to a resting level.

Cool-down after agility can include:-

  • 5-10 minutes loose lead walking or gentle off-lead exercise Remember, you are trying to wind the dog down, so no balls or tuggy games!

  • Massage and stretching of major muscle groups – hold stretches for 5-15 seconds.

If your dog  does become injured there are an array of physical treatments available, with many practitioners across the country. If your dog is obviously lame it is important to take them to a vet, but more subtle signs of injury or compensation may indicate a problem which can be successfully rectified by a qualified professional therapist. Popular treatments include McTimoney, Osteopathy, Massage, Reiki, Bowen, TTouch and Shiatsu.

Regular maintenance sessions can also reduce the risk of injury occurring in the first place. Please note: Veterinary authorisation must be obtained prior to any type of therapy treatment.

So, how do you know if your dog requires treatment?

Symptoms can include:-

 Fore limb Extension
Press gently on the dog's elbow and extend the leg forward until the toe points

Fore limb Retraction
Support the shoulder joint with one hand and with the other, gently ease the lower leg back towards the back leg as show. Ideally take the limb a little further than shown.

Hind limb Retraction
Support the paw with one hand. With the other press gently on the knee and encourage the limb to straighten.

Hind limb Extension
Gently ease the the hindleg forward towards the front paw. A lot of dogs find this difficult and may require support with your free hand on the buttock
  • Reduced performance – i.e. slower times than usual, knocking poles

  • Running under jumps or avoiding certain obstacles

  • Loss of interest in training – which can manifest as an apparently naughty dog!

  • Avoiding play with other dogs or becoming aggressive towards other dogs

  • Crying out when getting up after lying down

  • Difficulty climbing stairs / jumping into cars

  • Showing discomfort when stroked along the back

  • Temperamental changes

  • Abnormal gait

  • Failure to resolve the problem using conventional methods

The final piece of advice to give is to enjoy your dogs, and enjoy agility!

About the author...
Liz Harris
is a McTimoney, Sports Massage, Laser and Reiki therapist based in Richmond, North Yorkshire. She has experience treating a wide range of dogs and other animals, and also provides training in Reiki and in basic massage techniques for horses and dogs.

The model for the photos is her collie cross, Maisy, with whom she attends agility training classes with SAS Dog Agility and enters the odd fun competition.

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