Dog owners all over the world are looking for fun ways to keep their dogs active, fit, and entertained. Even better if the humans are having fun, too. One of the most popular ways to truly engage your dog and get some great exercise and bonding is through dog agility. However, there is some controversy surrounding this growing dog sport.
Is Dog Agility Safe? Is It Good for My Dog? Dog agility is a safe, fun, and healthy activity for you and your dog. As with all sports, it is important to follow the safety guidelines and pay attention to how you and your dog are feeling. Injury prevention is key.
If you are considering starting dog agility with your pup, read on for some important safety information. Learning how to prevent injuries and train safely will keep you and your canine companion in the game.
What is dog agility?
The sport of dog agility involves a handler directing a dog through an obstacle course within a set amount of time. You may see any number of ramps, jumps, tunnels, and weave poles, just to name a few obstacles.
It sounds simple when explained this way, but the game has some complex aspects, too.
Teaching dogs to run an agility course takes time and dedication on the part of the handler. The dog must also have a high energy level and a strong desire to please you or play with you.
Since the handler and the dog are working as a team, they must learn to work together and make split-second decisions, sometimes without verbal commands.
Is dog agility safe for dogs?
Yes, all official dog agility courses are safe for dogs. Since there are official agility clubs all over the world, a lot of time, effort, and thought have gone into the rules of the game and the designs of the obstacles.
Canine safety is the top concern, though they also consider handler safety and spectator enjoyment.
For example, all of the bar jumps are made to be easily displaced. That means if a dog is unable to clear the jump, the bar will pop out of the poles and fall to the ground, preventing the dog from becoming seriously injured.
Another safety feature in all official courses comes in the form of roughed materials and painted “contact zones” for all scalable obstacles.
Anything that a dog must climb, such as a ramp, will have traction-friendly materials and clearly marked contact zones to be sure the dog can safely climb in all weather conditions.
Additionally, the painted contact zones help trainers teach their canine friends to stay in certain areas, avoiding slips, spills, and falls off elevated surfaces. The dogs and trainers can easily see the safe zone, even running at full speed.
Potential dog injuries in agility
Even though great care is taken to ensure a safe and entertaining course runs, accidents can still happen. Most injuries happen due to equipment failure—such as a collapsing ramp—or due to a dog’s misstep.
Knowing what injuries could happen will help you keep a close eye on your dog’s performance and correct any issues with form or training.
Sprains, strains, and muscle fatigue are common early on in agility training. These happen when a dog has been overworked or poorly trained in a particular move.
The best way to avoid strains, sprains, and fatigued muscles is to start your training slowly. Never push a dog past their abilities. Allow them to build muscle and stamina slowly over time.
Broken legs are rare, but they can happen. A dog may break a leg during agility training or on a course if they slip, take a misstep, or the equipment somehow fails.
It’s imperative that all equipment be inspected before every run. It’s equally important to train dogs slowly on new equipment so they can get used to the new materials, height, and functionality.
Other injuries can include a variety of foreign objects lodged in your dog’s paws or between their toes.
Splinters, pebbles, and even artificial turf can all cause irritation or even tears in your dog’s paw pads. Always check your dog for these potentially harmful hitchhikers between sets.
Is dog agility good for my dog?
Now that you know how safe dog agility is for dogs, you may be wondering if it’s good for him. If you’ve ever seen the happy trot of a dog just leaving an agility course, you should already know the answer. Dogs love agility! It is good for their mental health as well as their physical health.
Much like a human doing a bit of cardio at the gym or going for a long hike in the woods, dog agility gives canines the chance to stretch their muscles and get their blood pumping. It is exceedingly healthy for their hearts, lungs, and circulation. It’s also a very good way to reduce stress, improve focus, and build a stronger bond with her handler or owner.
Safety tips for dog agility
A lot of the safety considerations for dog agility will fall on the organizers of the event. They will need to measure each jump, ramp, and other obstacles to be sure they meet the height requirements and limits of the association that rules them.
Each obstacle will need to be checked for worn, broken, or underperforming parts.
As an owner or dog handler, you still bear some of this responsibility. Assuming it’s within the rules, you should always ask to inspect the course and each obstacle before you do your run.
There is no legitimate reason that a handler or dog owner should not be allowed a safety inspection.
If the organizers have a problem with your checking, you may wish to question that ruling. They may be trying to hide something.
Aside from checking the course and the obstacles, you should be in contact with your vet to ensure your dog is in top health. Not only should you keep regular vet checkups on your calendar, but you should also ask your vet how often you should come in for extra checks during agility training.
Your vet may wish to monitor your dog’s health for the first year of training to be sure he is doing well and not overtaxing himself.
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What would keep a dog from doing agility training?
Dog agility is open to all dogs, no matter their age, breed, or purebred status. As long as they are obedience trained and willing to learn, just about any dog can do agility.
However, there are some exceptions to this rule. Obviously, you would not want to start a senior dog in agility if they have a heart problem, are severely overweight, have joint issues, or other health conditions that could exacerbate their symptoms. Agility training for these dogs could end in tragedy.
Similarly, a very young puppy without obedience training may not be a good choice for agility work.
It’s generally considered safe to start young pups on a simple course with no jumps or high platforms, but some easy games of fetch might be a better choice until your pup gets better muscle control.
Dogs that have previously broken a leg or seriously injured a limb may not be suitable for higher levels of agility. Yet, a veterinarian may okay a low-level agility course with lower jumps, or no jumps at all.
This is why it’s important to stay in contact with your vet and get your dog assessed regularly. If your vet doesn’t know much about agility, you can bring in a short video of the course in question.
If they can see a dog in action—not your dog—they can better assess your dog’s ability to run the course safely.
Dog agility is safe and fun for dogs and their owners. It’s great exercise, and dog agility is a wonderful way to strengthen your bond with your dog, too.
As long as you keep a close eye on your dog’s health and check the safety of the course, agility can become an important party of your healthy, active lifestyle with your canine friend!