Agility is an amazing test of a dog’s physical and mental athleticism and endurance. Racing through the obstacle course at top-speed, the dog and its owner showcase their training and powerful connection. But all that activity has people wondering…
Is Agility GOOD or BAD for dogs? With proper instruction and precautions, Agility is extremely good for dogs. The benefits of Agility are numerous and have positive impacts on the physical and mental health of a dog (and the owner). Yes, there are risks. But by learning the proper technique and knowing your dog’s limitations, these risks are greatly reduced.
Here are a few of the many benefits of Dog Agility:
- Agility fulfills the dog’s natural instinct to run and jump.
- Agility is a positive outlet for a dogs excess energy.
- Agility is a great exercise for the dog and the owner.
- Agility forces a dog to think critically and problem solve
- Agility provides an opportunity to get fresh air.
- Agility helps strengthen the bond between dog and owner.
- Agility is fun to do and fun to watch.
- Agility provides the owner with a good cardiovascular workout.
- Agility gives owners a chance to show off what their dog can do.
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Additional Benefits Of Dog Agility
The majority of the time when you hear of a dog chewing things up or getting into mischief, it’s because the dog was bored and had too much pent-up energy. Agility goes far beyond the normal exercises most dogs get (walks and fetch). It forces them to use their brain to solve problems and make the right decisions. And, it has amazing effects on the dogs overall quality of life. Here are even more benefits Agility dogs see:
- It gives the dog a chance to compete.
- It instills confidence in the dog.
- It teaches the dog patience and self-control because the dog has to wait for its turn during the Agility trials.
- It teaches the dog control when off-leash because the dogs are off-leash during the competitions.
- It improves communication between dog and owner.
Training for Agility competitions can require a lot of time, energy, and commitment. Many dog owners own or build their own Agility equipment so they can practice in their backyard. It saves travel time and money. Many owners claim that their dogs enjoy Agility so much that they often do it on their own when they’re outside. This is a great way for a dog to do it at its own pace and to spend some fun time outside.
Ways To Keep An Agility Dog Healthy
Keeping your Agility dog healthy is vital not just for the sake of the dog, but also to keep the dog healthy enough to perform and do well. Here are some ways to keep the dog as healthy as possible.
- Exercise is important – Don’t ever underestimate the importance of exercise or the part it plays in keeping your dog healthy.
- Healthy diet – It’s important that your dog has a healthy diet that includes high-quality dog food and plenty of fresh water. Dogs love treats and should get them regularly, but the treats should be of the healthy variety.
- Overall health – The dog should a vet for an annual checkup to ensure the dog is healthy and physically able to perform in Agility. Routine maintenance like bathing and grooming is also important to help the dog have overall good health. Grooming should include not just bathing, but brushing and cleaning out their ears as well.
- Keep the dog lean – Dogs are like humans in that they generally perform better and remain healthier if they’re lean rather than healthy. The best ways to keep the dog lean is to make sure the dog gets enough exercise and doesn’t over-eat.
- Listen to your dog – If your dog is limping or acting out of sorts, pay attention. The dog may be trying to tell you something. It could be something minor, but can also be the start of something serious. The earlier a dog receives treatment for potential injuries or illnesses, the sooner the dog will be back to normal.
When Agility Can Be Dangerous
As beneficial and healthy as Agility can be for your dog, it can also be dangerous if it’s not done correctly. There is a good reason why the AKC requires a dog to be at least 15 months of age before it can compete in Agility trials. When dogs are still puppies, their joints and muscles are still developing. When an owner forces the dog to put too much pressure on them, it can cause health issues like hip dysplasia and arthritis when they’re older. This is especially the case with large breed dogs.
Agility can also be dangerous if the dog is not in good physical condition. The judges will not refuse entry to an Agility trial based on health issues because they’re not aware of any issues. It’s up to the dog’s owner to ensure the dog is in good health. Agility can be dangerous in these situations.
- The dog is not in good health.
- The dog is forced to do something it’s not comfortable doing.
- The dog is not well trained in obedience.
- The dog is performing in inclement weather.
- The dog is too young for Agility (less than 12-months).
Common Injuries & How to Prevent Them
According to statistics, one out of every three Agility dogs sustains an injury. Of this number, 58% of the injuries occur during Agility competitions according to dvm360.com. Agility dogs are expected to run fast and jump high and far. This alone stretches their muscles and tendons. When they come down from the jump, they typically land on the same forelimb each time, which puts pressure on these limbs. The most common injuries for Agility dogs are:
- Soft tissue strains (most likely neck, shoulder, back, or hip)
- Contusions (bruising)
- Anterior cruciate (knee) ligament tear/rupture
- Achilles tendon tears
While we may not always be able to prevent an injury to our dog, there are some precautions that can be taken that can decrease the chance of injury.
- Know all the physical requirements of the event.
- Know the capabilities of your dog.
- Have the dog in a comprehensive physical fitness program.
- Avoid over-training or under-training.
- Make sure the dog warms up before competing and cools down after.
- Don’t make the dog do too much too soon.
Dogs performing in Agility trials are similar to athletes performing in sporting events. An athlete wouldn’t consider performing in cross country, track, gymnastics, or any other sporting event without practicing and/or warming up. Dogs are no different in that aspect. They also need preparation and practice.
Prior to beginning Agility, owners should take their dog to the vet for an exam. A pre-screening should be done on eyes, hips, and elbows. The vet should also be informed of what events the dog will be participating in, so the vet can do his exam and advise accordingly.
A dog and owner have a special bond, and most dog owners know their dogs very well. They can also see if the dog is not performing up to par, even in practice. If the owner notices that the dog seems a little off, he should stop the training and have the dog checked out by a vet.
Interesting Facts About Agility Injuries
Here are some interesting facts regarding dog Agility injuries that many people don’t know.
- Of the Agility dogs that sustained injuries, 27.6% have had more than one injury.
- One-third of the dogs involved in Agility trials sustains an injury.
- Of the injuries that did occur, 50.5% required less than a month to recover.
- Most injuries were the result of faulty interaction/navigation with bar jumps, dog walk obstacles, and A-frames.
- While the majority occurred during the actual competition rather than practice, the numbers were very close.
- Dogs receiving alternative method therapy (chiropractic care, massage, acupuncture, or dietary supplements) were more likely to become injured.
- Border Collies are at the highest risk of injury.
- Dogs that were in Agility for less than four years had a greater risk of injury.
Why is Agility a good idea if there are risks of injury?
While dogs participating in Agility are at risk of injury, the benefits of Agility still far outweigh the negative points. Dogs are also at risk of injury in their daily life from jumping off couches, running in the yard, and climbing up stairs. When performed correctly, Agility can greatly improve a dog’s physical and emotional health and be pretty safe.
Can any dog do Agility?
Almost any healthy dog can perform in Agility, but some breeds naturally do better than other breeds. Mastiffs, Great Danes, Boxers, Dachshunds, and Bulldogs don’t generally do well in Agility. Border Collies, Jack Russell Terriers, Australian Shepherds and Standard Poodles typically are well-suited for Agility.
The Final Answer
If you’ve been considering dog Agility but previously had some concerns, you’re probably changing your mind and thinking of what an exciting experience it could be. Dog Agility will not only give you and your canine friend an opportunity to bond, but will also allow you both to compete and show the world what your dog has to offer!