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Returning to Agility after Time Out


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Is your dog ready to go back...

Almost all of us have had an enforced agility break due to the Covid-19 pandemic and even those of you who are lucky enough to have been able to train from home will have missed out on competitions. Now as restrictions are starting to ease, training clinics, competitions and events are available again. Each of us have a decision to make. Is your dog ready to get back to training and/or competitions. Vet physiotherapist Zoe Hindle is here to help you decide. Better safe than sorry.

Did you know that dogs can only hold their current level of fitness for around 3-4 weeks before they start to lose muscle mass and strength!

Therefore, before you return to your weekly class, return to competing each weekend or start training your young dog, it's important to take a step back and really look at where you are now and where you want to be. 

Then take a look at your dog.

Were you able to keep up with your training or perhaps maybe you've done nothing due to COVID restrictions. Has your break spilt over into your dog's daily exercise regime, too? Does your dog have arthritis or struggle with the transition to being inside more over winter? Allowing your dog to train when it is not fully fit is setting it up for failure and, even worse, possible injury.

This is not just Coronavirus problem
This problem may be particularly relevant at the moment with the effects of the pandemic, but it can happen any time that either you or your dog are injured or have an illness that prevents you from training.
It can also apply to times when you have planned breaks such as the Christmas holidays. In fact, it could apply any time you have to completely stop all physical activities.

If this happens, one way to prevent them losing fitness is to keep their 'out of agility' exercise the same. Devising a bespoke fitness plan - and sticking to it - can be helpful. In cases where you are not sure what to do, another idea would be to seek advice from a professional such as a vet physiotherapist.

As an enthusiastic agility competitor as well as veterinary physiotherapist, my philosophy is to have fun but to keep my dog as safe as possible. Sometimes it's easy to forget that agility can be a risky sport and the best way to prevent injuries is to ensure your dog is ready.

How do you know when you are ready?
Basically, a lot of factors will affect your dog's overall health and fitness and their ability to train effectively and compete.

Firstly ensure that you, as a handler, are fit and able to train.

Then take a look at your dog. Be sure it is fit, healthy and eager to run.

Here are a few other specific things to look at to help you get started with assessing your dog's health and fitness:-

  • Muscle mass can indicate a lot about your dog's current fitness level. Is it equal front and back and left and right?
     

  • Has your dog had a veterinary diagnosis - either an Illness or pathology - that could impact on its ability to run, jump, do the contacts and other equipment? If so, they'll need to be fully recovered before returning to training.
     

  • Your dog's current exercise level should be equal to - or above - the length and intensity of their training.
     

  • Foundation training is important. It ensures that your dog knows where to put its paws and what to expect from training which means it is much less likely to get hurt.
     

  • Is your dog happy to exercise and train or are they reluctant, seemingly distracted and lacking concentration? If your dog is not as focused as they would usually be, this could be a sign that your dog is not ready yet for that intensity of training.

Things you can do if your dog is lacking fitness

1.  It is important to have a method of monitoring your dog's activity and evaluating its fitness levels. A good tip would be to keep a record which you can use anytime you have to have a break from agility or your dogs have a change in their exercise routine. Devise a bespoke fitness plan specific to your dogs weaknesses and stick to it. if you're unsure where to start, ask your vet physio for advice.

2.  Be sure to follow your vet and physio's advice after any illness or injury to ensure your dogs fully is recovered before re-starting training.

3.  Increase your dog's exercise if safe to do so e.g. they are healthy and have no illness or injury. This can be done by increasing their daily walks or through use of a fitness plan.

4.  Revisit your foundation training including Obedience, crowd and stranger habituation and drive. Often we see Obedience as a separate entity or something we do with our new or young dogs only, but the things we teach our dogs here are actually brilliant starters for our dogs fitness plans. Almost all the fitness plans, I devise for agility dogs include elements of obedience work such as sit, down, wait and stand exercises to name just a few.

Once you've assessed your dog, you can begin working towards your next agility goal by increasing your dog's exercise regime, using a fitness plan or starting back with your training sessions - whatever's right for your dog's current fitness level.  Whatever your next step is, enjoy the process and I hope to see you out training and competing soon.

If you have any questions, check out my recent webinar or feel free to contact me by email.


 61 Ings Way East, Lepton, Huddersfield HD8 0DX

About the author...
Zoe Hindle is the owner and Veterinary Physiotherapist at Fit-Pet Physio, based in West Yorkshire. She has seven years of experience working with all breeds and temperaments of dog. She offers massage and physiotherapy appointment to those locally and for those further afield she hosts regular webinars plus downloadable PDFs and Ebooks available at www.fitpetphysio.com/shop.

Zoe has a passion for sporting dogs having recently completed her master's thesis on the ‘Incidence of Injury and Length of Recovery in Sporting and Non-Sporting Dogs and the Association with the Use of Therapy measures' and currently has a Grade 3 Collie X Vizsla Jack who can't wait to get back to training and competing.

First published 15th October 2020

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