What do the diehard dog agility competitors and laid back weekend warriors have in common? A thrill of running their dogs on a course that is full of jumps, weaves, climbs and tunnels. But face it, it is more than just fun for you it is hard core exercise for your dog and they need to be in fit condition and have the strength to do these obstacles without injury to themselves. Our dogs will give it their all and if we don’t do our part to keep them conditioned and strong we will be to blame for pulled muscles and strains.
So what should we do to get our dogs ready to run, jump and play dog agility? You actually have a truck load of options depending on ground conditions and room. If you are stuck inside you can do exercises to boost rear end awareness as well as build strength in the dogs shoulders, haunches and legs. These types of exercises should be initiated slowly as these muscles fatigue quickly when weak. Quit when your dog shows signs of getting tired and keep it fun with treats and rewards through out the sessions. By all means they may be performed on a daily basis and while they may seem simple, your dog will be doing a significant amount of work.
Some great ones for indoors include: 1) Walking in figure eights or weaves around cones set 2′ to 3′ apart for small dogs and 4′ to 5′ apart for large dogs. To add difficulty start asking your dog to trot around them. 2) Using a rocker board both with all feet and just front or just hind feet on the board letting the dog find his balance and as he gets better you can ask him to move on the board and maintain his balance. 3) Tugging with your dog keeping his head and neck in a neutral position (not pulling him up or down) and not jerking or tugging him, but maintaining a static pull allowing the dog to do the tugging. 4) Sit to Stand position in a controlled manner. Use a corner or wall to lessen excessive movement. With treats ask your dog to sit and stand in two sets of eight. 5) Crawl tunnels are great for the quadriceps and you want the tunnel low enough that the dog has to “squat” to go through. Start with 3-5 repetitions watching for fatigue.
Some great outdoors exercises include: 1) Walking in sand. Remember, this is very tiring so start slow with 2-3 minute repetitions. The looser the sand the more difficult it will be for your dog so it is best to start with wet, packed sand if possible. To add difficulty you can add inclines or zigzags. 2) Walking up the hills of 30 to 45 degree incline for a distance of 50′ to 100′ depending on your dogs stamina. Start with 3-4 repetitions and be sure your dog walks as it encourages full and equal use of the hind limbs. Be sure to zigzag down the hill to avoid stress on the forelimbs. 3) Retrieves of a flying disk that will hover low allowing your dog to catch it without jumping or diving. Start with 3-5 hundred foot throws. Mix it up with having your dog wait at your side in various positions waiting on the release word or “go around you.” Don’t allow behaviors such as “herding/stalking” before a throw and be sure to keep your dog running back to you. You can increase difficulty by having your dog retrieve up inclines. 4) Ladders or Cavalettis are great for both rear end awareness as well as conditioning of the hind end. Start by walking your dog through at the lowest level and as the dog gets better you can start trotting him through then slowly raise it to elbow height. 5) Good old fashioned jogging can be great endurance building for you and your dog. Start with short sessions with breaks in between and gradually add distance and do away with the breaks. And will all outside activities be sure to keep you and your dog well hydrated and watch for signs of heat exhaustion in hot temperatures.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is plenty to get you and your dog started on a great conditioning regimen to get ready for dog agility. Not only will your dog be in shape, but many people find that conditioning obstacles improve their dogs concentration. They can save you strained muscles, sliding off contacts, and dropped bars. A well-conditioned dog is more likely to be confident on course, and when paired with a well-conditioned handler, you’re sure to enjoy your agility course and have fun!
If you have some favorite condition and strength training exercises we did not mention, feel free to share them here so others can give them a try in their regimen.