Dog health problems are always a concern for any owner, but that concern can increase when you and your dog participate in agility training and particularly competition. While dog agility training is a fun activity for both dog and handler and can have many health benefits for both you and your dog, as with any physical exercise it is not without its potential problems. An awareness of these and a proper approach to training can go a long way toward ensuring your dog's good health.
So what are the potential health risks of agility training? Actually, that is a question that is still in the process of being answered by experts in veterinary medicine. Within the last few years, the medical establishment has begun taking a closer look at the impact of agility training and competition on dogs with the goal of understanding exactly what types of injuries can be incurred through participation in this increasingly popular sport.
Not surprisingly, the greater majority of dog health problems are related to the jumps, A-frames and dog walk obstacles. These particular obstacles are the most problematic as they can open your dog to falls or damage from coming into contact with equipment. If you've ever watched an equestrian jumping event, you can see the kind of stress put on fragile limbs as they come in contact with bars and wooden slats. The same is true for the canine body.
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Studies show that the most common types of injuries sustained from agility training are strains, sprains and contusions and the body parts most often affected are the shoulders, back, limbs and neck. Taking that into consideration, it's not hard to see how bumping into bar jumps or falling off an A-frame could cause these kinds of injuries. All it takes is a simple misstep or an unforgiving piece of equipment to inflict damage.
Arthritis in dogs is a common degenerative disease that will affect your dog's ability to participate in agility. It is important to be aware of the symptoms, catch them as early as possible, and seek out appropriate treatment.
Another common type of dog health problems related to agility is injury caused by repetitive motion. Even if your dog clears every jump cleanly or completes the A-frame or dog walk without stumbling, he can still sustain physical damage simply by performing the same motion time after time. That kind of repetitive motion, especially involving hard landings after a jump or completing an obstacle, can cause wear and tear to muscles, tendons and ligaments.
In essence, these are very similar issues to those experienced by human athletes. Even the most skilled, talented athlete will put continual stress on his or her body by making the same motions over and over and continually pushing their body to the limit. Your dog is no different. In fact, it can be even more common for a dog to sustain this kind of injury because all he is focused on is obeying your commands and pleasing you, as well as having fun. He probably doesn't even realize that he could be hurting himself in the process.
A serious condition like exercise induced collapse or exercise induced hyperthermia can result from dog's going all out as they do in agility training. Other conditions like canine hip dysplasia may not be caused by dog agility training but can certainly be exacerbated if appropriate precautions are not taken.
While agility training is certainly a great deal of fun and can be a very healthy activity for both you and your dog, you do need to be aware of potential dog health problems and do everything you can to minimize the likelihood of injury. This means making sure that you always use good quality equipment and that you give your dog plenty of rest between sessions. If injuries or health issues arise be aware that some pain meds for dogs can be harmful so it is important to consult your vet.
Don't let injuries dampen the fun of agility training. Take the smart approach and make sure you're doing everything to protect your best friend.