First, a little background. Abby is a CRAZY Aussie (is there any other kind?). She likes to vault off the couch at home and chase her brother, Rascal, at full speed whether we are inside or outside. When at agility there is no off switch. She likes to do teeter fly offs and crash into jump bars. We have been fortunate that she has been healthy. Before the last trial, however, she had a limp. She recovered for the trial and I ran her with no problems. A few weeks later she had a severe limp after a hard training session. She wasn't painful or swollen anywhere I touched her and the limp went away. I decided we needed to figure this thing out. So we stopped training and tried to make her rest - eventually that meant drugging her with Benadryl in the morning to keep the couch vaulting to a minimum. After some rest we started small frequent walks for strengthening. After 3 weeks we have started gentle stretching to make sure it didn't worsen any possible muscle tears. We are currently in a holding pattern until her appointment with Dr. Maria Glinski who specializes in physical therapy for animals.
Being a physical therapy student I have my theories about what is wrong with her. But it gets you thinking about how much stress is put on your dog during agility. Most trainers will wait til their dog has a problem and then fix it - myself included. This is exactly how we treat our own bodies. We need to switch our focus to become proactive instead of reactive. What does this mean?
1. Dynamic stretching of your dogs before exercise. Basically this is just warming them up - do some spins, downs, etc. Save the static stretching (holding a stretch for 20+ seconds) for after exercise.
2. Include walks or runs as a part of your training. Not only will it be good for your dog, but you could stand to burn some calories too :)
***Any interesting side note: Abby's problem didn't start until I was no longer running with her because I was no longer training myself for triathlons. Her injury may have been prevented if she had more walks or runs.***
3. Take your dog swimming! Wag N Splash in Charleston, SC offers a facility open year round.
4. Tug with your dog - it's great for their strength.
5. Look into buying a balance ball for your dog. It will strengthen their core and stabilizing muscles. Their ball can double as exercise equipment for you!! Here is my personal favorite:
6. Let them rest. Sometimes you need to take a break from training. All athletes have an off season. Summer in Charleston is hot so I take it easy then.
As a final note you probably noticed little tips for training yourself as well. Your dog is important, but remember to be proactive with your body. You can't run your dog if you are hurt. I do simple exercises 4-5 times a week to help with knee pain. Keep in mind that physical therapists specialize in movement dysfunction (you can tell I'm a PT student, right?).
Happy strenghtening and stretching!
Rascal and Abby