Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about preventative measures to keep my whippets healthy and fit for agility. Usually we wouldn’t be able to do agility for at least two months during winter, but since this year it’s so warm that it feels like spring, we weren’t forced to rest. I read somewhere that it is ideal to have a yearly break of 2 months to give soft tissues a good chance to regenerate and heal any micro injuries that have not yet become apparent to human senses.
I asked my agility friends how much rest from agility do their dogs get and they said anywhere between 3-8 weeks in winter and some also a few weeks during summer when the temperatures are too high to train. One said she gave her female a break during heat. It was very interesting to learn about similar practices in equine world. They said that they gave jumping horses a break after competition season or once per year. The horse was kept fit, but not jumped for a few weeks. And we know that human athletes also take regular breaks from training.
During the break the dog could be kept fit by swimming, hiking, long walks, jogging, bikejoring, skijoring, strengthening exercises, cavaletti etc. One could also do some flat work for agility or 2on2off plank work since it’s low impact. I think the most important aspects of having a break are:
- no jumping
- no weaving
- no hard turns
- no hard breaking
We don’t want to completely stop conditioning, just vary it some.
Most dogs also benefit from taking a break mentally and they return to agility with more enthusiasm and speed after a few weeks off, though working breeds especially will need some mental stimulation during the break to keep them from going crazy. This could be in the form of rally obedience exercises, nose work, tricks, dog dancing etc.
I must admit I am a bit skittish about taking a break because I worry about how much would Java forget (I don’t worry about Ruby – he has shown that his agility behaviors stay very well preserved even after many months without practice). So why would I worry about Java? Well, in my experience half-baked behaviors corrupt much faster than well-trained. But I also don’t want to risk an injury, so…
Ruby has spent more time this year on the bench than on agility field, so he has had plenty of breaks, but Java has been training at least once per week since April with a three week pause in October/November. So she already had a short break, but I would feel better if she had a few extra weeks. I’m thinking I could give her another three week pause for a total of 6 weeks off (unless the weather forces us to have a longer break). Since I have pulled my quadriceps last week now seems like a good time to start 😉