I always thought it was weird how much emphasis was put on warming up before agility competitions compared to little emphasis on warming up before training, so I’m glad that Daisy Peel decided to address this subject in her latest podcast. Let me be blunt: I think the reason why people tend to warm up their dog in competition and not in training or classes is that it’s less convenient to do it in training. It may mean that we miss out on watching the other team run or we can’t hear the instructor or we can’t chat with friends. Ever since Ruby injured his shoulder in 2011 I started to pay close attention to warming him up before every training and in the process started paying more attention to how my fellow competitors warmed up their dogs. Sadly what I saw with majority was no or close to no warm up…
But this post is not about what other people do or what they should be doing. Honestly, I think we don’t know for sure how well we can prevent injuries with a proper warm up, at least not without doing a study. And of course there are other things at play here – what condition the dog is in, not just muscles but also tendons, how flexible he is, how well he’s trained to handle different situations on course and even his character. Some dogs throw their body around more than others. We can never 100% prevent injuries – accidents happen and even a well conditioned body with a good warm up can sometimes fail. But we can do everything in our power to avoid the known causes.
Here’s what I do:
- Before training we take at least a 10-minute walk. If I only plan to do one short session (for example, last time we did just weave entrances on open weaves) I plan our walk so that we train in the middle of our daily walk. We are very lucky that we are able to train at a club where this is easy to do.
- Since we started Bobbie’s K9 Conditioning class we also do a warm up routine consisting of tricks that warm up the joints and short sprints. This takes another 10 minutes or so. Total: 20min of warm up. I am not so careful with warming myself up… I need to add that in.
- If we’ll be running a course we do a few warm-up jumps or wraps.
- Then we train for about five minutes. If I’m only training one dog, we keep walking around until next exercise (about 10min), so our trainings are essentially walk – agility – walk – agility – walk. If I’m training both then I walk with both of them for a short while before putting one in the crate and training with the other one. This way they get to walk before being put into crate and after they get out of the crate.
- After the training we do a few tricks for cool down and take a 15 to 30-minute walk, because as muscles cool down they tend to shorten and keeping the dog moving helps prevent that.
In the evening I check the muscles and warm up those muscle groups that seem harder than usual by applying a heat pack for 20 minutes. Ruby always gets a heat pack on his shoulders even though he hasn’t had any problems with them since rehabilitation, but I rather stay on the safe side.
Part of injury prevention is keeping the muscles strong and flexible. I try to walk them 1hr every day now that I’m feeling better and I’m hoping to get that up to 1.5hr per day in a month or two. Every other day we do some strength training and some stretching away from agility. This is new to our regime since starting Bobbie’s class. I used to be very uncomfortable with stretching my dogs because I was afraid I would stretch them in a wrong position or too far, but I’m getting used to it. Ideally I would also like to do some massage or TTouch work each week, but this isn’t really happening at the moment.
What about Java’s wrist?
With all this good stuff, how did Java sprain her wrist? I have been racking my brain on this one. I just couldn’t believe that she would sprain a wrist and wouldn’t limp or show other signs of pain like licking. I know toe injuries can be silent like that, but wrist sprains usually result in lameness.
Finally I remembered that one week prior to that coursing training Java was running with a Galga Espanol (and beating her! She was flying!). They were running big circles in wide open field… or so I thought. I didn’t know that there was a gutter in the middle of the field, the sides of it covered with grass. Galga jumped over it, but Java crashed into that gutter at full speed 😦 My heart stopped. I ran over there, got Java out of the gutter and she stood still for a while. When she started moving she was limping on front foot, but luckily nothing was broken. We were 2km away from the car so I couldn’t carry her all the way. After a while she was limping less and by the time we got to the car her gait was normal.She stayed sound all week and even after coursing she wasn’t limping, only her wrist swelled up. I asked our physiotherapist if this accident could be the real cause of injury to her wrist and coursing only aggravated it to the point of swelling. She said yes. Java is actually really lucky that she only had some transient swelling, not a broken leg from crashing into gutter.
Java is doing really well with her rehabilitation plan. She was wearing a hard wrist wrap last week, but this week we replaced it with a soft one as her wrist hasn’t swelled in three weeks. We were going for 1hr walks and did some strength building/stabilization exercises this entire time so she didn’t loose too much muscle mass. This week she got to run around on Flexi lead, too. 🙂 If everything goes well I will be able to let her run freely for short periods of time next week. She will be wearing the soft wrist wrap, of course.
All in all I think we have good reasons to be optimistic. Java’s wrist is on the mend, Ruby is sound and doing well, and I found a health regime that allows me to be active again and take my dogs for long walks. 🙂