Is Canine Agility Training Safe?

Canine agility can be a fun way to bond with your dog. Agility involves basic obedience as well as competition skills. It's also great exercise. If trained properly, agility is a safe way to spend time with your dog, but if not, it can lead to injuries and behavior problems.

Proper Health

Agility is not for young puppies, especially large-breed puppies. When puppies are young their bones, muscles and joints are still developing. Putting too much pressure on growing bones and joints can cause problems, such as arthritis and hip dysplasia, as the puppies get older. This is especially true in large breed dogs, who do much more growing in their first two years.

Before beginning an exercise program, such as agility, it's important to take your dog to the veterinarian for a physical and evaluation. Agility involves lots of jumps and climbing that may be damaging to a young puppy or older dog. If your dog's breed is prone to joint or bone injuries such as hip dysplasia, you may consider having tests run to ensure your dog is physically fit.

If at any point in training, your dog refuses to do something he once did or begins limping or yelping, immediately have the injury checked out. If allowed to worsen over time, the injury may cause permanent damage.

Proper Temperament

Agility also involves tunnels, see saws and other obstacles that may be frightening to your dog. It is just as important to think about your dog's mental well-being as his physical well-being. If these obstacles are not introduced properly, you could create a fear that will last the dog's lifetime.

If your dog is afraid of some object, move slowly. Don't force him and don't use corrections. This will make him more likely to associate the obstacles with something bad. Instead offer him treats as you guide him along, talking in a soothing voice.

If interested in competition, remember that agility trials include loud noises, lots of people and lots of other dogs. Many of them may have aggression toward other dogs and could be scary to your dog. Before entering him in a competition, take him to visit a few. Take lots of treats and reward him for remaining calm. If pushed too quickly, your dog may become fear aggressive.

Proper Environment

Since upper level agility training involves off-leash work, your dog needs to be well-trained. If you are in an off-leash environment with untrained, aggressive dogs, you are putting your dog in a dangerous situation.

Before joining a class, evaluate it for safety concerns: Do the off-leash dogs seem to be well-trained? Are there any instances that would make you uncomfortable? Is the class secured or far enough from a major street that it is safe? Is the area clean and free of sharp objects? Does the trainer seem in control of his students? If you answer no to any of these questions, look for another class or address your concerns with the trainer.

Regardless of your goals, agility can be a fun way to interact with your dog and improve his training skills. However, before you begin training, make sure your dog can safely handle the mental and physical pressures of this intense, high-energy sport.