By Dr. Tracy Dewhirst
Sports offer a natural way for you and your dog to get exercise, and they challenge an active body and mind. Organized recreation also combats our increasingly sedentary lifestyle and the health problems all that inactivity causes. So it’s no surprise that more dog owners are training their dogs and signing them up for weekend competitions in sports like agility, flyball, field trials, Frisbee, field and track racing, herding and weight pulling.
Many of these sports take months or years to learn -- and owners want to start their puppies as soon as possible. However, when it comes to sports, the early bird does not get the worm. In fact, the early bird might be out of the game before it begins. So before getting your puppy involved in a sport, consider these few tips to help keep him safe.
Puppy Athletes Are Like Kid Athletes
Studies of children have shown that injuries in people -- some with lifelong consequences -- are caused by the repetitive motion, impact and stressful strain of playing sports at a young age. The same is true for dogs. Veterinarians who treat large populations of agility dogs and animal physiotherapists report that puppies that started before 2 years of age often do not have a career after age 5. In contrast, owners who delayed strenuous training find that their dogs can compete well into older years. A few rules to follow when starting your puppy in a sport:
Signs that your puppy is overworked include excessive panting, reluctance to continue, or stumbling. These signs mean “Stop.” Limping, repetitive stumbling, missed strides or an abnormal gait might be warnings of more serious problems. If you notice any of the latter symptoms, visit your veterinarian to rule out a sports injury or congenital orthopedic issues.
Be a Good Puppy Sports Parent
Remember, it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. To create passion for a sport, dogs need to enjoy their work. Associating a weekend sports career with happy times, not pain and discomfort, keeps your dog in the game.