The canine athlete
The canine athlete - a dog trained or gifted in exercises or contests involving physical agility, stamina or strength; a participant in a sport, exercise or game requiring physical skills.
My guys have all been different in their skills.
I have a canine athlete, do you? When you have a dog that is highly active in the athletic department you must take extra precautions; just like a human athlete does. We all have only one body to ride out our life in. Some dogs need more care than others as far as activity structure and control over physical endeavors.
All dogs are different, all dog bodies are different. What one can do, another may not be able to. It is our job to know what our dogs can safely do with their body. Pushing past physical limits invites injury. My girl Tilley, was an amazing disc dog. She was one of those dogs who drew a crowd when she played. Tilley was an airborne catcher; meaning that she never waited for a frisbee to come to her, she went up and got it. This meant that she had to conquer the landing; which she did easily in a short time span.
Luke also loved frisbee but his body did not have the ability to land safely. If he went up too high he would always crash on his landing so discs had to remain low. Our little Jack Russell, Jessie could leap as high as we threw but she never saw the importance in catching a frisbee more than once. She would rather dig a hole and pull a critter out of it. They are all different.
Even though Tilley was a true frisbee star with the grace of a ballerina; the repetitive death defying leaps needed to be toned down and controlled. Some retrievers will go after their object with such gusto as to cause injury to themselves by sheer desire. It is essential to know your dog and know what they will do. Tilley knew how to land and usually thought before leaping. Some dogs do not think; having such drive as to interfere in the whole safety aspect of the game.
Tilley only had a few years of high flying frisbee before we brought her back down. Even when she was in her high flying prime we worked on low throws for much of her exercise time. Continual high flying landings is hard on a dogs spine. Even if they do not suffer an actual injury during their retrieve time; they will very likely suffer the results of impact in their later years.
Dogs who participate in repetitive exercise need special care. If you have an agility dog, disc dog, flyball or any other type of athlete that does the same thing over and over, take care. Those with high drive are even more prone to injury due to that drive. Of course any dog can be injured but the ones to who have crazy drive are less likely to stop and ponder; moving so fast that we often can stop them fast enough.
Elsa is a runner. She loves to run but she also LOVES to retrieve. She is not an airborne girl which is perfectly okay with me. She's more of a long jump type of catcher; soaring through the air, flattened out like a torpedo as she goes for her ball. Elsa is most definitely a super athlete; her physique displays her strength and agility. The intense look in her eye is where you can see her drive.
As an athlete, Elsa is warmed up and cooled down before and after a workout. We are careful where she runs and what she runs on. Leg injuries can happen easily so surface must always have traction. Even small catching games on a slippery surfaces can end in a debilitating injury. I often see photos and videos of dogs on slippery flooring as they play a game of catch and it makes me cringe.
All dogs can enjoy athletic endeavors. Some will excel in certain activities more than others. Just like us, our dogs need to tone things down as they age and sadly that is much sooner than us. It is our job to keep having fun but to reign in on the dangers of fun activities.
Over the years I have read more than I ever want to about canine athletic injury. Spine, leg, neck and elbow injuries are common place with athletic dogs. Keeping our active dogs safe is our job. Ensuring that they enjoy their golden years imperative. That amazing dog by your side is just that. But they do break and we must put safety before anything else. Fun yes, but protecting that one body comes first.
Now, Elsa and I are heading out for a run. Have fun and be safe.