An agility dog is an athlete and as such, has requirements that need to be met, if he is to reach his peak performance.
The reasons for a dog getting tired in the middle of a training session or a competition are depleted energy levels, excessive heating of the body, dehydration, and accumulation of lactic acid. However, if you take preventive measures and provide him with proper care during practice and competitions, these problems can be avoided. Long competition days take their toll, and your dog can perform each run with the same intensity only if it receives the right kind of care. Do you give your dog the chance to perform to its full capacity, in each training session and competition?
Before a training session or competition
Planning the feeding schedule
An agility dog should be fed 6-12 hours before a training session or a competition, to ensure that the dog has sufficient energy for running, but his blood circulation is not dedicated to working the contents of the stomach, so that the circulation works in muscles, too. If it's a long day at a competition, you can feed your dog 6 hours before the first run, so that he'll also have the energy he needs for the last run of the day.
Even when the dog's hydration level is only a few percent too low, his performance levels drop and it becomes harder for his body to cool down. To prevent loss of liquids during or after a run, give the dog plenty of liquids 2-3 hours before the event. For a dog weighing 20 kg, give an extra 1/2 litre of liquid. You can put, for example, tuna or liver in the water, making it easier to get the dog to drink the water. If the training or competition day is very hot, and the dog requires more liquids, you should start giving extra fluids the previous night. Give your (20 kg) dog 1/2 litre of extra water approximately 3 hours before going to sleep, and a second set of extra liquids on the day of the event, 2-3 hours before the dog's run. Remember to take the dog for a walk two hours after giving him the extra fluids, so he can get rid of the fluids that go straight through him!
The purpose of warming up is to get the blood circulation going, and to prepare the dog's body for the coming performance. The dog also gets to do his business, and to remove all excess weight. Have the dog moving at different paces for at least 20 minutes. The warm-up should include moves that are typical to the sport, such as accelerations and turns to both directions. You can start by having the dog trot for 10 minutes, then do 10 minutes of gallop, trot, acceleration, turns, weaving between your legs, going round trees etc.
After a training session or a competition
Take the dog for a walk immediately after the performance, and walk for at least as long as the dog is panting, min 5-15 minutes. Cooling down immediately after a run brings down the dog's temperature, which might have gone up by as much as two degrees during the practice session or competition run. Lactic acids created during the run are easiest to put to circulation immediately after the run, oxygen supplies are refilled and the levels of acidity in the dog's body fall.
Give the dog some water within 30 minutes of the run. Drinking after a performance helps to fight dehydration and cools down the body. You can use recovery drinks, or make your own energy drink.
If the weather is extremely hot, you can speed up the cooling process by spraying cool water on the dog's belly, insides of his thighs, armpits, and paws up to the wrists.
Have the dog resting for approximately 30 minutes, then take him for a walk / trot for another 15-30 minutes, and give him enough water.
Give the dog some food that is high in proteins, 1-4 hours after the training session or last competition run. A few hours after feeding the dog, take him for a slow 30 minute trot. After the trot, or on the following day, you can strech the dog and go through his muscles, to find sore spots.
Replenishing the energy levels takes approximately 24 hours, and the recovery of micro-tears that were caused by the performance takes approximately 48 hours, so avoid putting strain on the muscles during this time, if possible. Muscle resilience and elasticity are weakened by the metabolic waste accumulated during the performance, and the muscles will tear more easily, until the damage to the muscles caused by the run has been repaired. The risk of injury is always at its highest within 48 hours of a heavy training session or day of competition.
The basic physical fitness of an agility dog is built elsewhere, not in agility classes. To prepare your dog's muscles for the strains of agility, he should be allowed to run free at different speeds for an hour every day. If necessary, you can also improve your dog's muscular condition by taking him biking, running hills, or swimming.
Observing the dog's weight
An agility dog is an athlete, and it's not fair to ask an overweight dog to perform such a demanding physical task. With our own dogs, even 0.5 kg of extra weight shows in running times. An athletic dog's ribs should be felt, but not seen. With dogs, as with people, fat gathers in different parts of the body, so also the spine and ilia (pelvic ridge bones) should be easy to locate. Remember to reduce the amount of training treats, and extra treats, such as bones and pig ears from your dog's food portion.