5 Steps for Turning Your Dog Into a Peak Performance Athlete

Step 3: Avoid Weekend Warrior Syndrome

Canine athletes not only need proper pre-event stretching, but they should also engage in regular exercise year-round. So if your dog lounges on the sofa during the week, and then spends his weekends performing in such demanding sports as agility and dock diving, he's more apt to succumb to injuries.

In the same way that you can't realistically tackle a marathon without months of proper training, your dog can't be expected to run an agility course full of sharp turns and jumps safely without gradual conditioning.

"Whether your dog joins you on your morning run or participates in weekend agility competitions, all dogs are canine athletes," says Dr. Shila Nordone, PhD, AKC Canine Health Foundation chief scientific officer. "They rely upon us to condition them and not push them too far."

Step 4: Pay Attention to the Temperature

Since dogs tread much closer to the ground, they're exposed to heat more than people. This is why it's crucial to look for early warning signs of heat exhaustion, including a slower pace, stopping and heavy panting.

"Pay attention to the heat, humidity and air flow from your dog's vantage point — not yours," Dr. Spoo says. "You might feel a cool breeze where you stand, but trees and heavy brush might block the breeze at ground level. I also tell people to look in their dog's eyes for early signs of heat exhaustion because a dog who is getting too hot will have a panicked look. Be in tune with your dog, and don't push him in hot weather."

Step 5: Vary the Workout Routine

Your dog may be an ace at agility, but his body will benefit from other types of exercise. Veterinary sports medicine specialists suggest training your dog to use a treadmill, teaching him to swim in safe waters, honing his fetching skills — and consulting a sports expert about proper physical therapy.

To learn more about canine athlete health, check out this series of podcasts that members of the sports medicine veterinary community recently produced as part of the AKC Canine Athlete Initiative campaign.

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