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Safety Considerations for Agility With Newfoundland Dogs

The Newfoundland Club of America—responsible for the preservation, protection and welfare of the Newfoundland Dog in America since 1930.

Taking a jump and watching for next signal

Taking a jump and watching for next signal

Your Newfoundland must have sound hips, elbows and heart. Agility has the dog running very fast, turning sharply and jumping repetitively. The laws of physics tell us that these activities are harder on large-boned, heavy dogs. Newfoundlands that are not physically sound should not be asked to participate in this sport.

It is wise to have an evaluation by your veterinarian to determine if your dog's orthopedic and cardiac function is up to snuff before undertaking strenuous agility activities.

Teeter tests balance and control

Teeter tests balance and control

Your Newfoundland must be in good weight and condition. Overweight dogs or those that are not in good physical condition cannot work safely in this sport, and may sustain soft tissue injuries, tendon or ligament damage, or orthopedic damage. It is your responsibility to condition your dog on a regular basis while participating in agility to help prevent injuries.

Professional human athletes never skip a proper warmup. That’s because research has proven, repeatedly, that preparing your muscles for upcoming physical activity reduces the risk of physical injury. An injury to your dog could impact your wallets, translating into veterinary bills. More importantly, it means down time for your canine pal, so don’t overindulge in activity he isn’t physically ready to perform.

— Cindy Foley – Whole Dog Journal

Your dog's age should be a consideration. While young dogs can gain confidence by learning some of the agility obstacles, most young Newfoundlands have not developed the necessary coordination to safely perform these obstacles. Until your dog's growth plates are fully closed, you should not jump your dog at heights over 12 inches, you should not work agility exercises with great speed and you should not teach the weave poles. The temptation to "rush ahead" with training before a dog is physically ready must be resisted at all costs.

Prior to growth plate closure, you will want to avoid any repetitions or sets with puppy conditioning exercises. This is the time to build foundations skills (eg. sit to stand, stand to down) and teach the dog about proper form and posture on the equipment. Whichever equipment you choose to use, make sure the height is appropriate for your dog's size and development. A good rule of thumb is to keep all equipment below the height of their elbows.

— Carolyn McIntyre – McIntyre Rehabilitation

Your Newfoundland MUST be under control. A dog not under voice control of its handler is both an accident waiting to happen and a detriment to other dogs in an agility class. Take your dog to obedience classes for socialization and manners before starting agility. Seriously evaluate your dog's responses to your commands and continue to work on basic obedience for the life of your dog. It is common in agility classes to have more than one dog working on different equipment at the same time, often off leash. Your dog should mind his own business and listen to you instead of focusing on the other dogs.

Going through a tire jump

Going through a tire jump

When looking for an agility class, look for instructors who are aware of the above safety concerns and have experience working with giant breeds. They should ask you questions about your dog's weight, physical conditioning for such a strenuous sport, soundness, and manners. Watch the instructor with their students to see how they ensure the safety of each dog, how well they insure working through exercises slowly until the dogs understand, and check to see that their equipment is sturdy enough for a 150-pound Newfoundland. Good instructors will suggest training games and conditioning exercises that can be done at home in between classes.

You might have grandiose plans that include spending an hour or more per day working with dog agility equipment. However, while dogs do need exercise, too much exercise can increase the risk of injury, and it’s recommended that training sessions last no longer than about 20 minutes at the most. Dogs have short attention spans anyway, so long training sessions typically aren’t that beneficial.

— Brad Carlson – Carlson Agility

Agility is a rigorous, athletic activity, both for you and your Newfoundland. You are responsible for the well-being of your dog and must determine whether it is an appropriate activity for your particular Newfoundland.