My inbox has changed in the last few years. I still receive work, friend, and family emails, but I increasingly receive dog product and promotional emails, which I’ve learned to delete as quickly as possible. Apparently, I’m not a fan of newfangled dog products that no dog would want (and that could only have been created by Dr. Seuss’s long-lost brother). These products often cater to well-intentioned dog owners swept up by a booming pet product industry.

Sometimes I break with tradition and open the email, and sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. Once in a while, the product or promotion becomes a springboard to discuss canine behavior, cognition or welfare research. This is what happened last week when I received a promotional email about a dog sporting event airing this Saturday, January 17, 2015. Dog sports can be enjoyable for dogs and their human cheerleaders, but dog sports can also have a less joyful side.

The email I received was about the Purina® Pro Plan® Incredible Dog Challenge National Finals airing nationally on Saturday, January 17, 2015 from 3:00-4:00pm EST on NBC. I was informed it is “Time to watch adorable dogs doing incredible things.”

What are these adorable and incredible things?

"This premier canine sporting event features dogs competing in a variety of “Olympic-style” events, including high-flying disc routines, head-to-head weave pole racing, large and small dog agility courses, Jack Russell hurdle racing and the crowd favourite – dog diving – where dogs take a running leap off of a 40-foot dock into a 19,000-gallon pool of water.”

“Yup!” I thought. This could work. People enjoy watching dogs do out-of-the-ordinary things, and dogs have not been selected to sit on the couch all day. Dogs are physical — with one another, us, and their environments — and being active is an important part of being a dog. But dog sports are not always all fun and games.


A 2009 retrospective study investigated dog agility-related injuries. Martin Levy and colleagues at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx and Clean Run Productions, an agility dog magazine and company, wanted to know which factors put agility dogs at risk for injury. Agility dog handlers completed 1,627 surveys, and their results were published in Veterinary and Comparative Orthopaedics and Traumatology. Here’s what they found:

  • Some dogs are injured, most are not! Almost 70% of dogs had not had an agility-related injury. But 529 dog handlers did report injuries. Here’s what the researchers learned about these dogs’ injuries:

  • Like when you turn 16 and it’s finally time for your driver’s test and you put the car in reverse instead of drive, 58% of injuries occurred during competition, the rest in practice. If you participate in agility, has this been your experience? If so, why do you think this might be?

  • Injuries were often “soft tissue injuries including sprains, strains and contusions.” They were most often associated with an obstacle — particularly contact with an obstacle — although injuries were also associated with loss of footing and slips as well as long-term overuse and chronic injuries.

  • Injury severity ranged from minor (199 dogs were out for six weeks or less) to major (236 dogs were out for more than six weeks) to severe (57 dogs were retired due to injury).

  • Not all obstacles are created equal. Of obstacle-related injuries, dogs were overwhelmingly injured on the A-frame, followed by the dog walk and the bar jump (hurdle). Far fewer injuries came from weave poles, the seesaw, and the tire (please know, I find it difficult not to picture a children’s playground filled with dogs running amok).

  • “Border Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs and Australian Shepherds were injured most frequently but Border Collies were injured more frequently than would have been predicted by their exposure.” The researchers add that “the speed, agility and drive of the Border Collie may put it at risk of injury.” Here’s a look at handler reports of injured and uninjured dogs based on breed. Black bars represent uninjured, and gray bars represent injured:

Levy et al. (2009). Figure 1. Injured and Uninjured dogs listed by breed.

Because the findings are based solely on handler reports, the researchers described their report as preliminary. They offer, “misdiagnosis and faulty recollection may have influenced the accuracy of reporting…” At the same time, a similar and larger 2013 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association reached many similar conclusions. Of the dogs surveyed, “1,209 of 3,801 (32%) [of the] dogs had ≥ 1 injury” and strains, sprains, and contusions were also reported, as well as injuries to the shoulder, back, neck and phalanges. Injuries were most often associated with obstacles, including bar jumps, A-frames, and the dog walk.

Watching dogs participating in an “Olympic-style” event sounds like a great way to spend an afternoon, but it’s also useful to remember that dogs are not superheroes with bodies of steel. Like us, dogs can hurt their shoulders and backs, and don't forget about those phalanges! Here’s to a safe and enjoyable event!

If you do agility, how do you keep your dog safe in practice and competition?

Finally, check out Anita and Paddy, the 2014 Large Dog Agility Winning team from Eastern Regionals. Watch to the end to find out what this dog is looking forward to.

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Images: Green Bay Agility Trial via SheltieBoy, European Open Agility, Kristianstad juli 2012 via Åsa Kronkvist, Agility Turnier 2010 in Lugau via Thomas Teubert, HMKC 04/08/2007 Practice via SheltieBoy, all Flickr creative commons license. Figure 1 via Levy et al. (2009). Fetch It! via Veronica Bate of Catalyst for Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge National Finals.


Cullen K.L., Leah R. Bent, Jeffrey J. Thomason & Noel M. M. Moëns (2013). Internet-based survey of the nature and perceived causes of injury to dogs participating in agility training and competition events, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 243 (7) 1010-1018. DOI:

Levy M., Trentacosta, N., & Percival, M. (2009). A preliminary retrospective survey of injuries occurring in dogs participating in canine agility, Veterinary and Comparative Orthopaedics and Traumatology, DOI:

Additional Reading

Baltzer, W. (2012). Which injuries are most common in various sports? DVM 360.