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Dog Column: Overcoming Injury in Agility

Updated on April 16, 2013
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Kristin is a dog agility instructor and competitor with 20 years in the sport.


I hated standing on the sidelines watching my little sheltie run his heart out for someone else. It wasn’t that I wasn’t appreciative to my friends for running Aslan while I recovered from a serious injury. It’s just that no matter how thankful I was, I still wanted to be the one out there with my dog. My friends always understood that, and they did a great job running Aslan during my recovery.

Finally after almost a year on the sidelines, my doctor released me to run my dog. I had to watch my heart rate to make sure it didn’t exceed a certain number, but with medication to lower my heart rate and some handling changes, I was sure we would be able to run together again in competition.

It had been a long time since Aslan and I had stepped out onto a course together. Although he had enjoyed running with my friends, he seemed thrilled to have his mom back in the driver’s seat. We practiced for the big day, but I only was able to run one full jumpers course before our first trial.

I wasn’t sure how things would go. My handling would have to be altered quite a bit to keep my heart rate down. I was going to work large distances with my sheltie, who fortunately can easily work 30 feet away from me. I was also going to make my sheltie stick his 2 on/2 off contacts and stay there while I slowly walked to the next section of the course, set myself up, and called him off the contact obstacle. Not a problem for my skilled sheltie, who has awesome contacts. I would also keep him longer than the five seconds at the pause table to both catch my breath and walk out to set myself up for the next section of the course. Again, my amazing sheltie would handle that change as well, as his stays are solid. I was wasting 15 or more seconds each run with these concessions, but they were necessary. And, again, my little dog’s talent would overcome the extra time. He’s extremely fast.

With another dog, I wouldn’t be able to run, but my sheltie had so many beautiful skills. He would overcome my weaknesses.

On a cold morning before dawn in January, we headed for my first show back. I was very excited. I didn’t care at all about the outcome. Whether we did well or not had become irrelevant to me. I just wanted to run with my dog!

It felt like home to be back walking the course with all the other Excellent-level handlers. Just to be out there preparing for my run was thrilling. I had to look at the course differently, but my friends helped me find the spots on the course where I could gain distance advantages and keep my heart rate down.

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It was heartwarming to do all the rituals at the dog show. Checking in. Walking the course. Taking the dog to go potty before his run. Warming him up before his run. Waiting in line with him at the starting gate. Seeing the excited gleam in his eyes. It was all wonderful and felt new again.

Then it was our turn up. Nerves weren’t present. I knew my Master’s level sheltie could easily tackle the course. And, if I messed up, I didn’t care. I was running with my dog. I wasn’t on the sideline! That was all that mattered.

We had a wonderful first run back. I made a handling error, causing Aslan to take the second weave pole, disqualifying us. But what a run it was! Aslan was obviously ecstatic to have me back on course with him, and my heart rate remained very low.

Amazingly enough, we even qualified once that weekend, something I hadn’t anticipated. The next trial we went to, we even Double Qed!

Aslan is an exceptional dog. When I began training him as a pup, I trained him specifically with the idea that because of my health issues I might not be able to run next to him in agility. I trained him to take over where my weakness would leave off. I trained huge distance for a 12” dog. I trained solid stays and large lead outs. I trained dead-on directionals. I trained killer contacts.

And when I needed him, Aslan came through. I think he knows I’m still not up to par. At every show, he works his heart out to make sure that he holds up not only his end of the partnership, but part of mine as well. Very few dogs would have the ability to do for me what Aslan has done. He’s allowed me back into the sport I love.

In just a little over two months back, we only have one more Double Q to qualify for the AKC Agility Nationals. It’s always been my dream to go, but each year we were denied either because Nationals was full or because of injury. Hopefully, next March, Aslan and I will be in Ohio running. And if I can’t hold up my end of the team, I know he’ll more than willingly fill in the gaps.

He may not become the 12” National Agility Champion, but no one has a better agility partner than I do.

Aslan Competing in Agility

Aslan did indeed qualify for the AKC Agility National Championships that year, and he attended his first Nationals in Ohio several months later. Now, at age 11, Aslan has qualified eight times for Nationals and has attended four. He has also earned the AKC's agility championship four times over. And his agility career continues!!

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