Warm up for dog agility

Pre-exercise warm up massage

Why warm up? A warming up routine is essential when embarking on any form of exercise, and including pre-exercise regimes as part of a ‘workout’ is just as important for our canine athletes as it is for those of the human variety.

The dog’s body needs to make a number of adjustments when undertaking any exercise. These include:

  • increasing the breathing and heart rate
  • increasing the energy-releasing reactions in the muscles
  • promoting blood flow to the muscles to supply them with more oxygen and to remove waste products

The adjustments the body makes do not happen immediately and a few minutes is required to reach the necessary levels. Therefore, a warm up helps to encourage these adjustments to occur gradually – allowing the body to reach a specific level of readiness in order to undertake strenuous activity. Energetic exercise carried out by a dog which has cold muscles, joints, tendons etc, is ill-prepared for the demands being made of it, which may lead to injury and unnecessary fatigue.

A pre-exercise warm up massage is a an ideal way to prepare the canine athlete for an agility run, a fly ball dash, an obedience pose, or even a madcap game of ball chase – don’t forget companion dogs are athletes, too! It will help ease the body into making the adjustments for exertion as outlined above. A warm up massage will:

  • increase blood flow to the muscles, which enhances the delivery of oxygen and nutrients
  • warm up the muscles, which makes them more supple
  • prepare the muscles for stretching
  • increase the production of synovial fluid, thus increasing the range of motion at joints, reducing the risk of tearing muscles and ligaments
  • prepare the joints for extreme ranges of flexion and extension
  • prepare the heart for an increase in activity
  • prepare the dog mentally for the upcoming exercise
  • prime the nerve-to-muscle pathways to be ready for exercise, increasing the speed of nerve impulses
  • prevent unnecessary stress and fatigue being placed on the muscles which can occur if exercising strenuously without a suitable warm-up

Physiological effects of warm up massage

Massage will stimulate your dog physically:

  • Warms up the skeletal muscles.
  • Stimulates the muscle fibres which are then able to contract faster.
  • A warm muscle is able to extend further without tearing, thus injuries are avoided.
  • Increases the blood supply which improves the delivery of oxygenated blood and improves waste elimination.
  • Increases production of synovial fluid in the joints.
  • Influences the nerve endings via passive movement (golgi tendon organs and muscle spindles).
  • Nervous conduction starts to take place.
  • The muscles are better prepared for extreme ranges of extension and flexion.

Psychological effects of warm up massage

Massage will also stimulate your dog mentally:

  • Prepares the dog mentally for the activity ahead.
  • Stimulates the sympathetic nervous system* which governs the fight/flight response.
  • Allows a heightened awareness of all senses.
  • The familiar routine prepares the dog and the activity about to be undertaken becomes a learned association.

* The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for ‘fear, fight, flight’. The heart and respiratory rates increase. Blood vessels to skeletal muscles dilate. Bronchi and bronchioles dilate.


  1. Aspinall, V., 2005. Essentials of Veterinary Anatomy and Physiology. London: Elsevier.
  2. myDr.com, 2001-2014. Warming up and cooling down for exercise. Available at: http://www.mydr.com.au/sports-fitness/warming-up-and-cooling-down-for-exercise
  3. Robertson, J., Mead, A., 2013. Physical Therapy and Massage for the Dog. London: Manson Publishing Ltd.

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