The Positive Influence of Dog Fitness on Different Dog Sports: Agility, Mantrailing and Sheepherding

Author: Madeleine Bongers; 

Dog sports have gained immense popularity over the years, attracting both canine enthusiasts and spectators alike. Engaging in dog sports not only provides dogs with physical exercise but also stimulates their mental faculties and strengthens the bond between humans and their furry companions. One crucial aspect that significantly impacts a dog's success and performance in various dog sports is their fitness level. In this blog, we will explore how dog fitness positively influences three popular dog sports: agility, mantrailing and sheepherding.


Agility is a fast-paced and exhilarating sport that involves dogs navigating through an obstacle course under the guidance of their handlers. The agility course typically includes jumps, tunnels, weave poles, A-frames, and other challenging obstacles. A fit dog possesses enhanced agility, speed and acelleration, allowing them to navigate the course with ease.

A physically fit agility dog demonstrates remarkable agility by swiftly weaving through the poles, effortlessly clearing jumps, and confidently maneuvering through tunnels and fastly running over the contact obstacles including the seasaw. Their strong muscles and cardiovascular health enable them to excel in this demanding sport.

In this sprintsport, forelimb injuries rank among the most prevalent. These injuries commonly manifest as biceps brachii tendonitis, supraspinatus tendinopathy, infraspinatus contracture, and medial shoulder instability. Dogs that perform frequent jumping, turning, or repetitive motions are also prone to teres minor myopathy, collateral ligament ruptures, and subscapularis tendinopathy. Additionally, shoulder and elbow arthritis, OCD, fractures, and luxations are relatively common orthopedic issues seen in active dogs. Nevertheless, patellar tendonitis and long digital extensor tendonitis rank nearly as high in prevalence among canine athletes, often escaping proper diagnosis. Other acute soft tissue problems encompass myopathy and contracture of the gracilis and semitendinosus muscles. As for chronic injuries, Achilles tendon ruptures, iliopsoas myopathy, and lumbosacral disease emerge as the most common issues. Less known are tow injuries.



While agility is an sprint sport, mantrailing certainly is an endurance sport which requires different kind of muscles. Mantrailing is a sport that harnesses a dog's keen sense of smell to track and locate a specific person's scent trail. In this sport, fitness is vital as dogs may have to follow trails that span long distances and involve varied terrains in all weather conditions. A fit mantrailingdog demonstrates exceptional scent tracking abilities during mantrailing. Their high level of fitness allows them to persistently follow a scent trail for extended periods, even when the trail becomes challenging, such as crossing water or climbing steep slopes or stairs.

During mantrailing activities, dogs are exposed to various terrains and environments as they use their keen sense of smell to follow scent trails. While this sport is generally safe, some common injuries that may occur during mantrailing. The rough and uneven terrain encountered during mantrailing can lead to abrasions, cuts, scrapes and blisters on a dog's paw pads. Uneven ground or sudden changes in direction can cause twisted ankles or wrists in dogs. A dog's sense of smell is incredibly sensitive and powerful, but it also makes them susceptible to injuries if exposed to extreme temperatures. If a dog sniffs a heated surface, such as a hot metal object or hot pavement, the sensitive tissues in their nose can be damaged or burned. The physical exertion involved in mantrailing can sometimes cause muscle strains, especially if the dog is not properly conditioned. Mantrailing often involves long distances and sustained effort, which may lead to overuse injuries in joints and muscles.



Herding is a traditional dog sport where dogs work alongside farmers to gather and move livestock, such as sheep or cattle, to designated areas. A fit dog is better equipped to handle the physical demands of herding, as they need to cover long distances in different speeds with possible tight turns while maintaining focus and precision.

A well-conditioned herding dog displays incredible endurance and stamina while herding sheep. Their agility and speed enable them to respond quickly to the farmer's commands, effectively guiding the flock without getting fatigued. Herding livestock can have many different environmental settings. For example a diary cattle or sheep farm asks for a different style of herding dog which can result in different injury risks on their jobs.

In the intensive dairy farming setting, working dog injuries mainly resulted from traumatic incidents, often involving accidents with machinery. On extensive sheep and beef farms, injuries are more predominantly due to trauma or overuse.

During a research of herding dogs in New Zealand hind limb fractures were more common than forelimb fractures. Tibial fractures were the most frequent, followed by femoral and metatarsal fractures, often resulting from vehicle or machinery accidents or kicks from livestock. In terms of joint injuries, hind limb joint injuries were more prevalent. The primary joint injury reported was the rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament, with multiple ligamentous injuries of the stifle frequently seen in working dogs from sheep and beef stations. Hip luxation was the next most common joint injury, often caused by falls from moving vehicles. Additionally, hock and carpal injuries were frequently observed, with chronic carpal osteoarthritis commonly leading to retirement from work.

Additional to the fitness level it’s also important to provide the dog with the best gear available. Between agility, herding and mantrailing the later is the only mentioned sport in this article that requires a harness for the job. Though there are many other sports which also require a harness or color. Regularly checking and adjusting the fit as the dog grows or changes shape is necessary for their ongoing comfort and safety. A not properly fitted harnas can cause several injuries that influence the dogs health and fitness level, for example breathing difficulties, chafing or rubbing, neck or shoulder strains and impaired movement. A properly mantrailing harness is one which is measured for that individual dog.

It's essential to ensure that dogs are adequately trained and physically fit for their activities. Regular warm-up exercises, proper conditioning, and attention to the dog's well-being during the activity can help reduce the risk of injuries. While fitness plays a crucial role in enhancing a dog's performance in various sports, it is essential to combine it with appropriate nutrition. Training helps develop the necessary skills and reinforces the dog's response to commands, while a balanced diet supports their physical health and energy levels. If any injury occurs, seeking prompt veterinary care is important for the dog's well-being and recovery.

The positive influence of dog fitness on different dog sports cannot be overstated. A well-conditioned dog can excels in agility, sheepherding, mantrailing, and various other canine activities. Their heightened agility, speed, endurance, and mental sharpness contribute to their success in one of these sports. To nurture the high intensity of these sports, dog owners should prioritize regular exercise, proper training, proper gear and a nutritious diet to ensure their furry companions are in prime condition to tackle any sporting challenge that comes their way. Whether it's jumping through agility courses, herding sheep with precision, or tracking scents during mantrailing, a fit and healthy dog will always be a star performer in the world of dog sports.