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Your Dogs Anatomy: A Guide for Agility Dog Owners


Whilst this blog is focussed on agility dog owners it is relevant to all owners living and working with an active dog.

As an active dog owner an understanding of canine musculoskeletal anatomy can improve your training, performance and help you identify potential injuries sooner.

Clinical massage can help the musculoskeletal system to function more efficiently, address common injuries and support your agility dog to perform at their best. This article explores canine anatomy and the benefits of massage therapy for dogs that love their agility.

So, what is the Musculoskeletal System

The musculoskeletal system is made up of bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. These provide structure, enable movement, and protect vital organs. Agile dogs require well-formed bones, strong muscles and flexible resilient tendons, ligaments and joints.

In agility competitions, dogs rely on specific muscles to perform various movements and manoeuvres with speed and precision. Here are some of the key muscles used by dogs in agility and their functions:

  • Quadriceps (Quads): four muscles located at the front of the thigh that work together to extend (straighten) the knee joint, enabling powerful jumps, quick accelerations, and strong landings.

  • Hamstrings: Located at the back of the thigh, these muscles flex (bend) the knee joint and extend the hip joint, providing the dog with the ability to generate propulsion and maintain balance while navigating obstacles on the course.

  • Gastrocnemius: The calf muscle is situated at the back of the lower hind leg and extends the ankle joint, providing the necessary power and force for high jumps and explosive movements.

  • Gluteal Muscles: Aka the buttocks, these muscles extend and stabilize the hip joint, aiding in jumping, running, and maintaining balance during agile movements.

  • Abdominal Muscles: Play a crucial role in stabilizing the dog's core, providing the support and balance required to execute sharp turns and twists smoothly and efficiently.

  • Trapezius: Spanning the upper back and neck region, this muscle aids in maintaining balance, stabilises the shoulder joint, and controls the position of the head on the move.

  • Latissimus Dorsi: A large muscle located on either side of the dog's back. It assists in retracting the shoulder, providing power for jumping, propelling the body forward and for twisting and turning the body at speed.

  • Pectoral Muscles: Situated in the chest area, these muscles are crucial for shoulder stability and front limb movements. These muscles work together to provide power and control during jumping, climbing, and propelling the body forward.

These major muscles are supported by an array of smaller muscles, ligaments and tendons which can often be overlooked. Tiny muscles in the feet, and those between each vertebra in the back are also essential for movement and a dog with an injury to a small muscle can be just as impacted as a dog with a strain in their Hamstrings. This is where clinical massage can really come into its own as it is a whole-body assessment and treatment.

Why is Clinical Massage so good for agility dogs?

Massage therapy is beneficial for agility dogs in so many ways – here are the main ones:

  • Promoting Flexibility: Regular massage improves muscle, tendon, and ligament tone and flexibility which in turn supports the healthy, efficient joint movements so essential for a dog running at speed over a complex obstacle course.

  • Enhancing Circulation: The improved soft tissue tone achieved above, and the mechanical strokes used in the massage itself increase blood and lymphatic circulation. This means the body gets more access to nutrients and Oxygen whilst removing more lactic acid, Carbon Dioxide and other metabolic byproducts. Keeping your dog’s tissues well fed speeds up recovery including after an injury.

  • Hydrating and mobilising the fascia: Fascia surrounds every muscle fibre, muscle, bone, joint, ligament, tendon in the body. It also lies beneath the skin and the muscles and allows the muscles to contract without the skin also reacting. Fascia is incredible stuff and contains fat cells and millions of tiny nerve endings. It is a common source of pain and movement restriction in dogs, particularly athletic dogs that perform repetitive, high impact movements in training and competition.

  • Injury Prevention: Identifying and addressing soft tissue (muscle, tendon, ligament, fascia) imbalances, restrictions and weaknesses prevents these issues becoming a source of injury. By addressing these early through regular maintenance massage therapy, it is possible to reduce the risk and severity of injuries.

  • Bonding and Relaxation: Massage therapy engages the parasympathetic nervous system. The dedicated time taken to relax and mobilise tight tissue creates a sense of relaxation and wellbeing. Dogs have the same nervous system as humans, so it is unsurprising that massage can help a dog to relax their mind and body in the same way. Therapeutic sessions allow the dog and owner to spend quality time together allowing them to communicate with each other in a unique setting. Dogs will often be hiding small niggles and general aches and pains, and this becomes apparent in a therapy session.

Being able to provide comfort and reassurance and to spend this quality time with their dogs is often described as the “best bit” by owners that come to my clinic.

Rooby loved her agility and had regular massage in the latter stages of her agility life. Her owner says "Karen's clinical massage and core conditioning training extended Rooby's agility career allowing her to continue doing the things she loved".


Understanding canine anatomy, especially the musculoskeletal system can helps owners spot possible issues and communicate with healthcare professionals like your vet or therapist.

The body is complex and small niggles can have a profound impact on your dogs movement. By collaborating with a skilled therapist such as a Canine Massage Guild member like me you can help you support your dogs' physical and psychological well-being.

We can improve communication and understanding between you and your dog and enhance performance in agility competitions.

If you compete with your dog why not get in touch to find out how I can help your dog.

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