Of course each dog has their unique personality and, depending on their temperament, breeding, prior history, experiences before you adopted him or her, they may have particular tendencies, fears, joys, and even neurosis! As such, when introducing a dog to a particular activity, keep in mind the aforementioned “uniqueness” so you will be sensitive to your dog’s affinity to a particular activity and pace you pup accordingly. Also, if your dog has specific behaviors that could be triggered by an activity or social situation, consider to include a professional (e.g. a trainer, pet ‘shrink’, etc) in the early stages.
That being said, my dog Lucy, rescued from the streets of Miami at 5 months old, is a high energy, terrier who loves life! She can jump fences, loves to roll around in mud, and waves her front paws incessantly when she wants your attention. I remembered my vet telling me how agility proved to be a perfect solution for his active pooch. Lucy, being young, had to first take a formal obedience class and wait until age one (rules of the dog club) before she could “join” the agility group. In the meantime, I took her to dog parks to keep socialized with other dogs and people, and we (Lucy and I) played a lot of backyard fetch. In that she showed the promise of being a “working dog”, the obedience trainer actually invited Lucy to become a “Therapy” Dog. This meant that she would learn how to bring ill, disabled or disadvantaged people, a bit of happiness and warmth. Being a lapdog, Lucy would come with me to the clinic and help “motivate” the children to participate in learning and therapy and she would come with me to rehab centers to visit patients, sit on their laps, and let them pat and hug her. At age one, Lucy joined an Agility group (just for fun), and took to it like bees to honey! Now, two years later, when I mention the word “agility” Lucy gets so excited, prances around the house and jumps for her leash. For Lucy, she enjoys bringing company and love to others, as a working therapy dog but is thrilled by doing agility.
Now, let’s talk about little Milo, my 6 pound long-hair Chihuahua adopted by me when he was age five. Milo came with about 20 outfits and did not even want to get his paws in dirt. He did not seem to know how to play and was not very social with other dogs…although loves people. A very sweet, non-stereotypical Chihuahua, Milo dislikes exercise intensely. That is, except when cheerios are involved…or really any food. If he hears the word “cheerio” stated in a happy voice, Milo practically flies toward you. His former owners use to play a running bases game with him, offering cheerios as the treat/reward for running back and forth. Very cute, indeed!
Now, back to exercise, when walking Milo, he pulls on his leash – in the opposite direction! He wants to turn back! Pacing Milo was a must. I began taking him on longer and longer walks and during the walk, would periodically praise him, give him hugs and do intermittent sprints. At the end of the walk, holding him in my lap or arms while in a rocking chair became a better reinforcement than food, although sometimes I offered both. Different from Lucy, Milo had no interest in jumping on or over things. His only choice of activity around the house was eating or being held on a stationary position. Milo avoids obstacles where Lucy embraces virtually every task with joyful sprints and the ‘zoomies’ (running in large circles over and over). Milo is not springy and he has very short legs, so I feel the activities of an obstacle course would not benefit or make Milo happy. In fact, those types of activities, for him, cause stress.
I describe my two dogs to demonstrate that if you have a multi-dog family, even housemates or siblings can have completely different likes and dislikes and so you may find yourself going in 2 or 3 different directions to satisfy all your dogs. Benefits of activities with your dog are many for both Pet Parents and their dogs. When dogs are active and exercised they are less bored and thus, not likely to have behavior problems. Furthermore, activities with your dog allows for additional time to engage with your dog, which promotes happiness and bonding for both the pet parent and the pet.
…So before we jump into the list of activities below, I want to remind the reader that it is important that you know your dog and consider who they are and what promotes fun for them and also, what precipitates stress. Just like kids, or adults – we have different things that bring us joy as well as fear.
Now for some unique and not so unique activities! Below, you can consider the following activities for joy and togetherness for you and your dog…
I want to provide readers with some awesome activities to choose from that may provide your beloved dog with contentment and happiness.
Important Safety Note: Make sure that your dog is in good health and structurally capable of doing the particular activity you are considering. Of most importance, always check with your veterinarian before beginning any physical activity with your dog, know the weight requirement for such things as “pulling” activities (e.g. carting and skijoring), and understand that certain breeds and “dog-build’s” are prone to injuries that can be serious, when doing certain activities. Finally, remember to get properly instructed and have your dog receive the benefit of professional training when embarking on any of these activities. Proper instruction will help in avoiding injuries for you and your dog and, in reality, is the only safe way to participate.
OBEDIENCE TRAINING: Even simple OBEDIENCE TRAINING is a great way for you to bond with your dog as well as create a mutually respectful and loving relationship. Dogs, like kids, need and feel safer when they have limits and know what to do….not to mention that a dog’s stability, health and welfare may depend on being well-behaved and responsive to adult direction. Obedience mastery is a building block for the activities you will see on this list. And…let’s face it, an obedient dog is a joy to be around! The website: http://www.dog-obedience-training-review.com/ will cover the basics.
AGILITY: One of my favorites, DOG AGILITY is a sport for dogs where you, as the dog’s “handler” directs your dog through an obstacle type course off leash. There are several places where you can take your dog to learn and practice this activity. Some folks and their dogs go on to compete in Agility “Trials” but many of us just take our dog for the pleasure and exercise of the sport. When I began with my dog Lucy, we lived in Broward County, Florida and found that the Dog Club of Hollywood http://dogclubofhollywood.com/agility/intro.html was an excellent choice. Beverly, Lucy’s instructor has many champions who she has parented, trained, and coached to great success. A great site for pictures and descriptions of the various agility obstacles and skills, try http://www.dog-obedience-training-review.com/dog-agility-training.html
THERAPY DOG PROGRAMS: Being a “THERAPY DOG”, "VISITING PET" or having your dog do “ANIMAL ASSISTED THERAPY”: Lucy and then Milo are "Therapy Dogs". Dogs involved in such activities are considered animals that help people by visiting with them. The more formal version of Therapy Dog practice – called “Animal Assisted Therapy” actually involves collaboration with an actual practitioner who is “treating” the individual client/patient (like a person’s therapist – Psychological, Occupational, or Physical Therapist) to determine activities and goals for the patient being “visited”. Generally, visiting animals help people with loneliness and depression. However, being a visiting dog gives something for your dog, also. Milo is at his happiest after he is providing this service. It’s like he’s feeling special, especially because he is the passive dog in my pack of two and I think sometimes is in Lucy’s shadow, as she has such a big presence! My dogs were certified through Therapy Dogs, Inc. You can check out their website and others at https://www.therapydogs.com/.
Of special note: The American Humane Association with Zoetis, a global animal health company, are doing a research study on the effects of animal assisted therapy for pediatric cancer patients and their families. To learn more, go to http://www.americanhumane.org/interaction/programs/animal-assisted-therapy/canines-and-childhood-cancer.html
HERDING: Not every dog will be able to do this, because herding behavior is instinctual in certain breeds and not others, as is true about many of the other activities. Your dog has to, in most cases, be pre-disposed (physically, instinctually, structurally). With HERDING, it is especially true that natural instinct needs to be part and parcel for your dog to be successful. If your dog is of a breed that has this instinct (even partially) or if your dog appears to demonstrate natural herding behavior, this activity is worth exploring, for sure! For those interested, explore the following site: http://www.herdingontheweb.com
TREIBBALL: If unable to locate a herding class/activity, there is TREIBBALL. This is a relatively new dog sport where the dog gathers and moves a "flock" of large balls (like yoga balls) Your dog herds the balls, as directed by you or the instructor…which prompts your dog push the balls through the course to a goal. Go to the American Treibball Association to explore further. http://americantreibballassociation.org/
FLYBALL: A dog sport where your dog would jump hurdles on a course leading to the automatic, spring loaded box which launches a tennis ball when your dog approaches it. Your dog is then taught to return over the course hurdles with the ball, back to you. It is sort of a sophisticated “fetch” game, involving agility (jumping the hurdles). Here is a UTuBE Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtaAams3j9g. To get detailed information about Flyball, go to: http://flyballdogs.com/
DOG FRIZBEE or FLYING DISC / DISC DOG: This, as with many of the activities mentioned, can be competitive or just for fun, but either way, follow the cautions above, noting proper safety precautions including a Veterinarian consult and a professional trainer in order to avoid injury and poor habits. Basically, with this activity, the human throws the disc and the dog catches and returns it. There are various levels of competency both with freestyle throws and catches as well as distance achievements. Your dog gets to chase, stop and return the disc – a joy and challenge for your dog, for sure! A wonderful website is the International Disc Dog Handlers’ Association (IDDHA) at http://www.iddha.com. You can also go to the steering committee who coordinates the US Disc Dog Nationals http://www.usddn.com/
FREE STYLE DANCING: A picture tells a thousand words. You must view this freestyle dog-human dance on utube! It is masterful and hilarious! Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsoEfuFNM38 to view. FREESTYLE DANCING is, according to the Canine Freestyle Federation, Inc ., “a choreographed performance organized with music, illustrating the training and joyful relationship of a dog and handler team” . To learn more, try their website: http://www.canine-freestyle.org/. Another source is the World Canine Freestyle Organization at http://www.worldcaninefreestyle.org/
RALLY: A sort of obedience game with performance stations – where each performance station has a description of an exercise.
DOG PARKS (FENCED/OFF-LEASH): This is such a wonderful way for your dog to run and play where you can provide your dog social time, exercise, and learn to interact with other dogs – where they can run and play – but it is a benefit if you start your dog young to start that socialization process before they develop negative habits, territorial behaviors, etc. I adopted Lucy when she was 5 months and I immediately began bringing her to Dog Parks. She loves her special time with other canines. I personally support size separation. My Lucy only weighs 8 ½ lbs so I consider it unsafe to put her in the large dog section. In Florida, all the dog parks I visited separated large from small. The problem is, some areas do not understand the safety issues, and I spend time in an area where they cater to large dogs and have no section or an after-thought section for small dogs. As such few want to use the small dog section – it is too small – so those of us who are concerned about our small dog being trampled or mistaken for prey have no playmate for our pup. There are always risks – such as dog fights and scwabbles, but posted etiquette rules and a user community that is attentive and vigilant will typically manage this. There is a great book called “VISITING THE DOG PARK - HAVING FUN, STAYING SAFE” author Cheryl Smith published by Dogwise (ISBN: 9781929242450)that would be worth getting if this activity is something that you think you’ll enjoy. By the way, visiting the dog park is also a fun social activity for the pet parents, as we get to know one another and get to socialize also, while our “children” (dogs) are playing and enjoying being off leash. Make sure the location you choose is fenced, for the safety of your dog(s). Here is a couple of links that may list dog parks in your area: http://www.freeplay.org (This site is devoted to promoting dog parks and dog runs in communities all over the country. As such, they have collected info on some places that have dog parks). An on-line magazine about dog parks and listings of dog parks across the United States is http://www.dogpark.com/
SLEDDING/MUSHING, SKIJORING, BIKEJORING/ROLLERBLADING, SCOOTERING, and CARTING: Critics are divided on dog-pulling activities as some consider it cruel or abusive. However, others say the experience for their dog who loves to “run” and “pull” is awesome (but not in warm weather). Do your own research and speak with your vet before embarking on any of these activities. Also, be aware that there is no hooking your dog from his/her collar (strangulation hazard)….it is only appropriate to use a special harness (which includes some safety features like a dog release). There are “Joring” / “Pulling” Systems that not only are safe(for you and your dog) but necessary to hook to for all these pulling activities. For example, the Omnijore™ Joring System is designed for any dog-pulling activity and can be purchased with a towline and hipbelt for you! This can be found at http://www.ruffwear.com/Omnijore-Joring-System and you can view an instructional video of the harness system being placed on the dog and the human on this YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sY8JGH6khlQ. Cesar Milan at http://www.cesarsway.com/dog-training/exercise/ reminds folks that training a dog to do any pull activity can be difficult and notes in the web article below, that gear (helmet, gloves, etc.) should be worn, especially “protective” when training the dog, due to the frequent falling and other hazards. Cesar also warns enthusiasts not to hold the towline and do not attach it to the parts of your gear, like the handlebars on a bicycle. We all know that our “active” furry friends can be impulsive when they see a squirrel or other animal and this could be a frightening event for you if your dog decides to “bolt”! For more information from Cesar, check out the following site as he discusses five unusual dog powered sports: http://www.cesarsway.com/dog-training/exercise/Beyond-Obedience-and-Agility. Read more: http://www.cesarsway.com/dog-training/exercise/Beyond-Obedience-and-Agility#ixzz3XJ1U7H7y
Incidentally, I use a harness at all times, when leashing my dogs….I do not even believe in hooking a dog on a neck collar even for a “walk”, because if your dog jumps ahead, pulls – it can cause damage to their throat and possibly result in chronic and serious health problems as well as neck Injuries- Just one incident of pulling or running fast to the end of the leash could possibly cause serious neck damage. Neck injuries could include bruising, whiplash, headaches, crushed trachea, damage to larynx, and fractured vertebrae. A neck and spinal cord injury can cause paralysis or neurological problem. I also just learned that neck collars and pulling dogs can cause hypothyroidism and many other maladies. Please look at the following websites to uncover the many hazards of using your leash with a neck collar – or, even worse - a choke chain: “Dog Collars: The Hidden Causes Behind Many Injuries” at http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/choke-prong-shock-collars-for-dogs-dog-health-tips-injuries. Dr Peter Dobias believes that neck collars, especially choke collars can lead to cancer… follow this link: http://www.peterdobias.com/blogs/blog/11015137-choke-prong-and-shock-collars-can-irreversibly-damage-your-dog.
Besides checking with your veterinarian before starting activities with your dog, please be aware that a dog’s structure, weight, health and breed needs to be considered , especially for “pulling” activities and many dogs are not appropriate for pulling activities. Please remember to check with your vet and if “ok’d”, obtain professional instruction for your dog. If your dog is appropriate for such activities, these “dog-powered” sports and activities can support your dog’s natural instincts to run, pull, be useful and skilled as well as possibly help develop your dog’s muscles which can reduce the risks of increased deterioration in dogs with hip dysplasia, because well developed muscles can provide support and cushioning. Skijorning, Bikejoring, dog scootering , and the like, can be ways for dog and human to enjoy exercise together. Most folks are familiar with DOG SLEDDING, a dog powered pulling activity typically by a pack of dogs. A helpful website for sledding is http://www.sleddoggin.com/; SKIJORING is a combination of cross country skiing and dog sledding where your dog, who has to be at least 30 pounds, pulls you on your cross country skis. I found a cool website that those interested can go to - http://www.faughnan.com/skijor/index.html. BIKEJORING is when your ride a bicycle with your dog pulling you. My neighbor in Florida took her dog “Pixi”, a mixed herding dog and spaniel, daily on these “runs”. I am convinced “Pixi” lived for that time of day. CARTING is another version of sledding, where the dog/dogs enjoy weight-pulling on a harness. Go to http://users.erols.com/gr8rswis/IntroCarting.htm. Generally, you can start your information gathering at a site like: http://www.thedirtlife.com/dogs/pulling/pulling.htm or a site that caters to working dog activities like: http://www.romanreign.com/workingdogs.htm.
WATER SPORTSFOR DOGS: Swimming, surfing, Canoeing, jumping, water retrieval, dock diving, and water rescue are all water activities that you can enjoy with your dog. Here is a UTUBE of a competition of Dock Diving Dogs jumping into the water: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKv8TKawJ3I. This site at Pet MD has pics of the top ten water sports for dogs. Go to http://www.petmd.com/dog/slideshows/wellness/top-ten-canine-aquatic-sports. Also, view footage and if you have a water-loving dog, definitely “cruise” the website at http://www.caninewatersports.com/ for a list of actual water sports for dogs, water dog – nautical store and even instructions to make your own water sports training equipment.
DOG CAMP: Who knew?! DOG CAMPS have, as their mission, a vacation for a pet parent and their dog(s), offering activities and instruction meant for the pet parent to partake with their dog. A way to vacation at a camp where you and your dog can indulge in a favorite activity(s) or explore new dog activities, dog camps vary widely. If you and your dog enjoy off-leash parks, traveling and outdoor activities, DOG CAMP is perfect for you! At many of these camps, activities such as mentioned above such as agility fun and also activities like hiking, dog massages, fly ball, free style dancing, trick training, lure coursing, rally games etc., happen all day or you and your dog can choose to chill. To get examples of Dog camp activities, a dog camp that looks especially inclusive is Camp Dogwood, Go to https://campdogwood.com/activities/list-of-activities/
Go to http://thebark.com/content/summer-camps-you-and-your-dog to learn more and explore their list of some top dog camps.
For more ideas and information on building activities and a positive relationship with your dog, consider the book by Kyra Sundance called “101 Ways to Do More with Your Dog: Make Your Dog a Superdog with Sports” and check out Ceasar Milan’s website at http://www.cesarsway.com/ . In closing, my ‘take home’ / theme of this article is …please have gratitude and embrace your good fortune as a dog owner, build a fun- loving relationship, and fill your dog’s life and your life together with love and enjoyment. AUTHOR: Diana Yvonne d.