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News: Guest Posts
AKC Announces Mixed-Breed Program
Mutt lovers question the new “separate but equal” designation.

After 125 years as an advocate for (select) purebred dogs, the American Kennel Club (AKC) announced its new mixed-breed program last week. For the past several years, rumors abounded that AKC was on the cusp of allowing mixed breeds to participate in activities, such as agility, obedience and rally. Some folks claimed AKC was growing enlightened, while others claimed it was simply trying to shore up its bottom line. (Obedience entries are down and other venues, such as USDAA and APDT, welcome mixed breeds in their agility and rally programs, respectively.)

Mixed breeds may be registered with AKC as of October 1, 2009, and be eligible for agility, obedience and rally competition on April 1, 2010. No doubt this is a step in the right direction, but I do have mixed feelings (no pun intended) about some conditions of the program. For example, mutts may participate in agility, obedience and rally competitions, however, they will be in a separate class and not allowed to compete head to head against purebred dogs. Are we mixed-breed lovers really expected to support a “separate but equal” class? Why this special designation?

Offering separate classes will create more work for the hosting club’s members and volunteers. Since the inclusion of a mixed-breed class is optional, clubs might simply choose not to offer it at their event. Another rule states that mixed breeds will not be allowed to participate if the agility, obedience or rally events are held in conjunction with a conformation show. So what good is a mixed-breed program and registering your mutt with the AKC if you can rarely participate in events?

What about people who have a rare purebred dog, such as a Catahoula Leopard Dog or McNab? They do not fit either class since they’re neither AKC-recognized breeds nor mixes. Not to mention, the mixed-breed program requires proof of spay/neuter and some rare purebred dogs might be part of a responsible breeding program with another registry, such as UKC.
 
In an old AKC PowerPoint presentation, “Why Explore Mixed Breed Dog Listing” (that until recently was posted on the AKC website), one rationale was: “Exposing mixed breed dog owners to AKC and encouraging them to make their next dog a purebred by showing that purebreds consistently outperform mixed breeds (Purebreds consistently score better than mixed breeds in head-to-head competition. The U.S. Dog Agility Association has given 63 lifetime achievement awards for outstanding performance, and only three of those have gone to mixed breed dogs.)”

Aside from the fact that the AKC misrepresented USDAA’s statistics in order to support the superiority of the purebred dog, I find it rather sad and disappointing that AKC even felt the need to reassure its members that their purebred dogs would remain top dog. Was this just a tactic in order to get all AKC members on board? Or will this attitude persist even after mixes are supposedly “welcomed” into the group?

Currently, I compete in AKC agility with two rescue Dalmatians and am training my youngest dog, a mixed breed, to compete in USDAA and NADAC agility. Despite its flaws, I think the AKC mixed-breed program is a step in the right direction and I will likely support it. But I am prepared to hear cries of protest from fellow mutt lovers who disagree with my decision.

This topic continues to be hotly debated between dog lovers both in person and in cyberspace. Some people think the program will only improve if mixed-breed owners support it right from the start and lend their voices to its evolution. Others find it insulting and want nothing to do it with it. What do you think about AKC’s new mixed-breed program? If you have a mutt, will you consider participating in AKC events? Why or why not?

News: Guest Posts
Two Dogs Down
After two dogs freeze to death, is it time to rethink the Iditarod?

A few days before cancer-survivor Lance Mackey became the third person to win the Iditarod three years in a row, two dogs belonging to rookie racer Lou Packer died from exposure to high-winds and 50-below-zero temperatures. The story of Grasshopper and Dizzy’s demise is as harrowing as it is provocative. Already the questions are tumbling down. Was Packer a rookie who took unnecessary risks or is he to be admired for helping a fellow competitor earlier in the race and falling behind? Should race officials checked on him sooner?

Like a lot of people, I have mixed feelings about dogsled racing, and I generally don’t follow the big events. I know neglect and cruelty are often a byproduct of competitions involving animals. But I’ve also driven small recreational teams before—in Minnesota and Alaska—and it seemed clear the dogs relished the run. But I wonder is it right to celebrate competitions and provide cash incentives for events that can exact this price?

News: Guest Posts
My Pack's Plans for 2009
I asked my dogs if they had any New Year's resolutions, and to my surprise, they did.

The thought of New Year's resolutions makes me want to eat ice cream ... preferably a pint of chocolate chocolate chip from Oberweis. There's just too much pressure and I have yet to reach any goal through resolution. So I asked my dogs if they had any plans for 2009 and, to my surprise, they did (see below). Have your dogs resolved to make some changes this year? I'd love to hear from them!

"Eat more peanut butter, herd more sheep, chomp more Kongs to bits, and continue teaching that sassy little whippersnapper Ginger Peach to respect her elders." - Desoto, 11 yrs., Catahoula

"Pass my Canine Good Citizen test, persuade more people to rub my belly and under my pits, and go lure coursing at least three times this summer. I also want to go on more summer skunk hunts, but Mama does not approve." - Shelby, 7 yrs., Pit Bull mix

"Earn an agility championship, bruise fewer shins with my whip tail, ignore those new freckles or 'age spots,' go running with Mom for conditioning, play ball more often with Dad, and remember to play nice with others." - Darby Lynn, 6 yrs., Dalmatian

"Seriously? Well, I resolve to be less shy around new people and in new situations, work hard to perfect those darn weave poles, and continue to be the best mouser in the house. Oh, and eat my weight in raw turkey necks." - Jolie, 5 yrs., Dalmatian

"Catch as many frisbees as possible, compete in more Disc Dog competitions with Daddy, practice agility with Mommy, be less of a nuisance to my elders, continue showing Bruiser Bear the cat that it's okay to play with dogs, learn to walk on a loose leash and not jump up on people, no matter how much I so badly really, really want to." - Ginger Peach, 18 mos., mixed breed

News: Guest Posts
Resolution Revolution
Bring back New Year’s aspirations ... for our dog’s sake

New Year’s resolutions have gone out of fashion. Not one of my friends or family has admitted to using the fresh slate of 2009 as an opportunity to commit to change. I guess we’re so convinced we’ll fail that we don’t take aim. Well, in the spirit of Mad Men, the stock market crash and other recent blasts from the past, I’m resurrecting the resolution with an eye toward nurturing my dogs' wellbeing and our bond.

Here are my three (as in strikes) resolutions. I’d love to hear yours.

Leave my iPod at home. No more tuning out on walks. I resolve to take advantage of these regular outings to engage more with my dogs and curb a few of the bad habits—lunging at cats—into which we’ve slipped to my soundtrack.

Channel Hermey (the dentistry-loving elf from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”). I admit to taking a free pass on dental care every time my vet says my dogs’ chompers look great. It’s nothing I’ve done, and I know the consequences of poor dental hygiene (bad breath, tooth loss, and gum disease, which can cause much more serious health problems). So, I promise to don my funny little finger toothbrushes ASAP.

Tackle a new skill together, in my case, skijoring. This is a holdover from last year, and I’m going to blame my lack of success in 2008 on global warming. But the mustachioed meteorologists in these parts are currently measuring snowfall in feet these days, so I have no excuse. Mush!

The great thing with these resolutions is I can’t really fail. My dogs won’t grade me. Even if I fall down in my best efforts, they’ll remain my loyal, true companions.

 

My friends over at the Seattle Humane Society offered up some worthwhile resolutions too. Check them out. My favorite: Make sure your pet is cared for in the event of your death. It's not something we like to think about, but it's something we owe our pals.
 

News: Guest Posts
Have A Very Doggy Holiday

What is it that happens to dogs in the snow? From most reports, they become maniacs in the white stuff. So despite all the hassles and dangers of our recent winter weather, I'm thrilled by the idea of dogs all over the country romping in muzzle-deep snow this holiday. As always, our pups are a reminder to get out and have fun, to smell the tree trunks or just careen around in snow. If you're one of the unlucky folk who live below the snow-belt, check out the video below to get your snow-dog fix. Have a fabulous, frolic-filled holiday with your buddies.

News: Guest Posts
As the Bowl Turns

Does the world need a doggie soap opera? In the abstract, the answer is probably, sure. Why the heck not? Could it be worse than the human-centered variety? Well, based on previews for PETelenovela (pups in cowboy hats, ties and boas doing not much to campy voice-overs), I'd say, I'm not willing to spend the $10.99 to find out for sure. Also, don't our furry housemates supply enough comedy and drama?

News: Guest Posts
More Barks About Dogs on Treadmills

Lisa's post about treadmills reminded me of a story I heard a few years ago--in New York City--concerning two pit bulls who dropped dead from heart attacks (or heat exhaustion? I can't remember) because they were being forced to run on treadmills. These were fighting-ring dogs, of course. They were tethered (chained!) to treadmills and forced to run in order to make them 'tough." Ack!

 

One of the "owners" of the dogs was actually quoted as saying something to the effect of: "Well, if he died, that means he wouldn't have been a good fighter." 

 

This is an extreme example, of course, of why it might be better to exercise your dog in the great outdoors rather than on a treadmill. But, my humble opinion is that these treadmill manufacturers are trying to convince dog guardians that it’s okay--even desirable--to substitute a treadmill session for an honest to goodness walk. (I might go so far as to say, "...to cut corners, and be lazy.") Next, they’ll be equipping their machines with built-in iPod docks and televisions, and selling us videos of squirrels, and iTune tracks of birds chirping or perhaps the theme from Rocky. "Your dog will be inspired to run for miles!"

 

Here’s what the people at www.jogadog.com promise use of their product will achieve:

  • End unruly behavior
  • Reduce risk of serious injury
  • Provide versatility in exercise
  • Develop muscle strength & stamina
  • Control your dog's exercise regimen
  • Provide exercise in adverse weather
  • Prevent obesity & associated problems
  • Improve health, well-being & longevity
  • Correct faults in movement on-the-fly
  • Exercise many dogs quickly & effortlessly
  • Condition muscles to show ring speed
  • Maintain a vibrant coat year-round

They conclude their sales pitch with: Designed with the input of veterinarians, physical therapists and engineers, JOG A DOG is truly the best exercise system available for the most discriminating consumer.

 

Hmmm......if you were sitting on your butt late at night watching television, and this commerical came on, and you were too tired to get up and turn it off, and you knew nothing about the needs of dogs, would you be tempted?  I wonder...

 

I am lucky that I live near the ocean, and that my dog gets to gallop along its shores every day. But even when I lived in the city, and it was 800 degrees below zero, my dog went outside for his exercise: off-leash, free, fluid, and blissful. That, to me, is 'truly the best exercise' a dog (or a human) can enjoy. Does that mean I am not a 'discriminating owner'?

 

Okay, I'll get off the bandwagon now. And I’m not trying to say that the people who exercise their Basset Hounds on treadmills are wrong or evil. "To each his own" is the motto I try to live by. But maybe our treadmill users are just a bit, well, misinformed. It’s likely they were informed by advertisers.

It’s our job, as dog lovers and Bark readers, to inform them otherwise. :)

News: Guest Posts
Dogs on Treadmills

Lately, I see dogs on treadmills, and I don't mean in my dreams or metaphorically. Folks are seriously opting for machines, particularly, it seems, for basset hounds. The word is that since exercise is good for dogs, this can’t be bad. Better than nothing, maybe, but you have to think that Clementine, Skully and Hank (below), would be much happier wandering at their own varied pace out where squirrels chirp on branches and honest-to-goodness urine wafts from every hydrant, mailbox and tree. Even the Jetsons’ treadmill was out on the space-deck and included a thrilling cat chase.

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Dog Sports Keep Seniors on Their Toes
Forever Young

Lacey, a short-legged, longbodied dog with pert ears and soulful brown eyes, lopes toward the first hurdle, tail wagging as the crowd cheers her on. Sneakers and padded paws pound against the rubberized matting as the canine competitor dashes through a long tunnel, guided by her handler’s words and signals.

No, this isn’t a high-level agility competition, and the dog/handler duo isn’t what one might consider professional. Lacey is a seven-year-old mystery mix who, according to owner/handler Marilyn Stearns, “would run from her own shadow” until she began agility. Stearns, a 75-year-old retired Maine schoolteacher, had no idea what she was getting herself into when she signed Lacey up for her first “Dog Romp” class shortly after rescuing the little pooch. “She was just so afraid of everything and everyone, and I thought … ‘Well, now that I have the time, why not get her and me out of the house and see what happens?’”

Four years later, Lacey’s boldly bounding over hurdles, snuffling through tunnels and gazing adoringly at Stearns at the end of their runs. “I’d never done anything like this before — I didn’t even know there was such a thing,” Stearns says. “But she took to it right away, and I’ve had the time of my life.” Stearns is not alone. With dog sports as varied as tracking, agility, rally or dock diving, and sporting clubs offering classes and competition venues around the world, more and more retirees are choosing pastimes with a distinctly canine flair. “It challenges both mind and body,” says Melissa Johnson, a fellow septuagenarian who teaches agility at Wag It, Inc., a training center in Lincolnville, Maine. “Every course is a puzzle, so it presents an immediate challenge for both the handler and the dogs. Very few activities that people our age can participate in [offer] that.”

In addition to the mind/body appeal, dog sports provide participants with opportunities to bond not only with their canine companions, but with a larger community as well.

“I’d say over half my students right now are over 50,” notes Jean MacKenzie, owner of New Hampshire– based Tova Training and one of the founding mothers of agility in the U.S. “Part of the attraction is the social outlet it provides. Students come together with a common interest in dogs, and friendships grow from there.”

When talking about dog sports, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the physical benefits of canine competition. While agility is a highimpact activity that requires both dog and handler to be quick on their feet, others, such as rally and tracking, are less intense. Regardless of what activity a participant chooses, however, MacKenzie notes that her students invariably make an effort to get in shape once they get serious about their sport of choice.

“We already know people are more active when they have dogs,” says MacKenzie, “but once they have that goal of competing or trying to get their dogs to a higher level, they’re more apt to get on the bicycle or go for a hike — anything to improve communication and strengthen that human-animal bond.”

That human-animal bond, of course, is the real draw for dog sport competitors of all ages.

Marilyn Stearns, whose dog Lacey recently took third place at Wag It, Inc.’s very own Wag It Games, agrees that her deepened relationship with her pup is at the heart of her continued participation in agility.

“I look forward to it every week because Lacey has such a good time and we’ve gotten so close working together like this … I just love seeing her confidence grow, and being able to be out and active with people who love their dogs as much as I do.”

Whether you’re newly retired or an octogenarian with a four-legged friend looking for something to do, consider taking up one of the many dog sports available today. Chances are good that, regardless of your age or fitness level, there’s a sport just right for you and your canine companion.

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Proper Trail Etiquette for Hiking with Your Dog

This information has been adapted from Dan Nelson’s Best Hikes With Dogs: Western Washington, 2nd Ed.

Hiking trails are a gateway to good physical and mental health for both you and your dog. A few hours spent immersed in nature can cleanse the spirit and strengthen your bond with your canine companion. But it’s important to recognize that anyone who enjoys backcountry trails has a responsibility to those trails and to other trail users. Outdoor experts Dan Nelson and The Mountaineers Books (publisher of the Best Hikes with Dogs series) remind us that we must be sensitive to the environment and pay attention to other trail users to preserve the tranquility of the wild lands.

As a hiker, you are responsible for your own actions. As a dog owner, you have an additional responsibility: your dog’s actions. When you encounter other trail users, whether hikers, climbers, trail runners, bicyclists, or horse riders, the only hard-and-fast rule is to observe common sense and simple courtesy. With that “Golden Rule of Trail Etiquette” firmly in mind, here are other techniques to ensure smooth encounters on the trail:

- Hikers who take their dogs on the trails should have their dogs on a leash—or under very strict voice command—at all times. Strict voice command means the dog immediately heels when told, stays at heel and refrains from barking.

- When dog owners meet any other trail users, dog and owner must yield the right-of-way, stepping well clear of the trail to allow the other users to pass without worrying about “getting sniffed.”

- When meeting horses on the trail, the dog owner must first yield the trail but also must make sure the dog stays calm, does not bark and makes no move toward the horse. Horses can be easily spooked by strange dogs, and it is the dog owner’s responsibility to keep his or her animal quiet and under firm control. Move well off the trail (downhill from the trail when possible) and stay off the trail, with your dog held close to your side, until the horses pass well beyond you.

If the terrain makes stepping to the downhill side of the trail difficult or dangerous, move to the uphill side of the trail, but crouch down a bit so you do not tower over the horses’ heads. Also, do not stand behind trees or brush where horses cannot see you until they get close, when your sudden appearance could startle trail animals. Rather, stay in clear view and talk in a normal voice to the riders. This calms the horses.

- In general, the hiker moving uphill has the right-of-way. There are two general reasons for this. First, on steep ascents, hikers may be watching the trail before them and not notice the approach of descending hikers until they are face-to-face. More importantly, it is easier for descending hikers to break their stride and step off the trail than it is for those who have fallen into a good, climbing plod. If, however, the hiker who is ascending is in need of a rest, he or she may choose to step off the trail and yield the right-of-way to the downhill hikers, but this is the decision of the climbers alone.

- When hikers meet other user groups, the hikers should move off the trail. This is because hikers are generally the most mobile and flexible users; it is easier for hikers to step off the trail than for bicyclists to lift their bikes or for horse riders to steer their animals off-trail.

- Hikers and dogs should stick to the trails and practice minimum impact. Don’t cut switchbacks, take shortcuts or make new trails. If your destination is off-trail, leave the trail in as direct a manner as possible. That is, move away from the trail in a line perpendicular to the trail. Once well clear of the trail, adjust your route to your destination.

- Obey the rules specific to the trail you are visiting. Many trails are closed to certain types of use, including hiking with dogs or riding horses.

- Avoid disturbing wildlife, especially in winter and in calving or nesting areas. Observe from a distance—even if you cannot get the picture you want from a distance, resist the urge to move close. This not only keeps you safer but also prevents the animal from having to exert itself unnecessarily fleeing from you.

- Leave all natural creatures, objects and features as you found them for others to enjoy.

- Never roll rocks off trails or cliffs—you never know who or what is below you.

These are just a few of the ways hikers with dogs can maintain a safe and harmonious trail environment. You don’t need to make these rules fit every situation, just be friendly and courteous to other people on the trail. If they have questions about your dog, try to be informative and helpful. Many of the folks unfamiliar with dogs on trails will be reassured about the friendliness and trail-worthiness of your dog if they see the animal wearing a pack or reflective vest of some sort. (Indeed, I often encountered people on the trail who were enchanted by the fact that Parka carried her own gear.) If they have dogs, they’ll often ask advice on training dogs to carry a pack; if they are non-dog owners, they’ll at least smile and give her a pat.

Those of us who love to hike with our dogs must be the epitome of respectful and responsible trail users. When other hikers encounter dogs and their people behaving responsibly, they will come away with a positive experience. In this way, we also help ourselves by preventing actions that could lead to additional trail closures or restrictions for dog hikers.

In short, hikers can usually avoid problems with other trail users by always practicing the Golden Rule of Trail Etiquette: Common sense and courtesy are the order of the day.

[The Mountaineers Books Best Hikes with Dogs series]

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