activities & sports
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]

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Dive In!
The water is always fine when you and your dog go dock diving.
Dock Dogs

On a drizzly Midwest morning my husband and I joined a small group gathered at the edge of a pond to watch one of the country's top dock-diving dog teams in action. Handler Dave Breen of Oregon, Illinois, and his awesome Lab/German Shorthaired Pointer mix, Black Jack, are pioneers in this young sport.


Breen asked Black Jack to sit and stay at the dock's end closest to land, then walked to the opposite end and turned to face his dog. Black Jack, quivering with excitement, could barely contain himself. Breen released him and, as a galloping Black Jack approached the edge of the dock, threw his toy into the water. The big dog leaped and landed with a splash. He grabbed his toy and happily paddled to Breen, now back on shore. Just as Breen reached for the toy, Black Jack gave a mighty shake from head to tail, spraying water everywhere. At that moment, I realized that I was going to get just as wet as my dogs.


 Dock diving was invented in 1999 by Shadd and Melanie Field for ESPN's Great Outdoor Games and has grown in popularity ever since. In 2005, an association dubbed DockDogs (dockdogs.com) started organizing events and offering competitive titles; fans of the sport are known as DockDoggers. According to DockDogs CEO Grant Reeves, 24 dock-diving events occurred last year. "This year, with a combination of national and club events, we'll have 100 events," says Reeves. "Our database has [grown to] over 4,000 dogs since 2000." 


Up and Out!

There are two categories of dock diving, Big Air and Extreme Vertical. The former debuted first. The dog runs the length of a regulation dock, which must be 40 feet long and two feet above the surface of the water, to gain speed. The handler encourages the dog to leave the dock as close to the edge as possible because the jump is measured from the end of the dock rather than from where the dog leaps. So if a dog leaves the dock two to three feet from the edge, that two or three feet do not count toward his total total jump distance. The end of the jump is electronically measured by the "V," or the point at which the base of the dog's tail hits the water.


The handler also throws a toy as motivation for the dog to stretch out and leap as far as he can; the toss is timed to coincide with the moment the dog leaves the dock. Usually, handlers use a plastic retrieving bumper, but DockDogs generally allows any floating, retrievable object. In fact, one participant threw a corn cob for his dog, but DockDogs eventually asked him to use something else, because bits of corn floating in the water distracted the dogs who followed. 


Extreme Vertical, also known as "The Launch," was introduced two years ago. A floatable retrieving toy hangs in the air eight feet from the dock. The dog takes a running leap from the dock with the goal of jumping up instead of out to grab the toy. The height of the toy is gradually raised.


In competition, teams vie to achieve the longest distance in five or six waves, or heats, per event. The last wave is known as the "Finals." Both Big Air and Extreme Vertical offer different divisions--from novice to elite--to ensure that dogs of comparable jumping ability are grouped together. Plus, there is a veterans' division for dogs eight years and older, a lap dog class from small dogs (measuring 17 inches or less at the withers), and a junior handler program for kids. Participants can go on to compete for nationally recognized titles.


Long-Distance Leaping

Last year, Breen and Black Jack were invited to compete at ESPN's Great Outdoor Games and placed fourth in Extreme Vertical with a 6-foot, 6-inch jump. Also in 2005, the achieved a personal best in Big Air with a 21-foot, 10-inch jump. For nearly four years, black Labrador Little Morgan, owned by Mike Jackson of Shakopee, Minnesota, held the Big Air outdoor world record at 26 feet, 6 inches.


For an example of the wide variety of breeds and mixes who compete--and win--in this sport, consider Country*, a Greyhound mix who broke the record four times in 2005, with his longest jump measuring 28 feet, 10 inches. "I think we're his fifth home," says owner Kevin Meese of Fredericktown, Pennsylvania, who readily admits that this breed presents unique training challenges. "I started out by tying deer meat onto the bumper to make him grab it. I used to put my back to him and hold it over my head. He sailed over my head--I'm six feet--which really impressed me. But he has an odd sense of humor. He learned that if he hit me in the head, he could get the deer meat faster."


Despite Meese's overwhelming success with a non-retrieving breed, my husband and I didn't expect our Dalmatians, Darby and Jolie, to jump in such spectacular fashion. But like all of the seminar participants, we hoped our dogs would at least jump.


Our first dock-diving experience was humbling. From land, Darby would go in the water, grab her toy and swim back to us. On the dock, she quivered with excitement like Black Jack, but was reluctant to jump in. Instead, she waited until her toy floated closer to land and then went in to get it. In contrast, Jolie wanted nothing to do with the water, her toy or even me! Despite her confidence in other canine sports and love of swimming, she was unsure in this environment. Breen demonstrated enormous patience with all participants and offered lots of advice and encouragement. Some dogs take time to gain the confidence to jump off the dock, but once they've done it, there's no stopping them.


Safety Matters

Like all dog sports, safety is a priority, and competitors take steps to ensure that their dogs remain free of injury. DockDogs recently began using AstroTurf on the docks to prevent slipping. Handlers maintain their dogs' health through a good diet and exercise.


I was concerned about my dog doing a belly flop, which, as most of us know from personal experience, stings a bit. But Breen, who co-owns Rock River Canine Sports & Rehab, LLC, with his wife, Beth Wiltshire, assured me that as the dog prepares to land in the water, his rear legs usually hit the water first. "Some dogs who do a 'Superman stretch' will belly flop, but they don't cringe, and they keep doing it," says Breen.


"In Extreme Vertical, some handlers are concerned that if the dogs misses [the toy], he will crane his neck back as he's going under the object. Dogs' backs are flexible; I've talked to vets about this and it doesn't appear to be an issue. There are dangers, but there are dangers with any sport you do, with dogs or humans. You just try to minimize it by making sure they're in good shape."


Dedicating yourself to the well-being of your dog is a priority for many dog owners. But there are extra benefits to being a DockDogger. "First, it's the greatest thing when I can have a hobby that I can do with my best friend," says Cyndi Porter of Minneapolis, Minnesota, whose Golden Retriever, Murphy, ended the 2005 season ranked 18th in the nation, making Porter the top female handler. "Second is the great people I've met and the friends I've made along the way from all across the country. We really have a great time socializing after the day is done and we can let our hair down and tell tales. A wise friend of mine always makes a toast--'If it weren't for our dogs, we wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet such wonderful people.' And we all drink to our best friends, two- and four-legged."


*To see Country's record-breaking jump, visit fredforceone.com/WORLDRECORD.html.


Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Tips for Hiking with Small Dogs
Short Legs Hit the Trail
Hiking with Small Dog

Most weekends in fall, I pick a mountain to hike near my home in Portland, Ore. “How did that little guy get all the way up here?” someone will ask. “She’s a she,” I’ll say, “and she does it all the time.” Chuckie, my Miniature Dachshund, will prance around like it’s no big deal, which it isn’t. But I’m often surprised by the attention we get. There’s no reason to leave the outdoors to larger breeds. Little dogs deserve to hike, too, and like all dogs, they need exercise to stay healthy.

Of course, you should check your trail’s rules to see if dogs are allowed, and if they must be kept on a leash. It’s smart to leash your small dog anyway, with a harness, to better manage encounters with other hikers and their dogs, mountain bikers, equestrians, wild animals, and so on. Your pet should have her flea-and-tick treatment up-to-date and should wear a collar with her ID tags and your cell number. Clean up after your dog just like you would anywhere else, and don’t leave any baggies along the trail. Gift-wrapped or not, that’s a present nobody wants to receive.

Dr. Kristin Sulis of Mt. Tabor Veterinary Care says, “Remember that your little dog has to work twice as hard on the trail, so plan accordingly. With small dogs, you want to be sure to bring plenty of snacks for energy, and water.” I use a BPA-free Nalgene bottle to give Chuckie small drinks of water every half-hour, and the cap serves as a little bowl. It’s small enough that she won’t slurp up too much at once and make herself sick. Small dogs’ calorie requirements can double on hike days, so Chuckie also gets a little snack at every break. I bring her favorite treats so I know she won’t refuse to eat.

“Another thing to remember about small dogs is that they won’t self-limit the way larger ones will,” says Michelle Fredette, owner of Portland’s dog-trekking service Wag Masters. Your little one might run herself into trouble, exhausting herself or overheating if you don’t help her take it easy. If your dog is new to hiking, it’s best to check with your vet and then start small, with short hikes on easy trails. Watch to see that she’s not excessively panting, wobbly on her legs or plain pooped out. If there’s a difficult stretch of trail or if she gets too tired, be ready to lead her an easier way, or carry her. You might find a small pouch or backpack to use as a carrier if you’ll be hiking farther than, say, one mile per pound your dog weighs.

Other health concerns for the trail include poison ivy and paw maintenance. Poison ivy and poison oak rarely cause rashes on dogs — the plants’ irritating oil urushiol must work its way through their fur down to skin level — but it is possible for your dog to pick up the oil on her coat and inadvertently transfer it to you. Learn these plants and keep away. Check the pads of your dog’s feet for wounds from thorns or sharp rocks, especially if she’s stopping to lick or gnaw at her paws. Consider booties for extra-delicate feet.

Finally, keep a towel or blanket in your vehicle if you’ll be driving home after your hike. Reward your dog with a bath, check her for ticks and bristles, and thank yourself for giving her a great day. Trust me on this: Your Labrador-owning friends will raise their eyebrows and say, “Wait, you did what?”