activities & sports
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Trick Training
Promoting mental stimulation
In the classic game, a ball is placed beneath one of three pails. Your dog shows

One of the biggest challenges dog trainers face is how to encourage people to continue training their dogs. Not only will this help dogs remain well behaved, it gives them attention for a lifetime, not just for the course of a sixweek beginner obedience class. Watch someone who genuinely enjoys playing with her dog and you know that dog has a home for life.

No one understands this better than stunt-dog trainer and trick-dog performer Kyra Sundance. Together with her 10-year-old Weimaraner, Chalcy, she has entertained and educated thousands of dog lovers around the world through her live and televised performances, videos and books. She recently created Do More With Your Dog!, the only official sanctioning and organizing body for the activity of dog tricks. (To see Sundance and Chalcy in action, go to youtube.com/user/kyrasundance.)

“Teaching tricks not only teaches skills, but also teaches focus and establishes a pattern of learning in the dog,” says Sundance. “Tricks are taught through positive training methods, which promote a bond between canine and human.”

She shares the story of her two-yearold Weimaraner, Jadie, as a prime example. When Jadie came into her life as a puppy, Sundance was already under contract to complete a puppy-tricks book and DVD. “We started training right away with simple tricks such as ‘sit,’ ‘shake hands,’ ‘spin a circle’ and ‘fetch,’” she says. “We trained in many fiveminute sessions per day, and worked on several different tricks per session. We went through a lot of treats!”

Incredibly, at the age of four-anda- half months, Jadie could perform 50 tricks, including rolling herself in a blanket, getting the newspaper from the mailbox, tidying her toys into a toy box, wiping her paws on a doormat, ringing a bell to go outside and dropping litter into a step can.

“Spending this quality time together while she was a puppy built a bond between us that will last a lifetime,” says Sundance.

Don’t fret if your dog is well beyond the puppy stage. When my nine-yearold Dalmatian, Darby, retired from agility competition due to injury, trick training was the perfect outlet for her high energy and smarts. She already knew basic skills (see box), and eagerly learned more complex tricks such as “roll over” and “jump through a hoop.”

Sundance’s Weimaraners, Chalcy and Jadie, are accomplished performance dogs, having earned titles in agility, obedience, hunting and mushing. “But I’ve got to say, without a doubt, the activity they enjoy most is trick training,” says Sundance. “When you interact with your dog ‘eye-to-eye,’ your dog is staring into your eyes, looking for clues and enjoying your attention.”

While her training background is in competition obedience, in which dogs are expected to perform with exacting precision, Sundance wanted something more. “I sometimes feel constricted by the narrowly defined objectives— the human must get her dog to perform in one specific way,” she says. “In trick training, I feel a much more cooperative spirit. Your dog may offer behaviors that aren’t exactly what you had in mind … you have the freedom to allow the dog to add his creativity to the trick, to make it uniquely his own.”

Because I missed the joy of performance partnership with Darby, I was thrilled that we had a chance to earn “Trick Dog” titles. Instead of traveling to and competing at a traditional show, the handler asks a friend to witness her dog performing tricks appropriate for the required title level (Novice, Intermediate, Advanced or Expert). The handler then sends paperwork to Do More With Your Dog! or applies online (at domorewithyourdog.com) to qualify her dog for a title certificate.

Darby earned her NTD (Novice Trick Dog) title by performing 15 easy tricks, ranging from “sit” and “down” on command to “peekaboo” and “take a bow.” We’re currently working on her Intermediate Trick Dog title; if she remains physically sound, we’ll go for her ATD (Advanced Trick Dog) and ETD (Expert Trick Dog) titles. It’s exciting to see my senior Spot’s eyes light up when I bring out the clicker and a fistful of treats to try something new.

At the Novice and Intermediate levels, the dog may perform tricks while on-leash; the leash may not be used to physically manipulate the dog to do a trick. At the Advanced and Expert levels, the dog must work off-leash. Of course, physical or verbal corrections are not allowed. Treats are encouraged as a reward, but may not be used as lures beyond the Intermediate level. Tricktraining enthusiasts who earn at least an ITD title are welcome to pursue their CTDI (Certified Trick Dog Instructor), which requires completion of a written test and watching a video demonstrating your dog’s trick basics and how you would teach a new trick from scratch.

Regardless of the level and your reasons for pursuing it, you’re guaranteed to have a happier, healthier dog. “Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that training is fun!” enthuses Sundance. “This joyful attitude builds a bond that will extend into all areas of your life. Trick training teaches the dog that it is safe to offer behaviors, and that is what makes a really trainable dog.”

Shell Game
In the classic game, a ball is placed beneath one of three pails, or shells. The shells are quickly shuffled, and your dog shows you which one is hiding the ball.

What You’ll need: You’ll need three identical flower pots which have a hole at the base allowing your dog to smell the treat underneath. Heavy clay flower pots work well because they won’t overturn easily.

1. Start with just one flower pot and rub the inside with a treat to give it lots of scent. You can even tape a treat inside the pot. Show your dog as you place a treat on the floor and cover it with the pot. Encourage him to “find it!” When he noses or paws the pot, say “good!” (or click your clicker), and lift pot to reward him with the treat.

2. After your dog catches on, hold the pot in place and keep encouraging him until he paws at it. Reward any paw contact, and lift the pot.

3. Add two more pots and hold them in place so your dog doesn’t knock them over. Use the pitch of your voice to calm your dog as he sniffs each pot, and to excite him when he shows interest in the correct one. If your dog paws at an incorrect pot, do not lift it; instead encourage him to keep looking.

4. When your dog indicates the correct pot, encourage him until he paws at it, then say “good!” and lift the pot to reveal his reward!

What to expect: Be encouraging with your dog and avoid saying “no.” Practice only a few times per session and end with a successful attempt, even if you have to go back to using just one pot to get that success.

News: Guest Posts
Conservation Pup In-Training: Part III

We are almost half way through Ranger’s first year or life and training to become a Conservation K9! He really did not seem to grow much the first few weeks but now he is just growing like a weed and turning into a very handsome Golden Retriever!!

Ranger’s training continues to progress. We train each weekend with the Search and Rescue team, as well as attend puppy obedience class. We trained at a couple novel locations this month, which was great to see how he reacted, and not surprisingly he did just fine. One day we had a short training session at my local UPS store here in Brenham, TX where Ranger was allowed to run around off leash, do some short sit, down, sit exercises and then I did a lot of playing with him. At one point I threw his beloved toy onto a pile of discarded cardboard boxes and he, without hesitation, clambered up to retrieve his toy. This is a really great sign at such a young age that he has potential to be a successful detection dog because it shows that he will do quite a bit to get his toy, even if it is a little scary or uncomfortable!

A week later I took Ranger to Lowe’s and he got to run up and down the lumber department, retrieved his toy off a few piles of wood and even jumped onto a very tipsy lumber cart multiple times to get his toy back… I was very pleased!!

Of course wherever we go Ranger gets to meet new people, and I am thrilled with his temperament because he is an absolute love bug with everyone he meets. I have decided that he has a definite backup career as a therapy dog one day!!

As Ranger’s training has progressed, Dogs for Conservation has also made some big strides lately. We have assembled what I like to call a “Dream Team” consisting of several amazing detection dog trainers, and thanks to one of them, Sgt. Renee Utley, we also have several fantastic dogs who are old enough and have what it takes to immediately start training for Conservation Projects. One of these new dogs is a Springer Spaniel named “Bea” who has an keen nose, absolutely loves her ball, and is starting her new career in Conservation next week as she begins training to search for one of Texas’ most endangered species!

Dogs for Conservation has teamed up with the highly esteemed Caesar Kleburg Wildlife Research Institute (CKWRI) at Texas A&M University in Kingsville, TX to start training dogs for a couple different research projects that will be very useful to biologists to survey for these endangered species they are studying. The CKWRI instantly recognized the value and potential to use dogs to assist in their various research areas, and I believe we are going to be working with them for a long time. One of these soon-to-be-announced projects is also in collaboration with one of my favorite childhood places, the Houston Zoo!

I am also happy to announce that we have had several new sponsors come on board this month including Micah Jones from Blue Giraffe Art Works who donated a commissioned portrait of a CenTex Search and Rescue dog we work with regularly during training and which proceeds from will help both organizations. We were also generously donated several great products from the Kyjen Company, whose Outward Hound product line is a perfect fit for our working dogs in the wilderness!

Check back with Dogs for Conservation next month to see how Ranger and Bea’s training is coming along! You can also join us on Facebook or on our Website to check for more regular updates!


Training (and fun!) Videos this month:




Dog's Life: Travel
Readers' Tips for Dog-Friendly Summer Excursions
dog in paddle boat

In North Augusta, S.C., there is a beautiful trail system called the Greeneway. Most of the trail is shaded, and the entire trail is paved. A large part of it goes along the Savannah River. It’s just beautiful and peaceful there.
— Mimi Hopson

It’s anything but a secret here in Northern California, but Carmel-by-the-Sea is probably the most dogfriendly spot you can find. The beach is available for off-leash dogs, and all sizes and shapes, mutts and purebreds, romp in the surf and chase balls. Afterwards, on a walk into town, you’ll find many places that welcome dogs, including quite a few outdoor restaurants. Of course, everyone is very conscientious about poop pickup, which helps keep it a great experience.
— Teddy Wilson

Zephyr Cove beach at Lake Tahoe, on the Nevada side, has a dog-friendly portion on the far end. A wonderful place to take dogs. My two learned how to swim there just last summer.
— Karis Daphne

Do the dew! Dewey Beach, Del., that is. Dewey Beach is a dog-friendly town. The beach is available for dog play before 9:30 in the morning and after 5:30 in the evening. Every entrance to the beach and most street corners have free doggie bags and trash cans. It truly is better when you don’t have to leave your best friends behind.
— Lisa Rufft

Fourpeaks Adirondack Backcountry Camps in Jay, N.Y.: 700 acres of breathtaking beauty. You cannot count the stars. No leashes. I have never met a crabby person there and most people bring friendly dogs. It is heaven.
— Kathleen Hurley

Burlington, Vt: Swimming in the lake, three off-leash dog parks, outdoor dining on Church Street, walking the 13-mile bike path next to the lake, exploring trails in the Burlington Intervale and Ethan Allen Homestead. Best of all, dogs can attend the annual Vermont Brewers Festival on the waterfront in late July.
— Cindy Kilgore

The beautiful beach at Cape San Blas, Fla., is petfriendly 24/7— the best we have visited. Lady can’t wait to go back this year. She has yet to capture a sand crab, but that is not for any lack of diligence.
— Kay Stephenson

We love to hang out at the leash-free Canine Country, near St. Louis, Mo., on lazy summer days. My three dogs and I take beautiful hikes and swims on 223 acres of farmland. My dogs don’t herd sheep, but there are some available to smell, along with some chickens. We even got into a tussle with a skunk. It’s truly an adventure!
— Kristen Weber

Buy name/ID tags that have a slip of paper in them that can be removed; add the important contact info for where you are staying. We have a separate ID tag for our trips to my mother’s house, since that is a destination we visit repeatedly.
— Danielle Tisinger

Broad Ripple neighborhood in Indianapolis. Why? The Monon Trail is great for dog walking and Three Dog Bakery for starters. Best of all, numerous dog-friendly restaurants including Petite Chou, which serves frosty paws all summer; the Monon Food Company,with a large dog-friendly deck; Plump’s Last Shot, and the most popular local dog hangout, Flatwater. At The Monkey’s Tale/Jazz Cooker, you can listen to live music on the patio with your dog, provided that he or she doesn’t decide to join the band with a good howl.
— Bunny Davis

Nothing better for a family/ dog vacation: Provincetown, Mass., at the easternmost tip of Cape Cod. It’s easy to find a motel or inn that takes dogs, and when you walk down Commercial Street, merchants have bowls of water out for thirsty canines, and many stores and outdoor restaurants let you bring your dog in. There are beautiful (and free) beaches where you can take your dog on off-peak hours; a great dog park, Pilgrim Bark Park; and nearly everywhere you walk offers scenic views of the Atlantic.
— John Stemen & Lisa Cohen

Lake Superior Hiking Trail from Duluth, Minn., to the Canadian border. Tip: Leash up your dogs at trailheads, but if they’re friendly with people and other dogs, let them run free once you’re a quarter-mile out. I rarely run into more than a few people in 10 miles.
— Karen Neal

Check out Chicago area neighborhood festivals, many of which are dogfriendly (not all, so be sure to check). One of my personal favorites is Custer’s Last Stand on Custer Ave. in Evanston in June. Besides dogs, I’ve also seen people there with parrots on their shoulders and carrying a pouch of ferrets.
— Lizzi K.

Spend the weekend in Redmond, Wash.: The outstanding 40-acre, off-leash dog park at Marymoor Park is doggie heaven. Dogs are welcome at the Redmond Saturday Market (open from May to October), outdoor movies, restaurant patios, many stores and miles of trails.
— Mary Schilder

We live in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and we have an endless amount of trails and parks to bring our doggies to. Whether we trek loops on the Appalachian Trail, visit the Shenandoah River or just traverse our backyard, we are blessed by location!
— Angela Chevalier

Going on the sandbars on the Wisconsin River: boat for miles ’til you find a secluded sandbar for your group — dogs included — grill, swim, throw the Frisbee. Everyone has fun and stays cool.
— Lisa Huber

We live in beautiful North Idaho, where we are surrounded by pristine lakes, including Lake Pend Oreille, Lake Coeur d’Alene, Spirit Lake, Hayden Lake, Priest Lake and more. We love to go kayaking, as does our two-year-old yellow Lab, Jake, who wears his own dog life vest.
— Kathy Schneider

I grew up around Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park in Maine. There are tons of dog-friendly B&Bs, restaurants and businesses (everyone has a dog water dish outside of their store). And, there are amazing trails for every ability. It’s a mustgo every summer for us.
— Laurelin Sitterly

Pup-friendly hiking and cabins at Robbers Cave State Park in Oklahoma’s San Bois Mountains.
— Jo-Ann Shuma

We recently took a trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota — the one million-acre area lies within the boundaries of the four-million-acre Superior National Forest. This is the largest designated wilderness in the eastern U.S. with 2,000 campsites, over 1,000 lakes — heaven for wilderness trekkers, paddlers and pooches.
— Laura Reinhardt

If you are traveling near Portland, Ore., try Sandy Delta Park; most of it is off-leash. Lots of trails and access to the Sandy River, which is great for wading and playing in, and easy on bare feet and paws.
— Victoria Bettancourt

National parks do not allow dogs, but they are allowed in most national forest areas. This leaves you with endless possibilities for fun with your dog. My dogs are at their happiest when we take them hiking. They tromp through water, run with each other and wrestle, get dirty, just be dogs.
— Rebecca Whisler

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Dog & Country: Uniting Learning, Service & Fun
Interview with the President of Dogs Scouts of America
Dog Scouts

Summertime brings back childhood memories of swimming, hiking and summer camp with like-minded outdoor enthusiasts and lovers of crafts, campfires and sleeping under the stars. Like many youngsters, these activities revolved around scouting … troops of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Today, our dogs keep me company on my outdoor adventures, but I sometimes miss the camaraderie of my fellow scouts. Imagine my delight in discovering Dog Scouts—a national organization that promotes a variety of pursuits for dogs and their owners. I had the opportunity to find out more about this exemplary organization recently when I spoke to Chris Puls, President of Dog Scouts of America.

When and how did the Dog Scouts in America start?

DSA was established in 1995 for people and dogs of all ages and abilities. It was started by Lonnie Olson because of her dog Karli. Karli had been active in several dog sports and she had excelled in many other areas which did not offer registered titles. For example, she was an outstanding frisbee dog. She was the lead dog on Lonnie’s sled team, and she had starred in stage productions and television commercials. She performed tricks and entertained people in hospitals, schools and nursing homes with her therapy visits too. This dog was like an Eagle Scout (the highest rank in Boy Scouts), she had done it all! Lonnie decided that there should be an organization for dogs like Karli or dogs who aspired to Karli’s many accomplishments. And an organization for people who just wanted to have more fun with their dogs and learn new things.

The concept of having a single organization that gave recognition to all of the various activities which dogs become involved in was just too profound to ignore. Lonnie jumped on the idea of Dog Scouts to recognize all the dog activities under one organization (at a time when dog sports outside of obedience were just getting started and when many were breed restrictive). Rally had not yet been created and Agility had just been introduced in the U.S. a few years earlier. The only other “dog camp” had just recently started on the East coast and was geared toward serious competitors in various dog sports.

The idea of pet dogs coming to camp with their owners to learn skills, for which they would get recognition in the form of merit badges, was, as Lonnie says, “the best idea I’ve come up with in my lifetime.” Everyone loves the concept. Everyone wants their dog to be a Dog Scout. And now that concept has spread across the country and even to other countries with troops currently in 22 states plus Canada and Puerto Rico.

Much like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Dogs Scouts is more than fun and games, it involves a lifelong learning, enrichment and dedication. Can you talk about the organization's mission and focus on responsibility?

I think the Dog Scout owner’s motto sums up the mission: “Our dog’s lives are much shorter than ours—let’s help them enjoy their time with us as much as we can.” But the official mission we strive for is: to improve the lives of dogs, their owners, and society through humane education, positive training and community involvement.

We stand for responsibility—to the dogs in our care, to our communities, and to each other. We recognize the importance and benefits of the relationship between people and companion animals, and seek out ways to enrich this bond. We believe encouraging compassion and kindness toward our canine companions builds a more compassionate and kind world. We strive to create a better understanding and quality of life for our dogs and all animals in our world. We believe that our members make a difference by setting an example, developing skills and embracing opportunities to share our philosophy with each other and inspire people to join us. We know that sharing positive ways of training and problem-solving helps to keep dogs in lifetime homes and out of shelters. In Dog Scouts, people help dogs, dogs help people, and the whole community benefits.

We envision a future where dogs remain in happy, lifelong homes with responsible owners. In this vision, all dogs are seen as a useful and welcome part of the community, because people take responsibility for socializing, training, containing and caring for them. We strive to create a world where people view their dogs as part of their family and all dog owners have the knowledge they need to raise well-mannered canine citizens.

There’s an entry point to membership and level of commitment to Dog Scouts, correct? What are the first requirements upon joining Dog Scouts?

All participants must first earn the title of Dog Scout. They do that by earning the Dog Scout badge. This title/badge (and all the other badges) have components for both the dog and the person to learn and demonstrate so that both ends of the leash are involved. The Dog Scout badge requires the owner to learn about responsible dog care and positive training while the dog needs to demonstrate basic obedience like sit, down, stay, come, heel and leave-it as well as showing they are safe around people and dogs.

And like young boys and girls in scouting, there are lots of badges to earn by the dogs and their human companions. What kinds of badges are available?

After the Dog Scout badge is earned, the team is free to learn/earn just about any of the other badges (some have pre-requisites that need to be earned first). Earning badges are optional and not required, but offer a wide range of challenges for dogs and owners. The badges are categorized into the following areas:
Nose Work
Existing competitions

There are 88 badges (including the 10 new badges that will be introduced this year, but are not yet present online).

Some of the more popular are the Backpacking and Hiking, Puppy Paddler (swimming), Manners, First Aid/CPR, Agility (all levels), Community Service and Art of Shaping (teaching the dog to wear a bootie that gets dipped in paint, that the dog then swipes at the canvas to create a masterpiece.)

Community involvement is a big part of Dog Scouts as well … how do the Scouts impact their communities?

Many troop members help out in their communities, this includes individuals who participate remotely, without having a troop nearby. Troops have raised funds for bullet proof vests, vehicle temperature warning systems and door poppers for police K-9 units. They have organized drives for specially shaped pet oxygen masks for fire departments and cool bed equipment and vehicle temperature systems to search and rescue teams. And some have secured food and toys for the pets of people in need and low cost spay/neuter programs. They visit hospitals and nursing home with certified therapy dogs, and are active in educational presentations at a variety of events. Plus, DSA members often pick-up dog waste left behind by other, less responsible dog owners.  We even have a badge for this! It’s the Clean-Up America II badge (level I is picking up cans and bottles).

I understand that there’s plenty of time for fun and games as well ... can you talk about some of the outings, camps and outdoor activities?

DSA national provides two summer camps each year in June and July at the 70-acre camp facility in St. Helen, MI. These camps run Monday to Saturday and allow the owners and their dogs to experience many sports and dog activities that they might otherwise be unable to do. If a medium sized dog wants to try Earthdog/Go-to-Ground, which is typically limited to small terriers, the dog can try it out because Dog Scout camp has larger tunnels for the big dogs. If a Chihuahua wants to try carting, we have some tiny carts for them to try. DSA encourages the dogs and people to try any activity that is safe for their dog. The camps are $650 for the week and that includes all the activities from 8 am – 8 pm and all meals (lodging is extra and available on-site ranging from $8 per night for a rustic camp tent site or $75 per night for a one-room private cabin with A/C. There are also private and group rooms in the main lodge and a few RVs to rent. People can also bring their own RV—we have sites with electric hook up.

DSA national also holds Spring, Fall and Winter outings that are fun get-togethers and free for DSA members (lodging extra). Members may rent the camp facility for their own use or use it to hold a seminar, troop camp out or other learning activity.

There are also two mini-camps held by troops near Pennsylvania/Massachusetts and in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. These are 3–4 days and include several badge activities and learning sessions.

We have about 40 troops that hold various activities for their members—everything from hikes and parties to community service events and fundraisers. The number of events a troop has per year varies by troop. People can see a map and a listing of troop locations and troop leader contact information online (scroll down under the map box for contact info).

Are there age restrictions for children joining with their dogs?

We have a Jr. Scout program that is open to children from 6 to 18 years of age. A child of any age can be a member of DSA (with parent’s permission), but some troops have rules about minors attending troop events. This might include the parent needing to stay with the child or the child demonstrating a certain level of competence in controlling the dog. At camp, anyone under 18 must be accompanied by an adult that must be responsible for them. We usually have a few kids per camp, but mostly it is an adult activity.

Can people participate in Dog Scouts online or virtually ... if they live in remote areas or don’t have a troop nearby?

Absolutely! All the badges can be earned by submitting video of the dog doing their part and written answers for the owner’s part of the badge. Individuals are encouraged to participate in activities like the DSA National Hike-a-Thon, which takes place every May and individuals can organize activities and fundraisers for their community.

We also have various competition and titling events that are open to everyone (with discounts for DSA members). Currently, we offer titles for backpacking, scent detection, carting, treibball (ball herding) and IMPROV (a fun, useful and varied form of obedience). The guidebooks and rules for these can be found at: dogscouts.org. 

The dogs must love scouting ... any stories stand out?

We have had a number of dogs who try a dog sport for the first time at Dog Scout camp, and then go on to compete and earn titles. Several have even made it to the National level. This has happened with a number of dogs in Dock Diving, but also in Rally and Frisbee. And dogs of all breeds have found they LOVE lure coursing! 

Usually at least half of the campers during the summer camps are people who have attended our camp before, sometimes well over half are repeat campers. And some of the campers have attended every year since the start and are now on staff! Many have attended multiple years and we give out “Happy Camper pins” that award a new “bone” for every 3 years of camp attended. Many people have multiple bones hanging from their pins. The Texas mini-camp filled in less than 3 days last year and this year it filled (50 campers) in just a single day! We often hear from the campers that Dog Scout camp is the best time they have with their dog.

What’s on the Dog Scouts calendar this summer?

We offer camps and events throughout the year—our popular Michigan summer camps held in June and July are currently full as is the Texas mini-camp this fall, but space remains at the Blue Ridge mini-camp in Western Maryland, Aug 16-19, 2012. The DSA Leadership Retreat and two Canine Freestyle camps with WCFO Judge Gloria Voss are offered every April and May.

Current and future outing dates are posted online: http://dogscouts.org/

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Canine Freestyle: Teaching Your Dog to Dance
Canine freestyle encourages you and your dog to move to the music

When you’ve done canine freestyle as long as Kris Hurley of Oklahoma, you’re bound to have some funny stories. Most of them involve her seven-year-old Pug/Dachshund mix, Roxie, and her obsession with food.

“We were doing a demo in Memphis with an open ring, no gates,” recalls Hurley, who has danced with dogs since 1996. “On one side, there were high-rise bleachers. Roxie was next to me in left heel position, like she was supposed to be. We spin at the same time and she spins off to my left. At one point, she’s behind me, but then when I look down, I realize my dog’s not there anymore. She’s in the fourth row of bleachers in this guy’s lap, feet on his chest, and he’s holding a turkey leg up in the air out of reach.”

Canine freestyle is choreographed trick training set to music. You’ll recognize some traditional obedience moves, such as heel position, but the overall goal is to get creative and put your dog’s best paw forward. Fans of the sport love the freedom of choosing their own music, designing a routine based on their dog’s strengths and using verbal encouragement during a performance.

Getting Serious
Joan Tennille, president and co-founder of the Canine Freestyle Federation (CFF), claims she defined canine freestyle as a competitive sport rather than as just entertainment. In 1993, four dog trainers approached Tennille, at the time, a professional dancer-choreographer, to help them create what would be the first canine freestyle demo. They wanted to showcase their dogs’ advanced obedience training by setting it to music and treating human and dog as equal partners. They showed her a video of a demonstration by a now-defunct Canadian organization.

“There was a woman in high heels and stockings doing ballet with a Golden Retriever,” says Tennille. “There were so many sequins and ruffles, you couldn’t even see the dog, and all the dog did was sit. Another woman had a well-trained Border Collie, but she had heavy sequins and balloons, so again, you couldn’t see the dog. I call that entertainment. That’s not what they wanted.”

Aside from the challenge of giving the dog equal stage presence, Tennille had to think about movement and flow. Four-footed dogs move very differently from two-footed people. Plus, a Border Collie is going to be more agile and light on his feet than a Bloodhound.

“Rhythm is a great organizer,” says Tennille. “Your heartbeat determines the rhythm of your body. You breathe relative to that heartbeat, and you move relative to the heartbeat. The dog does the same thing.”

The demo proved successful, and CFF was born two years later. It remains the oldest active canine freestyle organization, and is best known for what Tennille calls “performance attitude.”

Getting Organized
In 1999, the World Canine Freestyle Organization (WCFO) made its debut and began offering worldwide competitions the following year. Two specialized divisions include “Sassy Seniors,” devoted to dogs over nine years old and/or handlers over 65 years, and “Handi-Dandi Dancers,” for the “creatively challenged” teams.

The Musical Dog Sport Association (MDSA) is a young organization, founded in 2002. Its website is a treasure trove for beginners, featuring resources such as a comprehensive (and ever-evolving) list of canine freestyle moves and advice on how to find a good freestyle trainer. MDSA also recognizes freestyle teams that perform at hospitals, schools and nursing homes through its Spirit of Sharing (SOS) program. Since freestyle classes are not yet available in some areas, its Circle of Friends program encourages members to meet and train with freestylers in their area.

Each organization promotes its own style and hallmarks of competition. Or, in the case of MDSA, the organization is so new that it’s still putting together titling competitions. In general, as you progress from one level to another, you’re required to perform longer, more challenging routines. Unlike dogs in many other sports, freestyle dogs must focus on their partner for a minimum of 90 seconds, and up to three minutes at the most advanced levels. The key is positive training using motivational methods.

“You can’t make a dog do freestyle,” says Hurley. “I don’t know how you could use correction to get the energy and teamwork. You can have all the technical precision in the world, but if you don’t have that connection, it won’t work.”

Getting Creative
Although most of the top competition dogs are Border Collies and Golden Retrievers, all breeds and mixes are welcome to participate, no matter the organization. Karen Lewis of New Mexico competes in WCFO and MDFA with her six-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Bryce. He earned his AKC conformation championship and also competes in agility.

“The bond is even more important in freestyle,” says Lewis. “In agility, you pretty much do those obstacles the same way. In freestyle, you’re always doing new moves. The dog has to pay attention to you constantly to get the cues, either verbal or physical. Since you’re supposed to keep up, you’re constantly thinking, What am I doing now? When am I going to say it? It’s amazing what can go on during a one-and-a-half-minute routine. It’s important for you to know what you’re doing.”

Of course, mistakes sometimes happen. Once, Bryce decided to get creative and change the order of the moves. “He’s lying down and he’s supposed to crawl toward me, then we roll over together in the same direction and he jumps over my back,” says Lewis. “When we performed this in live competition, he didn’t crawl, he walked, jumped my back, then lay down next to me. I had no idea what happened. We got an award for the best beginning move! So when you have a plan and it doesn’t go well, just keep on dancing.”

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Home Obstacle Course for Small Dogs
Minimize jumping dangers

Imagine living in a world of giants, where nearly every object is colossal and the local terrain is treacherous. Furniture towers eight feet high. Staircase “mountains” are intimidating, with each step equal to your full height. Jumping on and off the enormous furniture and scaling staircases make for a tough day.

This is your home from the viewpoint of your small-breed dog.

Obstacles and Injuries
All small dogs love to jump down from beds and couches, but did you know that the impact of such a leap on a little dog is equivalent to that a human would face when jumping from the roof of a one-story house? Small-breed dogs jump frequently: They leap on and off furniture approximately 30 to 40 times a day, amounting to 25,000 jumps up and down in a single year. Over a typical 12-year life span, the count is staggering, equaling more than 300,000 jumps. Additionally, these numbers do not account for bounding in and out of the car, lap dives, and the occasional “banzai” leap from the back of the couch!

Stairs are an added hazard for small dogs, increasing not only the risk of falling, but also the potential for premature joint wear caused by the impact of scaling stairs. The average house-step’s riser is approximately eight inches—roughly equal to a toy breed’s standing height—and a typical home contains 12 to 18 steps between floors. Most dogs make an average 12 trips up and down the stairs each day, so your dog climbs as many as 360 steps per day, totaling more than 131,000 steps in a year and 1.5 million in a lifetime!

It is important to understand the harmful effects that furniture jumping and stair climbing have on your dog. Because dogs are quadrupeds, the force of landing ripples through their bodies in a sequence of powerful shocks. When a dog’s front feet land on a surface, the impact of her body weight is absorbed first through the forelimbs and then by her back. The hind limbs land next, absorbing the impact of the hindquarter weight and sending a final jolt to her back.

Small-breed dogs are especially prone to injuries caused by their furniture jumps. Some of the risks of that jumping include broken toenails; sprains to the legs and wrists (carpus), pad and shoulder (biceps tendonitis, lesions of the humeral head); and elbow trauma. Serious injuries, such as a subluxing patella (slipping kneecap) and necrosis (cell and tissue degeneration) of the femoral head, also can be caused by a dog standing or hopping on its hind legs. According to Deborah Gross-Saunders, of the Wizard of Paws Rehabilitation for Animals, chondrodystrophic dogs (those with long backs and short legs) risk rupturing a disk by jumping. Ms. Gross-Saunders estimates that at least half of the patients she sees for post–back surgery therapy had been injured by jumping. When treating small-breed dogs in the high-risk category, she recommends that owners eliminate jumping from the dogs’ lives—in other words, no more furniture jumps.

Preventing your dog from using stairs is next to impossible; however certain behaviors can be modified, minimizing the impact of stair use on your dog’s body. When running down the staircase, small dogs often disregard the last two or three steps. Training your dog to pause at the bottom of the staircase and sit before navigating the last step can help prevent injury and premature joint wear.

To reduce furniture jumping, training your small dog to stay off the furniture is the obvious solution: no jumping, problem solved! But, as owners of small-breed dogs know, this is easier said than done. A simple and effective way to make their home more dog-friendly is to place pet ramps and steps next to their furniture.

Veterinarians and animal rehabilitation specialists suggest the use of ramps and steps to reduce the amount of jumping in the home. Ms. Gross-Saunders also recommends them for dogs recovering from surgery for back, knee and leg injuries, who absolutely must not jump on or off any furniture. If your dog was accustomed to furniture-jumping prior to the injury, adding a ramp or step is the only solution. Pet ramps also help dogs who suffer from arthritic pain (no matter their size)—it is estimated that one in five dogs in the United States have osteoarthritis so severe that it’s almost impossible for them to get onto your sofa or bed. A simple ramp can reduce pain and give your aging or handicapped dog a new lease on life.

Dogs too small to get up or down from furniture unaided—and even uncoordinated puppies—will adapt to a new ramp in minutes. For the Yorkies in our family, pet ramps have worked best, completely eliminating jumping on and off beds and couches. Ramps also provide a “puppy playground” in the house, a source of never-ending daily entertainment. Our dogs have loads of fun romping on their ramps, and even rolling balls and other toys down them—their own game of “doggy fetch.”

Pet steps are also great. Typically less expensive than ramps, they are usually more compact and fit into smaller areas. Steps often have storage compartments, which help corral toys and other odds and ends, and some are available with wheels to assist moving them from one place to another. There are also special units made with “mini” steps to accommodate even the tiniest of breeds.

So which option is best for your small-breed dog: ramps or steps? Both are built with your pet in mind, and designed to help your small dog safely navigate furniture. Countless models are available in different shapes, styles, and colors. Ramps and stairs are constructed from a wide range of materials ranging from lightweight high-density foam, plastic and PVC tubing to plywood and hardwood. Many models are available with attractive, removable and replaceable waterproof and designer fabric coverings. Beautifully finished hardwood and carpeted models compliment any home decor.

Puppy furniture costs vary. A single carpeted step starts at about $35, while a more elaborate set of premium hardwood steps costs as much as $250. Pet ramps prices are slightly higher, ranging from about $75 to $300. If you’re even minimally handy with tools, you can construct a simple—or elaborate, if your skills allow—ramp or set of steps yourself for the cost of the materials.

Whatever option you choose, it is important to provide your dog with both a safe alternative to jumping and assistance in navigating your “home obstacle course.” Simple pet-friendly furniture-helper units will reduce home injuries, making dogs’ lives happier, healthier, and safer—and give you more years to enjoy their company.


News: Guest Posts
Does Running Extend the Lives of Dogs?

I started jogging in 1975. My grandmother told me it was unladylike; my mother was certain it would ruin my knees. Thirty-five years later, I’m still running regularly and my knees are fine. I love it when science finally confirms what I’ve sensed all along, and also proves my mother wrong.


I believe that science about humans can often be extended to our canine companions. If jogging is good for us, it’s probably also good for dogs – with the usual cautions.  I have had one or more canine running companion since getting my first Alaskan Malamute in 1985. She lived to be fourteen. My two current Malamutes Maia, 13 and Meadow, 11, are now “retired” from running, but they both ran until they were about nine years old, and still enjoy daily walks and are in excellent health. My current canine running companion is an exuberant four year old rescued Aussie.


A recent study out of Denmark makes a very convincing case that even moderate amounts of regular jogging improve and extend our lives. What’s impressive about this study is that it started in 1976; approximately 20,000 men and women ranging in age from 20 to 93 have been followed since that time, reporting their levels of activity, including jogging, as well as other factors related to cardio health and longevity.

At a 35 year follow-up, there were 10,158 deaths among non-joggers and only 122 among joggers. Jogging reduced the risk of death by 44% for both men and women. Jogging extended life expectancy 6.2 years in men and 5.6 years in women. An investment of one to two and a half hours per week, spread over two or three sessions, provided the most benefit, according to researcher Peter Schnohr, chief cardiologist of the Copenhagen City Heart Study.

Wow! Jog to live longer. So elegantly simple. And you get to enjoy runner’s high as a bonus!

Learning about the benefits of regular jogging from my own experience, I try to apply the same lessons to my dogs’ lives. From Schnohr’s study and others like it, we know that jogging improves our oxygen uptake, improves lipid profiles (raising HDL and lowering triglycerides), lowers blood pressure, improves cardiac function, bone density, immune function, reduces inflammation markers, prevents obesity, and improves psychological function.

Why wouldn’t this also be true for dogs? I’m convinced it is. I once made a guesstimate of the miles my Malamutes ran with me before I started noticing the signs that it was time to retire them to a walking regimen. The number surprised even me: 10,000 miles.* Observing the joy on my dogs’ faces when they run and their overall excellent health throughout their lives is my proof that running is beneficial for dogs. My vet is pleased that both of my Malamutes are lean in their old age, which benefits their joints. It’s a result of a lifetime of exercise. And we all know that “a tired dog is a good dog.” My regular runs with my Aussie mellow him right out.

Some people focus their efforts on making sure their dogs eat an optimal diet. That’s great, but if you forget the exercise component, you’re missing the chance to further extend your canine companion’s life and sense of wellbeing. Good diet alone isn’t enough. Humans and canines are designed to move. If your dog isn’t a good candidate for even an easy jogging routine, at least get her outside walking briskly and romping playfully every day. Regular weight-bearing movement in the key.


What about my mother’s long-ago warning that I’d ruin my knees by jogging? More to the point here, what about concerns that running will cause knee injuries in dogs?

Lauren Cox, MyHealthNewsDaily.com Contributor, asked several experts whether jogging causes arthritis in human knees. “That’s an old wives tale,” says Dr. Lewis Maharam, fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine. “Your parents decide if you're going to have arthritis or not — it's genetic. Jogging, or running, itself will not cause the arthritis.”

Dr. Michelle Wolcott, Associate Professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine adds that if you’ve never had a broken bone or ligament injury that would predispose you to arthritis, then the chances that jogging will cause arthritis in the knee are minimal. “We know that weight-bearing exercise, such as running, helps prevent osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Repetitive weight bearing and motion are good for the joints, and running essentially does that,” she says. “If you are not predisposed to osteoarthritis, and have healthy knees and are of healthy weight, then running doesn't affect your risk for knee arthritis. That's a huge misconception and one that I fight all the time.”

Again: If it’s true for humans – that jogging doesn’t damage healthy knees—then I bet it’s also true for canines. In fact, I believe that my dogs’ knees are better off running than doing activities like jumping to catch a Frisbee or chasing a ball with short bursts of speed. A lifetime of weight-bearing exercise allows for strong joints late in life.

In sum: What better excuse to get yourself out the door and jogging through the neighborhood than taking your dog on the same journey with you to a longer, healthier life? I have yet to meet a dog who won’t enthusiastically lead you out the door at the start of your jog, no matter the weather or time of day. It’s never too late to start. Just be sure to consult your medical and veterinary caregivers, start easy and build from there. Have fun with it. Motivate yourself by training for a local dog-friendly event, like Seattle’s Furry 5K, a run/walk that encourages bringing your dog. Your dog will thank you. You’ll both live longer and be better able to enjoy those bonus years.

*For skeptics, I calculated that number as follows: 8 years x 25/mls per week average x 50 weeks/year = 10,000 miles, a low estimate based on my own running logs. Many weeks we ran more miles, a few weeks we ran less. I suspect the real number is at least 10-20% higher.


Seattle Furry 5K: http://www.furry5k.com/


Magazine: 2012-2014
Dogs Are Definitely Welcome
Editor’s Letter
Claudia Kawcynska & Charlie the dog

We’re easing our way into another summer season, tuning up for vacation flings, scoping out dog-friendly resorts and venues, and hoping to find time to settle back and simply enjoy a few peaceful moments with our dogs.

As our cover proclaims, at long last, I went to New York for a much-anticipated visit with the “Daily Show” dogs. We had put out a few feelers earlier this year, and some of you might have been wondering what came of them. In late February, I made a trip to New York and spent the day at “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” offices—and yes, I met the man himself. Since then, we’ve been reviewing the more than 700 photographs that our pal, ace photographer KC Bailey, took during my visit to come up with the one on the cover. You’ll be meeting Parker and Kweil, our cover dogs, and some of their colleagues (and seeing more great photos) in my story. Preview these exclusive sights and sounds from our visit!

Talk about a good time being had by all … not only does this have to be one of the most imaginative, intriguing and invigorating spots in which to work, its über-dog-friendly environment catapults “The Daily Show” into the stratosphere of the country’s most appealing workplaces. To honor that, we’re bestowing our first-ever The Bark’s Best Place to Work Award on “The Daily Show.”

Elsewhere in this issue, we share practical advice from our cadre of experts. Karen London gives us the scoop on the alleged differences between big and small dogs from a behavioral perspective; Pat Miller tells us how to tame door-darters; and attorney Rebecca Wallick provides a primer on pet insurance: Is it the best option? What should you look for when choosing a provider? What are the alternatives?

Then we take on one of dogs’ most profoundly embarrassing behaviors. Who’s missed out on seeing (or living with) a dog who tries to mount another dog, or his bed or toys or Uncle Louie’s leg? Julie Hecht helps us figure out what’s behind all those “good vibrations.” We go from R-rated to squeaky clean in a Q&A with a grooming pro, who gives us tips on the best way to brush and bathe our co-pilots, as well as the best tools (you can toss the one brush you’re likely to have but probably never use), methods and general advice on keeping our dogs looking spiffy.

In accordance with the season, the big focus of this issue is “Outside.” We introduce you to stand-up paddleboarding, a water activity that’s likely to have your dogs hopping aboard for the ride. We learn the ins and outs of backpacking with dogs and hear about a fisherdog. Carrying on in this vein, Lee Harrington describes her “back to nature” experience with Chloe.

In the last issue, we asked for your insights on two important subjects. One involved living in a multiple-dog household, and your responses convinced us that we need to examine this further. We’ve asked University of Michigan animal behavior researcher Barbara Smuts, PhD, to tackle it, and her findings will appear in a future issue. (We’re running highlights from your responses in this issue’s letters section, as well as online.) Keep them coming—we want to hear more about your life with a pack!

Our second request had to do with challenges you may have had while trying to adopt a dog from a rescue group or shelter.  Again, the outpouring of letters showed us that this is also a topic that merits closer investigation. Contributing editor Julia Kamysz Lane, who’s been active in many rescue groups (both as an adopter and an adoption coordinator), will be taking the lead on this one. We hope to hear more from you. Did you encounter unexpected roadblocks during the adoption process? If so, what actions did you take? We also want to hear from rescue groups and shelters about their experiences: How were adoption criteria and processes developed? What kinds of challenges are involved? To get your feedback, we’ll be opening up this topic on both our blog and FB; any suggestions that may help increase adoption rates are definitely welcome.

That’s it for now. Let’s hope that the summery months give you time to chill, to kick back and relax with your pup at your side.




Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Dances the Merengue
Pure joy with rhythm!

When people spend time with their dogs, doing fun activities together, it’s good for both of them, and good for the relationship. As long as they both enjoy what they are doing, just about any activity will serve. In the video below, Jose Fuentes and his dog Carrie, both from Chile, perform a Latin dance called the merengue. They are both having a ball as they dance to Wilfredo Vargas’ “El baile del perrito” (“The dance of the little dog”).

Yes, I know that many will have orthopedic concerns when watching a dog up on her hind legs for so long, but all I could focus on was how happy Carrie looked throughout the dance. She is having a great time, and has clearly been the beneficiary of a lot of training and quality time with the man in her life.

They’ve spread joy to a lot of people, as evidenced by the fact that this video has over 12 million hits on YouTube. What do you think of it?

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Bond with Your Dog Over Agility Training
Challenge your best friend physically and mentally and you’ll both reap the rewards

The covered dirt arena is teeming with dogs of all shapes, sizes and colors. In the bleachers, you see small gatherings of friends, family and curious onlookers. You close your eyes, take a deep breath and visualize your strategy as you and your dog wait for your turn in the ring.

The constant buzz of dogs yipping, handlers yapping and spectators oohing and aahing fades away as you open your eyes and refocus on your teammate. Her eyes gleam with excitement and she does a little play-bow at your feet. The gate steward gestures for you to enter the course as the team ahead of you races toward the finish.

You walk to the start line, ask your dog to sit and stay, then remove her leash. The judge signals that he is ready. You walk out past the first two bar jumps and turn and look back at your dog, who is quivering with anticipation. Your eyes meet and calmly, you say, “Okay.” She bounds over the jumps to you and together you dance among tunnels, weave poles, the towering A-frame, the teeter, the raised dog walk and many jumps in between. In 60 seconds or less, you experience the climactic thrill of agility: being one with your dog.

Navigating the Course
The sport at its most basic requires you and your dog to successfully navigate a course of 16 to 20 obstacles under the SCT (standard course time), which is determined by the yardage of the course and the jump height of the dog. Beginner levels, such as “Novice” in North American Dog Agility Council, or “Starters” in United States Dog Agility Association, present fewer obstacles and a simple flow around the course.

As you progress from one level to the next, you will face more obstacles, tougher SCTs and complex courses that require more handling strategy on your part. You will be timed either manually or electronically. Each competitive venue has a different method of scoring based on “faults,” such as knocking a bar on a jump, missing contact zone or going over time.

If you and your dog run the course cleanly, without a single mistake, you earn a “Q” or qualifying run. (At beginner levels, you are mercifully allowed a few faults). These “Qs” add up to titles, whose value are determined by the team that earned them. For top competitors, top performances and titles can lead to a berth in an invitation-only national or international event. For average participants, titles are concrete proof of the time and effort you and your dog put into becoming a team. For people with rescue dogs who had to overcome issues to play the game, titles are a badge of courage.

Sport Shifts Perceptions
Introducing my rescue Dalmatian, Darby, to agility changed our lives. As a puppy and adolescent, Darby seemed to me to be a bossy, destructive diva who worshipped my husband and ignored me. In agility class, her intelligence and athleticism came to the fore, and for the first time, I realized how little I understood her. She had been a difficult dog to raise, always pushing the limits and constantly on the move. Though it wasn’t her fault, a chronic bladder problem that no vet could solve only added to my frustration. Climbing contact obstacles and jumping helped strengthen her muscles and Darby no longer has mishaps.

Most importantly, agility gave us a relationship where none existed before. The dog who used to shrug off my touch and run in the opposite direction when I called now cuddles with me on the couch. The spark in her eye when she looks at me at class or on the start line at a trial makes me insanely happy. We are a team.

“Doing agility is a relationship-builder,” says instructor Barb Scalise, who owns Canine Care, Inc., in Bartlett, Illinois. “The journey as you both learn is just amazing.” She has trained in agility a variety of breeds, most of whom were adopted from rescue organizations. Years ago, she started with her first dog, a Dalmatian, followed by a Greyhound. Currently, she competes with a Pointer, a Vizsla and two Labs. Her oldest Lab, Mocha, is a 12-year-old rescue who twice earned the American Kennel Club’s top agility title, MACH (Master Agility Champion), and continues to actively compete.

In the Beginning
The sport originated in England nearly 30 years ago as half-time entertainment at the prestigious Crufts Dog Show. John Varley, a member of the show committee, approached veteran dog trainer Peter Meanwell about creating a dog jumping competition, loosely based on horse show jumping. The demonstration proved so popular that Crufts asked the participants back, and agility was born. Agility aficionados can now be found around the world, from Argentina to Yugoslavia.

In 1985, Ken Tatsch was a CPA in private practice when he went to Crufts and saw agility for the first time. The following year, he founded the United States Dog Agility Association, Inc. (USDAA). Today, it is an international organization and boasts more than 25,000 registered competitors and more than 200 different breeds of dogs, including mixed breeds.

About the time Tatsch was organizing USDAA, fellow agility pioneer Charles “Bud” Kramer founded the National Club of Dog Agility, which was later adopted by the United Kennel Club (UKC). New venues soon followed suit, including the North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC), which promotes safety, and Canine Performance Events (CPE), for the more casual agility competitor. The Teacup Dogs Agility Association (TDAA) features scaled-down agility equipment for dogs measuring 16.5 inches and under at the withers. TDAA founder Bud Houston of Ostrander, Ohio, also created Just For Fun (JFF), which offers team play over the course of eight weeks, much like bowling leagues.

A Venue for Every Dog
Truly, there is a venue for every dog, no matter the breed, size or age. If your dog is social, physically fit and likes to learn, he will most likely enjoy agility, whether you choose to play at a trial or just in your backyard. Older dogs or certain breeds that might normally be characterized as couch potatoes come to life when given extra attention and mental and physical stimulation. However, if your dog is aggressive toward people or dogs, learning the sport will cause more stress for you and your dog and lead to problems later on. The safety of other people and their dogs is paramount. (Which is not to say that the dog can’t eventually overcome them and one day enjoy agility. Just find a good dog behaviorist and work through those issues before signing up for an agility class.)

Monica Percival, owner of Clean Run Productions LLC, and managing editor of Clean Run, a magazine devoted to agility, encourages prospective students to check out classes first before signing up. “Unfortunately, there aren’t enough quality trainers,” says Percival. “A lot of trainers just hang out their shingle because they saw it on TV or have an obedience school and agility pulls in a lot more money for training schools, so it’s very popular. I have seen some horrific things, like equipment that’s not safe.” Clean Run maintains an agility instructor/school directory on its website, www.cleanrun.com, which is a good starting point. (For more guidance on choosing a class, see “How to Choose an Agility Class.”)

Elise Paffrath of Vermont, founded her magazine, Dog & Handler, to emphasize that mixed breeds and shelter adoptees can excel in dog sports, too, if given the chance. As part of that mission, she only covers sports that are open to all dogs. Her own dogs—mixed-breed Scout and rescue Border Collie Spryte—are highly accomplished in agility. Inspired by her first agility dog, a mixed-breed named Breeze, Paffrath opened a full-time agility training business, Breeze Through Agility, and serves as a USDAA judge.

Staying the Course
The obstacles on the course vary depending on the organization in which you compete. The UKC features some unusual obstacles, such as the sway-back bridge, which is a small slatted bridge suspended between two support walls; ramps at either end allow the dog to enter and exit. Most venues require the same basic equipment, however: contact obstacles, jumps, tunnels and weave poles. “Contact obstacles” are any piece of equipment that has contact zones, which are painted yellow. The dog must touch the contact zone with at least one paw; depending on the class level and venue, if no contact is made, the team’s performance could be faulted or disqualified.

A course that includes all of these obstacles is considered a “standard” or “regular” course. AKC offers a JWW (Jumpers with Weaves) class that only features jumps, tunnels and weaves, so it is very fast. NADAC’s “Jumpers” class is only jumps. USDAA offers fun strategy games like “Gamblers” and “Snooker” and pair relays. All courses are designed by a judge, and no matter how many trials you attend, you will never see the same course twice, even if you show under the same judge.

The judge’s role goes beyond course design. “Once the judge gets to the show, she must make sure that the course is set up correctly, and then she judges any faults incurred during the run,” says Elise Paffrath. “The judge is an observer, which is exhausting. In addition to travel [to the show site by car or plane], you’re on your feet all day, you have to keep things moving and there can be conflicts.”

Before your run, you have two ways to prepare your handling strategy. First, you can look at the course map, which shows you the location of each obstacle and how they are numbered. Second, you get a “walk-though” in which you and your fellow competitors walk the course. Sometimes it will differ slightly from what you read on the course map, so this is the time to review and/or rethink your strategy and memorize the course. Rather than try to remember it by number, it’s best to think of it in terms of obstacle sequences, such as “jump-jump-A-frame” to “tire-table-seesaw” and so on. (For more details about competition and the differences between venues, invest in a copy of Clean Run Production’s Competing in Agility: Entering Trials and What To Do When You Get There, by Cindy Buckholt. You can also check out the websites of each organization for rules, registration questions and more; see “Resources.”).

Old Dogs, New Tricks
Teaching a dog to do the obstacles is relatively easy and fun, though it should always be done under supervision. With expert instruction, positive training methods and patience, any healthy dog can learn how to do obstacles in three to four months.

Some pieces of equipment require more time and effort than others. For example, teaching the teeter-totter is a step-by-step process. First, encourage your dog to get used to movement under his feet by walking on a square wobble board on top of a small ball. Second, teach your dog rear-end awareness by walking him through the rungs of a horizontal mini-ladder on the ground—most dogs do not need to think about the position of their back legs, as they normally just follow the front legs. Third, slowly lead your dog across a long, narrow board flat on the ground so that all four paws walk the plank. You can raise the height of this board gradually as the dog’s confidence grows.

While your dog is learning the obstacles, your job is to learn handling skills so you can guide her from one obstacle to another. When you’re learning a new handling maneuver, it’s best to practice running without your dog and imagine her moving with you. That way, you can make many mistakes without punishing your dog with constant repetition.

“There is an art to handling,” says Bud Houston, who is a retired AKC judge and currently judges for USDAA and the Teacup Dogs Agility Association when not teaching with his wife at Dogwood Training Center in Ohio. “The [team aspect] is one of the overlooked elements of our game. Some people consider the dog to be 95 percent of the team. When you bring a young dog into the house, within months, the dog understands how you move. The same ‘laws of motion’ are applicable to agility. You must interpret how your dog interprets your movement. A lot of dogs do what I call ‘compensatory learning.’ Even though you might err in your movement, the dog is clever enough to figure out what you want of him.”

In general, our body language overrules verbal commands, so if you say, “A-frame” but your shoulders and outstretched hand face the direction of a tunnel, guess where your dog will go? (Editor’s note: See Patricia McConnell’s column for more on this subject.) The more seasoned the dog, the more weight he will give to verbal commands as your body moves ahead or laterally to prepare for the next obstacle.

Awareness of your own body cues and how to best communicate with your dog keep you thinking on your feet. Some people run their hands in their pockets to be more aware of their shoulders. Other people run “silently,” that is, without uttering a word, so as to pay more attention to their body. Often, they are amazed at how well their dog performs by reading just their body language. Patricia McConnell’s invaluable book, The Other End of the Leash, gives more insight into how we can better communicate with our dogs, both at home and on the agility field.

Donna Rock of Lacombe, Louisiana, was born without arms, and competes at the highest levels of agility with her Dobermans Annie and Quincy, using her shoulders and verbal commands to guide them. The sport appealed to her because anybody can do it. “I’m handicapped and yet I can still compete,” says Rock. “Young, old, fat, thin, abled, disabled—it doesn’t matter. It’s all about being the best you can be and doing it in a way that works for you and your dog.”

Wheelchair competitors also find success at agility classes or trials. Judy Guillot of Arizona was a stabbing victim at age 11, and in recent years, lost the use of her legs. When she saw agility on television, it didn’t even occur to her to question whether or not she could participate. “I would not be the person I am today if [the accident] had not happened,” says Guillot. “I have learned to adapt. That’s how I get that can-do attitude.” Now 58 years old, she and husband Dave play agility with five of their six toy fox terriers, stay active with their training club, and enjoy practicing and competing whenever they can.

Training Leads to Insights
While competition is the ultimate goal for many agility newcomers, some participants try the sport for different reasons. Beth Borchardt of Florida hoped agility would bring her fearful mixed-breed, Cheyenne, out of her shell. What she didn’t expect was how it would help her own shyness. “I had never shown an animal in anything and I was scared to death at my first show,” says Borchardt. “Chey did so well that she helped me get over my nerves. I was very introverted and shy and going to trials has gotten me over a lot of that. I’ll talk to strangers at shows and that has carried over to other aspects of my life.” Borchardt now participates with a white Shepherd, and has a puppy in training.

Spending extra time training your dog will teach you a lot about her personality as well as strengthen the bond between you. What motivates her most: toys, praise, food or a combination? If it’s toys, does she prefer tennis balls, squeaky stuffed animals or fleece tugs? If it’s food, does she favor dehydrated liver pieces or bits of string cheese? Is she so eager to please that an enthusiastic “Good dog!” will do? Getting to know your dog, which includes observing her physical structure and how she moves, is essential.

Lynn Sykes of North Carolina and her 14-year-old daughter, Bonnie, both do agility, which has strengthened their mother–daughter bond as well as their relationships with their respective dogs.

“Bonnie’s Sheltie is a rescue and very high strung,” says Sykes. “She’s come a long way … Agility has given my daughter a lot of confidence and taught her to finally trust her dog and to be happy with the effort of the dog. I’m proud she’s stuck it out with a difficult first dog that many people had written off. Agility has helped them both. We do other dog [activities] as well, and I’m hoping that dog sports keep her from the drugs and other horrors that waylay kids.”

The physical activity certainly promotes a healthier lifestyle. Dr. Heidi Loganbill, a neurologist in private practice in Oregon, was working extremely long hours when she and her husband decided to get a Standard Poodle puppy, Pogo. “I couldn’t make myself leave work for myself but I could for my dog,” says Loganbill. “We started doing agility and I couldn’t stand to have lots of people watch me run my dog when I was fat. I was 5’ 2” and weighed 215 pounds.” Over the next several years, she lost more than 80 pounds. She and her husband now have two more Standard Poodles, Winnie and 6-monthold Gabriel, who her keep fit.

Staying active with his rescue Australian Shepherd, Mystic, literally saved the life of Alan Silvey of Florida. In 2004, he had a heart attack toward the end of a run at a trial. “The doctor said if I hadn’t been training and running [Mystic], I wouldn’t have been alive,” says Silvey. “My main heart valve was mostly closed up, but agility kept it all flowing.” Having saved Mystic from a shelter, Silvey says it’s only fitting that Mystic saved his life in return. He says the experience taught him that while titles are nice, just being able to run with his dog and walk off the course on his own two feet are what matter most.

No matter what your motivation, agility is a dynamic sport worth trying. The benefits for both you and your dog are endless, and you might be surprised at the sheer joy of the journey.

If you live near a major city, you’ll have a variety of agility classes from which to choose. Veteran agility instructor Barb Scalise, who owns Canine Care, Inc., of Bartlett, Ill., says finding a class that meets your and your dog’s unique needs is most important. She shares her three main considerations for choosing the best match:

The environment. When you enter the training facility—whether it’s a snazzy indoor training school or a fenced-off grassy field—take a look around. Is the equipment in good shape? What kind of flooring is used? Barb remembers the early days when she was first learning the sport and everyone trained their dogs on a cement floor covered with mats, which can take a toll on a dog’s joints. Today, artificial turf or thick rubber matting made especially for performance sports help ensure that you and your dog will be able to participate for years to come.

The instructor. Even if you know nothing about agility, you will have a gut reaction to what you see. If the instructor yells or students look stressed or frustrated, obviously no one is having fun. Look for an instructor who communicates well with the students and gives equal attention to each dog/handler team.

The dogs. How many dogs are in the class? Is there a lot of down time? How many often does each dog get a turn? Is safety stressed by the instructor? You don’t want a beginning or “green” dog to jump full height or go over obstacles like the A-frame or dog walk at full height. Also, only one dog should be off-leash at a time, even at the most advanced levels.

The A-frame is a tall, wooden or aluminum structure whose apex is typically set at 5' 6"or can go as high as 6' 3" at the championship level in USDAA. (Contact zones are painted on the upside and downside of the A-frame, although not every organization judges the upside contact.)

The dog walk is a raised, narrow plank that the dog must cross as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety or missing the contact zone on the exit ramp.

The pause table—a raised square table upon which the dog must do a sit-stay or a down-stay while the judge counts to five—looks deceptively easy. It is. The difficulty lies in the dog being still after racing around the course. Handlers sometimes anticipate the judge’s count and release their dog from the table too soon. The dog must then assume the sit or down position again and the judge restarts the count.

The teeter-totter or seesaw is difficult to master because the dog must walk across a moving narrow plank, tip it and hit the contact zone at the end before leaving the obstacle. The strange movement and the noise of the teeter banging on the ground can scare a dog, so it’s extremely important to be patient and follow your trainer’s instructions.
Jumps are self-explanatory, though there are quite a variety of them. They range from the simple bar jump (imagine a hurdle jump) and the wide boards on the ground that comprise the broad jump to the winged jump, which is a bar jump with plastic lattice “wings” on either end. The latter is a challenge to the dog as he cannot easily see the handler. Plus, there is more distance between the dog and handler, which is difficult for a dog new to the sport.

There are two different kinds of tunnels. The open tunnel is a tube through which the dog runs as fast as possible. The closed tunnel, or chute, looks like a giant wind sock. The dog must run through it in order to push up the material and exit. The “sock” of the chute should be straightened after every use to ensure the next dog that goes through doesn’t get wrapped up in the fabric.

The weave poles are challenging for dogs to learn because the weaving motion is unnatural to them. Twelve upright poles, each attached to a heavy steel base, are set out in a row. The dog must enter between the first pole and second pole from the right side, then fluidly step or hop between each pole to the end. Clean Run sanctions the “Ultimate Weave Pole Challenge,” in which the dog completes 60 weave poles.