Julia Kamysz Lane
Julia Kamysz Lane, owner of Spot On K9 Sports and contributing editor at The Bark, is the author of multiple New Orleans travel guides, including Frommer’s New Orleans Day by Day (3rd Edition). Her work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poets and Writers and Publishers Weekly.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Teaching your dog to do more than just heel, sit and stay
August 26 2014
Francoise Mira of California will never forget the day advanced obedience skills saved the life of her beloved mixed-breed dog Leilah. She had been hiking with Leilah and her Australian Shepherd, Copper, in a canyon near her home. On weekends, the area was closed off to automobile traffic, making it safe for off-leash dogs.
“All of a sudden, I heard a car coming, illegally off-roading,” says Mira. “I called Copper to me but Leilah was on the other side of the road. I told him to sit and at the same time, I gave the down-stay visual signal to Leilah and she dropped [to the ground]. Because I was able to give her that Utility down signal, a hand signal, I was able to have them both stay still and let this car go through.”
In competition, obedience at its best can look like magic. With every nod of the handler’s head or sweep of her arm, the dog responds with an enthusiastic burst of motion or a quick halt or down. Dog and handler glide together in perfect sync as the judge calls out instructions, and the small crowd gathered outside the ring quietly admires their performance. At the conclusion of the class, the judge announces which teams qualified, and to those pairs he hands out the placement ribbons, as the audience applauds and the dogs’ tails wag.
“Obedience builds confidence in the dog,” says Kate Cowles of Iowa, who competes with four shelter dogs in UKC obedience, St. Hubert’s Companion Dog Sports Program and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers’ Rally O. “For me, the point of doing competitive obedience is to build the bond.”
At its worst, competitive obedience can look like torture for both partners. Some handlers constantly jerk at their dog’s leash or practically drag the poor thing around the ring. Other handlers become so nervous about the trial setting that they pass on that stress to their dogs, who constantly lick their lips and look for a chance to bolt.
If this is your idea of obedience, then it certainly does not conjure up images of fun with your dog. But for many people nationwide, it is a favorite pastime, and their dogs enjoy the extra attention, travel and overall excitement. Perhaps if it were called something more flashy, like “precision teamwork” or “synchronized stepping,” more dog-lovers would pursue this challenging sport and discover its many benefits.
Modern obedience in North America derives from exercises created by the world’s first Working Trial society, the Associated Sheep, Police and Army Dog Society of England. The society hosted its first Working Trial in 1924 as a practical test of each dog’s knowledge in three areas: control, agility (over varied terrain) and scent work.
Helene Whitehouse Walker is widely regarded as the founder of American obedience. In 1933, she adapted the society’s exercises to hold her own test in New York to prove the intelligence of her Standard Poodles. In 1937, Walker and her assistant, Blanche Saunders, promoted the young sport by taking their dogs on the road for a nationwide traveling obedience exhibition.
Today, the society’s three fundamental applications can still be found at an obedience trial, no matter what the venue. Control is exhibited at all levels of obedience, especially through heeling and the dog’s response to the handler’s verbal commands or, as they progress as a team, silent hand signals. Agility is demonstrated at the Open level by asking the dog to jump over a panel jump, broad jump and bar jump. Lastly, scent work is found at the highest level, Utility, in which the dog must find an object with his handler’s scent among a pile of articles and return with the correct one.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) is perhaps the largest and most well-known venue for obedience. Though it currently only allows purebred dogs, the AKC Board of Directors is considering a listing service that would allow mixed breeds to participate in obedience, rally, agility and tracking. All dogs, including mixed breeds, are welcome to participate in obedience programs through the American Mixed Breed Obedience Registry (AMBOR), the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA), St. Hubert’s Companion Dog Sports Program and the United Kennel Club (UKC).
UKC obedience competitor Ray Czubek of Illinois recently retired his mixed breed, J.D., one of only three dogs to earn her AMBOR Obedience Trial Championship. Having competed in both UKC with J.D. and in AKC with German Shepherds, Czubek finds the former to be more relaxing and family-oriented. But no matter where he participates, it’s working together with his dog that counts. “Most people are instant-gratification-oriented,” says Czubek. “I like the precision teamwork, and find it challenging to keep my dog motivated. You have to make the effort.”
In the 1970s, when Arnold started training a Shetland Sheepdog, she soon realized that choke collars, harsh commands, and withholding praise or play would not work. But, she discovered, food was an excellent motivator, and she asked her trainer if she could bring some to class. He told her no. Her Sheltie performed wonderfully and happily at home with the food, but was miserable without it in class.
“I decided to sneak food into class, and it fell on the floor from her mouth,” says Arnold. “The instructor started screaming at me in front of the class, and I said, ‘I don’t need this anymore.’ I turned around and walked away. I knew there had to be a better way. I will never forget that day as long as I live. It was a turning point in my whole life.”
The introduction of operant conditioning and clicker training to competitive obedience over the past 10 years has fostered a growing movement toward more positive and motivational instruction. In his book Clicker Training for Obedience, Morgan Spector explains how operant conditioning and the use of the clicker can shape behaviors that, together, combine into a complete obedience exercise. Dogs learn step by step instead of being expected to learn an entire skill set all at once.
The Birth of Rally-O
“I love Rally,” says Certified Pet Dog Trainer Diane Lavigne of New York. “I think it’s a great way for a dog to get ring experience without going into the Novice [Obedience] ring. The exercises are based on what you need to do to get a Novice title.” Lavigne also competes in UKC and AMBOR obedience with her mixed breed Hershey, AKC obedience with her Golden Retriever Skye, and is training her young Golden, Eagle, for his competition debut. In December 2005, Hershey was ranked third in the nation by AMBOR for UKC Novice Obedience.
Even if you’re not interested in competition, obedience training has value. “Obedience doesn’t benefit the dog,” says Arnold. “The obedient dog benefits, because then the dog can have a good life, a chance to run free and be a dog, whether it’s in a dog park or out in the woods somewhere. It’s the most amazing thing to me, people who let dogs free that they can’t control. Love is taking the time to train the dog to keep it safe.”
News: Guest Posts
Welcome, Zoo Baby!
March 14 2014
He’s here! Our little zoo baby, Brandon Richard Lane, was born February 23, 2014. He let out a powerful wail as the doctor placed him on my chest, assuring us that he would fit right in with our vocal pack. At 6 pounds 5 ounces, he weighed less than our tiniest cat, Cricket, and he measured 20.5” long. He had a surprising amount of brown hair and beautiful, dark blue eyes.
After three days in the hospital, we missed our dogs and cats and couldn’t wait to bring Brandon home to the zoo. In order to prepare them for the new arrival, my mom, Grandma K., brought them a little shirt Brandon wore so everyone could sniff it.
She reported that only our oldest dog, Darby the 11.5-year-old Dalmatian, excitedly checked it out and whipped her tail into circles. I think she smelled her favorite person, my husband Brian, on the shirt. Everyone else demonstrated some curiosity but once they realized Grandma wasn’t offering food, they wandered back to their favorite sleeping spots.
When we came home that night, I entered the house first and spent a good 10 minutes greeting everybody. Jolie, my 10-year-old Dalmatian, bounced up and down with joy, while the younger dogs, Ginger Peach and Magnum, swirled around me, bringing offerings of slobbery Kongs and rubber balls. Darby the Queen, who usually waits for her loyal subjects to approach her, thrust herself into the chaos, slapping her tail against my shins while she growl-grumbled hello.
Brian then entered the house, carrying Brandon in the car seat. The zoo repeated its manic greeting ritual, either ignoring the baby in the room or just being unaware of his presence. Finally, their noses started working and they realized the humans had increased their ranks. Before they could uncover the blue polka-dot Dalmatian blanket protecting Brandon from cold, wet noses and pools of dog slobber, Brian placed the car seat on the kitchen table.
This, of course, delighted the cats, who were lying in wait for their opportunity to climb into that comfortable looking cat bed. Unfortunately, there was some weird creature in the way. Cricket tentatively smelled Brandon, and she was on the cusp of tolerating him when he startled and waved his arms around. That did not go over well. She hissed in his face and would’ve started trash talking had we not intervened. Thankfully, our gentle giant cat, Bruiser Bear, just sniffed Brandon a few times before sauntering away.
I had expected – and prepared for - a variety of behaviors from the dogs. Darby had never been comfortable around children. For everyone’s safety, we taught her to leave the area rather than feel she had to confront a child (many thanks to our nieces, who were willing guinea pigs in the training process). So it was no surprise that she excused herself from the room.
Jolie is a Therapy Dog who adapts well to new situations and is drawn to people, especially if they’re upset or lonely. She is wonderful with children, who love to pet her soft fur and count her spots. She remained at a respectful distance from Brandon until we invited her over. After inspecting him thoroughly and making sure he didn’t have any crumbs of food to offer, she turned her attention to me. Sensing my exhaustion, she gave me a little kiss on the ear (I can count on one hand the number of times Jolie has kissed anybody in 10 years). That was all the assurance I needed.
Magnum and Ginger Peach were the surprises. The former is a two-year-old Border Collie who adores people and grew up with our young nieces. Yet his high energy and sensitivity to pressure and space made me wonder if he’d feel overstimulated and lose his cool. On the contrary, Magnum loved the baby. He was curious without being obnoxious, and sweetly licked the tips of Brandon’s tiny fingers. When Brandon would cry or fuss, Magnum was right there, wanting to know what job he could do to help this poor little puppy feel better. I figured they would bond once Brandon was old enough to throw a ball, but there was an instant closeness between the two.
The dog I thought would be Brandon’s best pal from day one was actually very conflicted about him. Although she loves people, too, she is an anxious rescue girl who does not handle change easily. Her response to stress is to madly lick everything in sight, from the carpet to people’s clothing. She has strong prey drive and is not to be trusted unsupervised around small dogs. Every time Brandon cried, which sounded like a squeak, Peach went on alert, hoping to find a toy. Yet she knew it wasn’t one, leaving her confused.
Upon meeting Brandon, she demonstrated a behavior that shocked me. She narrowed her eyes, lowered her head, and slunk around the car seat, like a feral dog. She was afraid and unsure. Of course, we moved Brandon up to the table again to remove the pressure from Peach and keep him safe. In typical shepherd mode, she placed herself between Brandon and me. That’s when I realized that she wasn’t necessarily being more protective of the baby when I was pregnant. She had wanted to protect me in what she must’ve perceived as a more fragile state.
We were too tired that night to worry about Ginger Peach’s behavior with the baby. But it was something we would have to address over the next few days. I hoped that with my training background, we would find a way to help her gain confidence around the newest member of the zoo.
Read Zoo Baby: Part 2
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dog trainer Denise Fenzi talks about methods and perceptions with
March 11 2014
On engagement and relationship building:
However, in the switch to food-based training, we seem to have lost some of our basic positive interactions and expressions of joy with our dogs. Instead of learning to joyfully work together, we “pay” our dogs with cookies—and once they’ve paid, many owners forget to tell their dogs how proud they are of whatever [the dogs] accomplished. I think this is a terrible loss. Humans can be so much more than Pez dispensers!
Great training should not be about substituting cookies for approval. Great training should be about getting needed behaviors (often through food), then taking it further. That next step —relationship—is what fascinates me about dog training.
Building a relationship with a dog is much the same as building a relationship with another person. While sharing food is a fundamental pleasure, no one would say that the meals “create” the relationship. Food simply supports one aspect of it.
What’s really being developed (quite possibly over a meal) is an understanding and an awareness of that other person; the thing that develops, which we call relationship, is incredibly hard to explain or put into words. It is sympathy for their circumstances —both what goes right and what goes wrong. It’s about knowing what makes them happy or sad. It takes a relationship to know that, since each person has unique needs. The stronger your relationship with another, the more likely you’ll make the right choices.
We can have exactly the same type of relationship with a dog, but I think very few people are aware of that. When I think about the time I spend with my dogs, most of it [involves] trying to build that underlying foundation. I study my dogs carefully to understand what matters to each of them. I pet them and play with them, and soon I learn what does or does not work for each one. I know what frightens them, and I support them as needed. I also know when to back off and let them solve their own problems. And each dog is completely different!
I do use lots of food and toys to train. But at the end of the day, my goal is much bigger than acquiring behaviors. It is finding out what we can become together. Since this is a unique process (just like it is a unique process to develop a relationship with another person), it never gets tiresome, boring or “rote.” It’s fascinating. And it can take you places that most people have no idea were possible with a dog.
On what her peers in IPO and competitive obedience think of her use of positive reinforcement:
At the lower levels, I think most competitors like what I am doing and are interested in learning how to train with more positive methods. At the middle levels, I think there is curiosity mixed with a good dose of doubt. They have been raised on the idea that dogs must learn that they have no choice about training, and they struggle to believe that this might not be correct. This level of trainer is already using mostly positive methods to train new behaviors, but they don’t understand the final steps that are important if you want to compete and still not use compulsion.
At the middle/high levels, I am an irritation. They want to believe that they have the most current and best methods, and it irritates them that I am succeeding without compulsion, because they are convinced that it is not possible. This group often speaks very poorly about me, but they know nothing about my methods nor do they show any interest in learning. They have already decided that what I am doing is not possible. The high level trainers mostly ignore me. They are successful however they are training, and they neither know nor particularly care what else might work.
Of course, those are generalities. I have supporters and detractors in all camps, but those are my basic observations.
Developing Engagement & Relationship
March 11 2014
A couple of years ago, I was walking beside an acquaintance and her Golden Retriever at an agility show. It was difficult to hold a conversation because I was distracted by her frequent leash “pops.” The Golden would start in heel position, forge ahead by a front paw or two and then would be jerked back into place.
This behavior continued for the length of our two-minute walk. Clearly, the dog didn’t understand what to do, and worse, neither did her owner. The correction was so automatic that it had become a mindless habit.
If I had mentioned it, I guarantee she would’ve denied it. She considered herself a “crossover trainer,” that is, someone who previously relied on compulsion and now uses positive reinforcement and force-free training methods.
If only I had been able to give her Dog Sports Skills, Book 1: Developing Engagement and Relationship by longtime dog trainers and competitors Denise Fenzi and Deborah Jones, PhD. The first in a series for dog-sport enthusiasts, it will also benefit dog lovers who would not willingly hurt their canine companions but lack the guidance or resources to learn humane alternatives to aversives.
All of the information is based on scientific techniques and principles of learning, such as classical and operant conditioning. This underscores the authors’ mission: “We feel that it is important to not only understand what to do and how to do it, but also why you should do it in a particular way.”
Just as important, the training exercises are simple to follow and realistic, so the reader does not have to be a professional dog trainer or dog-sport fanatic to follow through. For example, the “Slow Treats” game is a wonderful way to teach a dog self-control; all you need is a handful of treats (or part of the dog’s meal). The tricks chapter includes a variety of fun, easy tricks that reduce stress on the human to get it exactly right, unlike obedience.
Perhaps the most enlightening chapter is the one dealing with stress-reduction techniques. As a dog trainer myself, I often hear students say, “But he does it at home!” Assuming they have been taught what to do, dogs who struggle with stress or distraction in public are often mislabeled “stubborn” or “dumb” by their frustrated or embarrassed owners. In response, that owner might resort to correction-based methods to make the dog perform, even if it erodes the trust between them.
“Am I comfortable holding dogs responsible for their trainer’s lack of skill?” asks Fenzi, who has firsthand knowledge of the patience required to successfully leave compulsion behind for good. She is one of the few obedience and IPO (a protection sport formerly known as Schutzhund) competitors who have achieved success at the highest levels of these sports using positive-reinforcement methods. She and her students around the country are proof that pain does not have to be used to be successful in these exacting activities.
Reading about Fenzi’s evolution as a trainer brings some questions to mind: How responsible are instructors for giving their students the skills necessary to keep their dogs safe and happy? Conversely, how responsible are students for researching trainers before entrusting their dogs to them? While these questions aren’t specifically answered, the authors make it clear that we’re accountable for the training (and trainer) choices we make.
Rather than focusing on how to perfect an exercise, the authors invite their audience to learn how to train their dogs through observation, education and mutual respect. Dog Sports Skills is a thought-provoking guide to achieving an even better bond with your dog, whether your goal is an agility championship or good manners in public.
News: Guest Posts
February 7 2014
There are claw marks on every door in the house. The deep grooves etched in the living room windowsills were there when we moved in seven years ago. My husband said he imagined the dog of the previous homeowners eagerly welcoming them home by tap-dancing on the glass. Rather than caulk over the marks or replace the window frames, we let them be, expecting our own pack to add their signatures.
When we pull up in the driveway, we listen for the distinctive, joyous barks. They’re home, they’re home! Jolie the Dalmatian, usually so dainty and gentle, pops up in the window to perform her welcome home song and dance, as if it were a stage and she had just downed Red Bull in her dressing room. Ginger Peach the Dutch Shepherd joins the show, paws braced against the windowsill as she emphatically tosses her head back with each staccato note.
We never see Darby the Queen, our eldest Dalmatian, but there is no mistaking her growly trills. They start low and grumbly, deep in her chest, then scale a full octave as the notes flow from her throat and escape her clenched embouchure, cheeks puffing out like little bagpipes.
The poor Border Collie, Magnum, and cats Cricket and Bruiser Bear, take cover, unsure of their place in the chorus. Or perhaps they’re overcome by stage fright. Housebound, they reluctantly serve as captive audience to this musical spectacular.
I wonder how our little Zoo Baby will respond when his dad comes home from work and the show begins. Will he be like my friend’s two-year-old grandson, who happily barks at the window alongside his canine co-stars when she arrives? He goes so far as to giddily lick her face, perfectly mimicking the enthusiastic greetings of the pack.
Or will the explosion of energy overwhelm him? Will he seek comfort from me, clambering into my lap with his hands over his ears? Or will he bound off stage to his room, finding solace with the quivering cats and Border Collie?
Perhaps he will do as his mama does and smile at the happy chaos.
Read Zoo Baby: Part 1
News: Guest Posts
January 6 2014
It’s 3:00 a.m. and time for our daily ritual. I’m on the sofa scarfing down a bowl of Raisin Bran, with a purr monster in my lap, a spotted pillow beside me, and a brindle guard at my feet. Having soothed the mid-morning hunger pains, the baby stops kicking and settles down, content among the pack.
After years of training humans to train dogs, and raising a personal petting zoo of dogs and cats, I’m being schooled by a fetus.
The day I announced we were expecting a baby (via Facebook, of course), it became clear that my friends are in one of two camps: pet parents or human parents. All were shocked. My husband, Brian, and I have been married for 15 years, we’re both in our 40s, and we share our home with four dogs and two cats whom we collectively refer to as the Lane Petting Zoo.
How they chose to respond to the news was telling. Understandably, my dog friends misinterpreted the ultrasound photo I posted:
“Ooh, a puppy! What kind are you getting?”
“Who is the breeder?”
After all, I had spent years with them at agility competitions and at my training facility obsessing over canines. When I clarified that we were expecting a human baby and that Brian and I were the breeders, only one person had the guts to ask what surely many others were thinking:
“Did you mean to do that?”
I suppose anyone else would’ve been offended. Not me. How could I, considering the company I kept? Many of our dog friends made it plain that they did not want children. If they did have kids, they were grown and gone, often accusing their dog-obsessed moms of playing furry favorites.
Human parents, on the other hand, enthusiastically welcomed me to their world.
“Your life is going to change completely!”
“You don’t know how much you can love someone until you hold that baby in your arms.”
Each time I told a human parent that I was expecting, I felt an instant connection, the way I feel toward people who embrace dogs as family members. When we learned we were having a boy, I felt drawn to mothers of sons, the way I’m drawn to fellow Dalmatian owners.
On my journey to becoming a mom, I spend less time at familiar places like PetsMart and agility trials and more time at Babies R Us and baby showers. I feel like a foreigner at times, stumbling my way through a new culture full of people who speak a language I don’t yet understand. Sleep sacks? Nasal aspirators? So a Pack ‘n’ Play is like an X-pen? Can I clicker train the baby?
My due date is February 23, 2014. I don’t want the birth of my son to mark the end of one era, saying goodbye to my dog friends and quality time with my zoo. I hope that our new addition will allow me to bridge these two worlds of pet and human parents, and create a new kind of family.
Welcome, my little Zoo Baby.
News: Guest Posts
As long as I don't have to pry ticks off, I'm happy
April 29 2013
To Frontline, or not to Frontline, that is the constant question come Spring! Well, we got an answer a couple days ago. A stubborn gray speck on my Border Collie Magnum's eyelid proved to be a baby tick. We were too late. Ick!
I didn't feel comfortable prying this bloodsucker off of his eyelid, so we zoomed over to the vet. In the lobby, one of the vet techs came to greet us and take a look, but Magnum was worried and scrambling as best he could on the tile floor toward the door. I could still see that baby tick hanging on for dear life. Ugh!
We soon were ushered into the exam room. Before he could squeeze himself behind my chair, I offered his favorite tug rope. Suddenly, my scared little boy lit up and tugged all over the room. He shook his head back and forth till I asked him to release and offer a sit. Then we tugged and shook all over again.
When the vet tech came in, he flopped over for a belly rub and allowed her to take a good look at his eye. "Where is it?" she asked. I scanned his eyelid and only saw a tiny bald spot where the baby tick had been. He had shaken it off! If only it was always that easy to remove those things.
If you find a tick on your dog, how do you remove it? For tick prevention, do you use Frontline, Advantix or a natural remedy?
Good Dog: Studies & Research
Tell-tail signs that your dog is feeling groovy
March 20 2013
The next time your dog greets you when you come home, closely watch his tail. Scientists have discovered that a happy dog will wag harder to the right and an anxious dog will wag harder to the left.
The study’s findings, “Asymmetric tail-wagging responses by dogs to different emotive stimuli,” was recently published in Current Biology. Co-authors include neuroscientist Giorgio Vallortigara of the University of Trieste in Italy, and veterinarians Angelo Quaranta and Marcello Siniscalchi, at the University of Bari in Italy.
In humans, it’s well documented that the brain is divided into two cerebral hemispheres—left and right—which serve different functions and control opposite sides of the body. Most animals also demonstrate a difference between “left brain” and “right brain” functions. It is believed that the left brain in animals specializes in “approach and energy enrichment,” such as finding food. The right brain specializes in “withdrawal and energy expenditure,” such as fleeing in response to fear. Because the dog’s tail is located along the body’s midline, researchers questioned whether or not the tail displayed emotional asymmetry.
Thirty mixed-breed dogs, family pets, served as the researchers’ subjects. Each dog was put in a cage specially fitted with cameras to capture the precise angle of the dog’s tail movement. The dog was then shown four separate stimuli—his owner; a stranger; a friendly cat; and an unfamiliar, intimidating dog—for one minute each.
Upon sight of their owners, all 30 dogs wagged their tails more strongly to the right side. After a 90-second rest period, the dogs viewed a stranger. The dogs’ tails still favored the right side, but the angle was more moderate in comparison to seeing their owner. The cat elicited a bias to the right side, but it was even more subtle than when they saw the stranger. The large, unknown dog caused all of the dogs to wag their tails to more to the left.
The authors concluded that when the dog felt positive, or curious (as in the case of the cat), the tail wagged right. If the dog felt negative or apprehensive, the tail wagged left. Since the left brain controls the right side of the body, the right muscles of the tail expressed those good feelings. The left muscles of the tail signaled caution or concern, which is controlled by the right brain.
It’s always a good idea to observe your dog’s body language, whether you’re relaxing at the dog park or waiting to see the vet. Now, thanks to your dog’s tail, you have another way to tell how he really feels.
News: Guest Posts
Debarking ban bill passes NY Assembly
March 6 2013
Despite the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) efforts to stop a debarking ban bill (A01204), the New York State Assembly overwhelmingly voted for its passage on March 5, 2013. AKC argued that the government should not interfere with a dog owner’s decision making. While I understand and value the freedom to choose what is best for my personal pets, I make an exception to acts of cruelty such as debarking.
Devocalization is a surgical procedure in which the dog’s vocal cord tissue is cut to soften the bark. If you’ve heard a dog whose vocal cords have been damaged, the bark sounds muffled or raspy.
The AKC claims debarking could help a dog stay in its home rather than be abandoned at a shelter. Yet the question remains: why is this dog barking so much? Its quality of life will not be improved after surgery; after all, it has been maimed as a convenience to its owners. In which case, let’s hear the honest justification – that it is for the human’s benefit – rather than pretending that it will help the dog.
Could you imagine if a five-year-old child was “despeaked” because she talked too much? The ability to communicate should be the right of all animals, not just humans.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), devocalization should only be performed by “qualified, licensed veterinarians as a final alternative after behavioral modification efforts to correct excessive vocalization have failed.”
I would be curious to know how many owners have genuinely tried other options, such as increased attention, physical exercise, mental stimulation or regular training classes and socialization opportunities.
For example, an elderly dog who lives next door to my brother was debarked years ago. His home is a concrete pad surrounded by a chain link kennel with a plastic doghouse for shelter. His constant raspy woofs are still cause for surrounding neighbors to call the police to complain.
Instead of devocalizing him, the owners should have brought him inside their home. He barks all the time because he is kept in solitary confinement. He is lonely, bored and even though his voice can still be heard, ignored.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Yoga + dog = benefits for all
January 31 2013
Every morning, my pack of five goes through a stretching routine. They begin with play bows, tail tips wiggling high overhead. Then they push out their chests and extend their back legs so far I think surely, this time, one of them is going to fall over. Shelby, my Pit Bull mix, is known for the “ski jump,” in which she thrusts out her back legs like a skier flying off the ramp. But somehow, they all manage to stick the landing with a grace and ease that even our cats envy. Finally, my canine Zen masters look at me with relaxed, happy grins, eager to go outside and greet the birds and squirrels.
If this routine goes on at your house too, then your dog is a natural at doga, or yoga for dogs. “Doga is a partner yoga class that people do with their dogs,” says Kari Harendorf, owner of East Yoga in New York City and star of Animal Planet’s “K9 Karma.” The long-time doga enthusiast, who has partnered with her 10-year-old Husky, Charlie, for many years, began teaching doga classes in 2004. “It’s very much like a dance, using the dogs as we would use a traditional dance partner … just as a teacher might assist you to push deeper into the pose.”
Yoga is a Sanskrit term that means “joining,” or “uniting.” It’s an ancient physical and mental discipline originally developed in India, where it also incorporates Hindu philosophy. Outside of India, yoga is more commonly viewed as a form of exercise. Humans who practice yoga are either a yogi (male) or yogini (female). The canine equivalent is a dogi (male) or dogini (female).
“Like yoga, doga balances, harmonizes, purifies and transcends the body and mind of the practitioner,” says doga teacher Madhavi Bhatia. “What makes doga unique is the practice and benefits that create a harmony and synchronization of energy flow between the owner and dog.”
Though I’m a restless sort who has avoided yoga for superficial reasons (who has time to sit still and think of nothing?), I was instantly attracted to doga. After all, isn’t anything more fun and interesting when you can bring your dog? I signed up my 10-year-old Catahoula, Desoto, for doga class at Wiggles ‘n’ Wags in Lombard, Ill. We were joined by my friend Barb Scalise and her six-year-old Vizsla, Penny. We each brought mats for ourselves and our dogs, treats and water. Neither of us had prior yoga experience.
Bhatia, our instructor, first started teaching yoga 14 years ago in her native India. She only recently began teaching doga classes, but had a lifetime of experience with dogis and doginis. “As a child, I observed dogs, with curiosity about their movements,” says Bhatia. “It was a very subconscious, playful start of doga for me.”
I recognized some of the postures at our very first class. My dogs’ morning play bow corresponds to the “downward-facing dog” posture, perhaps the most natural pose for all dogs. What I described as Shelby’s “ski jump” is the popular “cobra” pose.
But observing a dog pose naturally and helping him into a pose—or using him to support your own—are very different things. I chose Desoto to be my doga partner because I assumed that, being a senior, he would be happy to lie down on the mat next to me and allow me to gently manipulate his legs and head into the various poses.
We know what happens when one assumes. Social butterfly that he is, Desoto was so delighted to be with other people and dogs that he could barely sit still, much less do downward-facing dog. I brought out a bag of treats to help him focus, which it did. But I didn’t count on the waterfall of drool that poured all over my brand-new yoga mat. And did I mention that he weighs 72 pounds and is all muscle? Meanwhile, Barb and her petite, well-behaved Penny were smoothly transitioning from pose to pose as though they had been doing it for years.
Class ended with a soft chant and meditative “oms” lead by Bhatia. I was exhausted and, thanks to the sweat and saliva on my mat, coated with damp fur. But Desoto had finally found his inner dogi. Stretched out with his back against my crossed legs, he watched our instructor through sleepy eyes. As I sang “ohm” with the rest of the students, he raised his head slightly to look at me. Satisfied, he sighed and rested his head on the mat. As the weeks passed, Desoto and I improved, most notably when I strived to let go of everyday tensions and just be in the moment, like he was.
There are other benefits to teaching your dog to allow you to touch any part of his body, including his paws and toes. Doing gentle doga stretches with my Dalmatian, Darby, helped her overcome a fear of nail clipping. It also came in handy with our young mixed breed, Ginger Peach, who has an impatient and pushy personality. She not only learned to tolerate the stretches, she now offers her legs in anticipation!
Being in close contact with your dog’s body provides an opportunity for a weekly health check as well. Harendorf recalls that one of her students found a lump on her dog’s inner thigh that she might never have discovered without her weekly doga class. (Thankfully, the lump proved benign.) Senior and physically handicapped dogs can also benefit from doga as long as the routine is adapted to their needs.
“Doga brings us back to more simple things,” says Harendorf. “My dogs grew up being city dogs, where there are these big dog runs and people just bring their dogs and visit in their social circle or talk on the phone or read the newspaper. We’re so busy, so plugged in with the cell phone and the Blackberry and the pagers. We can walk our dogs and not pay attention to them. Doga is 45 minutes of undivided attention. It is a gift.”
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