Home
activities & sports
News: Guest Posts
Herding Sheep with a Border Collie and Your Stetson Hat
A fine memoir of a road trip with dogs to the World Sheepdog Trials

Not far into Mr. and Mrs. Dog, Donald McCaig says of himself and his talented “Blockhead” of a Border Collie, Luke, the male of the title: “I’ve never done as well with Luke as a better handler might have, but Luke adores me. When I go out at 2 a.m. to check lambing ewes, Luke comes too. When I wake with the night sweats, Luke wakes. He thinks I am a better man than I am.  If I sold him, his earnest doggy heart would break.”

It is a tribute to McCaig’s capacity for self-reflection and humor that he is willing to admit his own failures as an occasionally over anxious sheepdog handler. He knows that dogs are not machines and we are not infallible. Ultimately all you can do is the best you can do under sometimes disastrous circumstances.

Upon reaching 68 years of age half a decade ago and finding himself with two quality border collies in their prime, McCaig decided the time had come to launch a campaign to fulfill his dream of the worlds. 

Traveling 34,000 miles in his twenty-year-old car, McCaig, Luke, and June (Mrs. Dog) compete in sheepdog trials around the country hoping to compile enough points to secure invitations to join the American team in Wales.  At the last minute, June garners the invitation, and Luke gets to compete as McCaig’s second dog.

If his best-selling Nop’s Trials is McCaig’s contribution to “lost dog” literature—think of Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang—Mr. and Mrs. Dog: Our Travels, Trials, Adventures, and Epiphanies is his homage to an equally venerable tradition, the “the dog road trip,” of which John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley is perhaps most famous. McCaig is on the road not only to qualify for the worlds but also to broaden his dogs’ experience of different sheep and environments—in a fundamental sense to educate them so they will be better able to cope with situations and varieties of sheep they have not seen before.

Although June pulled them through on cumulative points for the year, her most memorable performance came at a trial in West Texas when she decided to forego herding sheep and goats in favor of far bigger game--a huge, ground-thumping oil exploration seismograph truck. “June wanted, nay NEEDED to fetch that big thumping, flickering weirdness,” McCaig writes, “and nothing I said—neither my shouts nor redirects—swayed June from her goal.”

Once abreast of the thumper, June realized she had not a clue what to do with it and returned to McCaig, but there were no longer any goats to fetch.  Her assault on the seismograph thumper had disqualified her.

Hoping to further his own education, McCaig periodically detours from the sheepdog circuit to visit trainers known for their skill in training methods they have developed or adapted. Along the way, he correctly points out that the battle between practitioners of what we might call punishment-based training and those who prefer awards-and rewards-directed training is now more than 100 years old.

For much of that time it appears that punishment has ruled—aversive training, as it were. McCaig himself is something of a follower of William Koehler, the Disney animal trainer from the mid-twentieth century, who developed a method of obedience training relying on long lines and various chain collars and leashes.  Even today, most people attending obedience classes probably follow some version of Koehler’s method. 

McCaig is looking for training epiphanies; bright moments of understanding or enlightenment that will help him better train and manage his dogs. He meets animal behaviorist Nicholas Dodman, and attends sessions given by trainers using the dog’s ‘innate’ drives, rewards, the Koehler method, and shock collars, which so engage him that he adopts the industry’s terminology and calls them e-collars.

Over the years, McCaig and I have agreed to disagree about shock collars, and in future postings, I hope to examine different approaches to training. For now, I’ll just say that people searching for a blanket endorsement of shock collars or other training devices or methods will not find them here—with the possible exception of the thirty-foot long line, which need not deployed in punitive fashion.

McCaig’s book arrived shortly after I had visited my favorite trainer, Lourdes Edlin.  She is one of those gifted people who will have a dog literally eating out of her hand within minutes of meeting it. She understands that to train a dog, she must learn what motivates it—food treats in many cases, but in others a ball or Kong® or simply praise. 

Edlin said that she was growing tired of teaching people basic obedience—sit, stay, heel, come—and becoming more focused on “teaching people how to do things with their dogs.” The basics would follow from that.

I was reminded of Edlin’s comments when I read McCaig’s reflections on his forays into the world of training. “Though each trainer believes his or her method is best, I don’t think it matters which method the pet owner adopts so long as that owner finds a capable mentor and sticks with the training,” he writes. ”Eventually you will learn to see your dog and when that happens the richness of your and your dog’s lives will tell you what to do next.

“Neither Luke nor June was ever trained to ‘heel’ nor ‘sit’ nor ‘stand for examination.’ They have never retrieved a ball or dumbbell. They rarely play with each other and never play with other dogs. Yet they would be mannerly in any human environment. Not because they were ‘trained’ for good manners, but because they were properly socialized, exercised daily, and have a job—stock work. Mannerliness is a by product of that training.”

A few paragraphs later, he concludes, “Have the highest expectations, do the work, and your dog can walk at your side anywhere on earth. He’ll become the dog you’ve empowered to change your life. As Luke and June have changed mine.”

McCaig’s account of the trio’s trip to Wales is informative, amusing, and somewhat sad.  The two males manage to win a local Welsh competition, the South Wales Sheepdog Trials Hafod Bridge, where McCaig penned his sheep brandishing his Stetson® hat instead if the traditional shepherd’s crook.  A revolution was doubtless averted when McCaig confessed that he simply had deemed his crook too difficult to manage on the flight across the pond and he had neglected to obtain one.  Clearly a telescoping shepherd’s crook is in order.

Luke, June, and McCaig washed out in the first round of the big show.  McCaig blames himself for failing to meet his expectations, but he should not.

He’s written a fine book and made a most excellent life with Mr. and Mrs. Dog. Moreover, they have had many an excellent adventure. What  more  could a dog or human want?

This blog originally appeared on Psychology Today. Reposted with permission.

 

 

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Skateboarding Dog
The activity suits him

Carmen the bulldog is obsessed with his skateboard. According to his guardian, they can’t go out without the skateboard because the dog doesn’t want to leave the house unless he knows that his favorite toy is coming, too. He recently appeared on television showing his skills.

It’s fun to watch Carmen skateboard because it’s obvious that he is having fun, but that’s only part of what made me happy when I saw this video. Another factor is that it is a reminder that different body types lend themselves to different activities and that whatever a dog is good at, enjoys and can safely do is probably a great activity for that dog.

We’re all used to seeing quick dogs participating in agility and spry dogs making spectacular catches of discs thrown unbelievably far away. We know that certain types of dogs swim well or run fast, but seeing Carmen on the skateboard reminds me that dogs with a lower center of gravity excel at certain physical endeavors, too. I’m sure there are tall, leggy dogs who also skateboard with success, but it’s especially easy to see why a dog built like Carmen loves his skateboard.

What activities does your dog love to do and do they match what you’d expect based on build?

News: Guest Posts
How to Spoil a Dog Park

Jake's visits to the dog park ended when he bit off part of a Bulldog's ear. Jake, a black Lab-Pit Bull mix, belonged to a first-time dog-owner who reacted to his frequent aggressive behavior by saying, “Oh, Jakey, we don't do those things” in a high, sing-song voice. Jake's owner paid the $1000-plus bill for the Bulldog's surgery but the incident reflected the biggest problem with dog parks-and it isn't the dogs.

In 2010, the city of Cambridge, Mass. built a state-of-the-art fenced dog park close to our house. It has running water and bowls for the dogs, free biodegradable waste bag dispensers, and awning-covered benches for the owners. There are two smaller fenced areas, one for puppies and one marked “Time Out.” 

At first, it was nirvana for dog-owning city-dwellers.  

But as the number of visitors increased, the “Dog Park Rules” posted at the entrance were supplanted by the unwritten code “My Way Rules.” Some examples:

1.  You must accommodate my dog's peccadilloes.
“Who does that brown dog belong to?” snarled a middle-aged woman who had been throwing a ball for her yellow Doodle.  I identified myself as the owner of the 8-month-old chocolate Lab, so she unleashed her fury on me.
“My dog is possessive about his ball, so can you keep your dog away?” demanded the Doodle's owner. My dog hadn't actually picked up the ball; she simply chased it. After all, she's a Lab, and it was a ball.  How could she ignore it?
The Doodle's owner was so belligerent that it didn't seem worth arguing with her about the meaning of the words “public park.” I simply headed home, leaving her to harass the owners of any other dogs who might dare to infringe on her dog's sole right to play.  

2.  My dog is sick. Deal with it.
Another afternoon, hacking and choking noises mingled with the barking of a dozen dogs as a new dog entered the gate. None of the dogs had swallowed a stick or ball;  the sound was unmistakable.
“That sounds like kennel cough. Have you thought of taking him to the vet?” someone asked the dog's owner.  The newcomer replied, “When I'm not feeling well, I usually go outside because it makes me feel better, so I thought it might help him, too.”  The owner didn't leave, so everyone else did.

3. My dog is a studly guy.  It's an honor for him to hump your dog. Or how about the owner who chuckled as she commented on the libido of her young 110-pound Bernese Mountain Dog while he relentlessly mounted much smaller dogs.  Observers mentioned that his behavior was a sign of dominance, not sexual prowess.  She looked annoyed and half-heartedly reprimanded him, without physically removing him from his victims. One of the objects of his supposed “affection” was a smaller dog whose rear legs collapsed under the weight of the young goliath.

4.  I've got mail. I've got to check the Red Sox scores. Dog? What dog?
Knowing that their dogs couldn't escape, owners began to focus on their cell phones, newspapers or iPads, paying no attention to what their canine buddies did. There were more biting episodes. Some owners put Animal Control on speed dial. And despite the free bag dispensers, people began to refer to the park-and not fondly-as “the poop pit.”

After avoiding the dog park for the past year, I recently walked my leashed dog on the paved path near its perimeter fence. I watched as a Weimaraner assumed “the position” near a knot of seven preoccupied owners and left a pile that could not be missed if anyone had been paying attention. Not a single person moved to clean it up.

Dog parks have become popular in urban and suburban areas, and they can be a wonderful resource if people are considerate.  Some tips for making the experience pleasant for everyone:
1.  PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR DOG-don't text, and don't read a newspaper, your tablet, or your email unless you're expecting your spouse to go into labor any minute.
2.  Clean up after your dog.
3.  Remember:  the dog park is not for your private use, so act accordingly.  If your dog is not a fan of sharing, don't bring his toys.
4.  Don't take a sick dog to a dog park. If you aren't sure whether your dog's ailment is contagious, see your vet.
5.  Don't allow your dog to hump other dogs.
6.  Remove your dog at the first sign of aggressive behavior.
7.  Don't use a dog park to try to socialize your dog if he has already displayed aggressive behavior. Get training first, then expose him gradually.

Linda Handman is a long-time dog owner, writer, lawyer, and business owner living in Cambridge, Mass.

 

News: Editors
A Dog’s Gotta Run
Dozer setting the pace

Dozer is dog who’s just gotta run. A young Goldendoodle full of energy and mischief, Dozer decided to join a Maryland half-marathon, mid-race. He simply couldn’t resist tagging along as two thousand runners passed right in front of his yard.

The joy in Dozer’s face as he paces himself with the runners is obvious and contagious. As he nears the finish line, you can see his paws are muddy – he must have found his own water station, probably a stream. Not only did Dozer have fun, so did the runners who ran beside him, and his story inspired people to donate to a worthy cause.

A runner like Dozer completely changed my own life with dogs.

I had recently graduated from law school and was living in a small, rural town in eastern Washington. It was autumn 1984 and I was dog-less for the first time in my life. One morning, running with a friend on country roads a couple miles outside town, a Siberian husky suddenly appeared beside us, joining us. Fearing he would get lost, I said rather sternly, “Go home!” The dog ignored me. He trotted alongside us with an easy, relaxed stride for a few miles, smiling as only a happy dog can. He didn’t seek attention from us. He just wanted to run, and we were running. It was that simple. I was impressed with his beauty and athleticism. Then, as suddenly as he had appeared, he changed direction and disappeared.

I felt sad he was gone – it was a joy to have him join us – but didn’t think much more about it.

Until a week later, when he suddenly reappeared and accompanied us on another morning run. I happily welcomed him. “Hey Buddy, how are you?” He remained aloof, easily trotting beside us but not coming close for a pet. I longed to see if he had a tag, but didn’t want to spook him. This time, he followed us all the way home, right onto my porch, where he let me stroke his soft, thick fur. By now, I’d fallen in love with him. Until that moment, I’d not thought of a dog as a runner. I’d grown up with small dogs. Now, I wanted a canine running companion in my life. If this husky didn’t have a family, I wanted him. But by the time I had showered and returned to the porch to check on him, he was gone.

I never saw him again. Yet he left an indelible impression on my heart. I’ve had a least one road and trail running dog in my life since 1985. I believe there’s a special bond developed when human and canine trot alongside each other, doing what their bodies were designed to do, endorphins coursing.

Here’s to Dozer and all our dogs who remind to go outside and play.

 

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Working Out With Your Dog
Quick Warm-Up Exercises for You and Your Dog.

Exercising, staying in shape and training your dog all at the same time sounds almost too good to be true. But Sophia Yin, DVM, a dynamo veterinarian, behaviorist, author, and fitness devotee, has a workout series for you that includes training your dog at the same time. Her website is a source of invaluable information including behavior, training tips and instructional videos.

As Sophia notes:
But when you wake up in the morning do you look at your dog and feel guilty that you’re working out instead of playing with him? Well, here’s a short and easy indoor workout routine that includes treats and training for your dog and exercise for you. It’s a set of short warm-up, balance and conditioning exercise that you can do up to 7 days a week either as a way to ease into the day or as a prelude to a more rigorous cardio workout like the outdoor workouts I show in Working Out With Your Dog: Quick Warm-Up Exercises for You and Your Dog.

She consulted with Hideshi Okamoto, a coach to Olympic athletes, and of the Fitness Garage, to develop this easy-to-follow indoor exercise—you get your warm-ups in while teaching your dog solid down-stays.

As for the equipment, you will need a chair, an exercise ball and a 2-pound dumbbell, plus small easy-to-eat treats for your dog—kibble works well too.

Give a look at their routine:

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
K9 Nose Work
The latest training activity develops your dog’s natural scenting abilities through fun and games
Bertrand, a 10-year-old rescue, follows the odor trail to its source and alerts

Echo, a slight, 33-pound sighthound mix, boldly bounds through the training-room door. Her tail swishes high and wild as her sensitive nose quivers in anticipation of the scent-searching game about to ensue. Her owner, Amy Cook, releases her into the room full of people with the cue “Find it!” and she surges ahead to explore a random row of carboard boxes strewn about the floor. Even for a dog-savvy observer, it would be difficult to guess from her puppy-like enthusiasm that Echo is a mature nine-year-old rescue who tends to be shy with strangers. She briefly passes her nose over each box, and as she slows to one in particular, she pokes her head in expectantly. Her “find” is confirmed with a flood of treats and a joyful celebration with her handler. They are both clearly thrilled with her work. “I’m really enjoying finally doing something with Echo that she thoroughly loves,” says Cook, “and I have a renewed appreciation of her inherent talents. After all, she’s doing something no human can do!”

Echo’s work in this case is K9 Nose Work, a recreational sport rapidly exploding in popularity among pet owners. The objective is for the dog to locate a hidden target scent and alert us to its exact whereabouts in the environment. The tables are turned in this activity as the dog teaches the owner to trust the dog’s superior scenting capabilities. Constructive physical exercise and intense mental stimulation are among the many benefits to the dog; owners advance to students of behavior by learning to read frequently overlooked subtleties of canine body language. As the dog perfects the game of searching and scenting for a reward, handlers are indoctrinated into the invisible world of scent with their companions as their guides.

Born out of a desire to share what working dogs have reveled in for years, K9 Nose Work as a sport was developed in southern California in 2006 by a team of highly experienced individuals: Amy Herot, Jill Marie O’Brien and Ron Gaunt — all professional trainers and handlers with working certified detection dogs. Herot writes, “Our detection dogs always look so satisfied and are relaxed after a search. It seemed like companion dogs should have the opportunity to enjoy the same benefits.” The team adapted essential elements of detection dog training into a motivational and portable sport specifically designed for companion dogs, requiring little space and minimal equipment to practice. When a dog is working his body and mind, the satisfying effects of both physical exercise and mental stimulation can be met even within a small space. “One of the greatest advantages,” adds Herot, “is that the sport suits every kind of dog and the activity requires no previous skill on the part of the handler. Anyone can do it.” Inexhaustible puppies, high-drive sport dogs, seniors, socially or physically challenged dogs and happy well-adjusted pets are all given equal access to the positive outlet that scent work provides.

In classic learning environments, like group obedience class, dogs may be either nervous or overstimulated and can have difficulty absorbing new information. Often owners are preoccupied with steering clear of the neighboring dog, and may be frustrated by their pet’s wary or overzealous nature. But in the Nose Work classroom, searches are run one by one, allowing dogs with any number of normally challenging behavioral issues to focus and learn. Working individually and without social stimulation allows the dog to channel energy, leaving dog and handler free to concentrate and learn from each other. Natural dog behaviors commonly regarded as “uncivilized” are encouraged as part of drivebuilding in the game of scenting and searching. Pulling through the door excitedly, turning full attention on the environment and leaping about playfully are not considered problem behaviors here. Embarrassed eye rolling and disapproving glances are replaced with laughter and admiration as the dogs are allowed to express themselves and focus on their job.

Bay Area Certified Nose Work Instructor Kelly Dunbar of SIRIUS Dog Training has seen huge transformations in a growing number of Nose Work students. “I’ve watched environmentally strut around looking proud of himself when we’re training.”strut around looking proud of himself when we’re training.”

The training process encourages the dog to refine his innate hunting and scenting skills. Handlers are taught to quietly support their dogs as the dogs develop individual searching styles through a progressive series of classes. First, the dog is encouraged to explore multiple open boxes for the scent of a hidden reward — usually a savory treat or a coveted toy for chasing or tugging. Search difficulty is gradually increased by changing environmental variables: closing the boxes, raising the height of the hide, introducing varied objects to the search environment and eventually moving the search outside of the box. While the dog catches on to the game and builds drive for searching, the target odor is paired with the reinforcing treat. Over time and at the individual team’s pace, the handler gains skill in reading behavioral indicators as the dog learns to track the odor trail to its source. Dogs eventually associate the target odor with the reward, which is ultimately removed from the environment and delivered by the handler upon indication of the target odor alone. The thrill of exploration and pursuit seems to magnify the intensity of the game and compound the reward value.

The sport’s swift growth beyond its southern California center is a clear indicator of its wide appeal to companion dog owners. Since its inception, classes given by certified instructors have spread quickly up the West Coast and even reached the far corners of the Northeast. Massachusetts-based trainer Scott Williams, of Beyond the Leash Dog Training, has introduced the concept to over 200 dogs in a short eight months. He believes the popularity lies, in part, in the lack of equipment involved. “It doesn’t require a large fenced field,” he says. “It can be done indoors or out, anytime of the year, and requires relatively little handler involvement. Actually, the less the owner does, the better the dogs like it!”

For handlers wishing to train to a specific standard and test their Nose Work skills, titles can be earned through trials organized and sanctioned by the National Association of Canine Scent The training process encourages the dog to refine his innate hunting and scenting skills. Handlers are taught to quietly support their dogs as the dogs develop individual searching styles through a progressive series of classes. First, the dog is encouraged to explore multiple open boxes for the scent of a hidden reward — usually a savory treat or a coveted toy for chasing or tugging. Search difficulty is gradually increased by changing environmental variables: closing the boxes, raising the height of the hide, introducing varied objects to the search environment and eventually moving the search outside of the box. While the dog catches on to the game and builds drive for searching, the target odor is paired with the reinforcing treat. Over time and at the individual team’s pace, the handler gains skill in reading behavioral indicators as the dog learns to track the odor trail to its source. Dogs eventually associate the target odor with the reward, which is ultimately removed from the environment and delivered by the handler upon indication of the target odor alone. The thrill of exploration and pursuit seems to magnify the intensity of the game and compound the reward value. The sport’s swift growth beyond its southern California center is a clear indicator of its wide appeal to companion dog owners. Since its inception, classes given by certified instructors have spread quickly up the West Coast and even reached the far corners of the Northeast. Massachusetts-based trainer Scott Williams, of Beyond the Leash Dog Training, has introduced the concept to over 200 dogs in a short eight months. He believes the popularity lies, in part, in the lack of equipment involved. “It doesn’t require a large fenced field,” he says. “It can be done indoors or out, anytime of the year, and requires relatively little handler involvement. Actually, the less the owner does, the better the dogs like it!” For handlers wishing to train to a specific standard and test their Nose Work skills, titles can be earned through trials organized and sanctioned by the National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW). The only prerequisite for trialing is passing the Odor Recognition Test (ORT), in which the dog identifies the appropriate target odor for his level of competition: sweet birch for NW1, aniseed for NW2, clove bud for NW3. Elements of competition include box drills, interior building, exterior area and vehicle searches. Practicing for competition is easy and can be done just about anywhere. Maine student Mac McCluskey says, “What I like about Nose Work is that if you are competitive, you have the opportunity to get good at it. It’s easy to hide a scent anywhere, and the more creative, the better a dog likes it. And if you and your dog are weekend athletes, it’s just as much fun!”

We humans are ultimately responsible for orchestrating the best decisions for our adored animal companions, but within the realm of scent and K9 Nose Work, we learn to trust our dogs to be our best guides and teachers. Here, the dog is always right, always good, and we are allowed an opportunity to achieve a better understanding of him. Sport founder Herot says, “The nose is such a primary source of information for the dog, and this type of work is a very powerful way to connect with your dog in their world.” Evidenced by the smiling faces and clearly content dogs leaving the Nose Work classroom, the sport succeeds as a method for deepening relationships with our canine companions as we learn how they experience the world.

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Doga: Yoga for You and Your Dog
Yoga + dog = benefits for all

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.”
 

Dog's Life: Travel
What to (Back)Pack for Your Pooch
The Ten Canine Essentials

When planning a backcountry adventure or a simple day hike with your canine companion, bring the right gear and plenty of it—not just for you, but also for the dog, too. You’ve heard about the Ten Essentials for people—you need to carry the Ten Canine Essentials as well, say Craig Romano and Alan Bauer, authors of Best Hikes with Dogs: Inland Northwest.

1. Obedience training. Your dog must be able to behave properly around other dogs, people, and wildlife.
 

2. Doggie backpack. Your dog should be able to carry his own gear, including food and water. Unless you double as a Sherpa, let your sharpie carry his own. A general rule is one pound in the pack per twenty pounds of dog. (If your dog like to immerse herself in streams, you might want to package items in plastic bags.)
 

 3. Canine first-aid kit. Dogs are prone to injury, bee stings and other traumas. Take a canine first-aid course and read up on the subject for details on what include in a doggie first-aid kit.
 

4. Dog food and trail treats. As with your own supply, pack more dog food than you think your pooch will need. Also consider that your dog will be burning more calories than when the two of you sit at home watching Best in Show. Scooby Snacks are a good idea as well.
 

5. Water and water bowl. Your dog has to intake sufficient fluids, too. Don’t count on dog water being available on the trail. A lightweight collapsible bowl will make it easier for her to drink.

6. Leash and harness or collar. Always carry one even it if is not required on the trail. A situation may arise that warrants lassoing your Lassie.

7. Insect repellant. Mosquitoes love dog blood, too. But before dousing your dog with DEET, be sure that he doesn’t have any negative reactions to it. And use it sparingly. Be sure that he can’t lick where you apply it (and stay clear of the eyes and inner ears). Ticks are also a concern on some trails and can be thwarted by applying Frontline or K9 Advantix.
 

8. ID tags, microchips and picture identification. Like hikers, dogs can get lost. Be sure your dog has his ID tags on. Carrying a picture can help other identify your dog. For all George Orwell fans, consider having your dog microchipped.
 

9. Dog Booties. Good for protecting your dog’s feet on rough terrain, good for traction on snow and good for keeping bandages in place if your buddy injures a paw.
 

10. Plastic bags and trowel. You’ll need the bags to collect any presents your dog may leave on the trail. If you’re on a popular trail, pack it out. Otherwise use your trowel to dig a small hole (away from water sources) and bury it. Additional items to consider: A brush comes in handy, especially if your dog is of the long hair persuasion. A brush will help remove seeds and other debris and may also reveal tenacious ticks. Some type of sleeping pad for your dog is a nice touch.

Adapted from Best Hikes with Dogs: Inland Northwest by Craig Romano and Alan Bauer, The Mountaineers Books, $16.95 paperback

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Geocaching and Your Dog
Come out, come out, wherever you are!

In September 2001, Sandi Pearce hid a small box in a park near her home in Dublin, Calif. Since then, more than 38 people, many with dogs, have searched for—and found—the box. It was just one of the 15 similar boxes that Pearce has hidden since she and her Border Collie, Katie, took up geocaching, a relatively new adventure game.

Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunt in which players follow global positioning satellite (GPS) coordinates listed on the geocaching Web site, and search for a cache, a term used to denote something hidden away for later. In geocaching, the “something hidden away” usually consists of a weather-resistant container holding a logbook and a mishmash of plastic toys, coins, key chains and other small items for trade. Pearce, who began caching in 2001 after reading about the activity in the newspaper, filled hers with dog-related items and hid it in an area where she and Katie like to hike. 

“It immediately appealed to me,” said Pearce. “It involves being outside, geeky tech toys and a cool Web site. And I can take Katie with me.”

Taking their dogs along while caching is a practice enjoyed by many of the game’s participants. Sharon Lum, who caches with her mixed-breed pound rescue, Zoe, says she enjoys having a hobby she can participate in with her dog. “Before I discovered caching, I biked more,” she said. “Now some of that time is spent hiking for caches with Zoe, and I think she likes that.”

Geocaching uses navigation technology originally developed by the military. A GPS receiver collects signals from multiple satellites above the Earth. Based on the signals, a person’s position on the planet can be triangulated (within a range of 6 to twenty feet) and reported in latitude and longitude coordinates. In 2000, when the Clinton administration made the signals available to civilians, geocaching popped onto the outdoor-activity scene. Now, according to the geocaching website, there are about 122,615 active caches in more than 210 countries.

Caches are hidden both in urban and rural areas. Several require moderate hikes and a few even require climbing, swimming or boating. Each cache is rated for difficulty, based on how hard the cache is to find and on the terrain in which it’s secreted. There is no official dog-friendly rating in the cache descriptions, but many cachers will put notes about dog-appropriateness in the online log. (See sidebar for a glossary of caching terms.)

Lum sometimes uses snowshoes or cross-country skis to go caching. “Zoe loves the snow,” she said. But, she warns, “one thing to remember when cross-country skiing with dogs is not to use metal-edge skis, as dogs, being dogs, can suddenly run or stop in front of you, and you can injure your dog.”

Lum, who has logged more than 1,000 finds, credits Zoe with discovering one cache of her own, near Lake Tahoe. “There was snow around, but only about a foot or so deep in some areas, and none in others. We searched for about a half an hour at the coordinates, [then] decided to go back to the cachemobile, which was about a quarter of a mile away. As we were walking back, Zoe walked right up to the cache, which was nested next to a rock, pointed to it with her nose and then looked at me to say, ‘Okay, Mom, here it is. Can we go home now?’”

Carleen Pruss, of Lincoln, Neb., also caches year-round. She says her black Lab mix, Molly, likes the snow, but snow requires extra preparation. She reminds us that dogs can’t yell “Hey, I’m getting frostbite!” and suggests taking your dog on some short winter excursions to check his cold tolerance before setting out on a full-fledged caching session.
 
Pruss has been caching since late 2001. Currently, she is secretary/treasurer for the Nebraskache Geocaching Organization and an editor for Today’s Cacher e-zine. She offers these tips for caching with your dog:

• Know your dog. A dog who pulls on-leash or is easily distracted in urban areas likely won’t cache well in urban parks. For rural hiking, know your dog’s physical fitness level. Know if your dog is willing to cross a stream; if not, can you carry him over it? How will your dog behave if he encounters people or other animals (or cow patties)? It is better to ask these types of questions first and then plan accordingly.

• Know the local laws. Is a leash required? The law likely requires poop-scooping in urban areas, and even if it doesn’t, scooping is the polite thing to do. Bring those supplies with you!

• Bring water for both yourself and your dog.

• Make sure your dog is current on all vaccinations, and use tick and mosquito protection for both of you. Consider a Lyme disease vaccination in areas where Lyme is prevalent. Check for ticks after caching in rural areas, and carry a tick puller.

• If you hide a cache, consider mentioning in the log if it is dog-friendly, and list local leash laws.

• Have fun, and remember to take your camera—you’ll want good pictures of your caching dog!

For more information on geocaching and GPS receivers, visit Geocaching—The Official Global GPS Cache Hunt Site.

 

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Agility Training Exercises Your Dog Can Do Indoors
Pep up the pup during dark winter days

So, the weather is really bad again, the days are short, but you still want to pep up yourself and your dog? Turn your living room into a temporary adventure playground! Don’t worry—you don’t have to rearrange your house. Just use things that you already have to set up a course.  

Exercises for dexterity and mobility are not only fun but, as little tests of courage, they train your dog’s body awareness and build up his self confidence. They also help you become good at guiding him into all kinds of positions and in showing him the way yourself. Here are a few starter activities.

The Collapsed Tunnel Adventure
This tunnel ends in a flap that your dog has to push himself through.
• You need a chair (alternatively, a coffee table) and a blanket.
• Place the blanket over the chair so that it hangs down two opposite sides; there should be a lot of overhang at one end to create the flap.

Very important: Make sure the blanket is attached to the chair so that it cannot slip off while your dog is walking through it. Such an accident could totally spoil your dog’s fun.

This is how it works:
•Your dog waits on one side of the tunnel. If he hasn’t learned to wait yet, ask someone to stay with him and gently hold him if necessary.

•Go to the other end of the tunnel, pick up the end of the blanket and catch your dog’s eye. Call him, and reward him when he comes to you.

•Do this a few more times; each time, lower the blanket gradually so that your dog gets used to the feeling of pushing himself through to the exit.

•Keep the degree of difficulty low in the beginning, with the tunnel overhang rather short so that your dog isn’t in the dark too long.  

Challenges on the Ground
You have probably already observed that your dog avoids grates or doesn’t like rustling plastic covers. So why not try a little test in a familiar environment? Integrate these into your course:

•Doormats made of different fibers.
•Newspaper (unfolded or rumpled and placed into a shallow cardboard box).
•Aluminum foil.
•An air mattress with only a little air in it (provided that your dog doesn’t have long or sharp nails).

Let your dog investigate the unknown surfaces step-by-step on his own. Every little test of courage passed—even if it is only placing one paw on the different surfaces in the beginning—is worth a reward and gives your dog a little bit of self-confidence that carries into his everyday life.  

Living Room Obstacles
Depending on the size of the space and the dog, as well as the flooring, you can include jumps in your living room agility. Appropriately low jumping elements can be built out of different items:

•Rolled-up blankets.
•Narrow shelves.
•Empty plastic flower boxes.
•Broomsticks.  

This is how your dog learns to jump:
•Make it easy for him in the beginning. Arrange your obstacle so that, ideally, your dog can’t pass beside or underneath it. Use doorframes or chairs as lateral restrictions.

•Encourage your dog to jump over the hurdle with the aid of some treats. You can jump with him in the beginning. Or you step over the hurdle first, and then lure your dog over to the other side.

•When your dog understands the game and has tried different obstacles, insert a verbal cue (for instance, the word “jump”) and send your dog over the hurdle with it.

Adapted from Playtime for Your Dog, published by Cadmos Books and distributed by Trafalgar Square Publishing from Independent Publishers Group. Copyright 2008 by Cadmos Equestrian.

 

Pages