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Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Dog Camp 101
Or, What I Learned by Starting My Own Dog Camp

“What do you mean, I’m cooking dinner?!” It was the day before the start of weekend two of my 2004 Maian Meadows Dog Camp, and I had just learned that I would be cooking dinner for the ten guests scheduled to arrive the following afternoon. I hate to cook. The thought of cooking for a large number of people sets my heart racing. Marie, my friend, legal-world co-worker and camp chef extraordinaire, assured me that the recipe I would use was easy, and proceeded to dictate it to me over the phone. I stopped at the store to shop for the ingredients on the drive to camp. That Friday-night meal was easy, and a success, prepared with the help of friends in the kitchen and served to camp guests who have always proven easy to please.

Welcome to Dog Camp 101, where the first lesson is: Be prepared for anything … and have a Plan B!

Some days I tell myself I’m insane to even consider running a dog camp, what with the time required to attend to the myriad details, the possible financial loss, and the worry that the guests and their dogs won’t have the absolute best time of their lives (if you’re going to worry, worry big). But those days are balanced by the uplifting ones, when I respond to emails and phone calls about camp and get to “talk dogs” with people who are as enamored of their canine companions as I am of mine. My reward is seeing the smiles on the faces of the dogs and their guardians at camp. It’s certainly not the money. Let me share with you some of what I’ve learned along the way.

Why Start a Dog Camp?
The idea germinated for several years after I saw a story on television about Camp Gone to the Dogs in Vermont. If it hadn’t been so far between Vermont and my home in Seattle, I would have signed up for it in a heartbeat. Instead, I decided to wait for someone to start a camp closer to home. I waited some more. Then I started visiting the Flying U Ranch in British Columbia (Bark “Travel,” Fall 2004), where dogs are welcomed, which inspired me to begin thinking of starting my own dog camp. In 2002, I decided to take the next step—if I was serious, it was finally time for me to commit to this project. I wanted to experience that sort of fun with my dogs and make it available to others.

As it turns out, my motivations were similar to those of other camp operators with whom I spoke for this article. Honey Loring of Camp Gone to the Dogs, the originator of the dog camp phenomenon, started her camp after attending an obedience seminar that she felt was way too serious and fun-deprived. She wanted to create a happy place for dogs, and has succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. Because the camp, which opened in 1990, was so unique, she received an extraordinary amount of publicity, from coverage on the CBS Sunday Morning show to articles in the Wall Street Journal, dog magazines and even Cosmo, for heaven’s sake. Those of us following in her footsteps can only dream of such free advertising.

Chicago resident Alysa Slay went to camps as a child and worked as a camp counselor herself for many years. Frustrated at the lack of places for her dog to legally roam and play off-leash, Alysa recalls the defining moment—a dream—when she knew she wanted to create a place where people could play outdoors with their dogs. She and her close friend Dave Eisendrath started Camp Dogwood in 2001.

Annie Brody is a yoga instructor who spent most of her life in New York City. After observing her own dog’s clear reluctance to return to the city after a weekend in the country, she resolved to find a way to let city dogs experience their natural environment, even if for only three days at a time. Camp Unleashed in the Berkshires was born and had its first successful session in 2004.

All of us operating dog camps love our dogs and dogs in general. We created our camps to help people reconnect with their dogs in a natural setting and deepen the bonds they share with their canine companions while having fun.

Learning by Observation
Do your research and identify the best aspects of other projects or small businesses around you before proceeding. For example, I’m a runner. I know several runners who organize trail-racing events, so I volunteered to help out, which gave me a front-row seat from which I observed how these events are put together and carried off. I began to transfer what I learned at these events and what I saw at the dude ranch to a dog camp format. As I researched, I refined what I wanted—dogs off-leash throughout their time at camp; a focus on play, socialization and basic obedience rather than serious competition training; and an experience that was simple and fun. Then I did a gut check: Was I truly willing to invest time and money, perhaps over several years, to make this idea a reality? I imagined my first year, worst-case scenario: invest lots of “free” time, lose maybe $1,000, walk away and never do it again. I decided I could live with that, and proceeded.

What’s in a Name?
Choose a word or phrase that’s easily spoken and remembered and will also look good in a logo. Many camps have whimsical names: Camp Dogwood, Camp Unleashed, Camp Winnaribbun. I ended up combining the names of my own dogs for Maian Meadows Dog Camp. I hoped the name would convey the joy of dogs romping through a mountain meadow. When campers hear me calling my dogs, they have an “aha!” moment about the source of the camp’s name, which makes it memorable.

Location, Location, Location
Early on, I received some valuable advice: Choose a location within a two- to three-hour drive of a major city, because after investing that much time in getting to a destination, most people will stay several nights, which makes for less administrative work. (Many camps solve this problem by requiring a minimum stay.)

That may be easier said than done, however. Finding a resort that would allow my guests to stay with dogs off-leash throughout the grounds took perseverance—I swear I heard laughter in the background during some initial phone inquiries. But then I discovered that organizations such as Camp Fire, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and various church groups, who frequently sponsor camps (for two-legged campers) themselves, often seek rental income during those times when their camps are not in use. Eventually—again, through a web search—I found a Camp Fire facility in the woods on a lake roughly two hours from Seattle. They didn’t laugh at my idea, and in fact, bent over backward to ensure it worked so that I could rent their camp years into the future, thus providing them with a tidy and reliable bit of extra income.

This particular camp is rustic, sure, but that’s a large part of its charm, and allows us all to stop worrying about the dogs damaging things. It has a large building with kitchen, and an open-air dining hall where the dogs are allowed, which is one of the features guests love—they don’t have to leave their dogs in their cabins at mealtime.

I negotiated the terms of my rental agreement, which included lifting a restriction on alcohol; allowing at least the dogs to swim without a lifeguard; and, most importantly, a last-minute cancellation clause that got me off the hook if I didn’t get enough guests to cover the minimum per diem. Developing a good working relationship with the Camp Fire organization has been the backbone of my camp’s success. (If you’re not comfortable undertaking these negotiations yourself, seek the help of an attorney.)

Liability and Insurance
Though running a dog camp is in many ways a labor of love, there are still real-world business concerns to be taken into account. Do your homework, study the financial and legal risks, and seek advice from a CPA and/or business attorney as to the best business format for you and your goals. You can’t anticipate every problem, but you can minimize your exposure.

For example, any activity involving dogs risks litigation inspired by bites, fights or injuries. I found an insurance policy offered to dog trainers that costs $350 per year and covers all of my training activities during that interval, including those at camp. Expensive for a couple of weekends, perhaps, but reassuring to have and required by the facility I rent. Reading the insurance policy was another gut check—was I willing to risk being sued? I decided the risk was small, and with the protections I had in place, not something that would keep me awake at night.

Marketing
As a lawyer, I’ve never had to do any marketing, so for my dog camp, I once again relied on friends. Harry designed my web site and accepted software updates as compensation. Stan accepted $50 for the “fun little project” of creating a flier promoting the camp. Robin, a dog trainer, provided her client list. I needed a logo, and got lucky when I found a graphic design student who did an excellent job. I can’t emphasize enough how key my friends have been to the success of my camp. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Some of my initial attempts at marketing were clumsy. I mailed roughly 100 fliers that first year, but later found that all of my guests learned about camp through postings at local off-leash parks or by talking to me when I encountered them and their dogs in local parks. The next year, I skipped the fliers and mailings and saved myself significant money and effort. Instead, I designed postcards with an eye-catching photo of dogs romping on the camp beach, and handed them out at parks and expos. If you aren’t already web-savvy and able to create cards and fliers yourself, learn (or be willing to hire someone to do it for you).

One key marketing factor was providing my phone number; people felt better about signing up after talking directly to me. Another was networking with other dog-oriented businesses in my area, suggesting we exchange web links. Most were happy to do so, as it’s a very supportive community. These exchanges allowed my web site to eventually show up on a Google or Yahoo search for “dog camp,” which brought new potential campers. Try to use such free and creative avenues to market your own camp.

“The Food Here Is Awesome!”
Good food for the human campers is critical! I wanted camp food to be plentiful, tasty and served family-style so campers could get to know one another at mealtime. (Canine campers’ meals come with them from home; imagine the consequences of lots of dogs eating unfamiliar food!)

Luck smiled on me early in this regard. Sitting in court one morning, I chatted with Marie, an attorney I’ve worked with for years. Impulsively, I told her about my dog camp idea and mentioned that my most difficult task would be providing the food. She quite breezily said, “I like to cook for groups; maybe I could do it.” I gave her a look of shock and surprise (remember—I hate to cook), but she insisted that it would be fun for her to do the cooking because she loved trying out new recipes on large groups. Marie refused to accept payment, or even a public thank-you for her efforts; she’s quirky that way, and I accepted her terms. Who wouldn’t?

Marie and her husband Tom did an awesome job—the food was delicious and plentiful. A special touch was a fresh peach cobbler-and-ice cream dessert served to guests as they sat around the evening campfire. To reduce dishwashing to a minimum, we used paper plates and plastic utensils. If my good relationship with the managers of the camp facility is the backbone of my operation, Marie and Tom and the food they create are its heart and soul.

Other camp operators use food services provided by the facility they rent, and hiring a caterer is another option. But we all agree that the success of a camp can hinge on the quality of the food, so don’t cut corners on this part of the operation.

Friends as Volunteer Staff: The Good, the Bad, and the Puzzling
Utilizing a paid staff eliminates hurt feelings or misunderstandings but generates additional paperwork and tax obligations. Every new camp operator has to decide how best to address this issue. Much will depend on your budget; I’m able to keep the cost of my camp low because so many people are willing to volunteer their time to help me run it.

I could not have produced my dog camp without the help of several friends: Marie and Tom in the kitchen, Robin as agility and obedience trainer (who also lets me borrow her agility equipment), Sandra as dishwasher and kitchen helper, Miki and Mark as general do-anything assistants. These amazing people gave their time and energy simply to help me realize a dream. They insisted that they had great fun in the process, but seeing how hard they worked left me in awe of their generosity. I have been blessed by their friendship and support, and can never thank them enough. Other camp operators have been similarly blessed. Cultivate your friends.

However, I have some advice on this subject: Before accepting a friend’s offer to help, ask yourself whether—given a worst-case scenario—you can stand to lose that person’s friendship. If the answer is yes, proceed carefully, and discuss what you expect and what you’re willing and able to provide in return (such as free room and board during camp). If the answer is no, find someone else for the job, hire help or (more likely) do it yourself. The reality is that this new aspect of your relationship could ultimately stress the bonds of friendship to the breaking point.

Welcoming Guests to Camp—First Impressions
Be sure your guests feel welcome from the start. Make a good first impression so that they can relax and enjoy themselves. My participation in trail-running events taught me that a welcoming “goodie bag” is a great way to greet guests. I contacted Claudia, editor of Bark, and asked if she was willing to provide me with back issues of the magazine for my guests; not only was she happy to do so, she encouraged me in this new endeavor. “It’s about time there was a camp in the Pacific Northwest,” she said. My artistic and creative sister-in-law Sue made various craft gifts as well as prizes for games and contests. The gifts and prizes were a hit and created a good initial vibe as well as word-of-mouth promotion for little expense.

My goodie bags also contain a list of camp rules, a schedule of meals and events, and fliers for the various dog-related businesses I agreed to promote in exchange for links to my camp from their web sites.

A Pleasant Exhaustion
If you approach starting a dog camp with the right attitude, you can’t help but be successful as you enrich the lives others as well as your own.

Every camp operator I talked with agreed that the people and dogs you meet and befriend at camp make all of the effort worthwhile. “I have a whole new group of friends,” said Alysa, who uses vacation time from her job as a psychologist to run her camps. I’m self-employed and can work around my own camp’s schedule. Honey is lucky enough to make a living from her camps and other dog-related businesses, but every other camp operator I know gives this advice: Don’t give up your day job! For most of us, this is, in reality, a hobby business. In many ways, that frees us to do it because we’re passionate about the camp and about dogs, not because we have to pay the bills.

Annie, who considers herself an activist for human causes, initially struggled with the feeling that operating a dog camp might seem frivolous. She came to realize, however, that camp is a sort of “alternative universe,” where for a few days, people can recharge their spirits and experience the unconditional love of dogs by being in the moment with them. If camp can provide that, it’s worthwhile. But to disabuse anyone of the notion that being a camp director is somehow glamorous, keep in mind that one of our last duties before closing down the facility is scooping poop.

After being “on” for the entire camp session, which of course follows weeks of anxiety leading up to it, I’m totally exhausted for days afterward, as are my two dogs. One of my campers told me that her Jack Russell slept all the way home, the first time in his life he’d slept in the car. To me, that was the highest praise—as I’ve always said, a tired dog is a happy dog. By the end of camp, I, too, am tired and happy. Even when I lost money my first year, I told myself I had just thrown a great party for a group of my newest friends. Indeed, when all those campers returned the next year (with the exception of one who moved to South Dakota), it was a wonderful reunion with people I now consider to be dear friends. And now, after camp, I reward myself and my dogs with my favorite vacation, time at the Flying U dude ranch. It truly doesn’t get any better!
 

Culture: DogPatch
Between a Dog and a Hard Place
Adventure athlete has her dog to thank for her rescue after a near-fatal fall.
Taz and Danelle Ballengee

When Danelle Ballengee headed out for an eight-mile trail run near Moab, Utah, last December (2006), it was supposed to be just another outing.

And that’s probably what her dog, Taz, thought, too.

A two-time world champion in the extreme sport of adventure racing, and a seven-time Ironman triathlon finisher, Ballengee lives in Dillon, Colo., and frequently uses Moab as a training ground. And lucky Taz—a big mixed breed— often gets to come along.“He loves to run with me,” says Ballengee, adding that she thinks Taz is part Australian Shepherd. “He really enjoys it.We’ll run for a couple hours sometimes.”

They were midway through what would have been about a 90-minute run when Ballengee slipped on a patch of black ice, slid down a steep rock face and across a series of ledges, and finally crashed to the ground some 80 feet below, shattering her pelvis.

As soon as Ballengee realized she wasn’t paralyzed, she started to crawl; it took her five hours to go about a quarter of a mile. Then, when the sun went down and the temperature dropped into the 20s, hypothermia became a very real threat. Ballengee drank water and ate her energy gels sparingly, but knew that if she closed her eyes, she’d fall asleep and might never wake up. Rather than giving in, Ballengee did subtle abdominal crunches, both to stay awake and to keep her body temperature from plummeting. She also took comfort in having Taz at her side.

“I wanted to curl up next to him and be closer, but I couldn’t move. But it still helped to have him there. I wasn’t really alone,” Ballengee says.

Ballengee has always loved dogs. When she was a child, her parents had an Australian Shepherd, a Springer Spaniel and, later, a Golden Retriever. She considered getting a dog when she graduated from college, but developing her career as a professional endurance athlete, race director and personal trainer took a lot of her time. When she wasn’t running, cycling, swimming or kayaking, she was planning for a race or traveling to an exotic location—New Zealand, Argentina, Italy, Switzerland, Hawaii or Fiji—to participate in one.

Still, she really yearned for canine companionship, and kept her antenna out for a good candidate. In 2003, in the middle of a busy summer, she drove two hours to a rescue facility north of Denver.“It was one of those places where you know you’re not going to leave without a puppy,” she recalls. It was love at first sight when she laid her eyes on a 10-week-old mutt, part of a litter that had been rescued from a Kansas farm.

During their first year together, Ballengee took Taz on short walks and trips to the lake. As he got bigger, they started running and hiking together, eventually covering as many as 15 miles at a time, and occasionally hiking to the summit of one of Colorado’s 14,000- foot mountains. So while the Moab trail she and Taz were running that day was rugged and remote, it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for Ballengee. “She trains 20 to 30 hours a week by just going out and having fun in the mountains,” says Dave Mackey, an ultrarunner and adventure racer from Boulder,Colo.“It’s amazing, but that’s what she does. That’s who she is. She’s tough as nails.”

When the sun rose the morning after her fall, Ballengee’s optimism was renewed, but Taz was growing restless. He spent that day running off and returning, each trek seemingly longer than the last. When night again found the pair alone in the wild,Taz wouldn’t sleep next to Ballengee; instead, he lay about 15 feet away. “The whole time I was thinking, ‘I can’t die. I’m not ready to die,’” she says. “It scared me to even think about it, so I just kept fighting and telling myself I just had to stay awake.”

At about noon the next day—more than 48 hours after Ballengee and Taz began their fateful run—police found her pickup at the Amasa Back trailhead.As a search and rescue team assembled, a dog matching Taz’s description was spotted heading toward town.“We were going to try to identify the dog, but the dog basically didn’t want to be caught,” said Curt Brewer, chief deputy of the Grand County Sheriff ’s Office in Moab. “When the dog turned around and started running, we decided to follow it.”

By midday, Ballengee had become very lethargic. When Taz returned from his longest journey yet, he wagged his tail and gulped water from the small water hole on which Ballengee had come to rely. “I figured maybe he had a nice run and was just happy to be back. I gave him a little pat—and then I heard the sound of an engine. He knew that someone was coming… he knew before I did.”

The rescue team arrived and worked quickly, strapping Ballengee to a stretcher in preparation for being airlifted to a hospital in Grand Junction.“The dog took our rescue personnel right to her,” Brewer says. “I think we would have eventually found her because we were in the right location, but the dog saved us some time. And that was important, because if it had gotten dark, that would have complicated things. And it wound up snowing later that night, too.”

He spent that day running off and returning, each trek seemingly longer than the last. After surgery to repair her broken pelvis and an extensive rehabilitation, Ballengee made a full recovery. By late spring this year, she and Taz were once again trail-running, albeit a little more cautiously, and in May, Taz received the National Hero Dog Award from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Los Angeles.

“It’s pretty amazing, what he did,” Ballengee says.“We figured he must have run about 15 miles when he led the rescuers to me.He definitely helped save my life.”But it might have been a case of one good turn generating another: Taz was repaying Ballengee for rescuing him.

Wellness: Healthy Living
Why Walking Your Dog is Great Exercise
Grab a leash and get moving!

Having trouble sticking to an exercise program? Research shows that dogs are actually Nature’s perfect personal trainers—loyal, hardworking, energetic and enthusiastic. And, unlike your friends, who may skip an exercise session because of appointments, extra chores or bad weather, dogs never give you an excuse to forego exercising.

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that only 16 percent of Americans ages 15 and older exercised at all on an average day! This is where your canine personal trainer can help. A survey of dog owners, conducted at the University of Western Australia and published in Health Promotion Journal of Australia in August 2008, revealed that dogs are great motivators for walking because they:

  • Provide a strong motivation to maintain a program
  • Are good walking companions
  • Provide good social support when exercising

What are the benefits of regular exercise? Dr. Joanna Kruk reviewed medical literature describing the health benefits of exercise. Her research showed that the risk of developing a number of serious health problems is reduced by physical activity and exercise:

  • Breast cancer risk reduced by 75 percent
  • Heart disease risk decreased by 49 percent
  • Diabetes risk lowered by 35 percent
  • Colon cancer risk decreased by 22 percent

How much exercise is enough? According to the World Health Organization, adequate exercise to promote good health includes:

  • 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily for children 5 to 17 years old
  • 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week for adults 18 to 65 years old, plus strengthening exercises two days per week
  • 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week, with modifications as needed in seniors over 65 years old, plus flexibility and balance exercises

Researchers at the University of Western Australia found that seven in every 10 adult dog owners achieved 150 minutes of physical exercise per week, compared with only four in every 10 non-owners. Among new dog owners monitored for one year, recreational walking increased by an average of 48 minutes per week. And, among folks like you who read dog magazines, six in every 10 walked their dogs every day.

Is dog walking really effective exercise? Many people are become interested in exercise to help lose excess weight. Obesity is a global epidemic, affecting about one in every three to four adults in the United States and Europe. Dog ownership and obesity were evaluated in Seattle, Wash., and Baltimore, Md., in a study published in the journal Preventive Medicine in September 2008. Dog owners who reported walking their dogs were almost 25 percent less likely to be obese than people without dogs. Researchers in the April 2008 issue of Health Promotion Journal of Australia reported that having a dog in the house reduced the risk of childhood obesity by half!

Plan for success. It’s easy to forget about healthy walking plans, so set the stage for a successful program:

  • Establish a walking schedule; plan to walk 30 minutes total each day. This might include a 10-minute neighborhood walk in the morning and a 20-minute romp at the dog park after work. Or maybe three 10-minute walks or one 30-minute walk fit in better with your day.
  • If dog walking is “scheduled” into each day, you’ll feel more responsible for sticking with your program. Plus, your dog will also get used to the routine and remind you when “it’s time!”
  • Track your progress; you can download a walking progress calendar here.
  • Post a calendar on the refrigerator and add a sticker for each 10 minutes of walking you do each day. This will reinforce your good behavior and make you pause before opening the door to grab a calorie-laden snack!

So, grab a leash, whistle up the pup, and go for a walk—today and every day! Dog walking is a great way to jumpstart a healthy lifestyle program.

 

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
K9 Nose Work [VIDEO]
Honing dog's scenting abilities through fun and games.

Discover K9 Nose Work, the latest training activity that develops your dog’s natural scenting abilities through fun and games. The sport leverages every dog’s amazing sense of smell and their love of performing a task. Geared for dogs of all shapes, sizes and ages—K9 Nose Work has found enthusiastic participants seeking a lower impact canine activity that offers great rewards for both handlers and their dogs. By utilizing basic search dog skills, the sport builds confidence, burns off mental and physical energy, and reinforces the bond between dog and owner. All levels of performance reap these benefits and are welcome.

Watch a video of a Nose Work session in action and check out the following sites for more information on classes, tools for training and competition requirements.

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1u0wFoOOd8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTtW11bjFkY&feature=relmfu

 

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:
Trails
Water
Agility
Obedience
Nose Work
Pulling
Community
Misc.
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.

Solutions
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.

 

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