activities & sports
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
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:
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
The latest training activity develops your dog’s natural scenting abilities through fun and games
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
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
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
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.
• 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
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
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:
•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
•Doormats made of different fibers.
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
This is how your dog learns to jump:
•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.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Making tracks is another way to enjoy a snowy day
A winter Sunday in Litchfield, Connecticut. The air snaps crisp and cold beneath a milky gray sky, and here and there, the sun slices through the clouds, casting long shadows and bright splinters over the high hills of Mattatuck State Forest, a rugged expanse literally in our backyard. A nor’easter rolling through New England left behind eight inches of fresh powder, the stuff of snowshoers’ dreams, and it is time to begin our annual ritual of snowshoeing with Maggie and Truman, our happy-go-lucky Labs.
On this day, our canine companions bound ahead as we float along on the snowy surface, picking our way up and down one undulating ridge after another. We seldom share this place with anyone—our Gortex shells and the dogs’ reflective vests are usually the sole bursts of Technicolor in a black-and-white world.
Snowshoeing with dogs? You bet. There are few finer ways to spend a winter day with your best four-legged friends than a trek on snowshoes along your favorite trail or a heart-thumping workout through high-octane terrain. Rare is the canine who doesn’t enjoy a romp in the white stuff, and with a little common sense and cold-weather know-how, those new to the activity can keep their dogs safe and healthy, whether they’re exploring an untrammeled wilderness area, the groomed trails at a touring center, even a snow-covered public golf course.
This ancient form of over-the-snow transportation—Native Americans are said to have used snowshoes more than 3,000 years ago—is one of the fastest-growing winter activities for those who live in or visit the country’s snow belt. And for good reason—as a sport, it doesn’t get much simpler. While snowshoeing might conjure up images of plodding along on tennis-racket-like contraptions, 21st-century equipment combines state-of-the-art design with high-tech materials such as lightweight aluminum, composite plastic, even titanium. If you can walk, goes the adage, you can snowshoe.
But does your pooch have snow-hound potential? “You need to consider whether your dog is healthy to start with,” says Dr. Peter Humphrey of Torrington Animal Hospital in Torrington, Conn. “Heart-related or respiratory problems can have an impact on a dog’s stamina.” Most fit and trim dogs will do fine, he says, but remember, they don’t walk on the snow like you do. “Walking through deep snow is physically demanding,” notes Humphrey, who recommends a shorter-than-usual first outing, since “you may end up with an exhausted pet that you have to carry back.”
And while your canine may be furry, exposure to the elements can lead to problems like frostbite or hypothermia. Puppies and elderly dogs are especially susceptible; watch for shivering, slowed breathing or dilated pupils, signs of a dangerous drop in body temperature. And, unless you have, say, an Akita, Husky or Malamute, breeds who are “dressed” for the cold, your dog might also benefit from the added insulation of a doggy coat. We pack plenty of snacks and water, and examine our Labs’ paws frequently for the ice and snow that can clump between pads. Companies like Ruff Wear and Planet Dog offer canine first-aid kits, protective booties, collapsible food and water bowls, and cold-weather apparel you may want to consider adding to your gear.
At the icebound riverbank, we stop and sip hot cocoa, and as the warmth of this winter staple courses its way to our toes, the dogs make quick work of emptying their water bowls. Then it’s time to be on the move again. Above our heads, snow clings tightly to the hemlocks and the bare branches of sugar maples as we follow crumbling stone walls, relics of long-ago grazing pastures, then cut through thickets of mountain laurel, the hushed quiet broken only by the crunch of our snowshoes, the panting of the dogs and the occasional call of an owl.
If you don’t have access to a wintry wilderness, you and your pal can also coexist happily with fellow outdoor enthusiasts. First, check that the trail system you’re planning to visit is dog-friendly, and, if so, find out what the rules are. Some charge a fee; others allow dogs only in certain areas, or require them to be leashed. Other trail users will judge dogs and owners by your actions, so practice good etiquette, such as picking up after your pooch, keeping him under control and—this is critical—staying out of the way.
Nothing will rile a cross-country skier quite like grooved tracks obliterated by snowshoes (I still remember the barely concealed disdain of those whose tracks I tromped through with my brand-new Tubbs) and dog paws. “That’s what people pay to ski in,” says Llona Ney Clausen, manager of the Nordic & Snowshoe Center at Tamarack Resort in Donnelly, Idaho, where four-legged guests are welcome on all 22 kilometers of groomed trails.
If dogs are allowed off-leash, Clausen says, they should respond perfectly to voice commands. “If your dog can [be depended on to respond to your verbal commands], regardless of distractions, you may not have to have him on a leash,” she explains. “The biggest problem will be, of course, when a dog meets another dog.”
In our beloved forest, the afternoon light is fading as we navigate one last ridge; the maples, the river and the rambling stone walls are studies in gray. The dogs have fallen in behind us, their way of saying it’s time to go home. At the trailhead, we shoulder our snowshoes and shuffle toward the house as the moon rises through the trees like a plump yellow balloon. Maggie and Truman are—you guessed it—dog-tired, and in moments, will be snoring and twitching in front of a blaze roaring on our big stone hearth. During the dog days of winter, we’re certain, snowshoeing is part of their four-legged dreams.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Tracking showcases your dog’s most scentsational talent
When long-time tracking enthusiast Penny Kurz discovered that her mailbox had been vandalized, she took action. Harnessing up her tracking dog, Deuce, she set out to find the perpetrator.
“Deuce sniffed around the mailbox and started running what looked like a car trail to me,” says Kurz. “A car trail will hang along the curb or edge of grass along the sidewalk. When he puts his nose down into footprints, it looks different. He took me up a couple blocks, made another corner, up another street, then all of a sudden stopped. He went across the front lawn, poking his nose into the footprints, went to the front door and sat down.
“I was ready to knock on the door, say someone broke my mailbox and my dog tracked to this house,” says Kurz. “Then I looked down at Deuce. Unfortunately, you lose a little credibility when you’re standing there with a Miniature Poodle. I chickened out—if I can’t fix the mailbox, I’ll borrow a German Shepherd and go back.”
Follow the Dog
Unlike agility or obedience, where the handler gives instructions and the dog is expected to follow, in tracking the dog is in charge. He wears a harness attached to a 30-foot leash and pulls the handler down the trail. Some dogs are confident and fly down the track, whereas others are methodical and take their time. In a test, each dog receives his own track, and two judges follow the dog-handler team. Putting on a tracking test is labor-intensive and requires a lot of land, so the dog must be certified prior to entry to ensure that he has been trained to the proper level.
Three main organizations sanction tracking tests. The American Kennel Club (AKC) is probably the best known, but allows only purebred dogs. For the beginner level, or Tracking Dog (TD) title, the dog must follow a track 440 to 500 yards long with three to five turns and aged 30 minutes to two hours. At the end, he must indicate a scent article, such as a glove, to the handler. The Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX) title requires intermediate tracking skills. At the most advanced level, or Variable Surface Tracking (VST) title, the track is 600 to 800 yards long with four to eight turns, aged three to five hours, and covers three different ground surfaces, mimicking an urban environment.
To give you an idea of the degree of difficulty, AKC Field Representative Herb Morrison says the TD has a 55 to 60 percent passing rate, the TDX has a 20 percent passing rate, and the VST has a 5 percent passing rate. The rare dog who passes all three levels is a Champion Tracker (CT).
Elizabeth Falk and her five-year-old Bull Mastiff, Archie, recently made AKC history when he passed his TD. He became the first of his breed to earn his VCD (Versatile Companion Dog), which requires Novice-level titles in agility, obedience and tracking.
“One of the challenges was me trusting my dog,” says Falk, who accidentally flunked Archie at their first tracking test. “He was trying to turn, but I thought the track went straight [and] it was a deer track. Our first trial was definitely a valuable lesson.”
The World of Scent
On the other hand, DVG America, which offers tracking as part of its Schutzhund working dog program, requires the dog to be right on top of the trail or risk losing points. Whether you decide to track for fun or compete, the key is to be open-minded about your dog’s abilities. Carolyn Krause, author of Try Tracking!, began tracking in response to a comment by a sport writer who described Dalmatians, her chosen breed, as “stone-nosed.” Over the past 25 years, her dogs’ multiple tracking titles have clearly proven him wrong.
“If you have ever looked at grass with dew on it and saw all the trails from animals crossing,” says Krause, “that gives you an idea what the world of scent shows your dog. We can see it for just a few minutes. By simply taking your dog to different areas and trying things in the book, you can learn a lot about your dog’s personality and temperament. You don’t have to pursue a title, but you do need to make a commitment to it. You have to drive around with a “tracking eye”—oh, there’s an interesting place—and wonder if your dog could follow that. It’s amazing what your dog will show you.”
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Dog on Board
The race was on. a dozen people on stand-up paddleboards paddled ferociously across the Santa Cruz Harbor, flinging water with every stroke, and nearly 300 spectators had gathered on this overcast Saturday morning to watch their antics. The big draw? Dogs. Each paddler was toting at least one four-legged companion. Some sat between their owner’s legs, ears flapping. Others stood at the front of the board like hood ornaments, tongues flying. On one board, a pair of Rat Terriers scurried back and forth as though their movements could help propel their vessel. There was a bit of sliding, and a lot of laugher.
The event, dubbed DogJam! by its creator, Neil Pearlberg, is an annual fundraiser for the Santa Cruz Animal Shelter and something of a rare breed on the stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) scene. But as more people take to the sport, it’s likely their dogs will, too. “A standup paddleboard just happens to perfectly fit one person and one dog,” says Pearlberg, owner of Santa Cruz Stand Up Paddleboard Co. “Plus, you get a dog on a stand-up paddleboard and he just seems to know what to do.”
Pearlberg’s dog, Rusty, an Australian Shepherd/Bernese Mountain Dog/mutt mix, doesn’t like water, but will always get on the paddleboard. The pair is known around town for paddling ocean waves together. “I think it makes him better on the board — the fact that he’s not interested in jumping in and swimming,” says Pearlberg. “There was one time when I got knocked off by a rough wave and resurfaced to see Rusty still on, just surfing by himself.”
SUP, an ancient form of surfing, has its origins in Hawaii. And before it had a name, it was the way surf instructors gained perspective to observe students and read the incoming swells. Stand-up paddleboards, which resemble surfing’s longboards, stretch 10 to 12 feet and are geared more toward balance than speed. A single long-necked paddle is used to move the board through the water.
The sport has exploded in the last five years, thanks to celebrity advocates like big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton, and the fact that, unlike most board sports, SUP is easy to get the hang of. It’s not overly technical; doesn’t require a high fitness level; and can be done on lakes, rivers or the ocean, on still water or in waves. For dog owners, it opens up a whole new way to experience water sports with their pooch.
“Any dog can do it,” says San Diegobased dog trainer Lara Schindler. She started her Portuguese Water Dog, Snorkel, on a stand-up paddleboard when he was four months old, but says dogs of any age can get involved; they don’t need to be puppies. “This is one activity where the type of dog really doesn’t matter,” she says. “They can be any age, any breed, even any size. I’ve seen people SUPing with 100-pound dogs.”
What matters, according to Schindler, is making the dog’s first experience with the board a positive one. She suggests starting slowly on land, ensuring that your dog knows the basic commands — “sit,” “stay” and “down” — before you go on the water. “You don’t want the dog to be afraid of the board or the water, and you need a way to [keep] him from just jumping off the board whenever he wants,” she explains.
Schindler also recommends starting on a bay or a lake, as it can be tricky to maintain your balance in waves, which makes it scarier for your dog. Outfitting your dog in a life vest will help your peace of mind if he accidentally falls off, as well as give you a handle to lift him back on the board. Schindler teaches people to stand-up paddleboard with their dogs in one-hour private lessons. She says that’s about as long as it takes, even for people with no prior SUP experience.
Stand-up paddleboarding instructor Linda Brown, owner of Michigan-based Paddle the Mitten, echoes Schindler’s thoughts on the ease of learning the sport, but says every dog is different. All three of her Dachshunds enjoy SUPing on Michigan’s inland lakes, but learned at different paces. Kraut, the six-yearold, took to it immediately, and charges right up to the front of the board. The youngest, Gretchen, was the shyest. “Her first time out, she did fine until she realized the other two were still back on the shore,” Brown says. “Then, she jumped in and swam back.”
While Brown typically SUPs with one pup at a time, on occasion, she’s had all three on the board at once. Kraut stands at the helm; Gretchen sits between her legs; and Fritzie, the oldest, patrols back and forth. “I can’t say I recommend it,” she laughs. “They’re stubborn and don’t listen to me all at once.” Whether Brown has one dog on the board or all three, she uses the HovieSUP Nomad — a generous 12 feet long, it supports up to 350 pounds. She suggests buying a bathmat with suction cups for the front of the board, where most dogs like to sit, to reduce sliding. (The middle and rear sections of most boards have a non-slip surface.)
Brown’s favorite client is Judy Huston, also a Michigan resident, who decided to take up the sport at age 71 — and to do it with her 92-pound White Shepherd, Kole. Huston, a former windsurfer, heard about SUP from her son and thought it would be something fun to do with Kole, who has developed intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) and can no longer participate in many activities for fear of injury, and Callie, her 15-pound Sheltie.
‘The trickiest part with Kole on the board is balance,” Huston says, “He’s so big, you really feel it if he moves around.” She asked for a HovieSUP Nomad of her own for Mother’s Day so she could practice with Kole on the pond in her backyard. “I’m so looking forward to it,” she says. “I think it will be the most fun I’ve had with my dogs on the water in my whole life.”
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