activities & sports
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Interview with the President of Dogs Scouts of America
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:
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 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.
“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.”
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.”
“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
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
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.
To reduce furniture jumping, training your small dog to stay off the furniture is the obvious solution: no jumping, problem solved! But, as owners of small-breed dogs know, this is easier said than done. A simple and effective way to make their home more dog-friendly is to place pet ramps and steps next to their furniture.
Veterinarians and animal rehabilitation specialists suggest the use of ramps and steps to reduce the amount of jumping in the home. Ms. Gross-Saunders also recommends them for dogs recovering from surgery for back, knee and leg injuries, who absolutely must not jump on or off any furniture. If your dog was accustomed to furniture-jumping prior to the injury, adding a ramp or step is the only solution. Pet ramps also help dogs who suffer from arthritic pain (no matter their size)—it is estimated that one in five dogs in the United States have osteoarthritis so severe that it’s almost impossible for them to get onto your sofa or bed. A simple ramp can reduce pain and give your aging or handicapped dog a new lease on life.
Dogs too small to get up or down from furniture unaided—and even uncoordinated puppies—will adapt to a new ramp in minutes. For the Yorkies in our family, pet ramps have worked best, completely eliminating jumping on and off beds and couches. Ramps also provide a “puppy playground” in the house, a source of never-ending daily entertainment. Our dogs have loads of fun romping on their ramps, and even rolling balls and other toys down them—their own game of “doggy fetch.”
Pet steps are also great. Typically less expensive than ramps, they are usually more compact and fit into smaller areas. Steps often have storage compartments, which help corral toys and other odds and ends, and some are available with wheels to assist moving them from one place to another. There are also special units made with “mini” steps to accommodate even the tiniest of breeds.
So which option is best for your small-breed dog: ramps or steps? Both are built with your pet in mind, and designed to help your small dog safely navigate furniture. Countless models are available in different shapes, styles, and colors. Ramps and stairs are constructed from a wide range of materials ranging from lightweight high-density foam, plastic and PVC tubing to plywood and hardwood. Many models are available with attractive, removable and replaceable waterproof and designer fabric coverings. Beautifully finished hardwood and carpeted models compliment any home decor.
Puppy furniture costs vary. A single carpeted step starts at about $35, while a more elaborate set of premium hardwood steps costs as much as $250. Pet ramps prices are slightly higher, ranging from about $75 to $300. If you’re even minimally handy with tools, you can construct a simple—or elaborate, if your skills allow—ramp or set of steps yourself for the cost of the materials.
Whatever option you choose, it is important to provide your dog with both a safe alternative to jumping and assistance in navigating your “home obstacle course.” Simple pet-friendly furniture-helper units will reduce home injuries, making dogs’ lives happier, healthier, and safer—and give you more years to enjoy their company.
News: Guest Posts
I started jogging in 1975. My grandmother told me it was unladylike; my mother was certain it would ruin my knees. Thirty-five years later, I’m still running regularly and my knees are fine. I love it when science finally confirms what I’ve sensed all along, and also proves my mother wrong.
I believe that science about humans can often be extended to our canine companions. If jogging is good for us, it’s probably also good for dogs – with the usual cautions. I have had one or more canine running companion since getting my first Alaskan Malamute in 1985. She lived to be fourteen. My two current Malamutes Maia, 13 and Meadow, 11, are now “retired” from running, but they both ran until they were about nine years old, and still enjoy daily walks and are in excellent health. My current canine running companion is an exuberant four year old rescued Aussie.
A recent study out of Denmark makes a very convincing case that even moderate amounts of regular jogging improve and extend our lives. What’s impressive about this study is that it started in 1976; approximately 20,000 men and women ranging in age from 20 to 93 have been followed since that time, reporting their levels of activity, including jogging, as well as other factors related to cardio health and longevity.
At a 35 year follow-up, there were 10,158 deaths among non-joggers and only 122 among joggers. Jogging reduced the risk of death by 44% for both men and women. Jogging extended life expectancy 6.2 years in men and 5.6 years in women. An investment of one to two and a half hours per week, spread over two or three sessions, provided the most benefit, according to researcher Peter Schnohr, chief cardiologist of the Copenhagen City Heart Study.
Wow! Jog to live longer. So elegantly simple. And you get to enjoy runner’s high as a bonus!
Learning about the benefits of regular jogging from my own experience, I try to apply the same lessons to my dogs’ lives. From Schnohr’s study and others like it, we know that jogging improves our oxygen uptake, improves lipid profiles (raising HDL and lowering triglycerides), lowers blood pressure, improves cardiac function, bone density, immune function, reduces inflammation markers, prevents obesity, and improves psychological function.
Why wouldn’t this also be true for dogs? I’m convinced it is. I once made a guesstimate of the miles my Malamutes ran with me before I started noticing the signs that it was time to retire them to a walking regimen. The number surprised even me: 10,000 miles.* Observing the joy on my dogs’ faces when they run and their overall excellent health throughout their lives is my proof that running is beneficial for dogs. My vet is pleased that both of my Malamutes are lean in their old age, which benefits their joints. It’s a result of a lifetime of exercise. And we all know that “a tired dog is a good dog.” My regular runs with my Aussie mellow him right out.
Some people focus their efforts on making sure their dogs eat an optimal diet. That’s great, but if you forget the exercise component, you’re missing the chance to further extend your canine companion’s life and sense of wellbeing. Good diet alone isn’t enough. Humans and canines are designed to move. If your dog isn’t a good candidate for even an easy jogging routine, at least get her outside walking briskly and romping playfully every day. Regular weight-bearing movement in the key.
What about my mother’s long-ago warning that I’d ruin my knees by jogging? More to the point here, what about concerns that running will cause knee injuries in dogs?
Lauren Cox, MyHealthNewsDaily.com Contributor, asked several experts whether jogging causes arthritis in human knees. “That’s an old wives tale,” says Dr. Lewis Maharam, fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine. “Your parents decide if you're going to have arthritis or not — it's genetic. Jogging, or running, itself will not cause the arthritis.”
Dr. Michelle Wolcott, Associate Professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine adds that if you’ve never had a broken bone or ligament injury that would predispose you to arthritis, then the chances that jogging will cause arthritis in the knee are minimal. “We know that weight-bearing exercise, such as running, helps prevent osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Repetitive weight bearing and motion are good for the joints, and running essentially does that,” she says. “If you are not predisposed to osteoarthritis, and have healthy knees and are of healthy weight, then running doesn't affect your risk for knee arthritis. That's a huge misconception and one that I fight all the time.”
Again: If it’s true for humans – that jogging doesn’t damage healthy knees—then I bet it’s also true for canines. In fact, I believe that my dogs’ knees are better off running than doing activities like jumping to catch a Frisbee or chasing a ball with short bursts of speed. A lifetime of weight-bearing exercise allows for strong joints late in life.
In sum: What better excuse to get yourself out the door and jogging through the neighborhood than taking your dog on the same journey with you to a longer, healthier life? I have yet to meet a dog who won’t enthusiastically lead you out the door at the start of your jog, no matter the weather or time of day. It’s never too late to start. Just be sure to consult your medical and veterinary caregivers, start easy and build from there. Have fun with it. Motivate yourself by training for a local dog-friendly event, like Seattle’s Furry 5K, a run/walk that encourages bringing your dog. Your dog will thank you. You’ll both live longer and be better able to enjoy those bonus years.
*For skeptics, I calculated that number as follows: 8 years x 25/mls per week average x 50 weeks/year = 10,000 miles, a low estimate based on my own running logs. Many weeks we ran more miles, a few weeks we ran less. I suspect the real number is at least 10-20% higher.
Seattle Furry 5K: http://www.furry5k.com/
We’re easing our way into another summer season, tuning up for vacation flings, scoping out dog-friendly resorts and venues, and hoping to find time to settle back and simply enjoy a few peaceful moments with our dogs.
As our cover proclaims, at long last, I went to New York for a much-anticipated visit with the “Daily Show” dogs. We had put out a few feelers earlier this year, and some of you might have been wondering what came of them. In late February, I made a trip to New York and spent the day at “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” offices—and yes, I met the man himself. Since then, we’ve been reviewing the more than 700 photographs that our pal, ace photographer KC Bailey, took during my visit to come up with the one on the cover. You’ll be meeting Parker and Kweil, our cover dogs, and some of their colleagues (and seeing more great photos) in my story. Preview these exclusive sights and sounds from our visit!
Talk about a good time being had by all … not only does this have to be one of the most imaginative, intriguing and invigorating spots in which to work, its über-dog-friendly environment catapults “The Daily Show” into the stratosphere of the country’s most appealing workplaces. To honor that, we’re bestowing our first-ever The Bark’s Best Place to Work Award on “The Daily Show.”
Elsewhere in this issue, we share practical advice from our cadre of experts. Karen London gives us the scoop on the alleged differences between big and small dogs from a behavioral perspective; Pat Miller tells us how to tame door-darters; and attorney Rebecca Wallick provides a primer on pet insurance: Is it the best option? What should you look for when choosing a provider? What are the alternatives?
Then we take on one of dogs’ most profoundly embarrassing behaviors. Who’s missed out on seeing (or living with) a dog who tries to mount another dog, or his bed or toys or Uncle Louie’s leg? Julie Hecht helps us figure out what’s behind all those “good vibrations.” We go from R-rated to squeaky clean in a Q&A with a grooming pro, who gives us tips on the best way to brush and bathe our co-pilots, as well as the best tools (you can toss the one brush you’re likely to have but probably never use), methods and general advice on keeping our dogs looking spiffy.
In accordance with the season, the big focus of this issue is “Outside.” We introduce you to stand-up paddleboarding, a water activity that’s likely to have your dogs hopping aboard for the ride. We learn the ins and outs of backpacking with dogs and hear about a fisherdog. Carrying on in this vein, Lee Harrington describes her “back to nature” experience with Chloe.
In the last issue, we asked for your insights on two important subjects. One involved living in a multiple-dog household, and your responses convinced us that we need to examine this further. We’ve asked University of Michigan animal behavior researcher Barbara Smuts, PhD, to tackle it, and her findings will appear in a future issue. (We’re running highlights from your responses in this issue’s letters section, as well as online.) Keep them coming—we want to hear more about your life with a pack!
Our second request had to do with challenges you may have had while trying to adopt a dog from a rescue group or shelter. Again, the outpouring of letters showed us that this is also a topic that merits closer investigation. Contributing editor Julia Kamysz Lane, who’s been active in many rescue groups (both as an adopter and an adoption coordinator), will be taking the lead on this one. We hope to hear more from you. Did you encounter unexpected roadblocks during the adoption process? If so, what actions did you take? We also want to hear from rescue groups and shelters about their experiences: How were adoption criteria and processes developed? What kinds of challenges are involved? To get your feedback, we’ll be opening up this topic on both our blog and FB; any suggestions that may help increase adoption rates are definitely welcome.
That’s it for now. Let’s hope that the summery months give you time to chill, to kick back and relax with your pup at your side.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pure joy with rhythm!
When people spend time with their dogs, doing fun activities together, it’s good for both of them, and good for the relationship. As long as they both enjoy what they are doing, just about any activity will serve. In the video below, Jose Fuentes and his dog Carrie, both from Chile, perform a Latin dance called the merengue. They are both having a ball as they dance to Wilfredo Vargas’ “El baile del perrito” (“The dance of the little dog”).
Yes, I know that many will have orthopedic concerns when watching a dog up on her hind legs for so long, but all I could focus on was how happy Carrie looked throughout the dance. She is having a great time, and has clearly been the beneficiary of a lot of training and quality time with the man in her life.
They’ve spread joy to a lot of people, as evidenced by the fact that this video has over 12 million hits on YouTube. What do you think of it?
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Challenge your best friend physically and mentally and you’ll both reap the rewards
The covered dirt arena is teeming with dogs of all shapes, sizes and colors. In the bleachers, you see small gatherings of friends, family and curious onlookers. You close your eyes, take a deep breath and visualize your strategy as you and your dog wait for your turn in the ring.
The constant buzz of dogs yipping, handlers yapping and spectators oohing and aahing fades away as you open your eyes and refocus on your teammate. Her eyes gleam with excitement and she does a little play-bow at your feet. The gate steward gestures for you to enter the course as the team ahead of you races toward the finish.
You walk to the start line, ask your dog to sit and stay, then remove her leash. The judge signals that he is ready. You walk out past the first two bar jumps and turn and look back at your dog, who is quivering with anticipation. Your eyes meet and calmly, you say, “Okay.” She bounds over the jumps to you and together you dance among tunnels, weave poles, the towering A-frame, the teeter, the raised dog walk and many jumps in between. In 60 seconds or less, you experience the climactic thrill of agility: being one with your dog.
Navigating the Course
As you progress from one level to the next, you will face more obstacles, tougher SCTs and complex courses that require more handling strategy on your part. You will be timed either manually or electronically. Each competitive venue has a different method of scoring based on “faults,” such as knocking a bar on a jump, missing contact zone or going over time.
If you and your dog run the course cleanly, without a single mistake, you earn a “Q” or qualifying run. (At beginner levels, you are mercifully allowed a few faults). These “Qs” add up to titles, whose value are determined by the team that earned them. For top competitors, top performances and titles can lead to a berth in an invitation-only national or international event. For average participants, titles are concrete proof of the time and effort you and your dog put into becoming a team. For people with rescue dogs who had to overcome issues to play the game, titles are a badge of courage.
Sport Shifts Perceptions
Most importantly, agility gave us a relationship where none existed before. The dog who used to shrug off my touch and run in the opposite direction when I called now cuddles with me on the couch. The spark in her eye when she looks at me at class or on the start line at a trial makes me insanely happy. We are a team.
“Doing agility is a relationship-builder,” says instructor Barb Scalise, who owns Canine Care, Inc., in Bartlett, Illinois. “The journey as you both learn is just amazing.” She has trained in agility a variety of breeds, most of whom were adopted from rescue organizations. Years ago, she started with her first dog, a Dalmatian, followed by a Greyhound. Currently, she competes with a Pointer, a Vizsla and two Labs. Her oldest Lab, Mocha, is a 12-year-old rescue who twice earned the American Kennel Club’s top agility title, MACH (Master Agility Champion), and continues to actively compete.
In the Beginning
In 1985, Ken Tatsch was a CPA in private practice when he went to Crufts and saw agility for the first time. The following year, he founded the United States Dog Agility Association, Inc. (USDAA). Today, it is an international organization and boasts more than 25,000 registered competitors and more than 200 different breeds of dogs, including mixed breeds.
About the time Tatsch was organizing USDAA, fellow agility pioneer Charles “Bud” Kramer founded the National Club of Dog Agility, which was later adopted by the United Kennel Club (UKC). New venues soon followed suit, including the North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC), which promotes safety, and Canine Performance Events (CPE), for the more casual agility competitor. The Teacup Dogs Agility Association (TDAA) features scaled-down agility equipment for dogs measuring 16.5 inches and under at the withers. TDAA founder Bud Houston of Ostrander, Ohio, also created Just For Fun (JFF), which offers team play over the course of eight weeks, much like bowling leagues.
A Venue for Every Dog
Monica Percival, owner of Clean Run Productions LLC, and managing editor of Clean Run, a magazine devoted to agility, encourages prospective students to check out classes first before signing up. “Unfortunately, there aren’t enough quality trainers,” says Percival. “A lot of trainers just hang out their shingle because they saw it on TV or have an obedience school and agility pulls in a lot more money for training schools, so it’s very popular. I have seen some horrific things, like equipment that’s not safe.” Clean Run maintains an agility instructor/school directory on its website, www.cleanrun.com, which is a good starting point. (For more guidance on choosing a class, see “How to Choose an Agility Class.”)
Elise Paffrath of Vermont, founded her magazine, Dog & Handler, to emphasize that mixed breeds and shelter adoptees can excel in dog sports, too, if given the chance. As part of that mission, she only covers sports that are open to all dogs. Her own dogs—mixed-breed Scout and rescue Border Collie Spryte—are highly accomplished in agility. Inspired by her first agility dog, a mixed-breed named Breeze, Paffrath opened a full-time agility training business, Breeze Through Agility, and serves as a USDAA judge.
Staying the Course
A course that includes all of these obstacles is considered a “standard” or “regular” course. AKC offers a JWW (Jumpers with Weaves) class that only features jumps, tunnels and weaves, so it is very fast. NADAC’s “Jumpers” class is only jumps. USDAA offers fun strategy games like “Gamblers” and “Snooker” and pair relays. All courses are designed by a judge, and no matter how many trials you attend, you will never see the same course twice, even if you show under the same judge.
The judge’s role goes beyond course design. “Once the judge gets to the show, she must make sure that the course is set up correctly, and then she judges any faults incurred during the run,” says Elise Paffrath. “The judge is an observer, which is exhausting. In addition to travel [to the show site by car or plane], you’re on your feet all day, you have to keep things moving and there can be conflicts.”
Before your run, you have two ways to prepare your handling strategy. First, you can look at the course map, which shows you the location of each obstacle and how they are numbered. Second, you get a “walk-though” in which you and your fellow competitors walk the course. Sometimes it will differ slightly from what you read on the course map, so this is the time to review and/or rethink your strategy and memorize the course. Rather than try to remember it by number, it’s best to think of it in terms of obstacle sequences, such as “jump-jump-A-frame” to “tire-table-seesaw” and so on. (For more details about competition and the differences between venues, invest in a copy of Clean Run Production’s Competing in Agility: Entering Trials and What To Do When You Get There, by Cindy Buckholt. You can also check out the websites of each organization for rules, registration questions and more; see “Resources.”).
Old Dogs, New Tricks
Some pieces of equipment require more time and effort than others. For example, teaching the teeter-totter is a step-by-step process. First, encourage your dog to get used to movement under his feet by walking on a square wobble board on top of a small ball. Second, teach your dog rear-end awareness by walking him through the rungs of a horizontal mini-ladder on the ground—most dogs do not need to think about the position of their back legs, as they normally just follow the front legs. Third, slowly lead your dog across a long, narrow board flat on the ground so that all four paws walk the plank. You can raise the height of this board gradually as the dog’s confidence grows.
While your dog is learning the obstacles, your job is to learn handling skills so you can guide her from one obstacle to another. When you’re learning a new handling maneuver, it’s best to practice running without your dog and imagine her moving with you. That way, you can make many mistakes without punishing your dog with constant repetition.
“There is an art to handling,” says Bud Houston, who is a retired AKC judge and currently judges for USDAA and the Teacup Dogs Agility Association when not teaching with his wife at Dogwood Training Center in Ohio. “The [team aspect] is one of the overlooked elements of our game. Some people consider the dog to be 95 percent of the team. When you bring a young dog into the house, within months, the dog understands how you move. The same ‘laws of motion’ are applicable to agility. You must interpret how your dog interprets your movement. A lot of dogs do what I call ‘compensatory learning.’ Even though you might err in your movement, the dog is clever enough to figure out what you want of him.”
In general, our body language overrules verbal commands, so if you say, “A-frame” but your shoulders and outstretched hand face the direction of a tunnel, guess where your dog will go? (Editor’s note: See Patricia McConnell’s column for more on this subject.) The more seasoned the dog, the more weight he will give to verbal commands as your body moves ahead or laterally to prepare for the next obstacle.
Awareness of your own body cues and how to best communicate with your dog keep you thinking on your feet. Some people run their hands in their pockets to be more aware of their shoulders. Other people run “silently,” that is, without uttering a word, so as to pay more attention to their body. Often, they are amazed at how well their dog performs by reading just their body language. Patricia McConnell’s invaluable book, The Other End of the Leash, gives more insight into how we can better communicate with our dogs, both at home and on the agility field.
Donna Rock of Lacombe, Louisiana, was born without arms, and competes at the highest levels of agility with her Dobermans Annie and Quincy, using her shoulders and verbal commands to guide them. The sport appealed to her because anybody can do it. “I’m handicapped and yet I can still compete,” says Rock. “Young, old, fat, thin, abled, disabled—it doesn’t matter. It’s all about being the best you can be and doing it in a way that works for you and your dog.”
Wheelchair competitors also find success at agility classes or trials. Judy Guillot of Arizona was a stabbing victim at age 11, and in recent years, lost the use of her legs. When she saw agility on television, it didn’t even occur to her to question whether or not she could participate. “I would not be the person I am today if [the accident] had not happened,” says Guillot. “I have learned to adapt. That’s how I get that can-do attitude.” Now 58 years old, she and husband Dave play agility with five of their six toy fox terriers, stay active with their training club, and enjoy practicing and competing whenever they can.
Training Leads to Insights
Spending extra time training your dog will teach you a lot about her personality as well as strengthen the bond between you. What motivates her most: toys, praise, food or a combination? If it’s toys, does she prefer tennis balls, squeaky stuffed animals or fleece tugs? If it’s food, does she favor dehydrated liver pieces or bits of string cheese? Is she so eager to please that an enthusiastic “Good dog!” will do? Getting to know your dog, which includes observing her physical structure and how she moves, is essential.
Lynn Sykes of North Carolina and her 14-year-old daughter, Bonnie, both do agility, which has strengthened their mother–daughter bond as well as their relationships with their respective dogs.
“Bonnie’s Sheltie is a rescue and very high strung,” says Sykes. “She’s come a long way … Agility has given my daughter a lot of confidence and taught her to finally trust her dog and to be happy with the effort of the dog. I’m proud she’s stuck it out with a difficult first dog that many people had written off. Agility has helped them both. We do other dog [activities] as well, and I’m hoping that dog sports keep her from the drugs and other horrors that waylay kids.”
The physical activity certainly promotes a healthier lifestyle. Dr. Heidi Loganbill, a neurologist in private practice in Oregon, was working extremely long hours when she and her husband decided to get a Standard Poodle puppy, Pogo. “I couldn’t make myself leave work for myself but I could for my dog,” says Loganbill. “We started doing agility and I couldn’t stand to have lots of people watch me run my dog when I was fat. I was 5’ 2” and weighed 215 pounds.” Over the next several years, she lost more than 80 pounds. She and her husband now have two more Standard Poodles, Winnie and 6-monthold Gabriel, who her keep fit.
Staying active with his rescue Australian Shepherd, Mystic, literally saved the life of Alan Silvey of Florida. In 2004, he had a heart attack toward the end of a run at a trial. “The doctor said if I hadn’t been training and running [Mystic], I wouldn’t have been alive,” says Silvey. “My main heart valve was mostly closed up, but agility kept it all flowing.” Having saved Mystic from a shelter, Silvey says it’s only fitting that Mystic saved his life in return. He says the experience taught him that while titles are nice, just being able to run with his dog and walk off the course on his own two feet are what matter most.
No matter what your motivation, agility is a dynamic sport worth trying. The benefits for both you and your dog are endless, and you might be surprised at the sheer joy of the journey.
HOW TO CHOOSE AN AGILITY CLASS
The environment. When you enter the training facility—whether it’s a snazzy indoor training school or a fenced-off grassy field—take a look around. Is the equipment in good shape? What kind of flooring is used? Barb remembers the early days when she was first learning the sport and everyone trained their dogs on a cement floor covered with mats, which can take a toll on a dog’s joints. Today, artificial turf or thick rubber matting made especially for performance sports help ensure that you and your dog will be able to participate for years to come.
The instructor. Even if you know nothing about agility, you will have a gut reaction to what you see. If the instructor yells or students look stressed or frustrated, obviously no one is having fun. Look for an instructor who communicates well with the students and gives equal attention to each dog/handler team.
The dogs. How many dogs are in the class? Is there a lot of down time? How many often does each dog get a turn? Is safety stressed by the instructor? You don’t want a beginning or “green” dog to jump full height or go over obstacles like the A-frame or dog walk at full height. Also, only one dog should be off-leash at a time, even at the most advanced levels.
The dog walk is a raised, narrow plank that the dog must cross as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety or missing the contact zone on the exit ramp.
The pause table—a raised square table upon which the dog must do a sit-stay or a down-stay while the judge counts to five—looks deceptively easy. It is. The difficulty lies in the dog being still after racing around the course. Handlers sometimes anticipate the judge’s count and release their dog from the table too soon. The dog must then assume the sit or down position again and the judge restarts the count.
The teeter-totter or seesaw is difficult to master because the dog must walk across a moving narrow plank, tip it and hit the contact zone at the end before leaving the obstacle. The strange movement and the noise of the teeter banging on the ground can scare a dog, so it’s extremely important to be patient and follow your trainer’s instructions.
There are two different kinds of tunnels. The open tunnel is a tube through which the dog runs as fast as possible. The closed tunnel, or chute, looks like a giant wind sock. The dog must run through it in order to push up the material and exit. The “sock” of the chute should be straightened after every use to ensure the next dog that goes through doesn’t get wrapped up in the fabric.
The weave poles are challenging for dogs to learn because the weaving motion is unnatural to them. Twelve upright poles, each attached to a heavy steel base, are set out in a row. The dog must enter between the first pole and second pole from the right side, then fluidly step or hop between each pole to the end. Clean Run sanctions the “Ultimate Weave Pole Challenge,” in which the dog completes 60 weave poles.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Okay to play tug?
Strong opinions exist about the “Do nots” of playing with dogs. I agree with only some of these prohibitions.
I do stand by the ban on rough-and-tumble wrestle play and the teasing that often accompanies it. Though this form of play can be fun, the high emotional arousal that results often leads to a lack of inhibition, and that’s when trouble can happen, even to nice dogs and to nice people. Many actions of play are also used in serious fights and predation. These can create real danger when you (or your nephew or the little girl who lives next door) are down on the ground with your face next to an excited predator with dangerous weapons in her mouth. Serious bites could happen someday, even if she’s never bitten. All too often, I’ve seen shocked and devastated families crying in my office, and I don’t want it to happen to anyone else.
I’m also opposed to people chasing dogs, preferring to let dogs chase people instead. If you play by chasing your dog, you risk teaching her that moving toward her means the game is afoot, making her more likely to run away even when you approach her for another reason. This can ruin your dog’s recall. It can also lead to injury if your dog charges away from you into the street or other unsafe area. There’s no denying that letting a person chase a dog can be a great reinforcement for the dog, but I only approve this game for dogs who are so well-trained that the person can stop the game at any time and successfully call the dog to come.
I disagree with the following play advice:
Don’t mix training and play. Yes, do! It’s actually great to incorporate play into training sessions. The best training occurs when the dog views an activity as a game rather than a lesson. Using chase games to teach recalls, playing follow to build a base for heeling, using tug to practice “take it” and “drop it,” and practicing stays with “find it” games or hideand- seek are all great ways to blend training and play. Additionally, play is reinforcing, so playing with your dog may be better than the best treat.
Only young dogs need to play. No, not true! A small percentage of animal species play at all, and even fewer play beyond childhood. Dogs and people remain playful into adulthood, which may partially explain why we’ve been best friends for thousands of years. Many older dogs stop playing only because they no longer have buddies to play with. Keep playing with your dog well into old age. It’s part of what makes them dogs and us human!
Don’t play tug. Most importantly, I disagree with this prohibition (at least for most dogs). Many people advise against tug, which is a shame because so many dogs adore it. Tug is a great game, and dogs can learn a lot from playing it. Many trainers share this view and actually teach tug in puppy classes. The earlier dogs learn the lessons that tug has to offer such as impulse control, mouth control and cooperation as well as skills like “take it” and “drop it,” the safer and more fun the game becomes.
For a long time, many experts advised against playing tug for fear that it would create or increase aggressiveness in dogs. Later, tug was considered fine for most dogs as long as they were not allowed to “win” by keeping the toy at the end. The concern was that it would have bad consequences for her to feel she had just triumphed over the person.
A scientific study by Rooney and Bradshaw addressed this issue. They found that “winning” the toy in a game of tug had no impact on the relationship of the human-dog pair. Based on their research, though, we should still be thoughtful about letting certain dogs keep the toy after a tug game. The most playful dogs in the study exhibited significantly higher amounts of playful attention-seeking behavior when they were allowed to “win.” Therefore, it may be better not to allow those dogs who become relentlessly pushy about seeking more play time to “win” at tug.
Of course, for a few dogs, tug is a bad idea. Dogs who are prone to aggression induced by high arousal are not good candidates for it. The same warning applies to dogs with poor bite inhibition or poor self-control as well as those who tend to creep up the toy with their mouths during tug. Additionally, it may exacerbate object-guarding behavior in dogs who already exhibit it.
For most dogs, tug has many benefits. It is interactive and requires cooperation between humans and dogs. It can give dogs exercise and help them stretch their bodies prior to other activities such as running or agility. Tug can effectively rev up an agility dog for maximum success on the course. It helps many dogs learn better mouth control in general.
With so many “Do nots” out there in the world of play, the most important may be this: “Do not spend so much time worrying about playing with your dog that you don’t have time to actually play with her.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A handicapped dog negotiates obstacles with his nose
Navigating an agility course isn’t easy, so it would seem impossible for a dog who can’t see or hear. But there’s one pup in Texas who is proving everyone wrong.
Charlie is from a litter of deaf and blind puppies who were slated to be euthanized at a Texas shelter. Tara Stermer, a local trainer, and her friend, Carol Knight, took in Charlie, the mom, and two of the other puppies. Tara and Carol have been doing basic obedience and rescue event demos with the dogs, but were looking for new ways to provide enrichment.
At the suggestion of a friend who works with deaf and blind adults, Tara started teaching Charlie to negotiate agility obstacles with his nose. It may seem crazy, but Tara believes that training blind dogs to differentiate obstacles by smell isn’t so dissimilar from teaching a seeing dog to track.
Each obstacle is assigned a different scent so that Charlie can use his nose to anticipate what obstacle is coming up. So far Charlie has learned to go over a small jump and weave through poles.
Tara isn’t aware of anyone else doing agility by scent, so it’s still a work in progress. She may incorporate textures since scent varies with wind and other weather conditions.
Unfortunately, dogs with disabilities are often the first to be euthanized at shelters. But Tara has found that their handicap doesn’t hinder their learning curve. These dogs don’t realize that they’re different and can be trained with operant conditioning just like any other dog.
Charlie is an inspiration who will hopefully encourage people not to give up on these special dogs. Truly anything is possible!
Check out the Training By Tara Facebook page to follow Charlie's journey.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Paddling white water with a dog at the helm.
With the rhythmic stroke of our paddles, we leave the city of Glenwood Springs, Colo., behind and continue our float down the famed Colorado River. Ahead, a trio of herons stands at the water’s edge on a small grassy island that sits mid-river, temporarily dividing the Colorado in two.We paddle for the channel on the right, hoping we’ve made the correct choice.As we enter the channel—well past the point of no return —we’re confronted by a big rapid and tall waves.
Pointing our kayak resolutely downriver, we paddle hard into the rapid. Two waves crash over the bow, soaking Kelli (my wife), Altai (our dog) and me. The cold water is a momentary shock to our systems.We’re drenched, but we make it through, exiting into calmer water below the rapid. Altai turns around to look at me, a shocked expression on his face, and seems to be thinking, What was that? Kelli and I, for our part, are elated. This is what whitewater rafting is all about.
Eight months earlier, Kelli and I had adopted Altai as a twomonth- old puppy from a local shelter.His name, which means “golden mountain,” was both a reflection of his coloring and the embodiment of our wishes for what he would become as a fullgrown dog. Kelli and I are passionate outdoor adventurers, and we hoped that Altai would become our companion in the mountains— hiking, climbing, camping, snowshoeing. Early on, he proved to be a more-than-able adventurer, romping in the snow, hiking on trails and scrambling over rocks to lofty summits. But when whitewater rafting season came around, Kelli and I had concerns. Could we safely take him with us? Could we merge our passion for river adventure with our newfound responsibilities of puppy parenthood?
I scoured the rivers of Colorado for an appropriate whitewater run, and ultimately settled on a 15-mile stretch of the Colorado River on the state’s Western Slope, starting in Glenwood Canyon, running past the town of Glenwood Springs and finishing humbly at a pullout along Interstate 70 known as Tibbet’s Takeout. I chose the route for its scenic beauty—it is a transitional landscape, in which the evergreens and high summits of the Rockies slowly give way to the sagebrush and red rock of Utah’s canyon country—and also for its whitewater. Predominantly Class II with a series of Class III rapids thrown into the mix, it would offer Altai an introduction to whitewater rafting that wouldn’t scare him off the river for life, but would still give us a challenge and excitement.
In the weeks leading up to our planned adventure, a photograph I found on the Internet became our inspiration.Taken on a stretch of Arizona’s Upper Salt River, the photo showed a solo whitewater rafter using a pair of oars in oarlocks to navigate his raft through a tumultuous, foaming rapid. In the bow of the boat, his yellow Lab stood smiling into the spray.With any luck, Kelli, Altai and I would be doing much the same thing, or having at least as much fun.
The Big Day
Accompanied by Altai—properly attired in his flotation jacket—Kelli and I walk the kayak down to the water’s edge. More than a dozen other rafts are lined up, with commercial guides and literal boatloads of paying clients ready to give it a go on the river. Altai is the only dog, and he gets lots of smiles as I strap our food, water and camera into the back of the boat. The Colorado is running swift and brown, and the rock walls of the canyon soar above us.
Kelli settles into the bow of the boat, Altai follows, and I push us off into the river’s main current. Altai’s ears are down, and he’s clearly not sure about this new activity. The inflated gunwales of the boat flex under his feet as he tries to walk around,and he struggles to hold himself steady.We float downstream, and slowly but surely,Altai gets his river legs under him.As his comfort and confidence grow, so does the smile we’ve come to know so well, and he shows an endless curiosity about the canyon around us and the water surrounding him on all sides.
Before long,we tackle a series of straightforward rapids.Altai, who has been sitting in the bow in front of Kelli, comes back to sit between my legs; he seems to feel safer when sandwiched between us.
Then we face our first challenging Class III rapid of the day. We enter the rapid on river-right between two large boulders jutting out of the water.As the accelerating current pulls us into the rapid, a third large rock looms dead ahead. “Back-paddle right!” I yell to Kelli. Together, we quickly reverse our paddle strokes, which has the combined effect of halting our progress toward the boulder straight ahead of us and swinging the back of our kayak around so that we execute a 360-degree spin, exiting the rapid without touching a single rock. Both of us share the excitement and satisfaction of cleanly navigating our first major rapid.
By now, Altai, for his part, is learning to read the river. During calmer stretches between the rapids, he is alert, looking around at the canyon. But when he hears the subtle roar of approaching whitewater, he drops his center of gravity and braces against the gunwale.
So continues our whitewater adventure.We follow a bend in the river oxymoronically dubbed No Name. As the river continues its westward march, the canyon slowly recedes, and the canyon walls are replaced by the hot springs for which the town of Glenwood Springs is famous. There’s a pungent smell of sulfur, and the riverbank is streaked yellow and green with the mineral deposits from the springs. Amazingly, despite the busloads of commercial river trips driving up I-70 to the Grizzly Creek put-in, we have the river to ourselves.
As we float into the heart of downtown Glenwood Springs, the red ramparts of Elk Mountain loom over us.We pass an Amtrak station, and then a large Petco store.At the confluence of the Colorado and the Roaring Fork River, which flows down from Aspen, the river grows considerably. It’s wide and gentle here, and we beach our kayak among willows on the shoreline to eat lunch before resuming our journey.
Back on the water, we pass the island with herons and the rapid alongside, and then face South Canyon Rapid, the biggest of the day. Our guidebook describes it as a giant wave train, and recommends tackling the rapid straight on and “staying at the top of the food chain.”With Altai fully comfortable on the river now, we paddle hard into the rapid. It’s like a wet roller coaster as we go up and over each successive wave.
With the South Canyon Rapid behind us, the river relaxes considerably, and the three of us kick back to enjoy the view. Just before Tibbet’s Takeout, we navigate one final rapid, Dinosaur Hole, named for a nearby quarry where fossils were discovered. Soon, though, we’re on the beach at Tibbet’s, soaking up the warm early-afternoon sunlight. Altai lies down as Kelli and I deflate the kayak and pack up our gear. I glance over and see him smiling, and I know there’s a river dog somewhere back in his bloodline.
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