Imagine a dog or any of its wild canine cousins weaving through trees in a forest, jumping over logs and rocks, and ambling through piles of brush in pursuit of a rabbit for dinner. These are the same type of activities that dogs who participate in agility undertake.
As Casper gears up for the annual AKC Central Wyoming Kennel Club Dog Show the end of this month, I wanted to take a look at agility competitions and what they mean to dogs, their owners, and the show spectators.
Benefits of Agility
There are several benefits for a dog and its owner to participate in agility. First, agility fulfills a dog's natural instincts. As mentioned above, wild canines traverse obstacles such as trees, logs, rocks, and brush in pursuit of prey. They also do these things to avoid being prey. Therefore, agility courses set up with weave poles, tunnels, jumps, and other obstacles offer a dog the opportunity to mimic the natural type of scenarios it would experience in the wild. Secondly, agility provides great exercise for a dog … as well as its owner. Running through the course, weaving in and out of poles as well as through tunnels and upon seesaws provides a great cardiovascular workout for a dog; the owner/handler runs alongside providing the commands needed to complete the course – that running gives the handler a great workout as well! Additionally, the interaction between dog and owner during the course-running creates a deeper, stronger bond between the two. An agility dog relies on the verbal and hand signals of the handler, and as the two work in tandem to complete the course, their dependence upon each other during the competition instills a deeper dog-owner bond.
Best Breeds for Agility
All dog breeds are welcome in agility competition. Even though all breeds are welcome, certain dog breeds do best in agility. Those are the working breeds, the ones with energy and who are most genetically-gifted in running with purpose. Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Jack Russell (now called Parson Russell) Terriers, Pembroke Welsh Corgis, and Shetland Sheepdogs perform well in agility competitions. According to the AKC, the most popular dog breeds in agility these days are Shetland Sheepdogs, Border Collies, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Welsh Corgis, and Papillons.
Certain breeds may not perform as well in agility due to their personalities or their body composition. For example, Dachshunds have very short legs and may not jump hurdles very well; pugs with their flattened noses may experience breathing problems from running the course; and giant breeds, such as St. Bernards, may not navigate the course very rapidly, particularly weave poles.
AKC events allow varying jump heights, adjusting to the type of dog competing. The classes are divided by those jump heights to make the competition more fair between the different dog sizes. The dogs run the same course, though, with adjustments in expected time and jump height.
Dogs between the ages of one and eight seem to do the best in agility. Young dogs and puppies can be trained, however, AKC competition rules state a dog must be at least a year old to compete in agility events. Dogs trained in basic obedience perform the best because they follow their owners' commands and instructions. A person can start basic obedience with puppies and young dogs and work up to agility training in the backyard or with a local group in preparation for agility competition when the dog is closer to one year of age, and therefore, allowed to compete in an AKC-sanctioned agility event.
History of Agility
Dog agility began in England in 1978 when the Crufts Dog Show featured a jump-style course as entertainment between competitions. Dog agility came to America during the 1980s. The first AKC event was held in 1994. According to the organization, agility is one the fastest-growing dog sports in America and the fastest growing event in the organization. In the first year of AKC agility trails there were 23 competitions; in 2003 there were 1,379 and in 2007 the number increased to 2,014.
Dog agility is a sport recognized around the world. A world agility championship is held annually as is the Agility European Open and the AKC's National Agility Championship. Learn more at http://images.akc.org/pdf/Dog_Shows.pdf.
Catch a Show, Casper!
The Central Wyoming Kennel Club Dog Show is scheduled at the Fairgrounds in Casper July 29 – 31, and the AKC Agility Trials for Central Wyoming begin in September. Stop by and cheer on your favorite breed! Learn more at http://www.centralwyomingkennelclub.org/events.html and https://www.apps.akc.org/apps/club_search/index_master.cfm?action=refresh_index&active_tab_row_A=1&active_tab_col_A=2&Fixed_ID=2.
Last fall my community opened a fenced-in dog park, the first secured setting specifically for dogs and their humans in town. Although the community had a dog park for many years, it was not completely fenced, and therefore, not secure. In fact, the North Platte River runs next to the park and several dogs have drowned there.
Good for Residents and Visitors
Throughout the nation, dog parks are popular not only for community residents (two and four-footed), but also for visitors to those communities. For example, in Wyoming (the state in which I reside) next to the Cheyenne Animal Shelter is the Nancy Mockler Community Dog Park. This dog park provides highway travelers on I-80 or I-25 ability to rest and stretch their legs … and to provide the same for their traveling furry companions. Rock Springs, Wyoming has the Bitter Creek Bark Park off I-80. This fenced-in dog park includes a water feature and small lake, nice amenities on dry, hot days.
With more hotels becoming pet-friendly, having a dog park in the community is an added benefit for enticing travelers to choose to stop in that town. Having a dog park, especially a fenced-in one, is welcoming to travelers with dogs because people like knowing their dogs are safe. An enclosed park keeps dogs from running away and from running onto busy streets. And, if you're a visitor to a community, one of the last things you want to worry about is your dog being lost!
Dog parks also provide socialization opportunities, again for both the dogs and their owners. While walking or playing with one's dog at a park, a person is likely to engage in conversation with other dog owners … and the dogs are apt to play with one another, running through the park or fetching a ball or other toy. Studies show people who have dogs are more outgoing and engage in more socializing because, well, like with our kids, we dog people like to talk about our furry family members!
Having a dog park provides great opportunities for exercise for both canines and their humans. Getting outside with our dogs to walk, to run, to play, provides our dogs with activity they need for a healthier life … and gives us people exercise and better health as well. And, exercising with our dogs helps strengthen the bond we share with them.
Separate Spaces for Different Dogs
It's my hope my city leaders will create more fenced-in dog parks in our town, and I hope the next one will provide a separate area for older, less active, and/or special needs dogs. Billings, Montana, for example, provides two sections within one large dog park (total of eight acres in size!): one area for active and larger dogs, and a smaller area for the older, slower, more shy, and for disabled dogs. I have a 17-year-old, deaf, nearly blind cocker spaniel, and when we are in Billings, we take him to this portion of the park, while our energetic, eight-year-old springer spaniel rushes around the trees and rock formations alongside more agile labs, boxers, and mastiffs. Having these two separate areas works well for our furry family.
Find More Information
For your summer travels, find out where other community dog parks are located by visiting http://www.bringfido.com/attraction/. You can also find pet-friendly hotel listings on this site.
We’ve moved our clocks ahead and spring is set to start in about a week (March 20th). With the beautiful weather predicted for the Casper area this weekend (highs in the mid to upper 60s, the weather forecast says!), it’s a great time to get outdoors and exercise. And, when you do, take your dog along!
Activities such as walking, jogging, and bike riding doesn’t have to be a solo adventure. Your dog, too, receives many physical and emotional benefits from activity, from sunshine and warm temperatures.
Casper has two dog parks now, one fenced-in and one open. Morad Park isn’t fenced so your dog isn’t safe from the flowing waters of the North Platte River, but there is more room for running. Lake McKenzie Dog Park, located off Bryan Stock Trail, is a two-acre completely fenced dog park that opened in November 2014. Here your dog isn’t as likely to jump (or fall) into the river but this park is smaller than Morad. However, there aren’t bike riders or joggers to deal with either. Whichever park you choose, you and your dog are apt to enjoy the outing, meeting other canines and their special persons and walking (or jogging) the trails.
Breathing clean, fresh air, relishing sunshine and warm temperatures on a Saturday or Sunday at the dog park is a wonderful experience for dogs and their owners. Socializing with others, be they human or canine, can also be a fun and engaging experience – who knows but that a solid friendship may just develop between dogs and/or people from a visit to the dog park?
Spending time on Casper Mountain, where it won’t be 60 degrees (but still a warm spring-like day at 7,000 to 8,000 feet in elevation) can also be a fun way to spend the weekend. Snowshoeing and cross country skiing with dog in tow again provides exercise for man and beast. Just make sure your dog is allowed in the area where you hope to be.
So, spring into exercise with your dog this weekend and feel healthier emotionally and physically … together!
The dawning of a New Year results in resolutions by people to eat healthier and get into better shape. Although many often break those declarations before month-end, perhaps you and your pet can become healthier together, thereby sticking to your resolution and helping your pet stay healthier and happier in the process.
Just as people need nutritious foods to keep them healthy, so do our pets. Just as there are a wide variety of foods we can choose to eat or not, so, too, are there many types and brands of foods from which to choose for our pets. Whether you go to your vet’s office, shop at a grocery or big box store, or buy your pet food from a pet supply store, you are bombarded by the many flavors, brands and special diet foods. With the numerous options, it can seem overwhelming to tackle the question, “What should I feed my pet?”
Pet food recalls make pet lovers recoil and question what companies to trust and what those companies are putting into our pets' food. The best way to combat doubts and questions is to research. Look at the brands in the store and discuss with the store staff. Inquire of trusted friends who are pet owners what they feed their animals, and of course, talk with your vet, especially if your dog or cat has a health issue, such as diabetes. Then, get on the Internet and read about the company from their website as well as learn more about pet food from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (http://www.petfood.aafco.org/). Ask your pet food supplier for samples to try as you learn what food is best for your furry friend.
You can read the labels, however, the order of ingredients on a pet food label is often based on the precooked weight (water and its contributing weight), not on the finished product weight. For example, if chicken is listed as the first ingredient, which we all think is good thing, how much chicken is really in the kibble? Processing chickens to create dry dog and cat food takes the moisture out of the meat and carcass. What is the percentage of chicken actually in the product – 10 percent, 25 percent, 40 percent, more than that? How much corn meal or wheat does the product contain? Some pets are allergic to wheat and corn. Are there synthetic vitamins and minerals in the food? Pets cannot always completely digest synthetic materials. And where is the food processed? Remember the pet food recall involving melamine and China in 2007?
In addition to food selection, here are a few other tips to keeping your pet healthier and happier this year:
Pet owners don’t need a special time to honor and celebrate their pets, but throughout the year there are various recognitions in honor of pets. For example, the second week of May is Be Kind to Animals Week, the month of June is Adopt-A-Shelter-Cat Month, and November is Adopt-A-Senior-Pet Month. The last week September is considered National Dog Week, when dog owners and various organizations honor dogs.
William Judy, who started Dog World Magazine in the 1920s, first set aside this special week as a way to celebrate those special creatures deemed “man’s best friend”.
The American Kennel Club (www.akw.org) honors both dogs and owners during National Dog Ownership Responsibility Day. The AKC is hosting a major event in North Carolina on September 21, and various AKC organizations will host activities highlighting the joy (and responsibility) of owning a dog throughout September. People and organizations can register the many activities they do with their dogs to impart responsibility. To learn more, visit http://www.akc.org/clubs/rdod/index.cfm.
In my community, we're having a Pet Fest on Saturday, Sept. 14. The Central Wyoming Kennel Club will be there as well as many other organizations and people who love dogs.
Dogs have served humankind for thousands of years, from protector to bearer of burdens. Native Americans, for example, used dogs to transport loads prior to the horse. Still today, dogs serve people in a variety of ways: herding and protecting flocks; finding fowl in the field; guiding the blind; assisting deaf and wheel-chair bound individuals; rescuing lost children; and bringing smiles to those in hospital beds. Here’s a quick look at some of the ways dogs help people:
Assistance dogs are specially trained to help people manage physical or emotional disabilities. Guide dogs assist the blind, deaf assistance dogs alert people to the telephone or doorbell, and assistance dogs help those in wheelchairs open refrigerators and building doors.
Search and rescue dogs look for the lost. From hikers and skiers to victims of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, these hero dogs put their health and life in the balance in the line of their duty.
Military and police dogs also put their lives on the line. From sniffing for drugs or bombs to patrol duties, these dogs serve our country in the United States and abroad.
Visiting hospitals and nursing homes, therapy dogs bring smiles to the faces of ill children and lonely senior citizens.
Read-to-the-dog programs are popular in many libraries across the country; these programs help children become better readers for they aren’t as nervous reading to dogs as they are reading with adults. The Butte Public Library, for example, has a program called Paws for Reading, at which time children interact with special visiting dogs.
Sporting dogs, including spaniels, retrievers and pointers, help bring home dinner in the form of ducks, pheasants, and partridge,
Herding dogs, like the Australian Shepherd and the Old English sheep dog, have the genetic instinct to drive and gather livestock. Historically, they have been used to assist shepherds and farmers; many of these dogs, such as the collie and the Canaan dog, have been used for centuries.
A variety of dogs are working breeds, including the Siberian husky and the Bernese mountain dog. Others, including German Shepherds, Akitas, and Doberman pinschers, help protect people and property.
Dogs help people in many ways, including the simple acts of helping us exercise, lowering our blood pressure, and getting us to laugh and smile more often. So, honor your special pooch during National Dog Week with an extra ounce of kibble, a special hug, or a day outdoors in the field. And, consider attending a special event near you for Dog Ownership Responsibility Day.
Also, remember those wonderful canines you don’t know, like those that search for lost hikers, those who dig skiers from avalanches, those which have given their lives sniffing for bombs, dogs that bring a smile to a grandfather’s face when visiting the nursing home, and dogs that spend time in libraries listening to children hesitantly read aloud… dogs in service to others for the sake of all.
Playtime – something children and pets enjoy and adult humans should do more of. Activity and play are good for people and for our pets.
Consider the wild cousins of our cats and dogs, those cougars, tigers, wolves and coyotes that wander the immense outdoors – searching, tracking, stalking, and chasing prey, and rolling, wrestling, and pouncing on their siblings and packmates. The wild ones engage in great amounts of activity; the furry companions living in our homes, more often than not, participate in the activity of... couch potato.
Most dogs were originally bred for some type of job such as herding, hunting, hauling, and guarding. These tasks required strong bodies and alert minds, and many breeds today still yearn for the work for which they were bred – you see that when your Corgi or Aussie Shepherd herds your kids! Cats also had jobs during the agricultural and early industrial age: keeping vermin, like mice and rats, at bay. Yet, today, most dogs and cats enjoy the lap of luxury – laying on the couch, floor, or pet bed. And sometimes that lack of activity leads to boredom and gets them into trouble.
There are many benefits for our pets to engage in play and other activities. In addition to being more physically healthy, exercise often alleviates unruly behaviors such as chewing, digging or scratching, hyperactivity, jumping on people, barking, whining, and meowing. These behaviors can not only be annoying but also destructive.
Mental stimulation is also important, particularly for those dogs bred for active jobs such as herding and hauling. Therefore, participating in more rigorous exercise like hiking and jogging or joining agility or tracking events not only exercises a dog physically but mentally as well. Playing with the cat using feather and laser toys engages kitty's prey and pounce instincts, again stimulating the cat's physical as well as mental abilities. Playing with your pet in the afternoon and evening helps tire it before bedtime, keeping it from being restless at night when you want to sleep – a great benefit for you!
So whether playing fetch with Fido, hiking with Holly, running the agility course with Ruger, or feather swirling and yarn twirling with Simba the cat, providing your pet with playtime reaps positive benefits for both you and your furry friend. And keep in mind that our pets want us to engage in activities with them – we are their special person, their pack, their clan. Think of how young wolves and lions wrestle with and stalk one another – they play together and hunt together. So spend time with your special canine or feline today engaging in some fun activities – your bond will grow even stronger … and the exercise will do you both good!
For more information on the benefits of playful activities with your dog, visit http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/dog-behavior/exercise-dogs.
For further information on agility, tracking, and other dog events and activities, visit http://www.akc.org/dog_shows_trials/.
For more information on enriching your cat's life with play and other activities, visit http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/cat-behavior/enriching-your-cats-life.
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.