There are many types of activities a person can do with their pet. During the next few months, we’re going to look at the numerous and varied sports you can do with your pet. Although primarily geared for canines, cats can also engage in different activities, as we'll learn in future posts through this series I’m calling “What Activities Can I Do with My Pet?”
Dogs love activities. In fact, most dog breeds originated for some type of purpose, whether hunting, herding, or digging. Therefore, different breeds are high energy; they need activity to burn off that energy. These days, there are a wide variety of sporting events you and your dog can do together, from agility to skiing. This week, we’ll look at canine agility.
What is Canine Agility?
Agility is a team sport, an activity between a dog and its handler. It’s often a competition and is endorsed by the American Kennel Club (AKC) and other canine organizations. However, you and pup do not have to compete; you can just enjoy the sport for the fun.
To participate in agility, dogs go through a series of obstacles, including weave poles, tunnels, and see-saws; the idea of the competition is to complete the course as quickly as possible, with the best time produced being the winner. The competitions are held for dogs of different sizes; therefore, your collie and your Westie can both complete. Even if you choose to not participate in competitions, you and your dog can enjoy the benefits of agility in your own back yard. Equipment can be purchased online and sometimes in big box pet supply stores like PetCo. You can also make agility equipment yourself or have someone make the course items for you.
What Breeds Do Best in Agility?
Although any type of dog can participate in agility, the breeds most adept at this sport seem to be Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Shetland Sheepdogs (“Shelties”), and some terriers. Surprisingly, you can also find Pembroke Welsh Corgis, Standard Poodles and German Shepherd Dogs on the list. If a dog has energy, listens well, and knows basic obedience commands, s/he will likely enjoy and do well in agility.
Where to Find Competitions in the U.S.
One of the best ways to discover if agility is a good sport for you and your dog is to visit some agility competitions and observe how things are done. Here are three websites to find out where competitions are being held:
If you think agility would be fun for you and your pup, learn more about this sport and how to get started (whether for fun or competition) by visiting these websites:
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.