With so many dog sports out there, it can be hard to decide which one to pursue. You may have seen videos online (see links below), know someone who competes, or even taken a class yourself. Practicing a canine sport gives you and your dog a chance to spend quality time together while building skills that can help your pup develop better manners in real life. Even if your dog isn’t natural athlete, there may be a sport to suit him. See which of the sports below is right for your Rover.
Agility involves the dog running a course of obstacles, including jumps, tunnels, weave poles, a teeter-totter and more. It is an ideal outlet for many active dogs, as it burns both mental and physical energy. Nervous dogs can build confidence by first practicing the foundation activities and slowly building upon them, and the teamwork necessary for Agility lets a skittish dog learn to trust his handler. As each obstacle requires the dog to pay attention both to you and to his surroundings, dogs who lack focus or are excitable can learn to channel their energy on a fun task.
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For many dogs, a routine walk just doesn’t cut it; they pull and lunge at everything that interests them on the sidewalk, and even after the walk, they seem to have plenty of energy to burn. Can you blame them? How boring it must for a dog to go around the same block, day after day, peeing on the same unfortunate shrub and getting stink-eye from the same belligerent squirrel. Rather than walk longer, it’s time to walk smarter by incorporating dog parkour into your excursions outdoors.
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Big news! My second book, a collaboration with top trainer and agility competitor Sarah Westcott, is now available! It's a complete (and really fun) manners program built exclusively from sports, games, and tricks. Get it on Amazon here or at any number of other booksellers.
Play Your Way to Good Manners shows you how to approach your dog's manners training as a collection of cool tricks, exciting sports moves, and interactive games, changing your dog's attitude from "I have to do it" to "I want to do it." Sarah and I have drawn from techniques used in canine sports, games, and trick training, and applied them to a positive-reinforcement manners training program that you and your dog can easily follow.
Inside Play Your Way to Good Manners you’ll learn strategies to teach your dog:
Even when it’s too cold to do much outdoors, you can create challenging activities for your dog to do inside your home. You can’t go wrong with scent games, as they are naturally fun for any dog and can even carry behavioral benefits. On bad-weather days, scent games are the perfect way to break up the monotony of being cooped up indoors. If you have an elderly or injured dog who spends most of his time inside, scent games provide a mental and physical challenge, but you don’t need to worry about overexertion. These activities can also help active dogs burn energy in a small space without getting overly amped up.
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Sure, your dog’s Agility days might be behind him, and the gravity-defying tricks he used to perform are no longer in his repertoire. Still, there is a long list of activities perfectly suited to older dogs, to ensure his golden years are his best years.
Sports for Seniors
There are several sports that don’t demand much of your senior dog’s body. Even if you don’t live near a training facility that offers sport classes, there are online schools that allow you to learn and practice at home.
Rally Obedience (also called Rally-O or simply Rally) is a lighter version of competition obedience, and a great way for you and your dog to spend time training together. Rally involves you and your pooch performing a series of obedience-type tasks, laid out on a course. The tasks include lots of heelwork, sits, stays, and so on. Rally is perfect for older dogs because it provides lots of mental stimulation, but at a slow pace. Even at Rally trials, there is a division just for seniors, and exceptions can be made for dogs with disabilities.
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Just as kids learn life skills by playing team sports, dogs can learn everyday manners by practicing canine sports. If your pup struggles to walk politely on leash, it’s Rally Obedience to the rescue!
What exactly is Rally Obedience? Also called Rally-O or simply Rally, this low-impact canine sport involves a series of heelwork tasks, plus lots of sits, downs, stays, and other “obedience” type behaviors. At the higher levels, Rally-O involves elements of Agility and other sports, too. A Rally-O course is set up in a large ring with 12-18 signs, each indicating a task for you an your dog to perform. Your job is to navigate your dog through the course, accomplishing each task that is printed on the sign and then proceeding to the next sign. Signs might ask you to walk in a spiral pattern with your dog, have him do a Sit/Stay while you walk in a circle around him, or do a Sit-Down-Sit series. (See the signs here.) It’s easy to practice these exercises at home. If you choose to enter a Rally Trial through WRCL, AKC, or another venue, a judge will score your performance. As you get more and more qualifying scores, you can move up to higher levels.
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Yesterday, on a whim, I took Beans to a Barn Hunt Fun Clinic at Cassio Pet Resort on Newtown, CT. I had no expectations, as I know little about Barn Hunt and my infinitely sweet Beans is neither an athlete nor a scholar. But oh man, as the video below shows, we had a blast.
There were three requirements for her run: to find a rat that is safely protected inside a tube and then buried in some hay, to put all four paws on the top of a hay bale, and to go through a tunnel made of hay bales. (By the way, rats in Barn Hunt are treated very well, secured in the tube and taking turns so not to spend too long in there.) I was so impressed when Beans immediately found the rat, and then she looked at me rather than fixate on the little guy. Apparently our years of counter-conditioning to rodents has paid off.
Hopefully this is just the beginning for us!
As if the release of the BKLN Manners™ book wasn't enough excitement for one week, we just got word that a segment Sarah Westcott and I did for a Japanese TV series has aired. (It's almost entirely in English.) Watch it here!
The segment, which begins at the four-minute mark, gives you a glimpse of how to teach polite leash walking, not jumping on people, recall, a trick, and agility. In addition to Sarah's dogs Hank and Fever and my dog Batman, our wonderful client Margaret and her dog Grace volunteered to take part in the filming. Grace picked up hand targeting and jumping through a hoop with lightning speed.
On a personal note, Japan is a country close to my heart, where I have both family and friends. But dog training there isn't as robust as it is in the States, at least not yet. (However, excellent trainers like Miki Saito are changing that!) Therefore, I couldn't be happier to share what we do at Brooklyn Dog Training Center to a Japanese audience!
Kate is a certified dog behavior consultant, certified dog trainer, and award-winning author in Brooklyn, NY with Doggie Academy and in Southbury, CT.