Thirty years ago, pets were a little like kids 60 years ago – seen but not heard. Their needs and desires were of little interest to American pet owners.
Sure, we fed and sheltered our dogs – the lucky ones were walked and loved, as well. But the American dogs of the ‘70s didn’t have doggy spas or canine camps – and they certainly didn’t have the equivalent of soccer moms and dads.
In the 2000s however, things have changed! Nowadays, dogs are booked as solid as kids with after-school sports.
Doggie parents are busy shuttling their canine brood to and from flyball practice and agility competitions. Instead of mitts and balls, hurdles and weave poles now litter suburban back yards.
Sports and other activities are the new, big thing in the dog world.
While showing dogs for conformation has been around for centuries, many of these activities are fairly recent inventions. Flyball (a relay race in which dogs jump four hurdles, hit a ball box, catch a ball in the air, and return over the hurdles), and agility (where dogs navigate a course of jumps and obstacles), are the two most popular of the dog sports.
Other popular dog activities include therapy work (dogs visiting patients in hospitals is an example), and freestyle (dogs and their handlers perform routines to music). Others are reinventions of dog work that has existed for thousands of years, like herding and sledding.
“Dog activities are huge,” according to Kristin Mehus-Roe, editor of the recently published “The Original Dog Bible” (BowTie Press). “People want to see their dogs fulfilled; they want to provide them more than just a place to sleep and something to eat.”
She points out that people with very active dogs are particularly drawn to canine activities.
“A high-energy dog is going to find a job of some kind,” says Mehus-Roe.
“It might be digging in your garden if you don’t find her something else to do. Agility or flyball can help fulfill their needs.”
She adds that many people adopt dogs who were originally bred as working dogs without considering what that means day to day.
“A working dog needs a job. She can become destructive or depressed without one,” Mehus-Roe says.
“Participating in the activity she was bred for, such as herding or sledding, or in one that simulates some of those things, such as agility, can be incredibly satisfying for both the dog and her person.”
She adds that people who do activities with their dogs often say that the bond between themselves and their dogs deepens, as well.
It used to be that dogs who were needed for work engaged in some of these activities. Now, urban dogs travel for hours to learn the art of herding.
Some pet owners stick to just one sport; others fill every free day with a dog activity.
Most of the canine activities offer competitive opportunities, where dogs can test their mettle against one another. Some of these competitions have become so intense that they are even shown on sports TV channels such as ESPN.
But while competition is a big part of the equation for many, there are just as many who only do it for fun and for the love of their dog.
These activities aren’t just for superathletes. Dogs from basset hounds to mastiffs can also enjoy them. Even senior dogs can participate in many of these activities.
Therapy work is an obvious choice, but there are many veteran participants in agility, flyball, even herding.
“I started doing agility with my dog, Desi, when she was 9 years old,” says Mehus-Roe. “She did it for three years and loved it.”
Chapter 14 of “The Original Dog Bible” is titled, “Activities You Can Do with Your Dog,” Mehus-Roe details 16 of the most popular dog-organized activities, as well as provides advice on safe ways to exercise with your dog.
She warns that just like humans, canine weekend warriors risk injuries. The chapter provides tips for warming up your dog before doing any type of exercise, ways to keep your dog safe doing warm weather and cold weather activities, and good ways to introduce your dog to a new activity.
In addition to descriptions of the activities, training techniques, and equipment used, Mehus-Roe also introduces the U.S. organizations that administer these activities and provides contact information for these organizations.
The chapter also has a host of helpful tips and fun bits of canine sports trivia scattered throughout.
“Canine activities are part of the modern human-dog relationship,” says Mehus-Roe. “They provide exercise for the mind and body and are a great way to bond with your dog.
“They also satisfy a dog’s most basic needs in a way that no doggy spa possibly can.”
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