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North Hills Monthly

Canine Sports Provide Great Bonding Opportunities for Dogs, Humans

Jun 30, 2019 10:11AM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

Oliver, photo courtesy of Lucky Paws Pet Resort

A busy dog is a happy dog—one who has a purpose, an outlet for exercise, and who is able to build a strong bond with his or her pet parent.

This is where agility training comes in. Agility is a canine sport in which dogs learn to conquer such obstacles as A-frames, hoops, tunnels, slides, balance beams, and more, all while being led and commanded by their owners. Speed and accuracy count in agility, but so does learning to follow directions.

Agility has been around for about 40 years and for good reason. It not only boosts self-esteem for the dog but he or she also learns to problem-solve. At Misty Pines Pet Company and Dog Park, a dog boarding, play place and training center in Wexford, all classes integrate a bit of obstacle training, though they do offer a weekly class dedicated to agility.

“It’s all about relationship-building with your dog and giving your dog a good mental and physical workout,” said Jeff Woods, Misty Pines’ owner. “Dogs are basically working creatures, and dogs that have jobs serving their humans are happier.

“In agility, you’re teaching the dog to work with you as a team. It creates a nice working relationship between humans and their dogs and builds a rapport, as you’re building up a communication system for the dog,” he added. “It’s a win-win.”

“It’s a great bonding experience for the owner and their dogs, and it’s great exercise for both parties. Anything that is stimulating to the mind and body is usually a good thing for four- and two-footed creatures, and agility will definitely tick those boxes,” agreed Gretchen Fieser, owner of Lucky Paws Pet Resort in Freedom. In addition to many other obedience classes, Lucky Paws offers agility training at the freshman, sophomore and junior levels; the resort also has a pet hotel, daycare, dog pool, and a salon.

Although some dogs take to agility more than others, especially herding breeds or working class breeds such as border collies and Australian shepherds, there is not an age limit nor breed specificity when it comes to the sport. Fieser said that one of her agility “clients” is a bulldog.

“He is very slow, but it is a fun thing for he and his owner to do together; that is what it is all about,” she said.

Woods agrees that all dogs can be obstacle trained, no matter their breed, age or size; obstacles can be designed to accommodate any dog. And it’s especially helpful for puppies. “They use their brain, build up self-confidence, and it teaches puppies to work with people,” he explained.

To get practice in between classes, agility exercises can even be done at home. For example, a dog can jump over a simple 2' by 4' or jump through a hula hoop.

Some dogs do go on the competition circuit, but at Misty Pines and Lucky Paws, the emphasis is having fun in the here and now.

Another good way for dogs to get in shape while having fun with their owners is by diving. As Lucky Paws has a pool on their property, they offer diving classes that teach dogs to jump off the side of the pool into deeper water to chase balls or toys.

Often, diving dogs go on to compete in local or national competitions. Jo Anna Meese is president of 3 Rivers DockDogs, an affiliate club of the World Wide DockDogs organization.

The idea is that dogs jump off a dock as far as they can and compete in various events such as Big Air (long jump); Extreme Vertical (high jump); Speed Retrieve, and Iron Dog, the latter of which is akin to a triathlon.

Currently Meese works with her Fox Red Labrador Retriever, Journey, and plans to compete at an event during the Regatta at Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park the first weekend in August.

“Dogs love it; they’re thrilled to be there, and people like it too. It is the best exercise,” said Meese.

Their owners are equally excited. “If you see the person working with the dog the first time it goes off the dock, they’re jumping up and down,” she said.

Like agility, there are some breeds that are more suited to the sport, such as whippets, German Shorthaired Pointers, Labs, and Chesapeake Water Dogs, but most dogs can dive.

Meese’s greyhound, Country, won three DockDog national championships and three DockDog world championships. He also broke the Extreme Vertical world record three times and the Big Air world record five times. The video of Country’s record-setting dive (a distance of 28’ 10” feet) can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDhSCIJTkR8.

Engaging in sports with canine companions has grown in popularity over the years. 

“When I was little, people didn’t do things with their dogs nearly as much as they do now. You can see how much pets mean to us, which is a very good thing,” said Fieser. 

“Any time that you can do something that is physically invigorating and mentally stimulating for a human and a dog, that is something that we definitely recommend.”

To learn more about Misty Pines Pet Company and Dog Park, visit http://www.mistypinespetcompany.com. Visit Lucky Paws Pet Resort at https://www.luckypawsresort.com. DockDog information can be found at https://dockdogs.com.