Your Best Friend’s Destiny is Down to you
Fun activities to try with your dog
Column by Alice Clark RVN Photograph by Teddy Kelley
Jack, our pooches and I all had a very exciting month in August. The four of us had the opportunity to feature in a promotional video for Skoda – focusing on the difference between our day jobs and what we do to unwind and have fun. As it turns out, the dogs are born film stars, despite our worries with Etty being nervous around new people and Flo (typically) coming into season a couple of days before filming began.
Whilst Jack and I fluffed our lines and needed our makeup reapplied on a regular basis, the girls were content with treats, fussing and the occasional ball throw from ‘their’ crew. Our weekend of filming with the pups, which included exploring, paddle boarding and running with them, has made me think about how many activities there are that owners can enjoy with their canine companions.
It makes me sad to think about how many dogs are left home alone, whilst their owners go out and have all the fun, yet they are always so grateful just to welcome their humans home. Taking part in training, activities and sports with your pooch is not only great fun; it helps you to bond with one another and could keep you both in great shape!
Running with your dog is a great way to keep you both fit. If your dog is a known ambler on walks and enjoys stopping to sniff, a gentle off-lead jog could be a winner. For those sportier dogs that are known for attempting to pull your shoulder out of your socket on a usual walk, there’s a recognised sport called Canicross. Flo and I have recently taken up Canicross, which involves both of us wearing harnesses, with an elasticated towline (similar to those used in dog sledding) between us. Whilst I’m not a natural runner, working to keep up with Flo and encouraging her forwards and her working to help me up those hills, is great fun. If you are into more competitive running, there are Canicross events popping up all over the country, as well as many park runs allowing Canicrossers and local clubs who are very welcoming of prospective new members. Flo is also fantastic at pulling downhill (cue me trying not to fall in the mud with my arms flailing), so be prepared to take a few tumbles until your pooch learns some directions and commands!
Agility and Flyball are great activities to try with energetic dogs – especially those who are ball or toy motivated. Both can be competitive or just done for fun. Dogs can gain confidence, release energy and learn how to stay focused in a high-energy environment. Agility requires you to guide the dog around the course, whilst Flyball requires less activity from the handler, so there’s something for all abilities and fitness levels. Etty has tried a little of both activities, which she loved. Unfortunately her flat face and short stature makes catching balls a little difficult – I wish I had an excuse other than that I have terrible hand-eye coordination.
Watersports such as boating, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding can be great fun providing both you and your pooch enjoy the water. Remember to take safety precautions (Etty has a very cute lifejacket) and if your dog is a little nervous in new situations, build up to the activity with lots of positive reinforcement. Standing aboard a floating vessel will improve your dog’s balance and allow them to explore and discover environments they wouldn’t usually have access too. Flo very quickly gained her ‘sea paws’ and has only picked a few arguments with perilous buoys and inhospitable gulls.
Give up some time to help others. Recently I discovered that there are huge waiting lists for hospitals, care homes and other care facilities looking for visits from Pets As Therapy (PAT) dogs. Many people who require long stays in care facilities may miss having the company of a dog, so just having a dog to talk to and stroke for a couple of hours can raise their spirits. More recently PAT have even encouraged dogs into classrooms whilst children read out loud. Research shows that young people can become nervous and stressed when reading to others in a group. However, when a PAT Dog enters the group, they often become less stressed, less self-conscious and more confident as the dogs are non-judgemental.
Any dog or cat can be certified as a PAT animal providing they have been with their owner for at least six months, over nine months of age and after passing a temperament test. Obviously, pets that are calm, enjoy meeting people and love attention are best suited to the job. Visiting is done on a voluntary basis, so you and your dog can give as little or as much time as you want. I would love to have tried this, however Flo would sit on unsuspecting patients, Etty would bark at them, Maddi would over-excitedly launch at their noses, Otis the Poodle would sexually assault them and the cat would try to kill them – no PAT worthy animals in this house.
Scentwork and brain games are perfect wet weather activities for your dog, or are especially good fun if you’re not feeling up to a walk. It can be as easy as hiding a favourite toy somewhere in the house, or filling an empty egg box with treats. Start with easy activities and build up to more technical tasks like puzzle games or laying a scent trail for your dog to follow. These activities encourage your pooch to problem solve, which in turn allows them to gain confidence in making independent decisions.
Hiking and camping with your dog is another fantastic way to enjoy the great outdoors together. Pack the essentials and explore somewhere new. Make sure you choose a route that suits you both – keep in mind your dog’s fitness level, there’s no way you want to carry your 30 kilogram dog down a steep hill. After a tiring hike, if camping doesn’t suit you, try booking into a pet friend B&B, or go all out and book a luxury self-catering cottage. Don’t forget to pack your poo bags, water and first aid kit!
Join a walking group, so that both you and your dog can make new friends. Meeting a group of fellow dog walkers regularly for social walks is a perfect way to make daily walks more exciting. Such groups can be found via social media, by searching for specific breed meet-ups or local walking clubs.
Before involving your dog in any kind of strenuous activity, consider their health and physical ability. If you are concerned, book an appointment with your vet – it’s always advised to increase physical activity gradually.
Some types, breeds and characters of dog are better suited to certain activities, so have a go and see what works for both of you – most importantly, your dog loves spending time with you, so get out there and have some fun!