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Pets 101

A Sporting Chance

Make your mutt work for it at one of these top canine activities.

By Tails Staff

Agility

Almost any dog can do agility, mutts included. But it does take a bit of discipline, because Fido has to tackle an obstacle course full of jumps and tunnels while being directed only by his handler’s voice and body signals. The sport is fairly physical, so human and pooch should be in decent health and physical condition before beginning.

Expert advice:
Elizabeth Evans is a seasoned agility trainer and owner of Best Friend Fun Farm in McKinney, TX. To get things started, Evans advises brushing up on obedience training. “You need a dog who will follow you … who thinks working with you and learning new things with you is fun.”

Evans recommends starting with a recreational group class with an instructor rather than trying to do it alone. After you’ve been with an instructor for a while, you can buy or build home equipment—such as a jump made out of a broomstick and a stack of books.

Beginner’s thoughts:
Kathy Banks is a newbie to the sport and participates with Good Dog Agility Club in Chandler, AZ. She says that beginners should be patient and not rush to learn all of the obstacles. “It requires focus and attention,” she says. Meanwhile, beginner Michael Lueck from Richardson, TX, says that agility turned out to be better than he expected. “I was really surprised on the deep working bond [my dog] Sandy and I developed and the confidence Sandy gained.”

Both Banks and Lueck agree that not only is the sport great for the relationship between human and pet, but it’s also a great way for humans to socialize. “People who join … [can] make friends with people from all walks of life, skills, and experiences. It is a great way to meet people,” says Banks.

For more information, visit the United States Dog Agility Association at USDAA.org.

Flyball

The key word in “flyball” is fly, because that’s exactly what seriously competitive dogs do as they race in teams of four up and down a 51-foot-long course. Each dog jumps four hurdles in addition to making the pivotal “box turn” at the crux of the race––when Fido triggers the flyball box––at which point he catches a tennis ball, runs down the course, encountering the same four hurdles again, ball in mouth, in the fastest time possible. Whew! Needless to say, this is one nail-biting way to get your pooch’s blood flowing in a hurry.

Expert’s advice:
Lisa Peckham of Charlotte, NC, whose dogs have been avid flyballers for eight years, describes flyball as the poor man’s dog sport, especially considering that clubs absorb much of the cost of equipment. Because courses are standardized, she says that flyball is a breeze once your dog is trained, no matter what his breed or size. However, a flyballing dog should be fit. On tournament day, your pooch could run the course up to 25 times, so Fido has to be more than a weekend warrior to keep up. And beginners take note: Your canine pal has to love something more than that tennis ball to complete the course. Once the ball is in his mouth, you have to give Sparky a reason to run back to you, whether it’s a toy, food, or your smiling face covered in cheese.

Beginner’s thoughts:
According to Whitney McKim of Lovettsville, VA, who is teaching her two dogs to run the course, training Fido for flyball isn’t for the faint of heart. But those who stick with it reap the rewards, including an enhanced social life. “Our team members have become some of our best friends. When we’re not racing during competition, we’re playing cards or enjoying the company of other people who love their dogs as much as we do.”

For more information, visit the North American Flyball Association at Flyball.org.

Disc Dog

Did you know the fun you have tossing Fido a Frisbee in the backyard could be prize-worthy? Disc dog is an internationally recognized sport with competitions and clubs around the country. Competitions consist of various events, from simple tossing and fetching to the highly regarded and fun-to-watch freestyle event. Local clubs often have practices and more casual environments for socializing with others involved in the sport.

Expert’s advice:
Robert Niemeier has been doing disc dog for 15 years and founded the St. Louis Disc Dog Club with his German Shorthaired Pointer, Stella. He has won competitions with different dogs over the years and says training is easy. “Disc is a great way to get rid of their extra energy and do something that they really enjoy,” he says. To get started, all you need is a good disc, which costs around $3.

“Make the disc a special toy for your dog,” says Mark Gose, vice president of the Indy Dog & Disc Club. “When you’re practicing, always stop while he is still anxious to play. This keeps the dog’s drive high and will help avoid injury from being over-tired.” He also recommends learning to throw the disc correctly before practicing with your dog.

Beginner’s thoughts:
Denise Thornton started playing Frisbee with the Indy Dog & Disc Club last summer and has three words of advice for newcomers: “Go for it!” She recommends first learning about the sport, then contacting a local club to get involved.

“It creates such a strong bond between you and your dog,” she says. “You also have a sense of accomplishment that can really boost your self-esteem as all your practice starts to show.” She adds that the sport is very beginner friendly. “You will get more cheers and encouragement for a great try than the champion will get for a great catch!”

For more information, visit the International Disc Dog Handlers Association at IDDHA.com.

Dock Diving

Forget complex rules, unwieldy courses, and months of training—dock diving is all about having fun with your dog. The rules of “big air dogs” are simple; the handler throws a ball or other toy off the end of a dock, and the dog goes after it. The winning jump is, quite simply, the longest one. Competitions are held both indoors and out, and there’s minimal training needed in order to get started with the sport. All you really need is a dock, a lake, and a toy.

Expert advice:
“Don’t be shy,” says Tom Dropick, official expert trainer for Dock Dogs. “C’mon out and give it a try!” He advises that people give their pooches some training on dry land before adding water. “You have to have a routine,” he says. “New people get up on the dock and don’t know what to do.” It’s also a good idea to make sure your dog has had some basic obedience training so the competition doesn’t overly excite him. Dropick also warns about overdoing it. “This is a sport that intrigues the dog. If they do it too much, they’ll get bored.”

Beginner’s thoughts:
There couldn’t be a more welcoming sport for beginners than dock diving. “Dogs who teeter on the edge, contemplating whether or not going after the ball is really worth it, get just as much love and encouragement from the crowd as those who fly gracefully off the dock,” says Stacy Robyn, who competes with Phoenix Splash Dogs. She says newcomers to the sport have nothing to fear. “Everyone involved is super nice and anxious to help,” she adds, “[so] there is absolutely nothing to worry about.”

For more information, visit DockDogs.com.

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