Let the Indoor Games begin!

With the fading light of summer upon us, it's time to start thinking of activities to keep your dog busy all fall and winter.  Something I learned long ago is that my dogs are happiest with a balance of mental and physical activity.  Here are a few of our favorite things. 

Vegas (back) and Leo the Lionhearted

Vegas (back) and Leo the Lionhearted

Hide and Go Seek

This children’s pastime is a great way to play with your dogs – plus it’s simple and requires almost no training!  It’s great if your best friend has a good understanding of “stay,” but if not and there’s a friend or family member to help, the assistant can hold the pup’s collar until you say “go!”  Now's the fun part.  Go hide!  Some of my favorite spots include the shower, behind the drapes, in an open closet, and behind the couch.  Be creative!  Once you're safely hidden, call out to your dog either by name or a quick “OK!”  Then you wait, as quietly as possible.  Their search will likely amuse you; try to hold your laughter so as not to give yourself away.  Once my dogs passed me in the closet three times before my amusement gave me away.  Leo and Vegas enjoy searching for their mom immensely! 

Find a Treat

Another activity that's fun year-round is the "Find it" game.  Even if your dogs don't know what those words mean, they'll quickly figure it out.  I always begin with soft, fragrant treats I can break into small pieces.  Again, you're going to take advantage of your dog's ‘stay’ to play this game.  If they don't have a great stay and you don’t have a buddy to hold them, you can use a crate or x-pen to keep them in place.

A couple of guidelines:  1) Consider your dog's height.  What can s/he reasonably reach?  2) Breakables.  I often use bookshelves to tuck treats into little nooks, but at 120 pounds, I have to be very mindful of Vegas’ enthusiasm for the game.  3) Small dogs don't want to get an upset tummy.  If you play this game a couple of times in a row, you could be delivering quite a few treats.  Be mindful of the size of the treats in relation to the size of the dog.

Now, with your dog(s) safely out of the way, hide the treats.  If this is your first time playing this game, I recommend keeping hiding spots very simple.  Once the loot is hidden, release the hounds!  Their sense of smell is highly attuned, and they will likely begin sniffing the air.  For the dog that acts bored or confused, casually approach one of the hidden treats.  See if he catches on.  If you have to, point it out and use the command “Find it."  By now they'll be off and running.

Leo and Vegas adore this game.  I especially love listening to their noses at work.  Some dogs will be very systematic in their approach, searching left and right, evenly over the hiding area.  Others will dart here and there, highly enthusiastic in their cookie quest.  Watch and learn; it’s wonderful to see them think and follow their instincts.  And one last thought:  if you have more than one dog, and there is ANY concern over food aggression, play this game one at a time.  Make this game fun, positive, and safe, and it will be a staple in your relationship for years to come. 

Ball Play

There's a wonderful pair of DVDs on the market by Debbie Gross (WizardofPaws.net).  They’re called Get on the Ball, and they show how to exercise your dog using inflatable fitness equipment.  From simple items like fitness balls from an athletic store to more complex and dog-specific items sold at places like FitPaws USA (FitPawsUSA.com), you can work on a vast array of activities with your dogs that will tire them physically and mentally while providing a multitude of other benefits.

If you have an old air mattress, you can inflate it and teach your dog to walk on it.  This develops the core and strengthens muscles.  It requires concentration.  Varying the volume of air and firmness of the mattress changes the balance required to remain stable.  For shyer dogs, you may need to build up to many activities, but even starting with simple steps, the activities will build your dog’s confidence. 

Shaping

Last but not least, a new favorite activity for Leo and Vegas is shaping.  This is a concept based on allowing your dog to think for herself.  In a nutshell, you don't give her any outward queues as to what you expect; you just wait for her to offer something and reward any movements toward the desired action.

A simple way to begin is trying to get your dog to get into a shallow cardboard box.  Choose a box of an appropriate size in a room with minimal distractions.  Armed with a pocketful of treats (and a clicker, if you use one), set the box in the middle of the room and sit down.  Wait for your dog to interact with the box.  If he looks at it, reward.  A sniff is worthy of a reward.  Nose nudges, head bumps, paw smacks, all of these interactions call for rewards.  She is thinking about the box and wondering what it means and asking you to direct her.  Meanwhile she is thinking!  Thinking is tiring, and a tired dog makes for a happy home.  Eventually she may put a paw into the box.  This is right on track to climbing in!

Leo and I play this game and he’s gotten to the point where he will get on the box, in the box, and even lay down in a box that barely accommodates his body.  He has great fun, and we enjoy the learning process together.  One final tip:  keep sessions short — five minutes or so at a stretch.  You can do multiple sessions, but give your pup a break in between.  This will keep her wanting more.

Wishing everyone an enjoyable transition into a beautiful autumn and winter.  Happy playing and learning with your dogs!


Kennedy Morgan works in the construction industry by day and enjoys coming home to her Great Dane, Vegas, and Pomeranian, Leo.  Her household is also indentured to a 14-year-old tortoiseshell diva cat, Capri.  They enjoy walks, hikes, beach trips, agility, and learning new things, and are often seen out and about on the west side or at local dog sporting events. 

Pawsful of fun and sand at Doggie Olympic Games

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June 28 and 29, dogs and their human companions will take to the sand in Long Beach, WA for two days of fun and challenging competition.  This year’s Olympic games will kick off with an opening ceremony and lighting of the Olympic flame, and then the real fun begins!  Festivities include events such as Babe Ruth Obedience Baseball, the Luciano Pavarotti Commemorative Sing Off, Nadia Comaneci agility trials, and the always popular Peanut Butter Lick.  Pawprint-shaped medals will be awarded to top dogs in each event.  Various contests have entry fees; the games are free to those who want to cheer on the action.  Learn more at DoggieOlympicGames.com.

Agility for All

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There are two definitions of agility.

Random House Dictionary defines it as “The power of moving quickly and easily; nimbleness,” and “The ability to think and draw conclusions quickly; intellectual acuity.”  Some of us might hear those definitions and watch traditional dog agility and think, “No way could I do that!”  Oh contraire!  Agility is adaptable, and truly a sport for all.  And, as you’ll see, critters of all types play the game their own way.  For some it’s a sanctioned events with titles to be earned.  For others, it’s a way of bonding animals with family, occupying their bodies, keeping them fit, challenging their minds, and having fun.One great thing is that in most instances agility doesn’t require a lot of money or special equipment.  To enjoy this sport all you need is the ingenuity to use what you have to put together solid props.  Then it’s all about the play.

Rabbits

Rabbit agility is rooted in and very similar to courses traditionally run by dogs — on a smaller scale, of course.  However, some bunnies just like to hop, or are more suited to height and distance jumping.  For them there is Rabbit Hopping.  This sport is all about jumping, and does not include equipment for climbing, tipping or tunneling.

In seeking the scoop on local rabbit agility, Spot located a diamond in the rough in Gladstone, Oregon.  The Happyrock Hoppers rabbit agility group is comprised of adults, kids and seniors who meet at Somerset Assisted Living, the group’s sponsor.  The Hoppers meet weekly to learn, practice and hone their skills in hopping, handling and showmanship.  The sport is a wonderful way for people to not only learn more about and bond with their rabbits, but to meet new people.  The experience enriches people of all ages who share a passion for animals.

Tami Ingram, Somerset’s Activities Director, grew up in 4H and still raises rabbits today.  Somerset resident Dave Kane had coached girls’ softball for many years and loved it.  Ingram had been seeking a way for Kane to work with youth again when the idea for a rabbit 4H group arose.  While exploring possibilities, she discovered rabbit agility.  Ingram thought it was a joke at first but soon learned that, no joke:  rabbit agility is very popular — just more so overseas than in the states.

Once the group was formed and gained membership, they voted to focus on rabbit agility and hopping to build and maintain the bond with their pets.  The group is part friendship, part showmanship, part community advocates, and wholly about fun.  Members participate in conformation along with just about anything else their rabbits are willing to try. Conformation is a sport of a different color altogether:  it’s about structure and breed standard.

In traditional canine agility the most common breeds run are Border Collies, Shelties, and Australian Shepherds.  Asked if there was a specific breed of rabbit more suited to agility or hopping, Ingram had this to say:  size matters!  The largest breeds such as the Flemish Giant, English and French Lops, and Angora’s can be likened to a Clydesdale or Draft horse running the Steeplechase — not so well suited.  And, considering the substantial risk for back and hind leg injury for rabbit agility competitors, they say in their experience breeds that tend to fare best are Holland Lops, Mini Lops, Dwarfs, and some Dutch and mixed breeds.  That said, it’s all about the rabbit’s interest and willingness to jump right in.

At this point you might be wondering how in the world one trains a rabbit.  Do you lure with a carrot?  Lay out a little trail to be followed?  Ingram says for the most part a rabbit will either get it or not.  They usually start with a little nudge or gentle lift of the back end to inspire forward movement.  Some bunnies catch on quickly and from there it’s all ups and downs.  Ingram does note that like most things, consistency makes a difference. 

To sustain interest and fitness, hopping and agility should be treated like any sport, with regular training.  Ingram recommends daily practice for at least 20 minutes, at least at early on.  And surprise, surprise — most buns work for hugs and kisses!  So much for that carrot lure!  Bunnies are an affectionate sort — how fun is that!

A few other random facts about hopping and agility with bun-buns:  they love it cold and hate heat.  In fact, heat is detrimental to their well-being.  Also, rabbits are not meant to be cage animals.  They thrive on interaction with people, toys, and other stimulation and activity.  Plus, they’re smart.  Really — they can have a vocabulary up to 25 words! 

In order to promote good rabbit stewardship and to let people know that rabbits may not be for everyone, the Happyrock Hoppers participates in community events to share their rabbits and teach responsible ownership.  Learn more at HappyRockHoppers.com.

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Cats

Most cats’ first lesson is where the litter box is.  Usually no more is necessary as the rest is instinctual.  Noting how easily they learn the cat box, why not consider teaching the cat them other tricks?  They’re naturally athletic, energetic, nimble and quick.

Some cats, like Buzz, a SW Portland kitty living in a house full of dogs, don’t even require cat-sized equipment.  Buzz just hops on, over, and through his canine siblings’ equipment in the back yard.  “Ironically,” says mom, Jessica, “Buzz was supposed to be a feral cat.”  Buzz says, “What’s good for the dog is good for the cat.  Now where’s my reward?”  By working with their instincts to play, chase, and pounce, familiarizing cats with obstacles is little more than a game.  And, it’s never too early to start some types of training.

In our quest for frisky felines playing agility, we discovered some organizations seeking to grow awareness of the sport.  The Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) has been hosting feline agility since 2004.  Competitions are open to all cats; learn more at Agility.cfa.org.  CFA’s website boasts a training page, videos and tips, including how to play with your cat, training in line with instincts, and using marker words for desired behaviors.  Jill Archibald, who hosts the videos, also offers suggestions on familiarizing your cat with competitive environments should you decide to participate.

Another organization, International Cat Agility Tournaments, aims to help cats play at agility in ways that display their speed, coordination, beauty of movement, physical condition, intelligence, training, and the quality and depth of their relationship with the human who trains and guides them through the course.  Specifications for equipment and training are available online, offering yet another way to play.

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Birds

Most birds are naturally a bit acrobatic, routinely displayed during play with the oft-brightly colored toys designed for them.  Birds dangle, swing, and generally have a great time (a blast to watch) on their toys — which often feature bells, ropes and vivid hues.  Of course, there are the non-swinging birds, too, and they too can learn many things.  It’s true:  your garden variety egg-layer can learn agility.

Seattle-area dog training guru, Lisa Miller-Selthofer of Spot On Agility, attended Chicken Camp awhile back at Legacy Canine in Sequim, Washington.  She says she was inspired to attend because, “I’m always looking for information on the best way to train dogs and kept hearing about Chicken Camp.”  Admittedly, she thought it sounded a bit goofy at first, but others who had attended raved about the experience.  So off she went!

So how does teaching agility-type skills to chickens translate into the dog agility-world?  Well, when it comes to dog agility, timing is everything.  In everything from body positioning, verbal commands, and forward and lateral movement, the dog must know what it needs to know way earlier than us poor humans seem to realize or sometimes feel capable of.  With chickens, Selthofer says, “The chicken’s pecking is so quick; students are forced to learn the merits of precise and accurate timing [in delivering rewards].”  Chicken Camp trainers also point out that trainers are not bonded to chickens; chickens don’t have big, brown (pleading!) eyes; and they don’t have bad chicken-training habits.  Chickens offer a fresh start to training from an entirely new perspective — and they’re surprisingly trainable!

Selthofer says she came to realize again how incredibly smart animals are through this experience.  She referenced a winning formula as: 1) Allowing the animal to figure out the task; and 2) Rewarding them for their efforts.  By applying this formula she said chickens readily accomplish complex tasks.  That said, in applying that experience back to her more traditional students — dogs — she recognized how much they compensate for our unclear signals and how hard they work for us even though we often fail to reward their efforts.  Chicken Camp taught her to teach dogs from their point of view, which she says has dramatically improved her accuracy and length of training time required.

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So, cats, rabbits and chickens all have their own agility specialties.  But smaller furry (and in one case, scaled) family members are playful, too.  From mice to rats, gerbils to hamsters, guinea pigs and even a Bearded Dragon, there seems to be no limit to who might participate in this enriching sport.  Ferrets even get in on the action, but typical of these energetic and slinky critters, they like to do it their way — skittering through tubes, pulling weights, and digging.  There’s even an annual ferret “Olympics” in Lane County, hosted by the Lane Area Ferret Shelter and Rescue

Clearly the sky really is the limit with agility.  Despite its definition, participants needn’t be spring chickens, or perfectly coordinated or quick, to play.  Young or old, scaly or hoofed, it seems every imaginable critter can participate. 

Hopefully you’ve learned that all it takes is a little ingenuity, a few treats or willingness to cuddle, some patience and love, and you too can be an agility guru . . . with your cat, chicken, rabbit, hamster, rat, mouse . . . or any other creature who’s got your heart.

RESOURCES ON AGILITY

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CONFIRMED: Dogs can fly

Makani is ready for serious playtime

Makani is ready for serious playtime

Anyone can be a disc dog!

Some people get revved up watching an amazing touchdown or their favorite player swing from the net in a game-winning slam dunk.  Others get their blood pumping when the horses are in the back furlough and the announcer strains to be heard over the pounding hooves of magnificent beasts.  Then there are those among us for whom dog sports rev our engines.  Likewise, some dogs’ tails start thumping, hearts start racing, and muscles start quivering.  They can barely contain themselves in the presence of their obsession.

Spot received a YouTube video awhile back showing some amazing moves by a human/canine team showing their stuff in the thriving sport of disc dog.  The dazzling duo is Oregon’s own Rich Roskopf and his Aussie/Viszla mix Makani, doing what they love best — playing Frisbee.  Included in their jaw-dropping, acrobatic and energetic routine was a showstopper that surprised and thrilled the crowd.  Going in a handstand, Roskopf flips Makani the disc with his feet.  Makani catches it and sails beautifully into a backflip.  All we can say is, “Wow….”  Printed words can’t convey the excitement — catch the fun with your own eyes by watching the video.

A little about Rich…

Roskopf can’t remember a time he didn’t love throwing a disc.  He played ultimate Frisbee at Oregon State University and, when seeking others of like mind, especially people who enjoyed trying new moves as much as he did, he found the perfect partner:  a dog.  Having a canine partner proved the best of both worlds; Roskopf got to throw the disc and now had someone to bring it back.

Allie makes it look easy during a recent competition

Allie makes it look easy during a recent competition

The dogs…

Makani was a natural jumper who came bearing some great stunt-dogging front and back flips.  Roskopf adopted her from Oregon Dog Rescue and began the thrilling journey the pair continues to enjoy.  Makani was not only a jumping, flipping fiend, but she was ball-crazy.  Roskopf said it took time to get her interested in the disc, but by studying her ball obsession he was able to redirect it to the disc he favored.

Allie is another rescue girl, from the Jefferson County Animal Shelter.  An Australian Shepherd Labrador Retriever mix, Allie was a pleaser from day one, always keen to follow Makani’s lead.

Enter the disc…

Roskopf thought the Frisbee would be a great way to exercise the dogs while allowing him to continue his beloved hobby.  Rain or Pacific Northwest shine, Allie, Makani and Roskopf are out playing, running, chasing, and practicing their sport.  The disc also serves other functions, says Roskopf, including strengthening the trio’s bond.  If you’ve participated in training with your dog, you likely appreciate that while tools help with the work, perhaps the most important factor is the shared bond.  “Sometimes I think I am training them to obey commands and more often than not, they are reminding me to just play,” says Roskopf.

 Rich Roskopf and Makani impress the crowd with their physical prowess.

Rich Roskopf and Makani impress the crowd with their physical prowess.

Disc Training

A dog doesn’t necessarily have an instinct for a disc.  It isn’t an item from nature — something they’d instinctively seek, like a squirrel.  A disc must be introduced, and some dogs need help recognizing its potential for fun.  Roskopf notes that it’s important to develop some proper disc throwing skills before adding your dog into the equation.  You’d don’t want to throw the disc in a way that could lead the dog into harm’s way.

So what if your dog won’t give the disc a look, or acts like he has no clue what you expect?  Try using it as a food and water dish.  Baby steps.  Start slowly and build.  Once your dog is used to the disc being in his or her life, you can move forward.  One thing Roskopf says worked for him was playing tug with it.  That progressed to the dogs tugging and dropping it, then to carrying it while chasing him, to him rolling it along the ground, then flipping it straight up in the air.  Once that became appealing it was a quick transition to throwing horizontally.  Like most things, there’s no one-size-fits-all method.

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These are some ideas to get you started whether your goal is to just have fun with your dog, to meet other people, or to find a sport in which you can compete together.  Makani and Allie’s dad says, “Playing disc with your dogs doesn’t have to be about you standing there and your dog chasing the disc.”  He gets plenty of exercise playing with them — wrestling, playing tag, chase, and keep away.

Caring for the Disc Dog/Athlete

Roskopf’s background is in massage and movement therapy with a primary focus on biomechanics.  So professionally he works to educate people to use their bodies efficiently.  When it comes to dogs, he often finds they tend to learn best when steps are taken in easy, comprehensible bits.  Paying attention to each of their natural abilities and focusing their training, moves, and using routines that showcase those characteristics goes a long way toward keeping the dog balanced, motivated, and happy.  Dogs are excellent workout partners and playmates, and keeping them happy and healthy and accommodating their love of play is integral to the relationship.

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Disc Dogging Resources

There are numerous resources about disc dogging online, including FLYDO (flydogoregon.com).  From videos to pictures, training tips, and contact information for pros like Roskopf, FLYDO is a great site to learn more about this energetic, fun and creative sport.  As is typical of dog-related sports, you’ll likely find people who are extremely helpful, willing to field questions, share tips, discuss strategy, and maybe even meet up for a workout.

Currently, Roskopf is busy working on creative solutions to each of his girls’ challenges — such as maintaining team focus from a distance and turning styles.  He’s also designing a freestyle routine for Allie, and of course just continuing to have fun.  He hopes both dogs will again qualify for the upcoming World Championships.  

Like this story?  See the video!

Lure Coursing - The latest in canine fun and competition

The roots of lure coursing go back over 4,000 years, to images immortalized on Egyptian tombs.  Dogs with pricked ears, dropped ears, long-legged and -short, racing with speed and grace.  Coursing is the modernized — and humane — version of the ancient sport of live game coursing.  Traditional coursing breeds include the Italian Greyhound to the Saluki, Basenjis to the Scottish Deerhound.  Coursing differs from other hunting sports in that dogs track by sight, not scent.

Human + Dog + Focused Discipline = Fun, Fitness and so much more

Depending upon various breed characteristics, some dogs are hard-wired to herd, others are all about the hunt, some are just plain nosy, and still others are toys.  Wait!  That is, they belong to the “toy” group.  All joking aside, dogs and their people have many opportunities these days to jump in and get busy engaging a dog’s passions — whatever they may be.  In fact, there has been a growth surge in recent months in canine activities you might find of interest.  While not all may be of interest, or suited to you and your pup, there are so many choices you’re sure to find something you’d love to try.  That’s the other good news:  classes, weekend events and workshops have sprung up at doggy daycares, indoor parks and even boutiques, so the opportunities to give something a try abound. 

The Basset Games - The best of times, win or lose

The costume contest is one of the more strenuous of the day's competitions.Coming from a guy who grew up with Husky and Shepherd mixes — or what I would have referred to as real dogs — it surprises me that I have become fond of the lowly Basset Hound. When I was a kid my neighbors had a Basset and I observed that while my dogs chased sticks and accompanied me in various forms of play and adventure, their dog was either sleeping or mindlessly barking at things real or imagined.

These memories came back recently while surrounded by 200 of what is arguably the funniest looking of all dogs — a breed whose origins seem more likely linked to a cartoon studio than actual lineage. 

In the field with Spot . . . learning the ways of canine games

Pop Quiz

Q: What is: Boerboel, Cane Corso, Fila Brasileiro?

A: Canine breeds found amongst “working class” dogs

Q: What are: ATTS, CGC, IABCA, PDI?

A: Tests and games in which “working dogs” compete

If you answered the above quickly and easily, you’re likely among those who live and work with canines who love their work and are serious about having fun.

If you didn’t recognize these terms, you’ve got plenty of company — including many of the Spot crew. Please join us in getting better acquainted with the goings on “in the field” of canine competition.

Ready . . . set . . . FLY!

The growing sport of canine disc — everyone can play

Perhaps you’ve seen it on TV — a dog races out, makes a dazzling leap, and snaps a flying disc from midair.  Then ecstatically races back for the next throw.

Or maybe you’ve seen it at the dog park — no less enthusiastic but with varying degrees of finesse. If ever there was a portrait of jumping for joy, this is it . . . Canine Disc.

Canine Disc. Disc Dogs. Frisbee Dogs. Flying Dogs. Aerial Dogs. Whatever you call them, these canine athletes are amazing! And the sport is growing by leaps and bounds. 

“Canine disc is a great sport for dogs, particularly in urban settings,” says Adriana Ericson, a member of Washington Owners of Flying Disc Dogs (woofd2). “All you need is a bit of grass, a dog and a disc.”