Fun stuff to do with your dog (and to keep trouble away)

Agility training is undeniably cool.

But there’s much more.

Bad Rap has a great post up about rescued-dog Stella and tracking-training:

Confession: my dog Stella and I were “dog dancing” flunkies—as it became clear she was not destined to be a Rockette, I cast around for a new calling, something that would suit a sensitive little hunter.

Then along came nose work. A sport that builds upon a dog’s natural ability to locate a scent, nose work starts dogs out on a course with a basic, strong smell—say a bag of stinky treats—hidden in one of five boxes all lined up. They’re walked on a leash beside the boxes and rewarded when they pick out the treat box. From there, the game is refined—with boxes scattered everywhere, less treats in the box, things being hidden higher, buried deeper, stuck in stuff other than boxes, on cars, on grassy outdoor courses, you name it. As the dog advances, so does the game. The idea, at its essence, is just to set the dogs free to do what they do best: act like a dog.

The smarter & more active a dog is, the more they need some kind of focused job. Fun, regular training like this will not only save your couch, shoes, and relationships with your neighbors, it might also heal some wounds:

…beyond their genetic predispositions, dogs get such a boost from this work. Take little Stella, for example. Some might say Stella has been something of a scaredie cat in her day. Rescued by officers during a drug raid in her hometown of Detroit, Michigan, she’d come to fear a good few things in life, boxes among them. But take a look at her on the job here, sticking her big ol’ anvil-head straight into boxes, coolers, crates, and cones, all on the hunt for the buried treasure. You’d never in a million years know this dog had a fear in the world. And neither would she.

I’ve posted about canine freestyle before, and linked some of its more amazing practitioners – but it’s always worth watching, and looks like tons of fun for everyone.

Do you have a herding dog?

Is your herding dog herding you? Your cats? Your neighbors? Your neighbor’s kids? Running fences? Screaming at the walls for no apparent reason? Racing around in a constant state of anxiety? Being hyper-dominant all the time? Hyperventilating just from the hysteria of each moment of being alive? Are people reacting to your dog’s ‘cute’ herding habits of nipping, biting, pinching, shoving, blocking, body-slamming, knocking others down, jumping, etc. with something less than pleasure? Is your lovely, smart herding dog about to land you in court or the hospital?

Unfortunately, that’s normal, without an outlet.

A herding dog without a job gets my vote as the number one dog from hell. A herding dog with a job is one of the most impressive animals on earth.

(I refer you back to canine freestyle, too! Border Collies are particularly astonishing in this sport.)

Finding willing sheep and a shepherd-trainer to work your dog isn’t always possible or affordable (though it’s great if you can do it; just be sure it’s knowledgeably supervised since herding drive *is* prey drive, and it takes training and experience to be sure the sheep, cattle, dogs, or people don’t get hurt).

So check this out:

Isn’t that immensely cool?

I also recommend a great article by Greg Tresan called Canine Disc: Converting Prey to Play. It’s informative and useful – and doesn’t mince words about how a lot of unchanneled herding behaviors are not only socially unacceptable but dangerous.

Currently, the popular appeal of herding breeds, most notably the Border Collie and Australian Shepherd, presents an ever increasing need to redirect the strong prey drive of dogs that were bred to work stock – dogs who have ended up living in a city or subdivision devoid of any true necessity for their special talents. Like fish out of water, these extremely intelligent animals flail about often times creating work where none is available. It is not uncommon to hear stories of dogs chasing cats, kids and cars, racing up and down fence lines wearing bear spots in sodded backyards and barking incessantly while their owners are away. These aberrations of the stock dogs’ natural drive are the same reasons many of them are misunderstood and, in turn, abandoned or given up for adoption. The challenge for the owner of an urban herding dog is to understand the needs of the animal and, in turn, appropriately focus the drive that is such an integral part of the dog’s heritage.

…Along with the inherently strong prey drive, these breeds, when properly cared for, have abundant reserves of energy and endurance necessary for their work. The physical requirements of the urban herding dog are demanding. The owner must meet the challenges of giving their dog the regular exercise it truly needs. If left to their own devices, the energy these dogs possess will work in concert with the high drive and create a nightmare for the unsuspecting owner of the urban herding dog. If properly channeled and given an appropriate release, these same traits can create a bond and relationship between dog and owner that can be enjoyed for a lifetime.

Gilly, being half Dalmatian and the rest some kind of Lab mix, has the kind of drive and tightly-wound, competitive, extreme-sports personality that’s ideal for some kind of activity involving running really, really fast then hurling himself off high things, ideally into water.

Oh wait, there’s a sport for that, too!

More about the benefits and blast of dock-diving:

I wish we’d lived somewhere appropriate for this when he was at his swimming-hole jumping peak, but there is a senior division in competitions – check out Tank, Senior Champion:

I wonder if there’s a cannonball competition?

He’s got Louganis form, my boy.

And such joy.

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