Are Dog Shows for You?

Lisa Peterson, director of communications for the American Kennel Club, knows firsthand what it’s like to experience the thrills of dog show competitions. When she and her Norwegian Elkhound Jinx competed at the nation’s highest levels, “We could anticipate each other’s moves. It was almost like telepathy in the ring,” says Peterson.

Perhaps you’ve experienced a taste of dog show magic yourself, probably by watching one of the big shows on television. But why be a couch potato if you can be in the ring yourself with your dog? There might yet be a dog show future in store for you and your pal.

Dog Show Basics
In the United States, major dog shows are offered by the American Kennel Club, which is the largest not-for-profit purebred dog registry in the nation. The AKC approves and maintains the official records of more than 15,000 sanctioned and licensed events each year. The size of these events ranges from large all-breed shows, with more than 3,000 dogs, to small local specialty club shows, featuring a specific breed.

The largest prize, $225,000, goes to the “best in show” winner of the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship held every December, says Peterson. “That winner,” she says, “also holds the national championship title for the year.” The champ is further acknowledged as the best of its breed, representing the optimal possible breeding stock. As such, show dogs at this level are not spayed or neutered.

Steps Leading to a Show Dog
To potentially own such a show dog, Peterson advises you take these steps:

  • Visit a show. Pay attention to the experts and see if this is really something you’d enjoy at a more involved level.
  • Find a mentor. “Often, it’s the puppy’s breeder who fills this role,” she says. You can start by doing searches for breeders, clubs and more at the AKC website.  
  • Register your purebred puppy with the AKC.
  • Take your puppy to handling classes and participate in matches. “Matches,” explains Peterson, “are practice dog shows that clubs put on.”
  • At the age of 6 months, your puppy can begin entering dog shows.

Benefits of Showing Your Dog
Owning, handling, raising and otherwise nurturing a show dog can be timely and costly. However, the rewards are many. You can earn sizable financial rewards. You and your dog could gain national and even international fame, which itself could prove to be lucrative. The greatest rewards, however, are not tied to dollars.

Peterson says she now has a huge social network of friends all across the country as a result of participating in, and working for, dog shows. “People can be fiercely competitive in the ring, but be best friends outside. I’ve met some of my closest friends this way,” she says. The bonds make sense. Everyone is passionate about dogs, and the associated lifestyle of showing -- with its travel and required daily activities -- can bring people (not to mention their dogs) together.

Other Dog Show Options
You might be reading this story with your adult mixed breed nearby, wondering how showbiz could possibly work for your dog and budget. Enter your dog in mixed-breed competitions that judge skills in areas such as agility, obedience and rally. Beverly Ulbrich, president and founder of The Pooch Coach LLC, has trained dogs for all sorts of competitions, not to mention stage shows and movies. One of her latest projects is Doggie Boogie, a film about owners who enter dancing competitions with their dogs.

Ulbrich says the thread linking these diverse events is “getting your dog used to being in front an audience.” That can require some time and creativity. For example, her Miniature Schnauzer Kompis once starred in a production of The Wizard of Oz. “When Kompis was first introduced on stage, she started shaking and ran away.” Ulbrich had others on the stage warmly welcome the skittish dog with treats, head pats and hugs.

Over time, the little dog learned that this showbiz deal wasn’t such a bad thing. She grew to love the attention so much that “when it was time for her bow, she had to be held back.” By gradually improving your own dog’s socialization, starting small at home and then working up to more public spaces, you can prep your pet for shows, competitions and other events.

Peterson and Ulbrich say it’s never too late to begin this sort of training with your dog. “The world of dog sports is so big and varied that, no matter what kind of dog you have,” says Peterson, “an event will be tailored to its abilities and what you might enjoy.”

Photo: Getty Images

Dogs and the Workplace

The sad eyes. The droopy face. The moping. Let’s face it -- you probably hate leaving your dog in the morning to go to work just as much as he hates being left.

What if you could avoid all that, and instead bring your dog along with you when you head to the office?

Bringing your dog with you to work isn’t just about the fun of having him with you throughout the day - the benefits to having a dog in the workplace have been scientifically proven. For example, a study by Central Michigan University found that when dogs are present in a group, employees are more likely to trust each other and collaborate more effectively in the office. Dogs can also help break the ice when it comes to communication between co-workers.

Greg Kleva, a celebrity dog behavioral therapist/master trainer for Bark Busters Home Dog Training in New Jersey, explains how mood-boosting chemicals increase when dogs are around.  “Interactions with dogs have been proven to increase levels of oxytocin, often referred to as the ‘feel good’ hormone,” Kleva said. “Studies have shown that the presence of dogs in the workplace may also reduce stress hormone (cortisol) levels for their owners. These same studies indicate that cortisol levels for workers who didn't bring their dogs to work were drastically higher by the end of the working day.”

In fact, many places have been using canine companions to provide therapeutic relief for years now. “Look no further than your local rest home, hospital, library, elementary school, etc to see dogs being utilized for their therapeutic value,” Kleva says. “Dogs are also often seen in disaster zones and courtrooms to help calm those in traumatizing situations.”

For employers, the fact that having canine companions around increases productivity makes it a plus for them as well. “Dogs have the ability to break down the barriers that keep humans from interacting with one another,” explains Kleva. “We find it much easier to chat with someone we don’t know quite as well if we approach them to meet their dog.”

Of course there will be some prep involved if you’re thinking of bringing your dog with you to work. “Start by training your dog to greet people appropriately by teaching him to sit while greeting, rather than jumping up,” suggests Kleva. Other basic commands like ‘come’, ‘stay’, ‘leave it’, and ‘go to bed’ should be mastered as well, and you’ll need to make sure he can ignore distractions. You can practice by bringing him to the park, where there are a lot of distractions, and making him pay attention to your commands.

It’s also important to make sure your dog is both physically and mentally stimulated to keep him calm and to reduce boredom prior to entering your workspace. This will make the experience better for your dog and everyone in the office.

Be sure to have the right supplies on hand if you’re bringing your dog along with you to the office, as well. A leash is the most important thing to have, as it can be used for walks, as well as keeping him under your control. “Since bringing your dog to the office can be a stressful experience for your dog and cause him apprehension, bring your dog’s pillow or blanket from home so he has something familiar to comfort him,” says Kleva. “Also help your dog stay entertained by bringing along dog puzzle toys that make him work to earn a treat. Bring food or treats and a water bowl so your dog can stay well hydrated, too.”

There may be some drawbacks that come with bringing your dog to the office, too. The most obvious is that a co-worker may be allergic. Be sure to check with everyone in the office before you bring your dog in and put someone’s health in danger.

You should also be on the lookout for accidents, and it will be your responsibility to ensure your dog does not ruin any equipment in the office.  Barking or aggression can be off-putting to office mates, as well, and the additional time added to an already hectic work schedule to tend to your dog’s needs throughout the day may upset coworkers. Trying your dog out at the office for a half day may a good way to determine if it’s a good fit for your dog’s personality, as well as for everyone else in the office.

Doga: Yoga Your Dog Will Love

In yoga, the salutation “Namaste” means “The spirit in me respects the spirit in you.” What better way to show your dog that you respect his inner and outer happiness than to include him in your yoga practice?

Doga is a new way to partner with your pet to experience the physical (and humans say spiritual too) benefits of yoga. All people and dogs can practice doga -- fit or fat, large or small, young or old. Poses can be modified for all sizes, shapes and abilities, just like in regular yoga classes.

Yoga for Dogs: A Bonding Experience
Doga combines massage and meditation with gentle stretching for dogs and their humans. Although it might seem unusual, dogs generally dig doga because, like yoga, doga emphasizes the union and connection with other beings, and there’s no being your dog would rather be connected with than you.

“Doga is all about bonding with your dog,” says Suzi Teitelman, a nationally televised doga instructor who teaches in Jacksonville, Fla. “It’s much like doing yoga with an infant. You move and stretch them. You help them extend their limbs. You balance them on your body and you move over and around them.” And much like an infant, your dog will love the touching, massaging and relaxation time with his human parent, even if he doesn’t understand exactly what doga is.

“People are often concerned that their dog isn’t mellow enough for doga, but I encourage them to give it a try. I’ve had many skeptics come to class and leave happy with the results,” says Brenda Bryan, author of the book Barking Buddha: Simple Soul Stretches for Yogi and Dogi, and a doga teacher near Seattle, Wash.

Finding a doga teacher or class is not always easy because the practice is still relatively new, but more and more instructors and practitioners are popping up around the country. “Dog parents can definitely practice doga on their own, especially if they already know yoga, but it’s best to take a class or two or watch a DVD or read a doga manual to learn techniques that are safe and healthy to do with their pet,” says Teitelman.

Doga Poses

Bryan calls her doga poses whimsical names such as Woofing Warrior, Camel Rides Dog, and Muttley Mudras.

“These poses incorporate your dog fully into your yoga practice. They’re a bit nontraditional in practice but quite traditional in theory,” says Bryan.

Ready to embark on some beginner doga poses? Try one of these:

  • Super Dog: Kneel and squat, balanced on your toes. With your dog facing away from you, gently and slowly encourage him to stand on his hind legs with you supporting his weight under his front armpits. This pose stretches your dog’s abdominal muscles and front legs and strengthens the back leg joints.
  • Forward Bend: Stand with both feet under your hips. Roll and bend forward, hanging from your waist, with your hands and head low. Scoop up your dog to add his weight to your bend. This increases your stretch. And while your dog is “weightless,” you can give his limbs a good stretch too.
  • Wheelbarrow: Stand behind your dog and lean slightly forward. Gently pick his back legs up, supporting his hip joints with both hands, and slowly encourage him to stretch and flex his torso. This pose stretches his abdominal muscles, loosens the hips and strengthens the front leg joints.

Doga Gear
Humans should wear comfortable, stretchy clothes, just like you’d wear for any yoga practice. Dogs need no special gear, although both human and dog should practice on a mat that provides some cushioning and traction. Keep cool water on hand for both of you to stay hydrated, and take breaks as needed.

Like yoga, doga is a journey, not a destination. The joy is in the practice. It’s something you can try for both the sheer fun of it and the deepening of the bond between you and your best friend.

How to Hold a Successful Puppy Playdate

Are you a “helicopter mom” who hovers over your puppy, or is your parenting style more relaxed? When it comes to puppy’s first playdate, a little bit of both is the right approach. Playing comes naturally to puppies, but you have a critical role in making sure his first playdate goes well.

First, pick the right place. “Find a safe, fenced area on private property,” advises Dana Fedman, a certified professional dog trainer and the owner of Pupstart Family Dog Training in Central Iowa. Next, “Allow the puppies to do the ‘Dance of the Leash,’ letting them move toward or away and sniff each other nose to rear, without interference from a taut leash,” says Fedman. “If both puppies assume the pounce position after a few seconds, they’re ready to play and you can remove the leash to let them interact.”

Normal Puppy Play
Puppies like to mock-fight in doggie games such as:

  • “I chase you, then you chase me,” with butts tucked
  • Jaw wrestling or gently biting each other on the muzzle, ears and neck
  • Play barking and growling
  • Alternating who’s on top while wrestling and biting
  • Chasing and nipping at each other’s legs, tails and ears

Dangerous puppy play
You should step in and put distance between your puppies if:

  • Either puppy stiffens or you hear deep belly growls
  • One puppy repeatedly holds the other on its back
  • Either puppy bites too hard or aggressively
  • The larger puppy “body slams” with enough force to physically hurt the smaller puppy
  • The intensity ramps up to a level that makes you uneasy

Do your best to match up puppy personalities. “If one is shy and timid and the other is overbearing, the timid one can easily become frightened and forevermore be fearful of strange dogs. By the same token, a too-bold first encounter could encourage a puppy to grow up to be a bully,” says Fedman.

Common Sense Matters More Than Age or Size
Puppies around the same age -- especially those under 6 months of age -- generally interact well with each other. If the owners are consistently monitoring the play behavior, there’s little chance of injury. As far as size is concerned, you might not want a tiny Chihuahua puppy playing with a Mastiff, but this isn’t as much of an issue as energy level and personality.

“We have quite a few large-breed puppies that are timid, so we let them play with our Yorkie and Shih Tzu puppies,” says Lisa Collins, a certified professional dog trainer and the owner of Collins Canine dog training in Chicago. “I like to have puppies of all sizes exposed to each other, but it has to be done so that each dog is comfortable. If small dogs only encounter small dogs, they will grow up to be afraid of large dogs. And if large dogs only play with each other, they won’t learn to be more careful and gentle with smaller dogs,” says Collins.

If the first interaction doesn’t go well, separate the puppies and walk them away from each other and try again in a few minutes. If the second attempt fails, discontinue that playdate. “Pay attention and be prepared to step in if play gets too rough. Like human children, puppies can get overexcited, and that’s when a good playdate can go bad. Sometimes you need to intervene and give them little breaks,” advises Collins.

When it’s time to end your puppy’s playdate, reinforce the good socialization lesson with praise and a cool, rehydrating drink of water.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/choja

Good Dog Park Etiquette

For most dogs, dog parks are a bit like Xanadu. There are no leashes, they get to interact with lots of other dogs and they can run as fast and be as rambunctious as their little hearts desire. It’s pretty great.

For their owners, however, navigating the terrain can be a bit trickier, as sometimes what constitutes for “well mannered” can get a little murky. If only there were an Emily Post for pooches.

Until then, here are some unofficial rules that will help ensure both you and your pet avoid becoming the dog park pariah.

1.      Be on your best behavior. When bringing your dog to an open-play park, understand that people often have different ideas about what constitutes play versus fighting in dogs, or what is acceptable behavior and what is not. For the most part, these are judgment calls, and not rules written in stone. Try to be calm and compassionate in your interactions with other owners. Something else to keep in mind: Most dog parks post their own rules and regulations right near the entrance. Be sure to read and understand those before entering, as well.

2.      Know your dog’s signals. The dog park is not for every pup. If yours seems overwhelmed by the play—if they lunge, snarl, snap or growl at the other dogs--it might be too much for them. They could be feeling more threatened than engaged. On the other hand, it can be hard to see (or sometimes admit) if your dog is the bully, but it is imperative that you try. If your dog is aggressive in his treatment or intimidation of other dogs, a behavior class could be beneficial before trying another trip to the dog park.

3.      Be smart about safety. Do not take your puppy to a dog park until he has had all of his shots. If he is not properly vaccinated, he will be highly susceptible to potentially deadly diseases. Similarly, do not take an unspayed female in heat or an unneutered male to the dog park. This increases not only the likelihood of unplanned pregnancies, but of fighting and aggressive behavior as well.

4.      Break it up the safe way. If you ascertain that your dog is not merely playing, but has gotten into a fight, don’t immediately step in to intervene. First, make lots of noise—clap your hands, bang on the fence, shout, blow a whistle—to try to get your dog’s attention. If that doesn’t work, approach your dog at the same time that the other dog’s owner approaches them. Make sure your dog knows you are there before you make any physical contact. During a heated exchange, biting would be instinctive and should be anticipated. Once the fight has stopped, both owners should put their dogs on the leash and leave the park for the day. The next time you visit, be aware of whether or not the same dog is visiting the park again. You can always try another go-round with the two at the park at the same time, but if they don’t get along again, it’s probably best to avoid the park whenever the other dog is around.

5.      Be prepared (Dos and Don’ts). 

  • While some dog parks have hoses or fountains for thirsty dogs, some don’t. Do consider bringing a water bottle and small dish for your dog on hot days. 
  • Don’t bring treats or toys into the park, as it creates a power imbalance among the dogs that can lead to tension and even altercations. 
  • Don’t talk or text on your cell phone while in the park, as you should be focused on and attentive to your dog. 
  • Do have some waste bags on hand. Not cleaning up after your dog is perhaps the greatest dog park party foul of all.