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

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.

Exercise and the small dog

Just like you, your small dog needs exercise to stay healthy and happy. Small dogs are defined as those that weigh less than 22 pounds and who are shorter than 16 inches. “Exercise helps to keep your pet physically fit, mentally secure, socially engaged and emotionally happy,” says Lori Morton-Feazell, Director of Animal Care and Education for Petco. “It also reduces stress and deters negative behaviors such as chewing, digging and barking.”

If you are considering an exercise plan because you believe your pooch is overweight, your veterinarian can examine your dog and let you know if he needs to lose a few pounds. If your dog has difficulty walking or playing, he could be overweight, and it will be important to start any exercise regime slowly to build up endurance and lung capacity. 

Even if your small dog is the proper weight and is healthy, it is still important to check with your veterinarian to learn about any specific precautions you may need to be aware about for your dog’s breed, like breathing problems. Additionally, if it has been a while since your dog has exercised, start slow with short walks and play sessions. Always take your dog’s age, breed and health into account when starting any exercise routine.  “Begin with a 15-minute walk each day, and after the first week increase it by 5 minutes,” Morton-Feazell recommends. “Watch your dog for signs of [exhaustion] like heavy panting or their tongue hanging out, and remember if it is a long walk, take water to give to your dog. If your dog is used to exercise, a 30-60 minute walk daily is enough to keep him physically fit and emotionally happy.”

Keep in mind that the amount of exercise your dog needs is not equivalent to his size, but rather to his breed. For example, a small Jack Russell Terrier requires more exercise than the much larger Great Dane. Oppositely, a Labrador Retriever is a very active dog and would need more exercise than a tea cup Poodle. Ask your vet about how much exercise your particular breed of dog should be getting.

Of course going on walks isn’t the only way to exercise your pup. Other options for include obedience training and agility training.  “Try teaching him a new trick,” says Morton-Feazell. “Some simple ideas are give paw, high five, sit and stay.  This can help keep your dog emotionally happy and social.”

As far as agility training goes, many small breeds are very agile, and doing agility training through simple obstacles is a great way to experience the human/animal bond with your dog, in addition to providing exercise.

The key to getting the most out of an exercise program is getting your dog’s heart rate up, which will cause her to have a good pant. “Be careful not to over-exercise your dog and cause heavy panting or heavy breathing,” explains Morton-Feazell. “Give your dog breaks to catch his or her breath and get a drink of water.”

The best way to encourage your small dog to exercise is by incorporating toys into the workout.  Puppies, particularly, love to chase toys and put them in their mouths. Some options for older small dogs are balls, frisbees, Kongs or other toys that can be thrown for your dog to retrieve.  Morton-Feazell advises that you pick the right size toy for your dog. Don’t give your small dog a large toy as they may not want to play with it. You also want to make sure that the toy is large enough to not get stuck in the dog’s throat and cause an injury.

Keep in mind that all small dogs are different and will receive the most benefit from different types of exercises. There are no exercises that are off limits for your small dog, although some modifications can be made to accommodate their size. While playing, walking or training your dog, notice if he is tired, panting excessively or thirsty. These are signs that you may be pushing him too hard and that he needs a break and/or water.

How to Play Soccer With Your Dog

While it may be hard to imagine your beloved Fido out on a field dribbling a soccer ball, shooting on a goal and scoring, in fact there are many dogs that do just that—and love it! Whether you’ve seen them strut their stuff at a half-time show, on a TV talent competition, or in family films like 1999’s Soccer Dog: The Movie, here are three reasons we can’t get enough of dogs playing soccer.

1.) It’s adorable. When Mark Lucas saw a dog dribble a soccer ball at the halftime show of a professional soccer game, he became determined to train dogs the same way. Soon after, he founded Soccer Collies, a troupe of dogs who can run with the ball, bounce it off their noses, and even catch it between their paws and their chin. Lucas brings his dogs to interact with kids and adults at schools, charity functions, and sporting events. BEK and Ms. Z, his two beloved Collies, are even able to shoot (and score!) on a goal.

2.) It’s fun! The first step in teaching a dog to play soccer is finding out whether they’re ‘ball motivated,’ says Lucas. The simplest way to figure that out is to bounce a basketball in front of them. If they seem excited and eager to play, then they will likely enjoy learning tricks with a soccer ball. “All breeds that like a ball will play soccer,” Lucas added. At first your pooch might not know quite what to do with a ball that’s too big for him to pick up in his mouth, but soon enough he’ll figure out how to pounce on it and move it with his paws. “People shouldn’t get discouraged, it does take time,” says Lucas. Start simple by having your dog bring you the ball. If you reward him with praise and treats, he’ll be much more inclined to keep up the good work. Of course, it becomes even more fun when you get in the game and run, pass, and steal.

3.) It’s healthy.  In the wild, dogs spend their days moving, running, and scrounging for food. Domestic dogs, on the other hand, often spend their days relaxing, sleeping, and lounging around. That’s why walks and play are so incredibly important for keeping your dog healthy and happy. Dogs that aren’t getting enough physical activity often display negative behaviors like digging, chewing, barking, jumping, hyperactivity, and sometimes even aggression. Getting your dog to run around with a soccer ball is a great form of exercise, not to mention an opportunity for you and your dog to bond. “The dogs are getting a great physical workout,” says Lucas, “and they’re also getting a mental workout. The more you play, the more they want to play, and that’s how they get to be so good.”

You can find out more about Lucas and his furry friends at SoccerCollies.com, or on Twitter @SoccerCollies.

What Is Freestyle Dancing With Dogs?

If you’ve ever seen a dog dance, then you know it can be hard to look away. There is something incredibly captivating about watching a canine cut a rug, and in recent months, the sport -- which is officially called Canine Freestyle -- has been featured on America’s Got Talent, Chelsea Lately, 20/20 and more. People just can’t seem to get enough.

So, what is it, exactly?

Canine Freestyle had its beginnings in Canada in the late eighties/early nineties, but when dog lovers in England and the United States caught wind of the new phenomenon, it quickly spread. It is thought to have been inspired by the competitive equestrian sport, dressage, and today it’s a recognized event at dog shows and competitions around the world.

Simply described, it’s a display of an owner and their dog’s obedience training and tricks set to music.

The first step in teaching a dog to dance is making sure it’s well trained. One of the first skills he’ll need to acquire is the ability to heel on both sides of your body, as opposed to just the left side, which is traditional.

Some of the most popular (and impressive!) freestyle moves include weaving in and out of the owner’s legs, spinning, jumping, rolling over, scooting backwards and the dog standing and ‘dancing’ on its hind legs. Some of the shows for beginners allow the handlers to use treats and toys during the performance, while the more advanced dancers do not.

In some competitions, costumes have become an important part of the acts and are coordinated with the music choice. And while many, many hours of training go into each routine, the cuteness factor of the sport has certainly served as great publicity, helping to get a younger generation of dog handlers interested in competition and racking up millions of views on beloved YouTube videos, like this one.

Handlers rave about the bonding that takes place when you spend one-on-one time with your dog daily during training for Canine Freestyle, and those relationships play a huge role in the performances. Audiences love to see pair who seems to be having fun and enjoying each other’s company.

Then again, what’s not to love about a dog wearing a bowtie dancing to disco?

For more information on teaching your own dog Canine Freestyle, check out the Musical Dog Sport Association or Canine Freestyle Federation, Inc.