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 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.

Canicross: An Easier Way to Run With Your Dog

Chances are you’ve never heard of canicross -- but if you want to run with your dog, it just might be the sport for you. Although popular in Europe, it’s less well-known in North America. Canicross -- for “canine” and “cross-country” -- is the sport of running or walking behind a dog in harness. Dog-powered sports enthusiasts, such as mushers and skijorers (skiers pulled by dogs), canicross when there’s no snow to keep man and beast fit.

Now, runners, hikers and dog lovers are discovering the sport, which offers fun and health benefits for you and your dog. In canicross, your dog is harnessed with a line attached to your waist. Your dog then pulls you along, adding distance to your stride when you run -- and assistance on the uphill stretches. Here’s a clip of the sport from the U.K. group The Kennel Club:

Canicross Isn’t Just for Huskies

Canicross harnesses a dog’s tendency to pull and puts it to good use. “Most northern breeds are naturals because it’s bred into them,” says Catherine Benson of Maryland Sled Dog Adventures LLC. “But any dog whose adult weight is over 30 pounds, who has a desire to pull, and who is in decent physical condition with no joint or bone issues can be a good partner.”

Long-distance runners need a high-energy, fast-paced dog, whereas walkers and hikers do better with a strong but slower dog that won’t pull them off their feet.

Equipment and Training

Canicrossers use specialized gear. You can’t just attach a leash to your dog’s collar and off you go. You’ll need pulling harnesses, shock-absorbing lines, belts and related items. The best way to find these and to learn about the finer points of equipment is to contact a sled dog or canicross club in your area. These dog-power devotees will be happy to show you the ropes, so to speak. Dog adventure businesses also offer classes and clinics.

Pull training is a progressive process. “Let your dog get used to wearing the harness and lines when he’s young so it becomes second nature,” says Linda Newman of Points Unknown, a dog adventure business in Minnesota. “Teach him commands for “Go” (“Line out” or “Tighten up”), “Stop,” “Right” (“Gee”), and “Left” (“Ha” or “Haw”). Any commands are OK as long as you’re consistent. Reward him for pulling in harness, never on a leash. Dogs are smart, they know the difference.”

Train a puppy in short sessions a few times per week, ramping up the frequency and duration as your dog matures. Check with your veterinarian when it comes to building endurance in your dog, as your dog’s stamina can depend on his age, his current condition, where you train and many other factors. Your dog is likely to build endurance more quickly if he’s already accustomed to jogging with you.

Dogs learn to love canicross and might pull to the point of exhaustion, so it’s up to you to not overdo it. Labored breathing, occasional stumbling and an unwillingness to keep pace are signs your dog is fatigued.

You can train in any weather, but dogs don’t offload heat as well as people do. Benson uses the “Rule of 100.” She explains, “If the combined temperature and humidity are 100 to 120 F, either don’t train or give your dog lots of breaks, including swim breaks, and have plenty of drinking water available.” Excessive panting and rapid breathing are indications of heat exhaustion.

Improved Fitness for You and Your Dog

Canicross is ideal for exercise fanatics. The health benefits include stronger muscles and improved endurance for you and your dog -- although he’ll think it’s just plain fun! Plus, the exercise and training help alleviate boredom and improve the bond between you and your canine companion. Best of all, canicross can tone you and your dog at any pace, almost any place, and any time you want to “line out,” as the canicrossers say.

Photo: Akna/WikimediaCommons

Big Fun for Little Dogs

Is your lap dog spending too much time lounging on your lap? Or maybe there’s little lap time and too much yapping from your petite -- yet vocal and bored -- pet. In either case, small-dog expert Deborah Wood can come to the rescue for you and your dog.

“I think the big thing for owners of little dogs to remember is that these dogs have the same needs as their larger cousins,” says Wood, who is the author of The Little Dogs’ Activity Book: Fun and Frolic for a Fit Four-legged Friend. “They need exercise and mental stimulation. The great news is that they don’t need a lot of space to meet those needs.”

Make sure your small friend gets the mental and physical exercise he needs. Wood, who is also the animal services manager for Washington County, Ore., shares her top tips to help you provide big fun for your little dog.

Loose and Easy
Take your dogs for walks -- and stay in charge. Your small dog should have no problem following basic commands such as “Watch me,” “Sit,” “Come,” and “Down-stay.” For small dogs, learning how to walk on a loose leash is essential, according to Wood. Before outings, your dog should be on a comfortable buckle or snap collar, she advises. “Have him on a lightweight 4-foot or 6-foot leash -- not a flexi leash.”

Small dogs tend to have big opinions about where they’d like to go, darting left when you want them to go right or zipping to the right just as you’re ready to go left. The instant your dog pulls in the other direction, say “Let’s go!” as you gently guide your dog. This verbal command should always accompany the correction. When your dog is walking on a loose leash, “provide an easily chewed treat and tell him he’s a very, very good dog,” says Wood. Combine this with the “Watch me” command later, and soon your dog will be merrily walking wherever you go, paying attention to you for guidance.

Matching Activity to Breed
The adventures you and your dog will enjoy are partly determined by your pet’s breed. Woods suggests the following guidelines by breed:

  • High-energy-level activities -- including chase and fetch games, agility, flyball and hiking -- are often enjoyed by dogs of these breeds:

    Affenpinscher, Australian Terrier, Bichon Frise, Border Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Jack Russell Terrier, Parson Russell Terrier, Miniature Poodle, Papillon, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Rat Terrier, Schipperke, Scottish Terrier, Shetland Sheepdog, Silky Terrier, Smooth Fox Terrier and Toy Manchester Terrier.
  • Moderate-energy-level activities -- including long walks, dancing and tricks -- are frequently enjoyed by furry friends of these breeds:

    Beagle, Boston Terrier, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua, Chinese Crested, Dachshund, Havanese, Italian Greyhound, Maltese, Manchester Terrier, Miniature Schnauzer, Norfolk Terrier, Norwich Terrier, Pomeranian, Pug, Skye Terrier, West Highland White Terrier and Yorkshire Terrier.
  • Low-energy-level activities -- including shorter walks and work as a therapy dog -- are often enjoyed by the following breeds:

    Brussels Griffon, English Toy Spaniel, French Bulldog, Japanese Chin, Lhasa Apso, Pekingese, Shih Tzu and Tibetan Spaniel.

Your Little Dog Is Unique
Your dog’s breed is only half the story. Each and every dog has its own unique personality, likes and dislikes. Over the years, Wood has taught her own small dogs “a ton of fun tricks, from playing the piano to the dog sticking out her tongue on command.”

It doesn’t matter so much what you do, however. “It’s all about fun, bonding and joy, and having a positive relationship with your dog,” says Wood. “What could be better?”

Check back on ExceptionalCanine.com for more small-dog activities and training tips from small-dog expert Deborah Wood.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/ParkerDeen