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 the Soccer Dogs website.

Winter Weather Hazards for Dogs

With cold weather in full swing, the winter months can be a dangerous time for your dog. There are many hazards that occur when there is snow, ice and ice melting chemicals on the ground.  However, your dog can still enjoy the great outdoors during winter if you follow a few precautions.

When the temperature drops, it’s important to protect your pup from the cold. According to Dr. Kimberly May, Director of Professional and Public Affairs with the American Veterinary Medical Association, “people often overestimate their pet’s resistance to cold, so it’s better to be safe than sorry and go on the assumption that if you’re wearing a coat and you’re cold, odds are your dog may be cold, too. If your dog is acting as if he/she is cold, it’s time to go back inside.”

The type of dog and the age of your pet are both factors to keep in mind when determining how long your dog will be comfortable in the cold weather. However, Dr. May warns that no dog should be left out alone for extended periods of time in extremely cold (below freezing) weather.

Your dog’s paws are susceptible to many winter weather hazards since they encounter ice, snow and chemicals. “There’s a risk of physical injury from rough or sharp surfaces or edges that can cut or abrade the paw pads,” Dr. May explains. “There’s also a risk of frostbite or cold damage, and the risk of chemical burns from non pet-friendly ice-melting chemicals put on roads and sidewalks.”

Booties are an excellent option for protecting your pooch’s paws from the winter elements. Not only do they offer protection from injuries from sharp pieces of ice, but also shield delicate paws from chemicals. “If you choose to use booties, make sure they are properly sized-they could rub sores or reduce circulation if they don’t fit correctly-and gradually introduce your dog to them,” suggests Dr. May.

If you don’t use booties, make sure you clean off your dog’s feet and paw pads with a damp cloth and then dry well to remove any irritants.

Ice-melting chemicals, such as road salt, can make your dog ill and hurt their paws. There are a few ways to protect your pup from this winter danger. “To prevent ingestion, don’t let your dog lick the salt or any treated surface, don’t let him drink from puddles near the road and don’t let him eat snow or slush,” says Dr. May.

You also can protect short-haired, young or old dogs with a coat. “Remember that road salt tends to be splashed up on your dog’s belly, legs and sides, so give these areas a thorough wipe-down after a walk to prevent your dog from ingesting the road salt when they lick their paws or body,” Dr. May added.

As a dog owner, you can make this winter comfortable and safe for your pet by checking the weather before walks, making sure to plan a route without icy areas and cleaning off salt and chemicals so that your dog stays healthy.

Keep Your Dog Warm in the Winter

When the weather outside gets frightful, it's a must to make sure your dog stays safe and warm. Your pet is unlikely to whine about the wind chill, so it’s up to you to keep an eye on the conditions and decide when it’s time to come inside and warm up. Use these tips to help keep your dog toasty on the coldest days.

Pay attention to the mercury Down coats, chunky scarves, wooly hats and thick gloves make it easy to forget what the temperature actually reads, but remember that your dog is only sporting what nature gave him, and for many dogs it’s not always enough. “Dogs who have a second layer of hair, such as Huskies and Newfoundlands, can withstand cold conditions, but most breeds don’t have this additional layer of insulation,” says Douglas Aspros, DVM, President of the American Veterinary Medical Association. If your dog lacks this additional warmth, Aspros says to be careful when the temp dips below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s a wet or exceptionally windy day, consider shortening your daily walk, or skipping it altogether and only venturing outdoors for bathroom breaks.

Size up your dog Smaller breeds have a higher surface area to body mass ratio compared to their larger dog park pals, which means they radiate heater faster. If your pup is on the petite side, a dog jacket can help provide protection from the wind and cold. Older dogs with arthritis—whether large or small—should be watched carefully too, since the cold can aggravate the condition and make their joints even stiffer. Bottom line: Pay attention to your pet.  If she’s reluctant to go outside on a winter day, it’s probably a sign that she’s not ready to handle the weather.

Feed wisely If your pet’s outdoor time isn’t cut short during the winter, he’ll need more energy to stay warm, so talk to your veterinarian about upping how much food you give him. However, most dogs tend to spend more time indoors during the winter. Be careful not to overfeed your dog if he gets less exercise during the colder months to ensure that he is at a healthy weight come springtime.

Watch the ground Dog booties don’t just look adorable; they can also be a big help on frozen surfaces. While they won’t do much to keep your dog’s paws warm, they will protect him from irritants such as sharp crusty snow and ice that can cut up his pads. If you choose not to purchase booties for your dog, Aspros recommends attempting to avoid these icy areas during your walks and checking your dog’s paws after he comes inside to make sure they aren’t injured. And don’t worry about him getting cold feet: Thanks to their unique circulation system, dogs’ paws are naturally equipped to handle frigid temperatures, according to a 2012 study in the journal Veterinary Dermatology.

Sleep soundly Your dog will probably scout out a warm spot to curl up indoors, whether it’s in front of the fireplace or in a sunny patch on the floor, but be sure that his bed is also located somewhere away from drafts. If you have hardwood or tile floors, consider throwing an extra blanket on there to give him more protection from the chilly surface. And when in doubt, an extra snuggle session will warm you both up, no mater how frosty it is outside.

The Best Games to Play With Your High-Energy Dog

If your pet could give the Energizer Bunny a run for his money, you’re probably in the market for ways to zap some of that zip. Make the most of playtime—whether you’re at the park or at home—with these expert tips.

Don’t skimp on walks
It’s important to make sure you’re providing your dog with enough daily exercise, says Angie Angell, owner and dog trainer at Two Dogs Inc. in Brooklyn, New York. Skimping on these outings could cause your dog to develop behavioral issues such as chewing and barking—as well as promote hyperactivity, which isn’t fun for anyone. High-energy dogs need to go out for a walk or run multiple times a day. Angell recommends 30 minutes to an hour in the morning, a shorter walk during the day (hire a walker if your schedule doesn’t allow you to walk your pet yourself), an hour walk in the evening and then another quick excursion to burn off your dog’s final fumes before bedtime.

Head outdoors
Whether you play in your backyard or at the park, choose a game that allows you to interact with your dog so that you can encourage her to bound about even more. If you’re tossing a tennis ball, chase after it, too. It will give her extra incentive to bolt after the ball. Or grab a friend or family member and play monkey in the middle, tossing a soccer ball above your dog’s head. 

Get active at home
Take the action indoors and play games in your living room. Angell recommends hiding a treat or toy and encouraging your dog to hunt it down; the mental stimulation combined with the running around will soon wipe him out. This indoor play can count toward the time you should spend exercising your dog daily, especially on a wet or very cold day.

Try toys
An over-flowing toy chest may be a sign of a spoiled pet, but it will also help keep an active dog entertained. Choose toys that offer a mental challenge, like treat dispensers, as well as bouncy rubber toys that your dog can toss around and chase after. It’s fetch—but with no effort on your part!

Go pro
Dog sports, both competitive and for fun, are gaining popularity, so you should be able to find one near you. To really tire out your dog, try an agility course. After an hour of running through tunnels and leaping over jumps, your pup is sure to be pooped. Or sign up for Rally, an obedience-driven sport that requires walking through a course and performing different commands. (Bonus: your dog will return home better behaved!)

No matter what game you choose to play with your pet, the key is to do it often. A well-exercised dog makes for a happy dog—and a happy owner.

Holiday Hazards for Your Pet's Teeth

Dogs are curious by nature, and with tinsel on the trees and tasty snacks ready for counter surfing around the holidays, extra precaution should be taken to prevent a dog’s teeth from being damaged. Here are some hazards to be on the lookout for this season (and year-round):

Ice Cubes
Ice cubes can cause cracked or broken teeth. Although dogs’ teeth are notoriously tough, harder objects like ice do pose a hazard. Keep in mind: a dog may not necessarily yelp or cry out in pain if he chips a tooth. Often dogs will drool, chew on one side of their mouth, refuse to eat, or even rub their face with a paw. Some dogs will snap or snarl if they have oral discomfort, so proceed with caution in giving ice cubes as treats. Smaller chips and pieces can get lodged in their throats, as well.

Wires, Cords, and Candles
Wires and cords should be safely secured and out of your dog’s reach. If chewed, electrocution can be fatal.  This time of year wagging tails and curious noses may cause problems with lit candles, too, and even unlit candles can give off an aromatic scent that some dogs find appealing and may want to eat, which can cause stomach and digestive issues.

Act Preventatively
Make a resolution in the new year to take proper care of your dog’s teeth. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats show signs of oral disease by age 3. Oral disease has a propensity to affect kidneys, liver and heart, and seriously affect a dog’s quality of life.

About 18 years ago my vet shared this wisdom with me: “Brush your dog’s teeth as often as you would brush your own.” If your dog is not accustomed to teeth brushing, start slow. Dip a bit of sodium free chicken soup broth on your finger and let your dog lick. You can also use a cotton gauze pad to gently massage over Fido’s teeth and gums sans dog toothpaste.

Next, advance to a finger-style toothbrush. Put water on it only, and massage for just a few seconds, building up each day. Then reward your dog like he just won best in show. Your veterinarian can instruct you with techniques for teeth brushing, as well. Keep in mind you should never use human toothpaste on your pup, and always use a toothpaste formulated for dogs. Additionally, some water additives contain Xylitol, and these should be avoided at all costs, as they can be lethal for pets.

Toys and Treats

Teeth can be fractured or broken from hard items such as a baseball, Frisbee, or even a rawhide chew or bone. Although dogs have an innate ability to chew, pay attention to the texture and material of any toys or treats to which he has access.

When treats and chews get small enough to present a choking hazard, throw them away. A bone of any size can present a choking issue, so always supervise chewing and snacking behaviors of dogs. Rough game play such as tug of war can loosen teeth, so while play is needed and encouraged for all dogs, always check for loosening of teeth while you perform regular maintenance. When a dog chews on a treat or bone, a piece of the tooth can easily flake or break off, and that piece is most often the largest chewing tooth in the upper jaw (premolar). A fracture of this, or any tooth, can cause pain and infection, so know what your dog’s teeth usually look like so that any abnormalities or changes can be easily identified. Never hesitate in taking a dog to the veterinarian if you suspect any oral issues.

The holidays are a time of fun and rejoice for all, and if you follow these tips, Fido’s jaw and teeth will be fa-la-la-ing into the New Year … and beyond.

Photo: Corbis Images