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.

The Best Way for Your Dog to Ride in the Car with You

Ready to hit the road with your dog? Before you put the car into drive, it’s important to make sure that your dog is safe. Some options for properly restraining your dog while in the car are in a crate, a harness or a seat belt.

Using a Crate

If you decide to keep your dog in a crate for the duration of the car ride, and your vehicle has enough room to stow it, the crate should be large enough for your dog to lie down or stand up and turn around. Bill Rabenberg, owner/trainer at Red Iron Kennels of Manor, Texas explains: “You must also ensure the crate is not so large that the dog can easily be tossed around inside,” he said. “It’s helpful to include a soft crate-bed to provide padding for the dog to lie on, but torn newspapers or cedar shavings also provide a soft spot for animals still learning to ride without getting carsick, and these make cleaning up a snap.”

Keeping your dog in a crate stops your pet from moving around the vehicle while it’s in motion, and also prevents him and you from injury during a sudden stop or accident.

Where to Let Them Ride

The safest place for your dog is in the back seat of the car. You can easily install a harness or dog seat belt to keep your pet from climbing into the front seat. “Some pets are difficult to manage when nervous, and may suddenly climb onto the driver's lap, interfere with driving or jump down below the driver’s legs, obstructing his ability to reach the gas and brake pedals and possibly causing an accident,” Rabenberg says. 

Another reason to keep your pet in the back seat is the danger from the force of a deployed airbag.

Dealing With Fear and Car Sickness

Many dogs are afraid of riding in the car or are apt to get carsick, but there are steps you can take to teach your dog that car rides are fun. Rabenberg suggests allowing the dog to sit in the car in the back seat while you sit in the front seat until he relaxes and then you can pet or reward him. After trying this for a few days, you can turn on the car but not drive anywhere. “After several successful attempts on several days, go for a short drive, just around the block,” Rabenberg says. “When you arrive home, take some time to pet and talk to your pet before getting out of the car, so he knows his reward comes with remaining in the vehicle, not rushing to get out. Repeat this several days in a row, then slowly expand your trips, making them a few blocks longer, and finally take him to a fun location, gradually increasing the distances.”

Allowing your dog to feel more comfortable in a moving car will lower his stress level and prevent accidents in the car.

Dogs enjoy the feel of a breeze coming from the car windows on their faces, too, so feel free to leave the window open, as long as your dog is properly restrained. If not, keep the windows closed to prevent him from falling or jumping out.

Your dog may be unhappy at first, but with a little time and patience he will soon become used to the restraint and look forward to your next car ride adventure.

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.

Save a Life With the Right Dog Car Restraint

Did you know that an unrestrained 80-pound dog in a car crash at only 30 mph would exert approximately 2,400 pounds of force? “It can turn the dog into a missile that could seriously hurt not only him, but also you and your passengers,” says Nancy White, a spokeswoman for AAA, which partners with pet manufacturer Kurgo in an annual survey about dogs in vehicles.

This is just one of many reasons why dogs and driving don’t often go together -- unless you take appropriate precautions before hitting the road, including the proper dog car restraint.

Dogs in Cars: The Rules About Dog Car Restraints
Federal laws don’t really cover issues that pertain to pets and vehicles, says White. And states are usually not able to properly enforce regulations -- if they even exist. As a result, dogs in cars are frequently a free-for-all, with 84 percent of survey respondents in 2011 saying they bring their pets on trips but do not use a restraint. The No. 1 reason why? “My dog is calm and I do not think he/she needs a restraint.” Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed admitted they never even considered getting a restraint.

As a result, many of us have seen disasters waiting to happen: The dog hanging outside of a rolled-down car window, a pup running from side to side in the backseat, a lap dog snoozing in the driver’s lap, and unrestrained dogs moving around in the back of a pickup truck. “A friend’s dog actually jumped out of an open car window while the vehicle was moving,” says Heather Hunter, public relations manager for AAA. “The owner chased the dog down in traffic,” says Hunter. Thankfully, both the owner and the pet reunited unscathed, but they took terrible risks.

Dogs Can Distract Drivers
When we think of distracted drivers, most of us consider cell phone usage, notes White. As a result, lawmakers have taken steps to curb calls and texts in cars. But what about people who drive with dogs? Last summer’s AAA/Kurgo survey found that respondents engage in the following activities:

  • 52 percent pet their dog as they drive
  • 23 percent use their hands/arms to restrict the dog’s movement or to hold the dog in place when braking
  • 19 percent use their hands/arms to keep their dog from climbing from the back seat to the front seat
  • 18 percent reach into the back seat to interact with the dog
  • 17 percent allow the dog to sit in their laps or to otherwise be held while driving

“For every two seconds that you take your eyes off the road, your chances of experiencing a crash double,” says White.

Car Trips: Use Dog Car Restraints and Travel Safely

Certainly, it’s OK to bring your dog along on trips. That’s a necessity in some cases, such as veterinary visits. But you needn’t leave your dog behind on fun adventures if you take these steps:

  • Restrain your dog in vehicles. “Safeguard your dog just as you would a child,” says White. “They should ride restrained in the back seat.”
  • Research proper dog car restraints. The restraint is your choice, based on your particular dog. Hunter, who has two Labrador Retrievers, advises that smaller dogs be placed in a crate. (Crates require a lot of room, so larger ones often won’t fit well in vehicles.) Other restraints include harnesses, seat belts and vehicle seats that are designed for dogs. Check with your veterinarian and local pet store to see which one might be best for your dog. White says harnesses can make it easier to get heavy dogs into the car.
  • Limit window access. If you must roll down the window(s), do so just a crack so that your dog cannot stick any part of its body, even the tip of its snout, through the window. “I know it sounds un-fun, but restrained dogs should not be right at the window,” says White.

“We take our dogs with us a lot when we travel,” says Hunter, “but we always use harnesses for them.” When other AAA staff with dogs (and many have beloved canines at home) read the survey results and saw some of the data about crashes, they too purchased dog car restraints. And if you have a car-happy kitty, note that many companies make restraints for cats too.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/bobhackettphotos

How to Find a Lost Puppy: 12 Smart Tips

There are few worse feelings than realizing your puppy has escaped. But your actions both before and after your puppy goes missing can help ensure a happy ending.

Before You Lose Your Puppy: ID Your Dog
Your puppy’s first line of protection is identification. Here are four popular methods:

  • Collar Tag The most common and visible form of identification, a tag simply attaches to your dog’s collar to display the dog’s name and your phone number. The downsides: Your pet must wear a collar at all times, and it’s always possible that the collar or the tag could detach. It’s smart to include your area code with your phone number in case your dog is lost when you’re traveling or wanders far from home. Consider using a cell phone number to ensure you’re accessible 24/7.
  • Tattoo More permanent than a tag, a tattooed pet I.D. number links your dog to a national organization, such as the AKC’s Companion Animal Recovery program.
  • Microchip A microchip the size of a grain of rice can be implanted under your dog’s skin. (No anesthesia or surgery is required.) It contains an alphanumeric code that can be read by animal shelters that are equipped with a hand scanner. The shelter then notifies the chip manufacturer that the pet has been found, and the manufacturer contacts the owner.
  • GPS Dog Collar GPS-enabled devices are everywhere these days, and that includes GPS-enabled dog collars. Originally designed to help hunters track their dogs in the field, GPS collars can also help you find your pet.

Because a tattoo or microchip could go undetected, it’s smart to supplement it with a collar and tag.

It’s also a good idea to have several photos of your dog on file, along with details about your puppy’s weight, color and identifying marks. Carry this information when you travel with your dog.

If You Lose Your Puppy, Don’t Panic
Be persistent as you go through this checklist:

  • Scour your property. Include places where your dog might try to hide.
  • Search the neighborhood. Talk to your neighbors, and leave a note with your name and phone number at houses where no one is home. Call your pet’s name frequently.
  • Help your pet find its way home. Place its bedding or some of your dirty clothes outside your house as a homing scent.
  • Call local veterinarians, shelters and humane societies. Also check with the local transportation departments, in case your pet was injured on the road.
  • Post fliers in the area. Include your puppy’s photo, a detailed description and your phone number (but not your name or address).
  • Advertise. Place a “Lost dog” ad in your local newspaper’s classifieds or in the online classifieds.
  • Use social media. On Facebook, post photos of your dog along with details about its appearance, characteristics and temperament, and ask friends to spread the word.
  • Consider a recovery service. You’ll find these services online. A recovery service can deliver an automated phone alert to as many as 10,000 homes in your area, asking that the recipients notify the service if they’ve seen your dog.

No one wants to face the misfortune of losing a puppy, but making smart moves can make all the difference.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/pflorendo