Fun Exercise Options For Your Dog
By Rachele Baker, DVM – Most dogs (and their owners) benefit greatly from regular aerobic exercise. Exercise helps to keep dogs healthy and in shape. There are many fun exercise options for your dog. Some of those options will provide both you and your dog with exercise, while other options will give your dog a great workout but do not require you to exert yourself.
This post discusses fun exercise options for your dog other than walking. I discuss walking with your dog in the second part of this three-part series called Walking With Your Dog For Health and Weight Loss. The first post in this series is called Is Your Dog Overweight? How To Develop A Weight Loss Plan For Your Dog.
In the first part of this post, I will discuss some innovative exercise options that will provide both you and your dog with a workout. In the second part of this post, I will discuss exercise options for your dog that do not require you to exert yourself. I have also included some very entertaining videos that I am sure you will enjoy.
Fun Exercise Options For Your Dog
That Enable Both You and Your Dog To Get A Workout
Canine Musical Freestyle – Dancing With Your Dog
Have you seen videos online of people dancing with their dogs? It is great fun to watch. According to Patie Ventre, founder of the World Canine Freestyle Organization, “Musical Freestyle is a choreographed musical program performed by handlers and their dogs. The object of musical freestyle is to display the dog and handler in a creative, innovative, and original dance. Canine freestyle truly demonstrates the joys and fun of bonding with your pet.”
When I was doing research about canine musical freestyle, I came across a video on YouTube with Sara Carson from The Super Collies dancing with her dog Hero to the song Boogie Shoes. It was so much fun to watch! I reached out to Sara to learn more about canine musical freestyle. I was surprised and pleased to learn from her that dancing with your dog is as easy as teaching your dog some tricks and then putting the tricks together with music. Here are Sara’s answers to some of my questions:
How long did it take you to train Hero to do freestyle?
Canine freestyle is something that happens after teaching your dog a variety of tricks. Once your dog has a larger repertoire of behaviors, you can start to string tricks together and add them to music!
How long did it take you to teach Hero the Boogie Shoes routine?
The Boogie Shoes routine took a few years to master. We filmed three takes before achieving the final footage shown.
Would the average pet parent be able to teach their dog how to do freestyle on their own? Or would they require training to be able to teach their dog how to do freestyle?
It’s extremely easy to pull off a fun routine with your pup at home. Again, all you have to do is string together a few tricks and add them to music. As long as you and your dog are having fun, you’re doing it right!
Here are Sara and Hero dancing to Boogie Shoes:
Are you excited about the prospect of dancing with your dog? Sara recommends using the trick training techniques taught by Kyra Sundance in her books. Kyra’s book entitled 101 Dog Tricks: Step by Step Activities to Engage, Challenge, and Bond with Your Dog has over eight hundred five star reviews on Amazon.com. Kyra has also written a trick training book geared toward puppies called 51 Puppy Tricks: Step by Step Activities to Engage, Challenge, and Bond with Your Puppy. You can purchase Kyra’s books by clicking on the links below:
On Kyra’s website Do More With Your Dog, she has links to free Facebook classes called Dog Tricks Spark Teams. Classes run from the first to the last day of every month. You can join classes in levels ranging from novice to expert.
Tracking has been an AKC (American Kennel Club) event since 1947, but it is not as well-known a dog sport as some others. Tracking is based on dogs’ natural ability to detect and follow a scent. Because dogs have such a highly-developed sense of smell, they have been successfully trained to locate such things as drugs, bombs, pipeline leaks, and victims of natural or manmade disasters. Dogs can even detect cancer!
What is a track? It is simply the path a person (the tracklayer) has walked. The path may be through vegetated areas such as grassy fields or over non-vegetated areas. The canine sport of tracking involves training a dog to follow the human scent left in the tracklayer’s footprints to locate articles containing the tracklayer’s scent which have been dropped at certain locations on the track. As dogs improve in their ability to follow the tracks laid, the level of difficulty is increased with turns being added and the track scents being allowed to “age.”
Dogs love to track and they know how to do it instinctively. If you are looking for fun exercise options for your dog, tracking is great fun for your dog as well as great exercise for you. Training a dog to track consists of teaching them to persistently follow the track we want them to follow and not the track of a field mouse, rabbit, or another scent that catches their interest. In the beginning, small food treats are dropped on the track to keep the dog following the tracklayer’s footprints. Eventually, the food treats on the track are phased out.
Time spent tracking with your dog is a great way to bond with your dog while enjoying the outdoors. Any age or breed of dog can be taught to track – from puppies to seniors. You can start by taking a tracking class or you can read the AKC Rules published online and a book on the subject and train your dog by yourself. For starters, I would recommend you read the section on Tracking in the AKC Beginner’s Guide To Companion Events available as a free download online. Two Rivers Agility Club of Sacramento recommends the book Tracking Dog: Theory and Methods by Glen Johnson:
The AKC has a list on its site of dog sports clubs throughout the United States that may offer tracking classes and/or tracking instructors. Even if a club does not specifically state that it is a tracking club, I recommend going to their website to find out what they offer. You can also search online for tracking seminars.
Tracking is an inexpensive sport compared to other dog sports. Very little equipment is required for tracking. You can use an open grassy area in city or state parks, college campuses (on weekends), industrial parks, or roadside fields (with permission from landowners). The equipment you will need is:
- A non-restrictive dog harness.
- A 6-foot leash for initial training.
- A 20 to 40-foot lead.
According to Denise Nord of Chaos Beagles, round polypropylene or nylon leads are best because they are easy to handle, lightweight, they slip through vegetation, and they do not get heavy when wet. You can also use climbing rope (available at REI).
- Articles for your dog to find when tracking.
At least one of these items should be an inexpensive brown leather work glove since these are commonly used when dogs are exhibiting for tracking titles. Other items such as wallets, bandanas, or socks can be used but they should not be brightly colored. The AKC Rules state that “all articles will be inconspicuous in color in comparison to the surrounding terrain.”
- Paper, pencil, and clipboard for drawing maps of your tracks.
- Tracking flags.
You can use surveyor’s flags, irrigation flags, or landscape flags.
- Bright plastic clothespins for corner markers.
- Small treats and water for your dog.
You can track with your dog purely for the enjoyment or you may choose to participate in AKC tracking events so your dog can earn a tracking title. Even dogs that are not purebred dogs can compete for AKC tracking titles by enrollment in AKC Canine Partners for a small fee. A dog must be at least six months old to participate in AKC tracking events.
Before a dog can take an AKC tracking test to earn a tracking title, the dog must pass a certification test. After passing the certification test, the dog’s owner will be given a certification form signed by an AKC-approved judge that must be included with the entry form for a tracking test.
To earn a tracking title, a dog only needs to pass the test for that title one time. A dog can earn four AKC tracking titles that each have different levels of difficulty. The first level is called TD (Tracking Dog) or TDU (Tracking Dog Urban). The TD or TDU title must be achieved before a dog can exhibit for a TDX (Tracking Dog Excellent) or VST (Variable Surface Tracker) title. The highest level title is called Champion Tracker (CT). The CT tracking title is only awarded to dogs that have achieved tracking titles at all three tracking levels (TD or TDU, TDX, and VST) prior to exhibiting for the CT title.
Tracking tests are scored simply as Pass or Fail. There are no first, second, or third place awards given. Because of this, the camaraderie at tracking tests is much greater than at other dog sporting events. It is likely that you will make many friends while enjoying this sport with your dog.
My friend Joy Schneider of My GBGV Life was kind enough to provide me with the following video of her tracking with her dog Bailie. Even though the footprints on a snow track are clearly visible, you can see in the video that Bailie is using her nose, not her eyes, to follow the track.
Fun Exercise Options For Your Dog
That Do Not Require You To Exert Yourself
Playing Fetch or Frisbee
Playing fetch or frisbee with your dog can provide your dog with some great exercise and a lot of fun. If your dog does not know how to play fetch, start off with a small toy or a ball and throw it a short distance. If he or she does not go after that toy, try a different one. When he or she picks up the toy and starts to return to you, praise and encourage him or her. When he or she reaches you, hold out one hand to catch the toy, hold a treat by his or her nose with the other hand, and say “drop it.” When he or she drops the toy or ball into your hand, give him or her the treat and some praise. After a while, you will be able to phase out the treat and reward your dog by throwing the toy or ball again.
Learning how to throw a frisbee so that your dog has a chance of catching it can be challenging. I like to use a soft rubber Kong frisbee when playing with my dog Savanna so it does not hurt her mouth when she catches it. It is probably a good idea to practice throwing a frisbee for a while before you start throwing it for your dog.
Unless you want your dog to jump into the air to catch the frisbee, try to throw the frisbee so that it sails through the air at a level just above your dog’s head. To direct the flight of the frisbee so that your dog can catch it, aim your frisbee throwing hand toward the area that you want the frisbee to go as you release the frisbee.
It is a thrill for both you and your dog when you throw a frisbee and your dog races across the yard and snatches it out of the air! My dog Savanna always does a little celebratory prance around the backyard holding the frisbee in her mouth after she catches it.
Large Balls for Chasing
Large balls such as the Boomer Ball can provide lots of fun and exercise for dogs. Dogs push the balls around on the ground and have great fun chasing them. Boomer Balls are designed to not be picked up by your dog so you should select a size bigger than your dog can carry. Chasing oversize balls is one of the fun exercise options for your dog that do not require you to exert yourself, but you will enjoy watching your dog have fun.
This video shows a dog enjoying chasing a Boomer Ball around the yard:
Another fun exercise option for your dog is swimming. Swimming is an excellent way for your dog to get aerobic exercise. But do not assume that your dog instinctively knows how to swim. Start him or her off in shallow water no higher than belly deep and keep him or her on a long leash. Get into the water with your dog and praise your dog for venturing into the water. Do not let your dog go into deep water until you are confident that he or she is a strong swimmer. If your dog is hesitant about walking into the water, you can throw a ball or a toy a couple of feet out to encourage him or her.
If you are taking your dog swimming in a lake or the ocean, get him or her a well-fitted canine life vest. If you are taking your dog swimming in a pool, repeatedly show him or her how to find the steps to climb out of the pool until you are confident that your dog knows where the steps are and how to get out of the pool when he or she tires. Never leave your dog unsupervised in the pool.
If you take your dog to the beach, be sure to rinse off his or her paws with clear water at the end of the day to wash off the sand and salt water. And don’t forget to bring fresh water for your dog to drink. Water in lakes, streams, and the ocean can contain bacteria and parasites that you do not want your dog to ingest.
Once your dog is good at swimming, you can throw a ball, toy, or stick out into the water for him or her to fetch. Dogs love this game and it is great exercise for them.