If I had my way, I would hike with my dogs all year round. It's not possible where I live though. We get deep snow in the mountains. Although I try to take my small pups out for snowshoe trips it's often too cold for them, the snow is too deep for them, or it is pouring down rain. Add to that the fact that the days are much shorter in the fall and winter and it means that we don't get out as often as we would like.
I know we are not the only ones with this problem. I often get asked how people can keep their dogs active and stimulated when heading to the hills is not an option. These 5 dog sports will help your dog build and maintain skills that will help them be ready to hit the trails next spring.
All of these dog sports are growing in popularity and classes are popping up all over the place. With some minor exceptions, all dogs are welcome to participate in these competitions - your dog does not have to be a specific breed or size.
1. Nosework - Inspired by working detection dogs, K9 Nose Work is the fun search and scenting activity. Dogs are trained to seek out a favorite toy or treat reward hidden for them by detecting the smell. K9 Nose Work is great because it can be done almost anywhere, in any setting and can be as easy or difficult as you want. This easy-to-learn activity builds confidence and focus in many dogs while providing physical exercise and mental stimulation.
2. Flyball - Flyball is a dog sport in which teams of dogs race against each other over a line of hurdles to a box that releases a tennis ball to be caught when the dog presses the spring-loaded pad. The dogs then race back to their handlers while carrying the ball. Not only does flyball require great physical coordination and strength, but each dogs learns to work in a team which can help a dog be more confident and well-mannered when they encounter another dog while out hiking. There are flyball teams all over the nation. Check out the North American Flyball Association team locator to find one near you.
3. Agility - In agility, a dog owner, or handler, directs a dog through an obstacle course in a race. The dogs are judged on both speed and accuracy when completing the course. Because the handler runs the course with the dog, this sport is great physical exercise for both dogs and people. In agility, dogs builds strength and balance skills which will help them jump obstacles and navigate precarious situations.
4. Weight Pulling - Weight pulling is a dog sport involving a dog pulling a cart or sled loaded with weight a short distance across dirt/gravel, grass, carpet or snow. The dog is hitched to the cart or sled with a specially constructed harness designed to spread the weight and minimize the chance of injury. Although sled dogs and bull breeds excel at this sport, many breeds - from mastiffs to toy poodles - can participate. Dogs are separated into categories by weight to keep the competition fair. This sport builds determination and strength.
5. Skijoring- The name skijoring is derived from the Norwegian word skikjøring, meaning ski driving. In this winter sport, a person on cross-country skis is assisted by a dog (or dogs). The cross-country skier, wearing a skijoring harness, provides power with skis and poles, and the dog, wearing a sled dog harness, adds additional power by running and pulling. The two are connected only by a length of rope and the dog must be motivated by its own desire to run, and respond to the owner's voice for direction. Many breeds of dog participate in skijoring. Small dogs (less than 35 pounds) are rarely seen skijoring, because they do not greatly assist the skier; however, since the skier can provide as much power as is required to travel, any enthusiastic dog can participate. In skijoring, a dog builds fitness and learns to listen keenly to their owner for directions.
All of these activities really help strengthen the bond between people and their pets. Your dog will learn to read your body language and listen for your commands when you are out in public. These skills are indispensable when you are hiking off-leash trails with your pup.
**Jessica is a regular contributor to the Sierra Social Hub as part of #TeamSierra. Learn more about her and her dog's adventures on her site: You Did What With Your Wiener.
5 Fun Dog Activities to Keep Them Active This Winter
By Jessica Rhae Williams
November 03, 2014
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