Hiking is a great way to get out and exercise with your pet. In most areas, trails are fairly close by, and it is a nice alternative to the typical walk around the block. The dogs love to go explore all the new smells, and you can keep the pace as easy, or as hard as you like. It's a great activity for kids too! Always make sure to carry plenty of water for both humans and pets, Grab a leash, bring dog waste bags, snacks for you and your dog, sunscreen, bug spray if you need it, and always pack out your trash. If it is flea and tick season, make sure to use some sort of flea and tick preventative to protect your pet. There are some great topical sprays that you can use from companies like Vet's Best that you can apply as you hit the trail head.
I am a runner. I run 4-6 days a week, most weekdays through my city, and on the weekends I drive to some local trails. I take my dogs with me on almost every run. I live in an area where I can run outdoors all year long, but in the summer time, I wake up early and get my run done before 7 am to beat the heat and protect the dogs. Running with your pet doesn't require anything special, like hiking you need a leash, some waste bags, and if you will be running for more than 30-45 minutes, or it is really hot/humid, some water for you and your dog. On the weekends I run at a large state park that has a lake and a restroom with water fountains every mile, so for water, all I need to carry is a collapsible bowl that I can fill up at the water fountain. Be careful in the hotter months. We recently did a blog post about heat and signs of heat exhaustion to look for. If you like to race, you can even find dog friendly races you can run with your pooch! I have found that a hands free leash (I use one that I wear like a belt) makes running with your dog easier. They typically come in 2 types, a bungee type if you have a dog that pulls, or a flat type if your dog stays by your side. EZYDog, Ruffwear, Kurgo, and The Buddy System all make several different styles/colors. Prior to starting any kind of running program with your dog, make sure he is in good health, and start off easy. Just like you, your dog needs to build up his endurance slowly. A good dog is a tired (well exercised) dog 😁
Lure coursing is something that we are fairly new too. If you have a dog that loves to run, has some prey drive, and will chase a plastic bag, this could be a great sport. A lure coursing event takes place in a big field and has a lure (around here they use torn up white plastic shopping bags) tied to twine. The course is 300-600 yards (small breeds like Chihuahuas, senior dogs, and Great Danes use a short course) and consists of twine that runs around a series of pulleys creating some twists and turns to the course. The dog has to chase the lure around the course within a preset time. The AKC offers titles in lure coursing at AKC sanctioned events, but there are also a few companies that offer "fun runs" for you to just come out and let your dog run. Lure coursing competitions were initially designed for sight hound breeds like Greyhounds and Whippets. Recently, the AKC added a 2nd lure coursing event, the CAT (coursing ability test), that is open to all dogs, regardless of breed. For more information on lure coursing, or to find an event near you, please go here: AKC Lure Coursing
A very popular activity that you can do with your dog is agility. There are trials almost every weekend, and groups that you can train with in just about every city. Agility consists of a course made up of several different apparatus. Things like jumps, an A frame, dog walk, see-saw, weave poles, and tunnels. The event has a specific order to do these in, and is timed. The course is set up according to the height of the dog, so all dogs can compete fairly. Jack Russels and Yorkies can compete on smaller/lower equipment than the Border Collies and Labradors do. This sport requires some training for both the dog and the handler, but even if you never plan to compete, it can be a great way to exercise and bond with your dog. For more information, or to find an event near you (they are fun to just go and watch too) please click here.
Nose work or scent games are something that you can do just about anywhere. You can set up a scent hunt in your living room, in your yard, or anywhere you go. Do it for fun, enter a nose work trial, or go all the way to becoming a Search and Rescue or Cadaver dog team! Having your dog use his nose is a great way to stimulate his mind and use his senses. You can use commercially made scent that they use in competitions, like Birch, Anise, or Clove, or use something like an Earl Grey tea bag to get started. We have started doing scent work with Carbon (seen above), using Birch. Many of the principals and techniques we use are the same as how we train our service dogs Major and Raven to recognize diabetic scent. We don't use Major or Raven in any of the nose work trials, as introducing other scents may prove distracting from their "job", so we are utilizing our skills with Carbon. There are a lot of books on scent games out there, you can do a search on Amazon and come up with a few. The official trials can test you on interiors, exteriors, vehicles, and containers. We have a lot of fun putting some scent in a small PVC pipe and hiding it around the house. This makes for a great activity that you can do indoors on a hot or rainy day, morning or night.
Rally is one of the best things you can do with your pup. Quin started competing with our dogs when he was 9 years old, and still competes today at 14. Rally is a sport that incorporates basic obedience commands (like sit, stay, down, and heel) into a course of 10-20 stations (essentially a sign that has a command on it) that you must compete in order. In the beginning, you compete with your dog on a leash, as you advance, the course is done off leash. We compete through AKC, all though they aren't the only organization that hosts events. We started with rally as a way for us to become better dog handlers, learn better leash control, and to bond with our dogs. As both Major and Raven are service dogs, they go with us out in public, to restaurants, the mall, school, and places like Disneyland. Rally is a great way to train your dog to always pay attention to you and help ensure they will behave appropriately when out and about. We practice daily, incorporating rally training into our daily walks around the neighborhood. To learn more about Rally, please click here.
Obedience trials are similar to rally, but instead of signs, the judge will call out commands to the handler. The handler is given a map prior to the start so they know what to expect. Rally is much more lenient than obedience, and allows you greater leeway in handling your dog. Obedience also has fewer types of commands, but incorporates human distractions, a long group sit and a long group stay into the event. In many cases, obedience and rally trials are offered at the same event. For more info or to find an event, please click here.
Dock diving is the sport our dogs love the most. Whether we are competing at an event, or just playing in Nana's pool, our dogs love chasing the bumper into the water. If you have a dog that loves to retrieve and likes to swim, dock diving may be the sport for you. As seen above, we use a "bumper", basically a floating cylinder used for training hunting dogs. But you can use anything that floats, a ball, a frisbee, a wubba, a Kong, whatever your dog loves to play with. The hardest part to this sport is to get your dog to jump off the dock. If you have access to a pool, that may be where you start training them to jump off the side. This sport has a "lap dog" division, we see Chinese Cresteds, Papillons, Corgis, and Shih Tzus all jumping. A funny story, even though we live in Southern California, the home of swimming pools, the closest dock diving facility is 2 hours away from us. We travel there at least once a month for practice, and they will occasionally have competitions there. For competitions, most of those are held using portable pools, so they will set up at a park or in a parking lot for weekend competitions, so sometimes we get lucky and don't have to travel far. Dock diving is a great summer time sport for the dogs, just remember that the human will get real hot on the dock. Dock diving has a LOT of different organizations (Splash Dogs, NADD, UAD, Dock Dogs, Purina Incredible Dog Challenge, etc) that host events all over the country, so to find an event or training facility near you, please do a google search for dock diving. Some areas have more events than others.
These are just a few of the MANY things you can do with your dog. Some other ideas are Disc Dogs, Fly Ball, herding, tracking, trick dog, or get them a Canine Good Citizen certificate. Spending time with your dog is time well spent.
Whether you have a puppy or a senior, exercising and training your dog improves to be beneficial to both you and your dog. Obedience and rally are great things to get into with a puppy, teaching him to be a good canine companion, and nose work/scent games can be a great low impact event you can do with a senior pup they may have mobility issues.
The funny thing about dogs is they really don't care WHAT they are doing, as long as they are doing it with you. A leisurely evening stroll through the local neighborhood, or backpacking in the Sierras, they just want to be by your side. All of these things are supposed to be fun for you and your dog, always keep that in mind. Positive experiences, and a high value reward all help to get your dog motivated and ready to please you. I hope this post has introduced you to something new you can do with your dog, and inspires you to get out and play with your pup!