The Dog Olympics

The Olympic athlete in your family may be the one you pet in bed every night. Your dog can be an Olympian, even without years of preparation and dedication. Serious dog Olympians will compete in the 15th ECF European Championship in England this fall. But canine games across this country offer something for everyone. “It was never meant to be a real serious competition. It’s all fun,” says Anne Solis, a spokeswoman for the Doggie Olympics, sponsored by the Larimer Animal People Partnership. This event began 16 years ago as a way for owners to bond with their dogs. Here’s a look at this and other similar competitions:

Doggie Olympics, Fort Collins, Colo.
Organizers offer 14 different games in four divisions: competitive, fun, junior handler (for owners 15 and younger), and senior dog (for dogs older than 10). Participants register in advance if they want to be eligible for medals. Some 150 dogs compete, but many more dog lovers and their dogs show up to cheer on the competitors, laugh at their antics and cruise vendor booths, says Solis.

Among the more popular events is the hot dog retrieve, in which dogs race to retrieve a hot dog from a bucket of water and return it to their owners. It’s OK if the hot dog comes back either “internally or externally,” says Solis. The Monday morning obstacle course is a crowd-pleaser, as owners coach their dogs through a course that mimics the routine of getting a kid ready for school, including the struggle to put a T-shirt on the dog.

The event also offers demonstrations of up-and-coming dog sports -- another way to encourage dog owners to spend time with their dogs. The Doggie Olympics occasionally draw participants from as far away as South Dakota and Wyoming.

“We start in March, and it takes a lot of hours from a lot of volunteers to pull it off,” says Solis. This year’s Olympics take place on Sept. 23.

North Carolina State University’s Dog Olympics
Each fall, North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine holds the Dog Olympics in Raleigh, N.C., to raise funds for local rescue groups. “It’s become a great community event,” says spokesman David Green. “We encourage people to bring their dogs even if they don’t compete.”

Whether your dog is a star athlete or a lap-sitter, the Dog Olympics offer the potential for stardom. Competitions include a Frisbee toss, a high jump, an owner/dog look-a-like contest, and Best Trick and Longest Tail awards. The Olympic Village provides booths where veterinary students can share information with dog owners. “We make it an opportunity to do some teaching,” says Green.

The school sets the schedule for the Olympics once it knows the football schedule. Simply search for “N.C. State” and “Dog Olympics” online this summer to learn the date and more information.

Woofstock Dog Festival
Looking for some fun dog competitions near you? Dog festivals also often offer games. At the Woofstock Dog Festival in Roanoke, Va., there are no Olympic rings or medals, but plenty of opportunities for competition for you and your dog. This year’s festival is June 2.

Games include stupid pet tricks, pet/parent look-alike contests, bobbing for hot dogs and a lucky duck game, in which dogs pick squeaky ducks for prizes. Of course, the duck itself is prize enough for plenty of dogs, says Waynette Anderson, president and owner of Sponsor Hounds, which sponsors the event.

“It’s all just fun games,” says Anderson, who adds that dogs can either directly participate or just sit in their owners’ laps and enjoy the day.

In general, you can expect a relaxed attitude and plenty of “Atta-boys” and “Atta-girls” at dog Olympic-style games across the country. “To me, it’s my happiest day of the year,” says Anderson. “I’m very inspired by dogs.”

Dog Training Partner

The best workout partners never complain, bring unfailing energy to your exercise sessions and stick by your side rather than racing ahead or trailing behind. If it sounds like it would be tough to find someone to fit that description, it’s time to consider a four-legged workout partner.

“For the most part, any dog can be a runner,” says Lindsay Stordahl, a professional dog runner and walker who operates Run That Mutt in the Fargo-Moorhead area of North Dakota. Stordahl has covered more than 4,200 miles with clients’ dogs. “People get too caught up over whether or not their dog can run. If you are not sure, then simply try.”

It’s also possible you might find another exercise activity to enjoy with your dog, such as swimming, which is low-impact for joints, says Dr. Amber Andersen, a veterinarian at Point Vicente Animal Hospital in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. A dog-focused activity such as agility training can also provide workout benefits for both you and your dog.

Before You Begin a Workout Program

Of course, it’s not simply a matter of grabbing a leash and heading out the door. Before you begin working out with your dog, experts say you should consider these factors:

  • Your health and your dog’s health. It’s a good idea to check with both your veterinarian and your physician before you begin a workout program.
  • Your dog’s breed. Stordahl runs with all manner of breeds. However, short-faced (i.e., brachycephalic) dogs, such as English bulldogs and pugs can overheat easily. “They have an already compromised respiratory system,” says Andersen. “Monitor them closely.” An English bulldog will likely be happier walking because of its heavyset body.
  • Your dog’s age. “Many veterinarians will stress that a large-breed dog should not run until it’s about 18 months old, because the dog’s bone structure will not be fully developed until that time,” says Stordahl. Check with your veterinarian to determine when a young dog is ready to jog, then keep to a modest pace and distance. Older dogs, like older humans, can suffer from arthritis or other health conditions.
  • Weather conditions. Extreme temperatures and weather conditions can impact your dog’s ability to work out. Be particularly conscious of your dog’s water needs in warmer weather.

Working out With Your Dog

“Gradually increase the intensity and duration of exercise over the course of a few weeks,” says Andersen. “Be consistent and committed so both you and your dog can build stamina.” Exercising with your dog will work better if you do the following:

  • Let your dog be a dog. “Usually our dogs are allowed to stop and sniff on daily walks, so they will want to do this during more intense jogs or runs,” says Andersen. “Before you start running, let your dog have ample time to relieve itself as well as sniff around. During the cooldown after your run, let your dog do this again.”
  • Use a harness and ditch the retractable leash. A harness allows for greater control, and you’ll want to keep your dog on a short leash.
  • Do regular paw-checks. “If your dog is new to running, you should stop and check its feet at least every five minutes until you know how much it can handle,” says Stordahl. “If the paws look pink or tender, then slow to a walk and head home.” Bleeding paws mean a few days’ rest, though they should heal on their own. Your dog’s feet will naturally toughen.
  • Know when to stop. If you see a wagging tail and your dog is alert and responsive, it most likely is enjoying the activity. It’s time to stop when you see any respiratory distress or lameness or when your dog starts dragging behind or slowing down.

Be creative and patient as you find a workout routine you both enjoy. “Exercising is vital to both human and canine health,” says Andersen. “Finding a way to incorporate your dog’s fitness routine with your own will make you both happy and can be a huge time-saver.”

The Dog Connection to Dating and Romance

Stacia and Daniel Folloder met through JDate.com, an online dating service that connects Jewish singles. From the start, it was clear that their dogs, a Labrador/golden retriever mix and a chocolate Labrador, would play a significant role in their romance. The Houston couple, who were married in November, spent their second date at a dog park. “Our dogs hit it off just as well as we had,” says Stacia Folloder. “And if one of us had not been a dog lover, I’m not sure it would have worked.”

Love Me, Love My Dog
When it comes to romance, dog lovers often hope to find someone who loves dogs as well. According to eHarmony, an online relationship community that matches users based on comprehensive questionnaires, a love of dogs carries real weight for many eHarmony users.

“Pet ownership is not factored in to eHarmony’s compatibility matching system,” says eHarmony spokeswoman Whitney Standring-Trueblood. “However, there is an area in the profile called ‘Something to Talk About’ that lets you see things you may have in common with a match -- your shared interests in culture, food, sports, hobbies and entertainment. One of the common interests is pet ownership.” Forty-five percent of eHarmony users select dogs and cats as pets they have or like, and 22 percent select dogs alone.

A shared love of dogs is so critical for some singles that the number of online dating communities designed exclusively for dog lovers or pet owners is growing. Sites such as DateMyPet.com often offer tips about both pets and dating. Sites such as Leashes and Lovers provide an online community for dog owners to create homepages for themselves and/or their pooches and to connect for doggie playdates, human dates and more.

The Dog Lover’s Profile
Jennifer Glen, a current JDate member who also happens to work for the community’s parent company, is head over heels in love … with her dogs Abby and Bella. She frequently posts photos of her furry friends on her dogs’ blog at AbbyBella.blogspot.com.

However, explains Glen, “I don’t necessarily need someone as crazy about dogs as I am.” What she’s looking for is someone who will accept that her dogs play a central role in her everyday life. Although her potential mate needn’t be dog-obsessed, not liking dogs is indeed a deal-breaker, says Glen.

Fall for the Man -- and the Dog
Finding a match online is a bit like playing detective. Daters look for clues in potential matches’ profiles. “When I saw Daniel’s profile online, I did notice he had a dog in his picture, and that was one of my first questions: Does he have a dog, and what kind?” says Stacia Folloder. “I liked that he had pictures of his family and of his dog.”

The Folloders met on JDate in April 2010 and married in November 2011. Sharing their love with their dogs enriches their lives together. These days, they love going to the dog park together to watch the dogs play and swim. “We take them with us wherever they are allowed to go,” says Stacia Folloder.

Couples need to find common interests for relationships to work. For the Folloders, their love for dogs is that bond. “Our love for our dogs is something we share and something we both love about each other,” she says. “I am very happy to say that all four of us are the best of friends.”

How to Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Advanced age doesn’t bring flexibility to a halt. We are all able to adapt to change, even if the adjustment takes more time for some than it does for others. As a result, it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks. “It’s absolutely a myth that older dogs cannot learn,” says Erin Kramer, a professional dog trainer. “They’ve simply had the bad habit, whatever it is, for a longer period of time.”

Kramer, who owns and operates Puppy Love Dogs in Northern California, shares how she trains senior dogs, teaching their owners a thing or two along the way as well.

Work With a Professional Trainer
If you’ve owned your senior dog since it was a puppy, you probably have developed a close bond. Your dog has evolved ways of behaving around you, even predicting your emotions and reactions, which can make it difficult to get your dog to change.

On the other hand, “when a new person comes in, this individual introduces a new element, so the dog is inclined to pay attention more,” says Kramer. If your budget does not permit working with a professional trainer now, consider asking a friend to help you train your pet, just to add a fresh face to the mix.

Make a List of Rules
Kramer has her clients make a list of household rules that they would like for their dog to follow. The rules have to be specific. For example, is it OK for the dog to jump up on you but not on houseguests? Can your dog jump on certain furniture but not others? Often problems with dogs begin when owners are unclear about rules.

“If a dog jumps on a guest and gets a head rub and attention, from the dog’s point of view, that’s a payoff,” says Kramer. “If a dog wants to sniff a tree and pulls you over to it with its leash, it’s figured out how to control you to get what it wants.”

Use Real Life Rewards
Kramer also begins training sessions by asking owners to make a list of everything the dog values. Depending on your dog’s breed, this can vary. Toys, for example, usually motivate prey-driven dogs. “When I train police dogs, I actually have the bad guy stand behind one of the dog’s favorite toys,” she says. “Terriers tend to be more internally focused and want to please themselves.”

Once you identify a reward your dog covets -- be it his food bowl, a toy or a favorite biscuit -- you can then practice walking to that item with your dog. The goal is to keep the leash loose so that you are controlling your pet’s approach. “If the dog rushes or is overly excited, give the ‘Sit’ command and have your dog hold for five seconds before continuing.” This simple technique can solve all sorts of ingrained senior dog habits.

Keep These Three Factors in Mind

1. Timing “If your dog gives you a guilty look when you come home, and all of the garbage is spilled on the floor, it’s useless to punish your dog at that point,” says Kramer. She explains that the dog probably went through the garbage a few hours ago and would not associate the punishment with the crime. “Senior dogs don’t live in the past,” she says.

2. Motivation This changes for each dog and is often tied to breed. However, “most dogs are motivated by food,” says Kramer, “but they have to earn it.”

3. Consistency “Don’t change the rules, or else you will confuse your dog,” she advises.

Use Doggy Psychology
There’s good reason why your senior dog has lasted so long, and it’s not just due to genetics. Your dog has learned a lot over the years, but it also has the ability to change and to learn even more. When Kramer works with older dogs, she wants them to think: “This lady has everything I want. She has the canine jackpot.” You are therefore your dog’s most important reward. Senior dogs might require a patient, gentle hand during training, but with the right approach, you will both succeed and begin a new life’s chapter.

The Benefits of Joining a Dog Social Group

Across the country, dog social groups are enabling dog owners and their pets to find common ground. Dog-centric social groups provide both with an outlet for relaxation, shared fun and a source of information and support. Groups gather in dog parks and pet boutiques, or meet for activities (e.g., hikes or days at the beach).

Calendar-worthy Special Events
Janene Zakrajsek, owner of Pussy & Pooch pet boutiques in Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., says her Mutt Mingles are “our version of a ‘Yappy Hour’ for all.” Pussy & Pooch has been holding Mutt Mingles for almost five years, and the store works to make the events special for both dog and human participants. Mingles have included a tea party to celebrate International Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day, an Earth Day Bark for Green party and an Oktoberfest Dog Beer & Sausage-Fest.

“Minglers enjoy the freedom of letting their little ones run around the store leash-free for some much-needed pup playtime,” explains Zakrajsek. “Naturally, our guests also enjoy the refreshment, raffles, Pawbar tastings (at the store’s pet cafe), and other fun we create for them.”

Regular Playdates, Thanks to Facebook
While attending Mutt Mingles is like having a date night with your dog, other dog-oriented social groups meet on a more casual basis. “I belong to a group of dog owners who meet at the dog park daily,” says Kimberly Gauthier, a Seattle blogger/photographer. “We have a group on Facebook and check in throughout the day to see who’s going to the park and when. What I find hilarious is that we identify each other by our dogs’ names. We know all the dogs and their personalities.”

Using a social networking site strengthens the group’s connections, explains Gauthier. Facebook allows the group to easily set schedules, to make plans outside of their dog park encounters and to keep up-to-date on potential issues. “One dog was diagnosed with kennel cough, and we were all informed immediately,” she says.

Ask the Right Questions, Do Your Homework
If you plan to either join or start a canine social group, it’s important to consider several factors and to take a few precautions, say social group coordinators and participants. This checklist should help:

  • Put safety first. “If you’re joining someone else’s group, you want to know if they screen for dogs being up-to-date on shots, aggressive tendencies and more,” advises Janice Costa, who manages the 145-member The Canine Club Meetup Group in New York City and runs the dog vacation business Canine Camp Getaway. “You want to know if the group leader has any formal experience working with dogs, if he or she has ever broken up a dog fight, how they handle behavioral problems.”

  • Know or set parameters. Will the group mix dogs of various sizes? Is the event on- or off-leash? How many dogs will attend? Costa limits off-leash events to a manageable 12 to 15 dogs and keeps activities to just a few hours.
  • Consider your focus. Whether you’re joining a group or starting one, the activities should suit you and your dog. If you and your dog are couch potatoes, then an energetic dog/owner hiking club isn’t for you.
  • Think about doing good. Often, canine-focused social groups enjoy supporting dog-related causes. Kate Singleton, who founded the San Francisco Chihuahua Meetup in 2007, and her fellow Chihuahua owners use their meetup to address the problem of homeless dogs. “We have had lots of dogs adopted via the meetup, and many of the members, including me, have started fostering,” she says. “We often will have raffles to raise dollars for rescue groups or to help our group with Meetup.com fees.”
  • Be consistent. “Our group works because the people like the consistency,” says Singleton.

Most important of all, you and your dog should enjoy the experience. “The exercise and socialization in a safe and pleasant atmosphere is the key,” says Zakrajsek.