Beyond obedience and agility: 5 unusual dog-powered sports
By Wendy Wilson
Exercise is good for us, and it’s good for our four-legged pals, too.
As evidenced by the growing rates of overweight and obese pets, our dogs need more of that physical activity to not only help burn off excess weight, but improve their quality of life, too.
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reports that an estimated 55.6 percent of dogs are overweight or obese. The risks of excess weight in pets include osteoarthritis, insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart and respiratory disease, cranial cruciate ligament injury, kidney disease, many forms of cancer, and an up to 2½-year decrease in life expectancy, says the APOP.
“Obesity is a big problem in pets, just as it is with people, and exercising helps them keep the dog’s weight down,” says Susan Nelson, DVM, Kansas State University veterinarian and assistant professor of clinical sciences. “Dogs also need an outlet to relieve their energy or else they may develop destructive behavior. Your dog is going to be happier and more content if it receives adequate exercise.”
Are you ready to get moving – and healthy – with your dog? Try one of these pant-inducing, fat-burning human-canine sports with your four-legged friend. The activities we’ve listed aren’t your common agility- or obedience-types; they’re ones that get you and your pal outdoors and moving in the fresh air and sunshine.
Ready? Set? Let’s play!
Canicross: Cross-country running
Do you like to distance or trail run with your dog? If so, you’ve already done canicross, which is cross-country running with dogs. The equipment required for canicross can be as simple as a collar or harness and leash, though more advanced and competitive canicross athletes utilize specially designed waist belts, leads and harnesses for comfort and hands-free running.
To participate in canicross, find a trail; hook up your pup to his leash and start running! He’ll take the lead and pull you along between strides. Begin with short runs that you both can handle to build up his (and your) endurance. Be sure, however, that you have control of your dog – or you could wind up face-first in the dirt, especially if you have a strong puller on the other end of the leash!
Bikejoring: Dog-powered cross-country biking
Similar to canicross and other off-season sled-dog conditioning sports, bikejoring uses puppy power (and some human power, too) to pull bicyclists cross country or during rallies and events. Bikejoring equipment includes a harness for the dog along with a bicycle and an easy-release towline (or leash) connected to the bike’s frame that safely links the leash to the rider. If more than one dog is tugging, their harnesses are yoked with a gang line, which is then attached to the towline.
Training a dog or dog team to pull a bike can be a challenge. Expect to fall – a lot, at first – so be sure to wear protective gear, including a helmet and gloves. Another safety tip: Do not hold the towline or attach it to the handlebars, as the dogs may be distracted by and chase squirrels or other wildlife, taking the rider along for a bumpy (and potentially dangerous) ride.
Skijoring: Dog-powered cross-country skiing
Got some cross-country skis and some fresh powder? Try skijoring! Practiced competitively and recreationally, skijoring – or “ski driving” in Norwegian – uses one, two or three dogs to pull a cross-country skier down a trail or along a racing course. Skijoring equipment for the human includes cross country skis and a specially designed belt worn by the skier. The dogs wear harnesses suitable for running that are attached to a quick-release skijoring line, which is at least 8 feet long.
The activity uses commands and techniques similar to those used by mushers, such as “hike,” or run; “gee” and “haw,” or right and left; “whoa,” or stop; and “on by,” or pass. Mastery of these commands before hitting the slopes is critical, as the dogs could pull the skier into trees or half-frozen lakes.
Treibball: Ball herding for herders
For all those herding breeds out there with no access to livestock flocks, Treibball is a competitive dog sport in which the dog herds and drives large exercise balls into a soccer goal using only voice commands from her handler.
How does it work? The dog must “herd” or roll eight 17- to 30-inch balls into a confined space within a set time period, typically 15 minutes. She takes direction from her handler, who issues commands – whistles, verbal and hand signals – from the goal area. The team earns points based on cooperation and direction.
Dog sulky: Cart pulling made easy
Dog sulky and dog carting are activities that involve a dog or team of dogs pulling humans in a sulky or cart. It can be done competitively, recreationally or, when towing a cart full of supplies, as part of a working dog’s duties on a farm or ranch.
Because dogs have sensitive spines, the carts used are specially designed to not place weight on the animals’ backs. There are two main cart types used with dogs: the conventional two-shaft cart that’s attached to either side of the dog’s harness, and the single-shaft dorsal hitch cart that attaches to a single point on top of the dog’s shoulders. The latter type is the one most widely used, as it’s easier for the dog to maneuver and it’s less likely to cause injury.
Exercise really is good for you and your dog. Get outside with your pal today and try one of these fun and challenging activities.
“Exercising with your pet promotes the human-animal bond,” says Dr. Nelson. “People love dogs because of their unconditional love, and dogs are going to be very pleased to have their owners do something with them.”
Is your dog an athlete? Tell us all about it in the comments.