MODERN DOG SPORTS MAKE ELITE ATHLETES OUT OF MAN'S BEST FRIEND
Playing with a dog used to mean a game of tug-of-war or fetch. These days, canine sports are organized and televised, and top competitors have fans like any top athlete. Agility, dock diving, flyball, freestyle, obedience, tracking, hunt tests and more -- there's an activity for every dog. I've tried almost all of them, and not been good at any one of them. (I'm not very athletic!) But my dogs and I have always had a great time. Here's a look at four of the dog sports that are most welcoming to newbies:
Agility: A canine obstacle course with jumps, A-frames, teeter-totters, open and closed tunnels, weave poles and dog walks (like the balance beam in a gymnastics competition). Agility trials test physical skill, control, patience and teamwork, and demonstrate canine athleticism, versatility and speed.
Racing against the clock, dogs directed by their handlers must navigate a challenging course. In each of five height divisions, the winner is the dog with the fastest time and a run free of faults, such as knocking over the bar of a jump or missing the contact zone when coming off an obstacle. Any breed or mix can compete in agility, but medium-size dogs who are quick and nimble usually do best.
Dock Diving: Splash! For some dogs, there's nothing more fun than running and jumping into a body of water, whether it's a swimming pool, a pond, a lake or the ocean. Not surprisingly, that love of water has been channeled into competition. It's called dock diving, and it's one of the wettest, wildest dog games around.
Dogs in the Big Air event go for distance. The dog with the longest jump off the end of a dock is the winner. In heats known as waves, each dog runs down the dock, the owner throws a toy out over the water, and the dog jumps in after it. The distance he jumps is measured at the point where the base of his tail hits the water.
If you say "Jump!" and your dog asks "How high?" Extreme Vertical might be his game. In this event, the dog races down the dock, then leaps up to grab a bumper suspended 10 feet above the water. The winner is the dog with the highest measured jump.
Flyball: This simple relay race involves four hurdles and a tennis ball. Two teams race each other over a 51-foot course lined with four jumps. At the end of the course is a spring-loaded box that ejects a tennis ball when the dog steps on a trigger. Catching the tennis ball in his mouth, the dog races back over the hurdles, crossing the starting line before the next dog begins. The first team to run without errors wins.
Speedy dogs and dogs who love to retrieve excel at this game, but any dog can play, as long as he can learn to jump a hurdle and retrieve a tennis ball. Large or small, dogs of all breeds and mixes can compete together.
Freestyle: Nicknamed "the tail-wagging sport," canine freestyle (also known as musical freestyle or heelwork to music) is a choreographed routine set to music that incorporates elements of traditional canine obedience exercises and the equine sport of dressage.
Almost any dog with a love of the limelight can do freestyle. Freestyle builds on a dog's natural moves such as spins, rolls, jumps and bows. Dogs learn to spin in different directions, to jump through or into their partner's arms, to bow before a waltz, to place their paws on an arm or on their partner's back. For two-legged team members, it helps to have rhythm and an understanding of choreography. But even if you don't, freestyle is a great way to have fun with a dog right in your own backyard, or to find a better dance partner than your spouse.
A simple Internet search will hook you up with classes in your area. What are you waiting for? It's time to play!
How to treat a
dog who stinks
Q: Our dog has been "skunked" twice this year already. Is there anything that can get the smell off him fast? -- via email
A: Forget tomato juice. If your pet ever gets skunked, the most effective de-stinking recipe is one you make fresh, from ingredients that you should keep on hand.
The recipe: Take 1 quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of liquid soap, such as Ivory. Mix and immediately apply to the stinky pet. Rinse thoroughly with clean tap water.
The key is to mix the ingredients immediately before applying them to your pet. The chemical reaction bonds with the molecules that produce the smell and neutralizes them.
Use a washcloth to work carefully around your dog's eyes and ears. And don't even think of storing any leftover solution. The chemical reaction of the combined ingredients cannot be contained -- so just throw the leftovers away. -- Gina Spadafori
Q: To put it bluntly, our dog stinks. We've tried all kinds of products, and nothing works. Is there something we can feed him that will help? -- via email
A: If you're constantly wincing at your pet's objectionable odor, you need to make an appointment with your veterinarian. Bad breath can be a sign of rotting teeth or gums, and smelly ears are often a result of infections. An overall bad smell may indicate skin problems.
Don't ignore these warning signs. Disease can make your pet miserable and shorten his life. Stinky pets aren't normal. Proper diagnosis and treatment by a veterinarian can improve your pet's quality of life -- and your life, as well, by keeping your pet sweet-smelling. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
'Dirty' pets helping
kids grow up healthy
-- For a healthier child, get a pet -- or at least let your baby be around one. In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers found that kids who spent time around dogs and cats during their first year of life were healthier and got fewer ear infections and needed fewer courses of antibiotics than little ones who led animal-free lives. Other studies have suggested that childhood exposure to animals leads to fewer allergies. These studies suggest that the pets -- and the dirt that rides in on them -- challenge the immune system and set up good defenses for life.
-- DVM360.com reports that new surgical procedures, such as laparoscopy, are changing the ways U.S. veterinarians spay dogs and cats. Traditionally, a spay meant the complete removal of the reproductive system, but now more veterinarians are removing just the ovaries. The procedure, especially when performed non-invasively, means less pain and a faster healing time. Such ovariectomies have been widely practiced in Europe for many years.
-- Cats are able to squeeze through spaces that seem narrower than they are because they don't have a rigid collarbone to block their way through nooks and crannies. Once they can get their head and shoulders through, their sleek bodies present no further obstacle. -- Gina Spadafori
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.