Does exercising and training your dog sound boring? Not a jogger or bicyclist? You don’t have to be an athlete (or at least not much of one) to make exercising your dog fun for both of you.
Parkour, for humans or dogs, is sort of an environmental agility course. Some parkour activities can be physically and mentally challenging, but at its simplest, think jumping over a puddle, balancing on a curb or climbing over a large fallen tree on a hiking path. This kind of activity can enhance your dog’s walks, or even indoor play in inclement weather — just use sofas, stepstools and ladders instead. “Barkour” can benefit dogs of all ages and abilities, helping them to learn or maintain ways of moving through their world.
I have small dogs, but it has always been important to me for them to be both intrepid and in good shape. On walks, we practice balance by walking on or over curbs. At puddles, we get a running start and jump over them together. On hikes, we scramble over rocks or logs. At a shopping center or the beach, they might jump onto a bench and walk across it; dogs who do this particular activity should be healthy (no heart disease or arthritis, for instance) and built for jumping up (avoid it with long, low dogs who might hurt their back). Lift little dogs down to avoid injury. Having dogs place their paws up on a large rock or wall offers a great stretch.
Parkour involves many types of movements. Linda Rehkopf’s Labradors practice walking backward up a hill or incline. Walking backward is important for a dog’s sense of proprioception, and it’s something they can do indoors or outdoors.
Some dogs develop their own parkour program. Susan Rosenau’s Boston terrier Ruth loves chasing a Chuckit ball around the backyard. “She makes it extra aerobic by leaping up and down the different levels of the landscaping and taking the long way around back to me,” Rosenau says.
Rocks, stumps or the steps in front of people’s houses are all good for jumping up, balancing and sitting on, says Linda Lombardi, who uses the obstacles to exercise her pug Momo.
Just as you would have one for yourself in the gym, be a spotter for your dog, especially if she’s jumping onto a narrow wall, pillar or other object. Knowing you have her back is important for her safety and confidence.
What about training? When working with small dogs like my cavaliers, it can sometimes be difficult to get their attention when they’re so low to the ground. Having puppy Harper walk along the low wall surrounding our complex made it easier for her to see when I was asking her to do something, plus it was good balance practice.
Outdoor environments with other people offer opportunities to teach dogs to work through distractions. To teach this to his Bernese mountain dog Granate, who was learning to pull a cart, Adam Conn practiced at a public park near the busy playground area. Eliza Rubenstein’s Australian shepherd Carter recently practiced long down-stays during a noisy quinceanera — a popular 15th-birthday celebration for girls.
For more information or to go to the next level and earn titles, contact the International Dog Parkour Association (dogparkour.org). Earning a title is as easy as submitting a video of your dog successfully and safely performing a checklist of actions, such as jumping over an obstacle taller than the dog’s elbow height; walking across an obstacle no wider than the width of the dog’s shoulders and at least elbow height without stepping off and back on; backing up three steps on flat ground; and walking between two obstacles. Start with Training Level and see how far you and your dog can go.
What’s OK for cat play?
Q: What are the best toys for cats?
A: A better question might be: What aren’t the best toys for cats?
Our felines are clever and creative when it comes to what they’ll play with. Some items are tops on their list of faves, while others that they love are best avoided. Here’s what to consider.
Cats love anything that challenges their balance and mobility, stimulates their innate hunting prowess, or involves chasing and climbing, to name just a few of their favorite things. A fishing pole toy or large peacock feather is ideal for encouraging feline acrobats to spin and leap. Drag it along the floor for some hind-end wiggling and chase-and-pounce action — all part of the hunting process. This type of toy will keep kittens and even older cats entertained and intrigued. Just be sure you put it away when you’re done so your cat doesn’t swallow the string part.
Other feline favorites include windup or electronic toys that move, toys filled with catnip and toys that squeak when pounced on. Some cats enjoy small balls or feathered objects connected to a stand by a spring that they can bat around.
Roll a small ball down the hall, and watch your cat take off after it at high speed. Rolling it on a hard surface such as a wood or tile floor is even better because it adds sound to the game.
A ball inside a circular plastic track — some with multiple levels of tracks — develops good motor skills as kittens or cats reach inside to bat the ball around.
Choose toys made specifically for cats, as they are less likely to have small parts that can be bitten off and swallowed. Avoid letting cats play with string, cord, yarn or thread, which can be fatal if swallowed. — Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
Lizards need dentals, too
• When Rex’s owners noticed he wasn’t eating and drinking much and seemed lethargic, they were worried. An examination by specialist veterinarians found that Rex had severe inflammation inside his mouth, receding gums and a large amount of tartar buildup. A course of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, plus two months of supportive care and changes to his home care, helped improve his health enough that he could undergo dental cleaning. Rex isn’t a dog, but a 5-year-old bearded dragon, and he was treated by veterinarians David Guzman and Paula Rodriguez of the Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service at the University of California, Davis. Bearded dragons are among the lizards with acrodont dentition, meaning their teeth have no roots or pockets and are fused to the jawbone. Rex recovered well and now flashes his healthy pearly whites.
• English cocker spaniel Rocco has been hired to sniff whisky barrels for a living. The specially trained dog works for Grant’s Whisky in Scotland, where his job is to “nose” wooden casks containing maturing whisky and ensure that no imperfections in casks affect the liquid gold as it ages. Appropriately, Rocco reports to associate global brand director Chris Wooff. “Rocco’s ability to ‘nose’ a very large number of casks in a short space of time means he is a fantastic addition to our team of craftsmen,” Wooff told Scotland’s Daily Record.
• You don’t have to be covered by Nationwide’s pet health insurance to sign up for its telemed service, staffed by veterinary professionals who can answer questions and help you decide if your pet’s problem is urgent or can wait until you can get in to see your regular veterinarian. It’s less than $10 per month for a one-year subscription. Find it in the Apple or Android app stores under “Nationwide Vet Helpline.” — Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.