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Get Off the Couch, Do a Dog Sport

Having a dog to come home to and cuddle on the couch with when you are tired or had a hectic day at work is pleasurable and a stress reliever, but it doesn’t fill the complete needs of your dog nor build your relationship in a truly meaningful way.  This shouldn’t be all we give to our dogs’ day after day.  Yes, they do need their down time, but it shouldn’t be all they do.  They didn’t choose you; you chose them, and your dog needs, wants and craves more.  They communicate to you all the time letting you know they want to do things with you.  They want to hunt, play, run, learn, investigate, grow, make you happy and so much more.  So, I ask you, are you listening?
Their behaviors on how they communicate to us for our attention, reminds me of the old Looney Tunes cartoon, Chester and Spike.  Does this sound like your relationship?
Chester the Jack Russel is jumping around excited to see and spend time with Spike the Bulldog (the boss in the relationship).  Chester says, “What are we going to do today boss?  You want me to dig up some bones for you because you and me are pals.” Sadly, he gets no response as Spike just sits there.  Then Chester says, “Hey Spike, you want to play ball, well, do you?” As Chester drops the ball at Spikes front paws.  Spike says, “nah”, while pushing him away. Chester sadly says, “of course you don’t like playing ball.  Hey Spike, you want to run and chase cars, does that sound like fun?”  Again, Spike says, “nah”, and pushes him away.  Chester again says, “you’re right, that wouldn’t be fun.  Hey Spike, you want to go find a cat?”  Spike suddenly gets excited and says, “CAT, show me the cat, let’s go!”  Chester so excitedly bounces and trots with Spike to go find a cat and to spend time with his best pal.
The act of doing an energizing activity with his pal Spike, made Chester feel alive and fulfilled, while giving me comic relief as I watched the cartoon.  Spike was annoyed at Chester for pestering him but the thought and enjoyment of them going to get the cat helped build their relationship and helped keep them both active giving their lives meaning and purpose.  Yet, this scenario is all too accurate, except for the part where many of us don’t get off the couch to do something with our dog.  What activities are going to get you excited, like Spike, to make you get up and spend time with your pup fulfilling your needs and theirs, while also having a fabulous time with your best pal?  Even now as I sit to write this article, my dog Amavi is jumping up on me, whining at me, and nudging my hands off the keyboard begging me to get up and do something with her.
Having a dog to do activities with is satisfying, and it has mental and physical health benefits for both of you, giving each of you the opportunity to live a happier life.  The various sports for dogs can be so rewarding and could be the opportunity you both need to live a richer life.

The Sport of Competitive Obedience

One of the several sports that I do with my own dogs, and we have here locally at the Charleston Dog Training Club, is Competitive AKC Obedience, where my dog and I work as a team to earn titles and work to achieve seamless connection between us, all while my dog shows off their Obedience skills they have learned.  It requires minimal physical exertion on my part, more mental thought, same for my dogs, except at the upper levels the dogs are required to be able to leap over a couple different types of jumps even while retrieving objects.  For AKC Obedience trials there are 3 levels to compete: Novice, Open, and Utility level.  Each level requires 3 qualifying scores to earn the title and move onto the next level.  There are alternative levels that are not required but might benefit your team and levels that accommodate lower jump heights, but I digress.  This all sounds simple, but it takes time in training, dedication, perseverance, and a good working team relationship.  When you earn the qualifying score or title it’s the moment that reminds you of the time you spent working with your pal creating those meaningful moments of connection.  Why wouldn’t we want more of that joy and jubilant time, I sure do!

Small Habits to Get Results

Whatever sport activity you choose to do it can seem overwhelming at first.  There are many different skills you have to teach your dog and it can seem like it would just be easier to say you don’t have the time, but if we break down our training into small 3-5 minute bites and place a small precursor habit before the training session each time, we can make a huge impact on how often we train, how quickly our dogs learn a new skill and how fast they become proficient at it. 
So, what do I mean by a small precursor habit?  It’s the small thing you do (habit) every day before a short training session.  It creates this “must train; want to train my dog” feeling.  As an example, for me working on my Competitive Obedience, my dog having the perfectly straight “front” skill (where your dog sits directly in front of you perfectly straight after doing a previous skill) is extremely important, and it takes many correct repetitions before it becomes automatic for the dog, without them having to think about doing it correctly and it’s not an easy task.  So, to get the reps in and to make it a habit every day, I let my dog out to potty as soon as I wake up, I then drink my morning juice which is my precursor to then grab a couple training treats as the treat jar sits right beside my morning cup.  I then let my dog in and start my “front” skill training session.  I get several reps in, which only takes me a minute or two and then we are done.  I feed her breakfast and then I start to get ready for work.  The precursor is drinking the morning juice. I enjoy it, but now I know it’s time to train and my dog is ready as well.  The same thing happens when I get home.  As soon as I get home, I come through the door and my dog is excited to see me, I grab the treats from the jar and head outside to train some agility skills or whatever I had planned for that day.  But the precursor is coming through the door and greeting her.  Her excitement gives me energy to go outside and spend time with her.  The plus side is, I wear her out before coming in to do dinner.  After dinner is over, we lay in bed and have cuddle time.  Both of us are fulfilled and we’re creating an amazing relationship together and when we go to trials and compete, I’m creating these joyous moments in my life, helping me live to the fullest.  What an outstanding species we have been gifted to spend our precious time with.

Now get up and go enjoy spending time with your dog, you won’t regret it.
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