We live in a city that proudly sports the motto "Keep Austin Weird" and loves its dogs. Beautiful weather brings dogs and their people outside for a variety of activities in the spring and summer. Why not look to a few unusual activities or sports to both keep Austin weird and make our dogs happy?
If your dog enjoys running and loves to fetch, Flyball is the sport for him. Flyball is a great example of a team sport that is highly entertaining for the dogs and their people. It’s a relay for dogs! Flyball teams are made up of four dogs of any shape or size. Two teams compete at a time, side-by-side. The field consists of a 51-foot track, four hurdles (the height of the hurdles is determined by the team’s smallest dog), and a spring-loaded box that releases a ball. The dogs take off, clearing all four hurdles, and then hitting the ball release. The first ball shoots out and the next dog races after it, leaping the hurdles, captures it, and then returns to the start, where he hits the box. The next ball is released and the next dog races down the chute and so on until all four dogs on team have run, the race is over, and the winner is declared. There are periodic Flyball demonstrations where you can bring your dog and give it a try. You can contact Dog Rules (www.flyball.com) for more information on how you and your canine companion can get started in this fun, fast-paced sport.
If your dog enjoys swimming and loves to fetch, then Dock Diving is for you. Do you remember playing “Jump The Brook” as a kid growing up? It’s just like that, but the dog really wants to land in the brook. This is actually a sanctioned event, one of ESPN’s Great Outdoor Games, and, as such, has a variety of specific guidelines depending on the event. Outside of official competitions, you and your dog start out at a certain, predetermined area on a dock. You then toss a ball or floating toy into the water as the dog runs down the dock and leaps into the water. The objective is a long jump, which can be measured from a variety of points. Purina’s Incredible Diving Dog event measures to the tip of the dog’s nose when his body enters the water. The great thing about this sport is any dog, regardless of breed, size, or even age, can participate. Also, this is a sport your dog can play even through the long, hot months of Austin’s summer. If you would like more information and the opportunity to see if Dock Diving is for you and your pooch, contact Greg Sharp at Gateway Dog Training (gatewaydogtraining.com).
If your dog doesn’t fetch but loves to run, then you might look into Bikejoring. I became acquainted with Bikejoring while trying to find a more effective way of tiring out my dog Bella and my German Short-haired Pointer foster dogs than merely taking a walk through the neighborhood on my non-run days. After some research on the Internet, I found Bikejoring! This weird dog sport requires a harness, a line, and a bike. I had a bike, and I found the line and harness online. The dogs wear harnesses, which are in turn joined to each other, and then attached to a line that leads to the front of the bike. The dogs pull you as you ride the bike, much as they would pull a sled. We all had a blast as we raced around the neighborhood, the dogs running full tilt for the first mile and then happily trotting along, tongues lolling, as we wove through the streets to the delight of my neighbors. Then I discovered the winter equivalent, Skijoring (instead of being pulled on a bike, your dogs pull you as you cross-country ski). You can learn more about Bikejoring and Skijoring by contacting Shari Elkins or Jane Del Rey of the Canine Center (www.tcctb.com). They can help you find the right equipment as well as get you and your dog started. They even take a trip to Colorado in the winter, for some Skijoring in the snow!
If racing about and getting wet isn’t your cup of tea, your pooch prefers the latest doggie fashions to a harness, and you’d rather dance around the living room than run around the block, check out Freestyle Doggie Dancing. It is exactly what it sounds like. What you need to participate is you, your dog, a cute costume, a song with a beat, and some groovey moves and, voila! You have yourself a routine! Just as in “Dancing With The Stars,” contestants are judged on the difficulty of the routine along with choreography, enthusiasm, and synchronization between canine and human and with the duo’s chosen song. If this sounds like it is right up your alley, then you can find out more information by going online and looking up Doggie Freestyle. There are an abundance of websites, organizations, videos, and books devoted to the sport. There is even an Austin group called Paws-4-Freestyle (paws4freestyle.org).
We are lucky to live in one of the fittest and most dog-friendly cities in the nation, and it’s easy to find activities and sports that appeal to you and your pet. For example, I learned about most of these unusual dog sports by being a member of a local Yahoo! group called Austin Dog Events. Every week, there are numerous opportunities for you to get out and be active with your pooch, many that take you off the beaten path. Here’s where I throw in the always important disclaimer: whatever sport you choose, please make sure your dog is healthy and ready by first taking him to your vet for a checkup and a thumbs up. Whether you and your pooch decide to take the proverbial leap to try out Dock Diving or you harness up for a little Bikejoring around your ’hood, getting out and being active will help keep you and your dog—and Austin—healthy, happy, and weird.