Rev Up Your Ho-Hum Walks With Dog Parkour
For many dogs, a routine walk just doesn’t cut it; they pull and lunge at everything that interests them on the sidewalk, and even after the walk, they seem to have plenty of energy to burn. Can you blame them? How boring it must for a dog to go around the same block, day after day, peeing on the same unfortunate shrub and getting stink-eye from the same belligerent squirrel. Rather than walk longer, it’s time to walk smarter by incorporating dog parkour into your excursions outdoors.
The World is Your Dog’s Oyster
Like parkour for humans, dog parkour turns your environment, whether urban or rural, into an obstacle course. Why walk past that brick wall when you can use it as an object for your dog to put his front paws, or even back paws, on? A boring old park bench isn’t boring anymore when your dog can crawl under it, or jump on and off it. All of these interactions burn a lot of mental and physical energy, while building the communication and bond between you and your dog.
Though you can certainly make up your own parkour routines, first get some guidance from one of the recently established parkour organizations, such as the International Dog Parkour Association or All Dogs Parkour. These groups emphasize safety considerations such as the proper equipment to use and how to safely spot your dog. They even give you the option of earning parkour titles by submitting a video of your dog’s parkour skills.
Dog parkour is an ideal outlet for dogs who aren’t suited to traditional group classes. You can train anywhere, including playgrounds in the off-hours, urban sidewalks, empty parking lots, or rural parks. This sport is also great for active dogs who find the outside world too exciting for them to pay attention to their humans. Dog parkour allows these dogs and their handlers to interact with the environment together. Parkour is also a confidence builder for shy dogs, who can overcome fears of the outside world by gradually turning the environment into a playground.
Here are a few ways to spice up your walks by making everyday objects part of your dog’s personal obstacle course. (Note that these may not be according to parkour organization regulations.) Most parkour moves, at the most basic level, can be taught by luring the dog into a certain position with a treat. Once he gets the “game,” you won’t need the lure.
- “Two Feet On.” Find an object like a tree stump, rock, or stair. Tap on the object to encourage your dog to put his front two paws on it. Or, you can lure him with a treat at first to get his two paws on the object. Give him a reward once both front paws are touching it.
- “Under.” Slowly lure your dog under a bench or other object. Reward once he’s walked under it. At first, choose objects with plenty of clearance, so he doesn’t have to crawl under it.
- “Through.” Lure your dog between two objects, like two street signs or two trees, that are close together. Alternatively, you can ask him to “stay” on one side of the two objects, and then call him through. Reward once he’s walked through the two obstacles.
- “Around.” Lure your dog around an object like a fire hydrant or tree, so he walks in a circle around it before getting his treat.
In all cases, keep your dog’s safety and health in mind. Dog parkour isn’t about attempting incredible tricks, but rather about providing enrichment activities for your dog in a controlled and comfortable way. Your dog shouldn’t jump unassisted onto anything higher than his head or off anything higher than his shoulder-height, nor should he be pushed to do any behaviors against his will.
The great thing about dog parkour is that you can do it practically anywhere, indoors or out, with whatever tools the environment has given you. After practicing a little parkour, you and your dog will start to see your neighborhood as an obstacle course, breathing new life into your walks. So what are you waiting for?
Kate Naito, CPDT-KA, is a dog trainer at Doggie Academy in Brooklyn, NY, and author of the training book, "BKLN Manners." She draws upon her experience as an educator and dog trainer to apply positive training techniques to a challenging urban environment. Kate is a rescue advocate drawn to special-needs dogs and currently has two Chihuahua mixes, Batman and Beans.
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