Walking the dog is big in a pandemic, and you’ve doubtless seen memes since last March quoting the dog asking the humans to just leave him alone: “I’ve been on 20 walks today!”
But dog trainers know there are ways you can have a good time with your pet and try something new too. Dog trainer Tegan Moore practices parkour with her dogs now that they’re at home together – a lot.
“For parkour, you don’t need anything except a harness that you can use to help support the dog as they’re doing obstacles, so if you have a dog and you have a harness, you can do parkour,” says Moore.
Outside, that can mean climbing over or under park benches, or even making a quick bounce off a wall. Inside, that can mean walking on a small bench, onto a chair, and then shimmying under a bench.
“Dog parkour is a way to use the everyday world to engage your dog in jumping, climbing, crawling, turning, balancing, and thinking hard about what their bodies are doing. It’s not just jumping on and off things – it’s creating a shared game for you and your dog as a team, out of nothing but the environment around you,” says Moore’s website, temeritydogs.com.
Moore points out that doing agility training with dogs – something she recalls begging her mom to let her do as a kid – is a serious enterprise, with standards for equipment and techniques. On the other hand, parkour is fun and accessible and something that can easily be improvised at home.
“You can still create little obstacle courses, even if you’re on very strict lockdown,” says Moore. “This is kind of how we passed time during the first month of lockdown. We just did parkour in the house.
“It does involve jumping on furniture, but in my case that’s not a problem,” she says, laughing.
It’s also a great way to get younger family members involved.
“I’ve seen a lot of kids really succeed in doing parkour with dogs,” says Moore.
As we spoke on a video call, she had her dog Reckless run a demo of some simple at-home parkour moves, such as squeezing under a broomstick over cones, onto a step stool and ultimately standing on a chair to await a treat.
“They need more stimulation and good ways to help them understand what is OK and what isn’t. Just having having that good rapport with your dog, where they really trust you, that you know what’s going on and you know how to explain to them what you want,” says Moore, who explains that she rewards her dogs for trying or even just considering a move, and doesn’t push dogs to do anything that seems scary to them.
It’s also just fun, she notes. She recommends that pet owners looking for more parkour information visit the website of the International Dog Parkour Association, dogparkour.org.
Sarah Owen, an instructor at Ahimsa Dog Training in Ballard (ahimsadogtraining.com) teaches a course on puppy tricks. (The school also has offered courses that teach agility with a casual approach.)
Tricks classes are an easy way to have dogs training at the facility but maintain distance from other dogs and their people, without having to share agility equipment or other surfaces. The course Owen teaches is not parkour or agility, as she notes, but it does offer an opportunity to bond with your dog and challenge their minds by doing moves like spins, crawling through tunnels, learning play bows and rolling over.
“I think the nicest thing about teaching tricks or agility is that it really focuses on building your relationship with your dog and improving your communication with your dog,” says Owen, “so rather than a focus on ‘You must do this thing because I told you to,’ it’s ‘Let’s do this fun thing together.’ ”
Owen notes that a toddler’s play tunnel can double as a casual puppy or dog tunnel.
The tricks are a way for dogs to get valuable mental, as well as physical, exercise. Ahimsa even offers an opportunity for dogs to earn an American Kennel Club trick dog title.
Most tricks don’t require special equipment and can be done casually at home by interested families. AKC’s trick checklists are available online, says Owen, at akc.org/sports/trick-dog. (There are instructional videos, too.)
If your dog needs something to do these days, there’s no barrier to learning tricks on your own.