Bark for the Sports Superstar!

By Tyler Pollard
Does your dog play sports? I’m not talking about chasing after a tennis ball, jumping for a Frisbee or even joining a school’s basketball team. I’m talking about real hardcore canine sports. I’m talking about dog agility.

“Agility developed in England as kind of a time filler for dog shows … they wanted something to just entertain the crowds,” explains Claire Duder DVM, a Regional Director for the Agility Association of Canada (AAC). This was in the late 1970’s and its popularity has been growing ever since.
What is dog agility, you may ask? A dog must complete a series of obstacles in a specific order as quickly as possible, which is not as easy as it might sound. The obstacles include various jumps and tunnels as well as a series of poles that the dogs must weave through. “Weave poles are probably the most exciting obstacle to watch because the movement is just so hypnotic and frantic,” Duder says. Other obstacles are the teeter-totter and the A-frame (two boards attached at the top which the dog must climb up and then down the other side). These have specific areas called contact zones that the dog must touch in order for the obstacle to be completed successfully.
Agility isn’t some fancy exclusive club with a well-to-do registration process and secret paw-shake. Pretty much any pooch with an inclination for agility can participate. “For the AAC we allow all dogs to compete, regardless of pedigree,” Duder clarifies. From itty-bitty chihuahuas to massive mastiffs, it’s open to any breed. But don’t worry, the classes are determined by height to even out the playing field. The AAC also doesn’t have any age limits, so as long as your dog is still healthy and sound, sign them up!
By Tyler Pollard
 However, don’t you throw your dog on the teeter-totter just yet, as balancing on such a contraption doesn’t always come naturally. Check out some classes first to help your pooch overcome the learning curve. “No matter what your aspirations, either here in the backyard or here at the world stage, you need to know how to do agility properly,” Duder advises, recommending that beginners attend several classes to start off with. “If your dog isn’t healthy or trained to jump properly, it can be hard on their systems to do that sort of thing repetitively.” So classes help keep your dog safe.
So you’ve gone to a few classes…no, get that dog off the teeter-totter again. It is important to always go back to the basics before tackling the obstacles, which means working on your dogs’ fundamental obedience. “Probably the biggest mistake I see people new to the sport make is they don’t appreciate the importance of fundamental training,” Duder explains. “We need to have a dog that has an understanding of following with me, of coming to my side, of going where I tell them to.” Training, such as basic recall, helps keep your dog safe on the course. According to Duder, dogs must also learn how to respond to signals from the handler and how to pay attention to commands under distracting circumstances. “They also have to be able to run really really fast while doing all of this,” says Duder. “It’s definitely a multi-faceted skill.”
To succeed, you need an excellent handler-dog relationship which will only deepen as you progress through the agility course. “You need to have a dog that really trusts you and pays attention to you and is eager to be with you and do what you ask,” Duder asserts. For that reason reason Duder fondly regards her dogs as partners on the course, rather than furry lumps on the sofa.
Another benefit to dog agility is (like any sport) exercise! “As a veterinarian, I would probably say the number one health hazard of a dog is obesity. So a benefit to agility is improved fitness and improved weight management. Agility is a wonderful way to use a dog’s energy in a positive way, give them a structure, give them something exciting to do,” Duder urges. Plus the dog isn’t the only one doing all the running so it’ll keep you in shape too.
Dog agility can be just a fun weekend hobby, but the dogs have their time to shine too if they so desire. “There are trials across Canada, from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland,” Duder states. As well, the AAC holds national championships and there’s even the world championships in Europe if your pup is feeling really ambitious.
Above all, agility is a good time for everyone. “Our first job is to make sure the dog is having fun because all of agility is totally off-leash so you can’t force a dog to do agility,” Duder expresses. “Let’s face it, we may be the ones driving to trials and paying the bills but they’re the ones doing all of the work so we have to make it fun.”
So whether you want to take part in dog agility just for a barking good time, or if you wish to get competitive about it, there is an opportunity for your dog to become the next sports superstar!
By Allison Vorstenbosch

Tick’d Off

By Shirley Bittner
Parasites are one of those things that people tend to avoid in polite conversation. It’s just not good table manners to talk about creatures that feed off something’s precious bodily fluids. But instead of skirting around this unsavoury topic, let’s smack the thing head-on!
This hot summer is perfect for everyone’s favourite Lyme-y loafers: ticks. Unlike mosquitoes and fleas who drink and dash, the tick enjoys a much more committed relationship. Unfortunately, like all parasites, ticks have a tendency to carry nasty diseases, so it’s important to know how you and (more importantly) your pets can avoid these little blood-suckers.

First off, why are ticks so bad? Sure, they’re icky, but the main danger of the little guys is the illnesses they tend to bring around with them. Of the 650 different species of ticks in the world, there are only about six or seven types in North America worth being worried about, and you can find tips for identifying them here. Lyme disease, which causes inflammation and fever, is the classic tick-borne plague. It’s dangerous if left untreated, but if caught it’s perfectly curable with antibiotics. Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Babesiosis are two other tick-borne illnesses, unpleasant but curable if caught early enough.
An ounce of prevention is worth its weight in tacos. Luckily, there are specially designed tick repellent products for both cats and dogs, ranging from salves to sprays to collars. While these products get the job done, they are rather toxic (they have to stop ticks somehow) and should be used to the letter of their instruction. The bad news is that other than good ol’ fashioned chemicals, the only way to keep your pets clear of ticks is to check them regularly.
Should you discover a tick on your beloved pet, it’s important to know how to properly deal with it. The average tick is a single-minded thing, and even when it’s being pulled off, it will try its best to keep its face buried in the sweet buffet of your pet’s blood. In fact, if it’s pulled off improperly, the body will come off, but the tick’s head will remain thoroughly embedded in the skin, possibly resulting in infection. Contrary to some popular beliefs, holding a match under a tick or smothering it in alcohol is not a good thing. It’ll only tick the tick off, and while a ticked off tick will probably let go, it’ll make sure to spit in the hole it’s made, increasing the risk of transmitting a potential illness to your pet.
The proper way to remove a tick is with tweezers (preferably the specialized anti-tick ones for sale at most pet stores). Pinch as close to the skin as possible, and then pull with steady force. Alternatively, just go to a vet and have them do it. That way, they can run some tests on the tick to see if it was carrying anything nasty. If you do remove the offending bloodsucker at home, it’s always a good idea to preserve it in alcohol and bring it to a vet for testing.
Ticks, and all parasites, are yucky. It’s a fact of life. But gross things still happen, and ignoring them won’t make them go away. If you have a very outdoorsy cat or dog, do them the courtesy of checking for ticks every now and again. More often than not, ticks are harmless. Like mosquitoes, the vast majority don’t carry the disease they’re famous for, but it’s never a bad thing to double check. Just don’t start checking Fluffy for the little bloodsuckers over dinner.
By Alexander Bentley 

When Bow Wow Bows

By Shirley Bittner
What does a dog think of a fist-bump? Or dancing? Or Monopoly? The world of human play is a surprisingly complex beast, and even the smartest of dogs probably have no idea what’s going on when two people high-five. While the mystic realm of humanity may be as indecipherable as quantum physics to dogs, the nuances of canine amusement don’t have to stay a mystery to us. All you need to understand how dogs play is to watch closely.

Way back in the day (way, way, way back), dogs were wolves. They had wolf-y needs and wolfish ambitions. They hunted in packs; not as a group of close friends like commonly believed, but more like a group of businessmen striving towards the same goal. The dogs of today, while still retaining some lupine traits, have been completely domesticated. They have become totally dependent on humans, and the man-dog relationship is more akin to parent and child than two fellow pack members. The child/dog analogy can extend even further – dogs play just like toddlers. And just like toddlers, there comes a point when their boundless energy is just too much for you, and it’s time for that spunky someone to meet a couple new friends. If your dog isn’t tiny, the park might be a good bet, but sometimes a simple play-date with another pooch is even better.
So you’ve set your canine companion up with a friend. The two of them do some classic sniffing, then BOOM! They’re all over each other, growling and body-slamming! You break it up, but the dogs just look at you like you’re crazy. Why? Because amidst all the action, you’ve missed one of the most important signals dogs send to each other. Much like people wink or assume a more satirical tone, dogs have a way of saying, “Everything I’m about to say and do is in jest.” It’s called a ‘Play Bow.’ The dog who wants to play gets down on their little doggie elbows and sticks their butt in the air. The dog this gesture is directed to then either refuses by walking away or accepts by engaging. Once both dogs have agreed to play, they play at full throttle! Although they’re chasing each other around and growling, the dogs’ faces aren’t angry; their lips aren’t curled back and bearing teeth for more than an instant at a time, which means they’re having a grand old time! When dogs are playing all of their movements are nice and loose, fluidly bouncing and bounding all over each other.
By Shirley Bittner
 Just like with children, however, sometimes the good-natured roughhousing crosses a line. One dog slams or nips the other just a bit too forcefully. The dog on the receiving end will let out a small yelp or snap at the offending pooch and leave that dog’s space. Whomever committed the faux-pas might (depending on the situation) try to re-initiate play with another bow. Ultimately, the decision to continue play is for the dogs to make amongst themselves. Sometimes the play goes on, other times enough is enough.
Although doggy-play is naturally quite rough, sometimes the play can transition directly into aggression and it is important to be able to differentiate between the two. For instance, one dog may be bit too meanly, or maybe two dogs just really don’t like each other. Their play turns from a smooth flow into quick, strobe-like pauses and consistent teeth-bearing. When this happens, it might be time to call your dog away for a quick time-out; not as punishment, but just as a brief break from all the excitement. Again, as with children, sometimes personalities can clash, so it is important to make sure that your dog finds a friend they like and can learn to play nicely with.
Understanding the signals you dog sends while playing can open the window to their personality and needs. Is you pooch constantly getting picked on, or are they the one who keeps accidentally crossing the line between play and conflict? Or do they simply get along with everyone they meet? Knowing the inner workings of your friend’s doggy brain is an important part of the bonding process and play can help reveal key components of their psyche that may otherwise go unnoticed. The act of playing is also great exercise that is hard for a human to match for their canine. So if you’re unsure whether your dog’s a dashing Dalmatian or a twitchy Terrier, or if you simply need to run off some steam, get out to the nearest park and watch them play!
By Alexander Bentley

July 2010 Pet of the Month!

If this little man were a person, he would surely be a heart-breaker! Tall, dark and handsome, Junior, a 7-month-old Doberman/Kind Shepherd mix, is a bundle of unstoppable energy and the life of any party!
Delighted parents, Leah and Matt, couldn’t be happier with this charming young fellow. “We found him through an ad on Kijiji,” says Leah. “He was the first puppy we went to go see and the last!”
A sweet lovable disposition and a nose for mischief makes Junior one of the funnest pups you’ll ever meet! Whether he’s tearing around like a maniac or putting in some much needed snuggle time on the couch, he’s the type of guy who likes to be always doing something.
Most content when out and about, either running, being a roller-blading buddy, playing at the park or chowing down on some toys, Junior is up for anything and always ready for action! The ideal summer canine companion!

Congratulations Junior! July 2010’s Pet of the Month!
Ju Ju, Jooj, James Ready, J-rock, June Bug
Marrow Bones (Nomz! Nomz! Delish!)
Stuffingless Skunk — I’m not allowed to have regular stuffed toys anymore. It’s too much fun to pull out all the stuffing and spread it all over the house, but this skunk thing is pretty cool!
Tug-of-War (C’mon, I challenge you to a war! Any time! Any place!)
Learning how to swim (I’m a big guy, okay? I’ve got a lot of legs that flail around in water…and water is weird.)
Ripping apart Mum and Dad’s decorative pillows (What? It’s not my fault they looked so tasty!)
BEST TRICK: Hands down, high fives!
CATCH PHRASE: “I didn’t do it…I swearz!!!”
If you would like to nominate your pet friend for next month’s “Pet of the Month Contest,” please email submissions to info@pawsh-magazine.com.