- By Rose Kennedy For the AJC
Man's best friend is full of life, but are you and your dog living life to the fullest?
There are adventures and fulfilling volunteer opportunities you can take together that go far beyond the walks and nighttime treats of the typical dog/owner relationship.
Train for an Iron Doggy race.
If you're itching to enter your first 5K, or even if you're a veteran road racer, you can bring Bowser in on the action. The Iron Doggy website features a bountiful list of dog-friendly runs each calendar year in three countries and most states. Bonus: many of them, like the New Balance Jacksonville Chariots of Fur Beach Run & Festival, benefit local nonprofit animal rescues or dog parks.
Kids read, your pup listens. If your dog loves kids and is calm, consider giving her a volunteer opportunity. Read-to-dog programs are available in numerous libraries and schools, and data backs up the value of children reading to dogs. In 2010, the University of California-Davis completed a study that found kids who read to dogs once a week for 10 weeks improved their reading skills and reported a greater enjoyment of reading than kids who didn't get to read aloud to pups. To get started, tap Therapy Dogs United to see if there's a program already in action in your area. If not, Tails of Joy,Library Dogs and Paws for Healing offer suggestions for ways to begin and fund read-to-dog programs.
One of the first dogs to aid young victims as they experienced the courtroom experience was a German shepherd named Vachss, used by the Children's Advocacy Center in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1990s. Now the website CourthouseDogs.org lists numerous locations throughout the country where trained dogs volunteer as legally neutral companions in prosecutor's offices, child advocacy centers and family courts. These sweet dogs are there to provide calm and support for kids during stressful legal proceedings. To learn more about how dogs become courtroom comforters and the benefits of their presence, read "Dogs in the Courtroom" by Idaho lawyer Rebecca Wallick.
Do some doggy yoga.
Yep, combine "dog" and "yoga" and it becomes "doga," a new trend across the nation. Some classes use the dogs more like a prop while others involve them more directly in the movements. According to PetCare RX, the end game is including your dog in your yoga routine for more bonding and good health for the two of you. "Doga is great for people new to yoga, who might be a bit shy about starting classes," the veterinary blog added. "Classes are slightly less formal, involve a bit more laughter, and are a good intro to the practice." Doga also helps your pet grow accustomed to being touched all over, which can benefit grooming and training when you're back at home.
That odd word merely means a combo of cross-country skiing and sled dog racing, according to High Country Dogs. And boy, is it fun! This is a great activity for the outdoorsy dog-dog parent pairs, but you don't have to be ridiculously fit to participate and neither does your pup. "A rule of thumb is that any healthy dog over 30 pounds who likes to pull can skijor," HCD noted. Owners should be an intermediate level cross-country skier.
"Be sure that your dog is in good health, has plenty of water and that their joints are also in good health. Whether or not your dog is fast or slow, the ultimate goal is to become a team that enjoys this sport together." In areas with skiing, there are workshops and more advanced classes.
Have an at-home spa day.
While spa services for pets are all the rage, you don't necessarily have to leave the house to enjoy a spa day with Fifi and Fred. According to Care.com, at-home pet spa therapy can include the following:
Wallow in water therapy.
Hey, dogs love the wonders of the water, too, whether for joint pain or relaxation, just like humans. With a little research, you can find practitioners of water therapy for your pup, beginning with the Association of Canine Water Therapy.