Dogs were originally kept as functional companions, whether guarding livestock, hunting for food, or acting as burglar alarms. Many purebred dog breeds reflect these original functions, from collies and other herding breeds to spaniels, pointers, terriers and other hunting breeds, to guard dogs such as Dobermanns and others.
Over the past few centuries, humans have begun to keep dogs simply as companions, and in addition to new dog breeds specializing in simply being pets, traditional functional dog breeds have adapted to better adapt to human homes and families. However, their original genetic heritage is still deeply embedded in many dogs, which can cause problems and create opportunities.
Problems can present themselves as fussy behaviors, from collies chasing cars and bikes, to terriers digging holes in lawns, to guardian-type breeds that are too “barking” for contemporary quiet homes. This is where the opportunity arises: if humans are able to engage in appropriate activities with their pets, it can allow animals to express their natural behaviors in constructive ways. Dogs love performing these activities, and they end up feeling more fulfilled and less likely to express their behavioral needs in ways that humans find annoying.
Canine activities can be conducted in an organized manner or simply as informal daily activities with owners.
For smart dogs with energy to burn, canine agility is ideal: it’s a competitive activity involving a timed trick, jumping over hurdles, swings and negotiating other obstacles, with the owner of the dog running beside them. It’s a team effort, with both human and dog needing peak fitness and intelligence to complete the course as quickly and competently as possible. Irish dog agility enthusiasts compete internationally, so it’s an activity that can be taken as lightly or seriously as desired.
There are two useful Facebook pages (The Official Irish Agility Group and IKC Competitive Agility) while the Working Trials Club of Ireland (wtci.ie) and the Irish Kennel Club (ikc.ie/competitions/agility) helped promote the sport. There are also many local enthusiasts (eg agilitywestcork.com).
Flyball is a competition, with the dog racing over hurdles to grab a tennis ball thrown at it when it presses a special spring-loaded pad at the end of the course. They then carry the ball in their mouth, rushing to give the ball to their handler at the start of the course. Check locally to see who can help you, for example, dogercise.ie.
Nose work is a scent-based activity: the dog and handler must find a hidden object with a scent (like a cotton swab piled in a strong-smelling oil like clove or anise). The dog should ignore distractions such as toys or food. This is a relatively new activity in Ireland: an organization like the Kennel Club can help. (ikc.ie)
Canicross and bikejoring
These are sports activities that consist of running with your dog attached to a belt on a leash (canicross) or cycling with your dog on a leash in front of the bike (bikejoring). For more information, contact k9fitness.ie.
For many dog owners, obedience training is part of the job of owning a dog, to help humans and animals learn to live well together. This activity can become a hobby in itself, with regular dog training sessions teaching dogs increasingly elaborate skills and tricks. To find out more, visit the Association of Pet Dog Trainers Ireland (apdt.ietarget=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>) or the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers. (imdt.uk.com)
Purebred dog showing may not be considered an activity in the same way as some of the more physical activities on this list, but it does involve working closely with your dog, training him to behave well in the ring and pay attention to their appearance and body condition so that they are in the best condition possible. For more information, contact the Kennel Club. (ikc.ie)
Search and rescue
There are many real life situations where missing humans need to be located (like hikers who have gone missing). Assistance from the combination of a dog handler and a scent dog may be sought. Many months of training are needed to prepare for this eventuality. The Irish National Search and Rescue Dog Association (sardaireland.com) works with enthusiasts to help with this training, and this activity in itself has become an avid pastime and social pastime for many. dog owners and their pets.
Pets as therapy
It is well known that dogs can provide a type of social therapy that brings comfort and pleasure to people in situations where they may not have contact with dogs, such as in nursing homes, hospitals or other institutions. . Dogs must be trained to participate in this activity, and several organizations can help with this, for example, The Irish Therapy Dogs (irishtherapydogs.ietarget=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>) or PEATA. (https://peata.ie/) Dogs are also used in certain specific situations, during examinations as passive listeners to help children learn to read aloud, or as companions during certain psychological therapies.
In addition to the activities listed above, there are many informal activities owners can engage in with their pets. Examples include:
- Breed-specific encounters, such as Whippets, Greyhounds, Miniature Schnauzers, and Pugs. Check Facebook.
- Meet other dogs for play dates.
- Go to the beach, lake or river to introduce your dog to swimming.
- Take your dog jogging.
- If you’re on vacation, take your dog on a walking tour of the place you’re visiting.
- Canine yoga and meditation with dogs is rare in Ireland, but watch this space.