by Lyda Gould

It’s time to shake off the winter doldrums and work out the mental and physical kinks that the less-active winter months may have caused. Fido and Fifi will be excited about the spring smells, but they will enjoy the introduction of some new adventures to stimulate their bodies and minds. Perhaps try out a new hiking route, such as one we introduced in our Summer 2016 newsletter, where they will find new scents and sights to explore, or hit the water with a dog-friendly river cruise.

As with humans, exercise is vital to our dogs’ health. By engaging with them in fun play, particularly stimulating play that engages their minds, we form a deeper connection with our companions. Boredom is often linked to behavior problems, but, as the saying goes, a tired dog is a good dog. Organized games will challenge your dog mentally while building trust and keeping them out of trouble. SPCA NOVA volunteer Mary Portelly noticed a quality of life improvement for both her and her dog after participating in nose work and agility-for-fun. To get you started, we recommend these fun activities that you can do inside or outside. Once you’ve built a foundation, you can explore competitive sports. Who knows – you may discover Fido has a hidden talent!

Nose work/scent work
Nose work, or scent work, was born out of the training given to working dogs for drug sniffing, bomb detection, and search-and-rescue. At home, this activity requires a dog to find and follow a trail or locate a scent. A formal training course may train a dog to identify the scent of an essential oil, but you can use really yummy, smelly treats to attract your dog to the hidden tidbit. Start by placing three boxes next to each other on the floor and hide a treat under one box, then give the command “find it.” Once your dog learns how to “find it,” you can increase the difficulty by hiding food in hard-to-reach places throughout your living room, on chairs, under tables, for example, or take the game outside. Mary used what she learned in nose work to entertain people at nursing homes

Pet Cruises
Several area boat operators offer pet-friendly water excursions:

  • Fairfax County – Lake Accotink: If you live in or near Fairfax County you can sign up for “a special cruise aboard Lake Accotink Park’s pontoon tour boat.” Cruises are 45 minutes and are currently offered two days in May and one day in June. Sign up online through the Parktakes portal, keyword search “canine cruise.”
  • Potomac Riverboat Company: Dogs ride free! From April through October the Potomac Riverboat Company offers dog-friendly sightseeing cruises around Alexandria’s Seaport. The cruise departs from the Alexandria City Marina and lasts 45 minutes. Dogs must be on a 6-foot leash at all times. View the schedule and rates here: Canine Cruise

Rally Obedience
As its name suggests, rally obedience tests obedience in a timed course and requires great teamwork skills between owner and dog. SPCA NOVA has had a couple adoptees participate in rally obedience with very positive feedback. It’s a great family sport in which kids can learn proper training techniques and apply them in a fun, competitive environment.

Start in your backyard with online YouTube tutorials, or sign-up for classes at your local obedience school.

Canine Good Citizen (CGC)
The CGC was founded by the American Kennel Club but is open to all breed types. It is a certification program designed to reward good canine manners and encourage continued training and obedience from dogs and owners in our communities. This is a great way to refine or refresh training. Most dogs who participate in CGC are required to have completed basic obedience training. CGC courses are offered through select obedience schools. At the end of the course, owners may choose to take their dog through the 10-step test. If your dog passes successfully they will receive a certificate from the AKC. CGC is also a pre-requisite for many therapy dog groups. Items on the 10-step test include: sit/stay at a distance, sitting politely for petting, passing another dog without reaction, and supervised separation.

Local schools offering CGC training include:

Tricks and games
Tricks and Games is a class taught at most obedience schools that teaches your dog entertaining tricks that you can show off to your friends. Most dogs who participate already have basic obedience training, but it can hone the handlers skills by teaching new training methods as well. A sample course may teach roll-over, sit pretty, dog bowling, and say your prayers, among others. Teachers may also take special requests if there’s something specific you’d like to teach your dog like “bring me the newspaper.” If you aren’t able to make it to an organized course there are plenty of online tutorials you can use, or check out a DVD at your local library.

Canine Frisbee Disc
Frisbee is a highly accessible sport – no special equipment required. If your dog already loves to play, try taking it to the next level. In competition, frisbee is typically broken into two categories. The first is called “toss and fetch,” which tests distance and speed; the second is “freestyle,” which is more subjectively judged. At home, try testing how far Fido can catch (how far can you throw?), time it and track his speed, or, get creative and try some tricks. Local club Appalachian Air Canines has great information on their FAQs page; they welcome anyone with or without experience to join them at a local event. YouTube is also filled with demonstrations and advice for getting started, try this video to start!

SPCA NOVA volunteer Mary Portelly and her dog Anniebelle play “find it” using cups and treats.