Dogs were originally kept as functional companions, whether for herding livestock, hunting for food, or acting as burglar alarms. Many pedigree 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.
In recent centuries, humans have started to keep dogs simply as companions, and as well as new dog breeds specializing in just being pets, the traditional functional dog breeds have adapted to fit in better with human homes and families. However, their original genetic heritage still lies deep within many dogs, and this can cause problems as well creating opportunities.
The problems can present as challenging behaviours, from collies chasing cars and bicycles to terriers digging holes in grass lawns, to guardian-type breeds being too “barky” for contemporary calm homes. This is where the opportunity comes in: if humans are able to engage in appropriate activities with their pets, this can allow the animals to express their natural behaviors in a constructive way. Dogs love carrying out these activities, and they end up feeling more fulfilled, and less likely to express their behavioral needs in ways that humans find annoying.
Dog activities can be carried out in an organized way, or just as informal day-to-day activities with owners.
For smart dogs with energy to burn, dog agility is ideal: this is a competitive activity involving a timed round, jumping over hurdles, over seesaws and negotiating other obstacles, with the dog’s owner running beside them. It’s teamwork, with both the human and the dog needing peak physical fitness and intelligence to complete the course as rapidly and competently as possible. Irish dog agility enthusiasts compete on the international stage, 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) have helped to promote the sport. There are also many local enthusiasts (eg agilitywestcork.com).
Flyball is a competition, with the dog rushing over hurdles to seize a tennis ball that is thrown up for them when they press on a special spring-loaded pad at the far end of the course. They then carry the ball in their mouth, rushing back to give the ball to their handler at the start of the course. Check locally to see who can help with this, for example, dogsercise.ie.
Nose work is a scent-based activity: the dog and its handler need to find a hidden object with a scent (such as a cotton swab stacked in a strong-smelling oil such as clove or anise). The dog needs to ignore distractions such as toys or food. This is a relatively new activity in Ireland: an organization such as the Kennel Club may help. (ikc.ie)
Canicross and bikejoring
These are sporting activities that involve people running with their dogs attached by a leash to a waistband (canicross) or cycling with their dogs on a leash ahead of the bike (bikejoring). To find out more, contact k9fitness.ie.
For many dog owners, obedience training is part of the necessary work in owning a dog, to help people and animals learn to live well together. This activity can become a hobby in itself, with regular dog training sessions, teaching dogs more and more elaborate skills and tricks. To learn 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)
Showing of pedigree dogs may not be seen as an activity in the same way as some of the more physical pursuits on this list, but it does involve working with your dog closely, training them to be well behaved in the ring, and paying attention to their appearance and body condition so that they are in the best possible condition. To learn more, contact the Kennel Club. (ikc.ie)
search and rescue
There are many real-life situations when missing humans need to be located (such as hill walkers who have gone missing). The assistance of the combination of a human handler and a scent-skilled dog may be called upon. Many months of training are needed to prepare for this eventuality. The National Search and Rescue Dogs Ireland Association (sardaireland.com) works with enthusiasts to help with this training, and this activity in itself has become a passionate hobby and social pastime for many dog owners and their pets.
pets as therapy
It’s 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 any contact with dogs, such as in nursing homes, hospitals or other institutions. Dogs do need to be trained to undergo this activity, and there are several organizations that 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 some specific situations, in exams as passive listeners to help children learn to read aloud, or as companions during some psychological therapies.
As well as the activities listed above, there are many informal activities that owners can undertake with their pets. Examples include:
- Breed-specific meet-ups, such as Whippets, Greyhounds, Miniature Schnauzers, and Pugs. Check Facebook.
- Meeting other dogs for play dates.
- Going to the beach, lake or river, to introduce your dog to swimming.
- Take your dog jogging.
- If on holiday, take your dog on a walking tour of the place you are visiting.
- Dog yoga and meditation with dogs are rare in Ireland, but watch that space.