Ex racing/working sighthounds can lead pretty dull, restricted lives stuck at the end of a lead on two 20 minute walks a day &, whilst many are perfectly happy with this, I personally don’t feel it’s enough for my dogs – they are relatively young & fit & have bodies that need exercised & minds that need stimulated. My dogs’ sheer speed & propensity to chase coupled with their varying degree of comfort around other dogs may mean for some of them it’s not appropriate to meet these needs simply by running offlead with their pals at the beach or playing fetch in the park, but thinking ‘outside the box’ means that they don’t need to lose out…
I take my greyhound Molly to weekly agility classes. Over the past year Molly has learned to negotiate jumps (the easy part) & contacts (the not so easy part!) with ease & now flies round the course, her face beaming back at me & her tail wagging the whole time. Though the high value treats on offer at the end of the course are doubtless an added incentive for her, it’s clear to me that the activity in itself is a reward to her.
Molly flying – photo courtesy of Claire Henderson
Molly on the dog walk – photo courtesy of Claire Henderson
Last week we took part in our first agility ‘show’, & though we may not have won any trophies, Molly had an absolute ball zooming around the course, which meant that I did as well, naturally. Will we ever be agility champions? I seriously doubt it, but that’s not why we do it – the hour a week we spend doing agility is our time apart from my other dogs & distractions, a time for us to bond & enjoy something together.
Molly & I at the Fast ‘n’ Furious agility show last weekend
Molly’s 2nd round in the agility show
I have recently started doing agility with my podenco Gizzy too, & he seems to enjoy it just as much as Molly. Who cares if sighthounds don’t traditionally take part in agility – it doesn’t mean they can’t have just as much fun doing it as any collie or spaniel!
As longtime readers of this blog will know, I’ve always enjoyed running with my dogs. This time last year I came across the Cani-Sports Edinburgh group, who introduced me to a novel way of running with your dog - canicross. In canicross dogs & humans run together & the dogs are actively encouraged to pull, wearing a special harness system (similar to that of sled pulling dogs) to enable them to do so. My greyhound Sandy & I took to this instantly, & before long I was running with my other greyhound Dennis & podenco Gizzy too!
canicross with Dennis, Sandy & Gizzy at Duncarron Valley November 2012
Unfortunately, on account of tearing a ligament in my knee, I’ve have recently been unable to run with my dogs in the way we all enjoy so much. However, my friends at Cani-Sports Edinburgh have very kindly made sure my dogs don’t suffer whilst I recover by running them regularly for me. (Now I’m just worried I won’t be able to keep up with them when I finally get back to running again!!) I have also been experimenting with bikejor, another cani-sport, in which the dogs are attached to a special arm on the front of a bike rather than directly to a human. Because my dogs already know basic mushing commands & are used to running out front in this way, transitioning to running them with a bike has been very easy & I’m delighted to say they all seem love it!
bikejor with Sandy & Dennis
Cycling with Dennis & Sandy attached & Gizzy free running
bikejoring with Sandy, Dennis & Gizzy
For dogs like Sandy & Dennis for whom off lead exercise is unfortunately not appropriate under normal circumstances, canisports are a fantastic way to use up their energy & get all those feel good endorphins pumping through their systems. As well as providing them with all the benefits that come from physical exercise, it also gives them something to focus on mentally, because in order to run safely they have had to learn to understand basic mushing commands indicating which in direction & at what speed to run & when to ignore distractions (e.g. chase-able things!). So just because sighthounds aren’t traditional sled pulling dogs doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy & benefit from taking part in cani-sports just as much as any husky or malamute!
myself running with Dennis, Sandy & Gizzy, & my friend Alana running with her greyhound Ronson
MY DOG RUNS FOR FUN! a print I made based on the above photograph
Sighthounds: Thinking Outside the Box
Both agility & cani-sports are activities that my dogs can safely participate in to meet both their mental & physical needs & which it turns out they not only enjoy doing but positively thrive on! The enjoyment my dogs get out of these activities whilst they are doing them is self evident – you need only see the sheer joy in their faces – but there are also knock on effects on their behaviour & well being in general – they are calmer, more focused &, well, simply happier dogs! What’s more, I think doing these activities together really gives my dogs & I a very special bond & a closeness which we may never otherwise have experienced. I encourage you to try thinking ‘outside the box’ about what might be fun & fulfilling for your dog, & not to necessarily be limited by preconceptions & stereotypes about what sighthounds are capable of/suited to. Have fun!