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Outdoor Sports for Pets

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dog jumping over a bar on an agility course

Active pets are often healthy pets—physically and mentally. By encouraging your cat and dog to get off the couch, play, and exercise, you can help your pet manage a healthy weight while thwarting boredom. Although there are countless fun and entertaining activities you can do indoors, outdoor activities for pets can also be thrilling.

Outdoor Activities for Dogs

Whether you are looking for a way to burn off your dog’s extra energy, stimulate their mind, work on obedience, or spend more time together, starting your dog in one (or multiple) outdoor sports could achieve all of these goals—plus, it’s another reason to spend time outside.

Dock Diving

This can be a fantastic option if you have a canine companion that loves swimming. This sport mainly entails a dog running and jumping off the end of a dock into the water, but there are variations in how the competition is measured. Some events are distance-based, so the dog that jumps the furthest wins. Usually, a pet parent will toss a dog toy into the water, encouraging the dog to jump after it. Somebody will then measure the distance the dog jumps from the end of the dock to where the tip of their tail hit the water.

Another category for this sport is air retrieval, which involves a toy being hung a few feet above the water, with the dog's goal being to either knock off the toy or retrieve it. With every successful round, the toy is moved further away from the dock. For dock diving events, the competing dogs are often divided into categories typically determined by their experience level and size.

Even if you don’t have a water dog, like a Labrador Retriever, this should not deter you from trying this sport. Even some smaller pups can show incredible skill and a natural love for dock diving. That said, if you have a brachycephalic dog breed, such as a Pug, or a dog that genuinely can’t swim, like Basset Hounds, it’s helpful to talk with your veterinarian before signing your pal up for a water sport or consider enrolling them in a non-aquatic outdoor activity. Partner up with a credentialed dog trainer or behavior consultant to learn the steps for teaching your dog to jump off a platform and into the water in a safe and positive way, to avoid physical or behavioral injury.

Other Water Sports

If your canine companion fancies the water, you may also want to explore kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding. Of course, how involved your pup can be in these activities depends entirely on their swimming skills and how much they enjoy the activity. Remember to start your pup slowly and introduce them to new sports one step at a time. For example, start by teaching your pup to sit in the kayak while the kayak is laying on dry ground. Encourage them to step into the kayak, ask them to sit, and reward them with a few treats. Build up the amount of time they sit inside. Then, still on dry ground, try rocking the kayak slightly. Rock the kayak, then feed your dog a treat. Repeat this sequence a few times, until your dog begins to anticipate something nice when the kayak rocks underneath them, rather than feeling afraid or wanting to jump out.

For instance, kayaking provides a wide range of opportunities, from a leisurely ride through springs and placid lakes to a more exciting ride on a river or in the ocean. Keep in mind the inherent dangers of moving water and that currents can quickly tire your dog out or even sweep them away.

Even if your dog is a champion swimmer, you should purchase a dog life vest before your next adventure. It is incredibly tricky to get your dog back up onto a paddle board, or back into a kayak if they fall or jump out. This means they may have to swim for a while until you reach a place where you can help them back up without tipping over. A life vest is a necessary safety piece and will provide extra peace of mind and help your dog feel more comfortable in the water.

Agility Course for Dogs

A dog agility course entails a series of obstacles, i.e., jumps, ramps, tunnels, and weaving poles. With the help of your direction, you will guide your dog through each item in a particular order. Each obstacle has specific rules, such as the dog not backing out of the tunnel or jumping from the top of the ramp, and the goal is to have the fastest time completing the entire course.

One of the many great things about an agility course is that you can tailor it to suit nearly any dog. Try researching if any of your nearby dog parks have some agility props or if your friends have some items you can borrow. You can even make a short and simple course in your backyard. By teaching your dog agility, you can work on their obedience, your bond with one another, and your dog’s confidence. As you begin teaching your dog to jump, always start small. Just like us, they must gradually build up the muscle to do something, not to mention, attempting a big jump right off the bat may be intimidating to some pups. Additionally, always use jumps with a horizontal bar that’s light and will easily fall if your dog’s toes or legs bump it. This can help prevent an unwanted injury.

If your pup has natural agility and their training and practice sessions are going well, you may want to find a nearby agility match, sometimes referred to as a fun match. These can be hosted in local parks and are often organized by dog training clubs throughout the states. Although the course may still contain all the obstacles you see at competitive trials, matches are just for fun. Plus, this is the perfect time to show off the skills your dog has learned. Since there is no first place, matches are often more stress-free, and they can help get your pup used to focusing when there's a crowd of onlookers and more, unfamiliar dogs.

Take it a step further by signing them up for an agility trial where they can compete against other dogs. If you're anxious about the stress of a competitive event, try researching local agility trials held in nearby parks or dog training facilities. Even though people are there to compete, the atmosphere for these events can still be enjoyable, and it's an excellent opportunity to meet many other fantastic pet parents.

While you go through the process of signing your dog up for an agility event, remember to look at the eligibility requirements. Most of them require your dog to be 18 months or older, in good health, and up to date on their vaccinations, but some trials may only be open to dogs of specific groups, such as herding.

Disc Dog

This outdoor canine sport is reasonably straightforward—you throw a disc, and your dog catches it. Disc dog can be played recreationally in your backyard, at the park, or beach, but some dog parents have also created competitions for this sport.

Disc dog is a fantastic opportunity to work on your dog’s agility skills, obedience, and physical health. Plus, this is a team sport that allows you to participate and work together with your dog. In competitions, there are two main categories. The first is “toss and fetch” or “mini-distance.” Contestants will have one minute to make as many throws as possible on a field marked with distances increasing in length. Points awarded are based on the distance from which your dog catches the disc.

In this sport, there is also a freestyle category. This routine is usually one to two minutes long and includes a mix of jumps, flips, catches, and other cool tricks that the dog and handler come up with. Think of this like watching the canine version of freestyle skateboarding or snowboarding. Although many different breeds can succeed at disc dog, Border Collies often have a natural talent for this event.

Consider reaching out to a certified dog trainer if you plan on teaching your dog any fancy tricks. There are many who teach virtual lessons, so you can access them from anywhere. These professionals can help every step of the way, from keeping things positive for you and your dog to showing you how to teach these intricate tricks with your dog’s physical wellbeing taken into account. This can be a great resource since dogs can easily injure themselves when twisting, jumping, or landing incorrectly.

Dog Skijoring

The winter sport of skijoring has been around for nearly a century and involves one or a few dogs pulling a person on skis—you can also be pulled by a horse or a motor vehicle. Many dog breeds enjoy the cold weather as much as they enjoy pulling people or sleds through the snow. Some breeds, such as Huskies, may have a natural love for this sport, but many other breeds (mixed breeds included) can develop quite the talent for skijoring.

While some people choose to join skijoring competitively, there are also many dog parent groups that take part in the sport recreationally. If you live in a colder region or one that receives a lot of snow and you have a dog that naturally likes to walk in front of you and pull on their leash, then you may have the perfect setup for dog skijoring.

dog laying on back in grass with tongue hanging out

Is Being Outside Stimulating for Dogs?

In the wide world of the outdoors, your dog has countless opportunities to be stimulated. Whether for their mental or physical well-being (not to mention yours), it’s ideal to make time in your daily schedule to get outside. Your dog will surely thank you, even if it’s only for a short walk or play. Some of the benefits of your dog spending time outside include:

  • Improving physical health

    This can be true for you and your dog. Having your dog present can encourage you to get up and go for a trek since you need to take care of them. Simultaneously, if you are already active and always bring your dog with you, this can help them stay physically fit. Even short daily walks can help muscles, bones, and the heart. Maintaining an active lifestyle, especially as your dog gets older, may help them age slower and ward off certain health conditions.

    The exciting part about taking your dog outside for some physical exercise is that you have nearly endless locations to choose from. You can go for a walk, jog, run, swim, or hike. You can bike, skateboard, or rollerblade and have your dog trot beside you (you may want to work up to this). You can stay in your neighborhood, visit a nearby town, or bring your dog on your next grand hiking trip.

  • Providing mental stimulation

    Things are ever-changing in the outside world, from different sights, smells, sounds, people, and animals. These changes can be exciting to dogs, and most have a natural curiosity that gets their nose sniffing and their mind working. In comparison, when your dog stays in the same indoor space every day, they can often face boredom, irritability, and even depression. These feelings and lack of stimulation can lead to your dog “acting out” with excessive barking or chewing.

    Taking your dog outside into your neighborhood or on a venture into the wilderness can help rid your pup of these negative feelings and behaviors and instead be replaced with serotonin and endorphins. Just like it can positively affect people, sunshine, exercise, and fresh air can also do wonders for your pet’s mental health.

  • Encouraging socialization

    Socialization is integral to raising a dog with a well-rounded personality and temperament. Plus, for the extroverted pups, meeting friends can also provide a boost of serotonin. If you have a young puppy, they can learn better “people skills” and “dog skills” when you take them to new places and allow them to meet new people and other canines—but be sure to provide lots of positive reinforcement and go at their own pace. Too much socialization too fast can sometimes have the opposite effect.

    Note that if you have an adult dog who is fearful of people, it’s encouraged that you find a certified professional dog trainer or behaviorist to help you. Your dog’s socialization window starts to close once they reach adulthood and, while you can still provide socialization, it can take a bit more finesse to keep everyone safe and make it a good learning experience.

    By getting out and meeting others, your dog will also have the opportunity to practice their basic manners. It can even be fun to see the wheels turning in your dog’s head when they keep their paws on the ground while meeting someone new or offer to sit before saying “hi.”

Even when you are tired after a long day at work, or the weather is unideal, remember the benefits that even a little outdoor time can provide your best pal. Giving your dog some daily outside stimulation can help them have a happier and healthier life

How Do You Enrich a Dog in the Backyard?

Of course, you may not be able to leave your house every day to take your dog on an awesome hike or have them join a dog sport, but there are still options that can provide enrichment in your backyard. For instance, working on basic obedience can be a fantastic way to get your pup up and moving while making them use their mind—and you get to practice their training.

Depending on the size of your yard, you could also create your own agility or obstacle course. These can allow your pup to use their mental strength as much as their physical strength, and you can always change the course around to keep your dog from becoming bored. You can purchase some fun enrichment toys for your backyard, set up a hide-and-seek game with treats, or add a little kiddy pool or sprinkler.

Outdoor Enrichment for Indoor Cats

For your cat’s safety and general well-being, keeping your cats inside is encouraged. This can help avoid the issue of your cat running away, getting attacked by another animal, catching a parasite, accidentally getting hit by a car, or receiving another form of injury.

That said, your feline friend can still benefit from fresh air and sunshine, along with the enrichment of the outdoors. The solution or compromise to provide your cat with the experience of the outdoors without the accompanying worries is to consider building a cat patio or a “catio.” A cat patio is a perfect way to give your cat the enrichment of outside while still keeping them safe. Catios can be small structures built onto window frames or larger structures that are big enough for you to join your cat. A securely screened-in porch or patio can also work perfectly for your catio.

Many outdoor activities for cats can provide valuable mental and physical stimulation to ward off boredom and keep them in tip-top shape. First and foremost, depending on the space you have to work with, you can create an agility course for cats. This may look slightly different from a dog’s agility course, but the concept can still be the same. Encourage your cat to explore and be active and reward them for practicing new agility skills, like jumping over something, or climbing up a ramp. In your cat’s indoor-outdoor space, you can also build high perches that will hopefully get your cat using their climbing and jumping skills more often.

Including some enrichment or puzzle toys in the catio can also be beneficial, along with hiding treats or bits of kibble throughout the space. However, just by giving your cat an area where they can see, sniff, and hear the outside world, they will already receive stimulation and enrichment simply by being in that space.

No matter your pet’s breed, size, or age, it’s never too late to get them outside and active. Whichever activity or sport you choose for your best pal, don’t forget to keep your four-legged friend’s health and abilities in mind.

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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