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Monday, March 9, 2009

Toy Dog or Athletic Dog?

© photo copyright Toni Boyko
Oliver's First Nap with Tanner
When my family decided to take the dog plunge for the first time, it was with much sales effort on the part of my kids. I finally was sold by the tactics of my middle son, who assured me that a puppy would provide needed companionship when they could not have a friend over to play. In addition, I envisioned a rough and tumble, high activity level type of dog to keep this middle son as calm as was possible. Fortunately, I was successful with our choice to adopt Xena, a Golden Retriever/Black Labrador mix.

I had purchased a book on how to choose a dog. It was a very helpful book which explored all the possible reasons for getting a dog, how each breed fits into your needs and explained what the special needs of each of these breeds are. I devoured it, enjoying every page, and emerged with a list of 2 possibilities that seemed to best suit my family--Golden Retriever or Labrador Retriever.

Each had its own pros and cons, but both were supposed to be athletic dogs, which I knew was a must with my 3 athletic kids. I wanted a dog who could run with them, play fetch, swim and wrestle without being injured too easily. After all, with two boys destined to be 6'2" or more, I wanted a dog who could take the punishing toughness of the upcoming teenage boy play. I had a lot to learn.

Although I don't doubt the information in the book, many of the passages about toy-sized dogs suggested that a lower energy family or no children were better for these smaller dogs. I can see, of course, how a rambunctious child could easily injure a toy dog, but my impression had been that these dogs were too delicate to go for runs or be athletic in any way.

© photo copyright
Oliver at about Age 4 1/2 Months

That's where my impression was dead wrong. Oliver, our 8 pound Papillon, pictured at the top of this blog, came to us a 3 pound ball of fluff with a cold. He was not only quiet, but cuddly, sleepy, and downright lethargic. My impressions from that book, read so many years ago, were cemented.

Then the cold went away, and the true Oliver emerged a bundle of energy and growing confidence. We taught our 2 retrievers, Xena and Tanner, how to play gently with Oliver. "Down, stay, play with your snout". When paws were used in play, I simply touched the paw and said to Tanner, "No paws." He learned quickly and well. Tanner and Oliver bonded immediately, playing a form of a floor game which can only be called "Tanner is the mountain." Oliver climbed all over Tanner, chewing on his ears, playing tug with his tail and washing his snout. Tanner basked in the attention as though he were a king and continues to love this playtime, even as it is entirely different from the big-dog style play that he and Xena engage in.

Now that both are involved in agility training, I have met many toy-sized dogs who are amazingly athletic. I realize every day how much more there is to learn about these fabulous animals we share our homes with. Some of our agility "friends" are Toy Poodles, Jack Russell terriers, and other Papillons, to name a few. When I visited a competition, I was surprised to see that Papillons and Jack Russells were the major contenders in their size category. Agility is sort of like wrestling, where dogs compete against like-sized dogs.

Oliver recently returned to agility training after a hiatus, and he quickly showed me that he was eager to accomplish the challenges ahead. He clearly was excited about the many fun things he was asked to do. So my delicate toy dog label is melting away, and a new one is coming into place. Oliver showed me this week that he can be athletic, and most importantly, that he enjoys it. I'm looking forward to seeing him run a whole agility course....except that he is much faster than I am. I guess I better take up sprinting.

© photo copyright Carrie Boyko
Tanner and Oliver Love to Nap Together

If you have a toy dog who needs some extra mental challenges and fun playtime with you, Agility training might be just the ticket. This is a kit of equipment that I have at home for practice. Although it is not exactly the same as the real stuff, it does provide good extra practice.

On Wednesday I will be sharing some tips on getting your cat and dog to coexist peacefully. Although I have had some success, we are still a work in progress. Hope to see you again soon.


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