Image via iStock.com/Elitsa Deykova
By Paula Fitzsimmons
Looking for a fun, safe and affordable activity you can do with your pup just about anywhere? Welcome to the world of dog parkour, a low-impact sport associated with a number of benefits for dogs, including confidence-building, increased focus and physical fitness.
Although parkour dog training is designed to be safe and appropriate for dogs of all physical abilities, check with your veterinarian to make sure it’s a good fit for your best pal. Then get outdoors and have the time of your lives!
Dog Parkour Basics
In some ways, dog parkour resembles traditional dog agility courses. “Parkour invites your dog to move his body over, under, around and through various structures and barriers,” explains Julie Daniels, a dog agility expert and trainer with Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.
The difference is that this low-impact sport relies on natural and man-made obstacles found outdoors. Instead of using dog agility tunnels, obedience jumps, dog walks and other standard dog agility training equipment, you instead rely on structures like fire hydrants, rocky walls and bike racks.
Unlike dog agility courses that are more structured, dog parkour is an informal, highly customizable activity that emphasizes fun. It’s also a noncompetitive sport, but pet parents can submit videos of their dogs doing parkour and submit them to International Dog Parkour Association (IDPKA) to earn titles. “Each level has different, and increasingly difficult, requirements. This takes some training and some careful practice,” says Daniels.
While she doesn’t pursue dog parkour titles, Daniels still participates in the sport. “I enjoy what parkour offers to supplement my dogs’ physical and mental training for agility competition. My dogs use parkour almost every day as we cross-train for the more structured sport of agility.”
It’s an activity you can enjoy with your dog in any city or rural setting. “Walking in a park, through a neighborhood or along nature trails with our dogs is a wonderful experience, and it is fun to engage with those spaces in a different way while connecting with our dogs through training and fun that parkour adds to the experience,” says Meredith Biehl, owner of Thinking Dog Dog Training and Behavior Consulting in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area.
Dog Parkour Instills Confidence and Strengthens the Human-Canine Bond
Dogs who participate in parkour oftentimes gain confidence, says Biehl. “They learn how to better and more safely move their bodies when active and create a more unique bond with their people while enjoying more time outside. The human gets to enjoy time outside and learn more about how their dog learns, moves and reacts to distractions or new objects, while also adjusting the activity level to suit both them and their dogs.”
Dog parkour is based on reward-based training, says Biehl. “Dogs look forward to being able to jump on and go over, around, under or through objects. It becomes a fun game that gives them great exercise while allowing them to also play and work with their human. The humans get to see happy dogs who are learning and engaged with them with the added benefit of a relaxed dog who’s burned off some energy.”
It also fosters teamwork and strengthens the bond between pet parent and dog. “We get to explore the world together in an active way. My dogs get to run around things and jump on things and crawl under things. I get to communicate with them as I encourage them and reward them … Sometimes I need to help them balance if we are working with narrow or unsteady surfaces. My dogs trust me! That sort of trust is earned. It cannot be demanded. It’s part of the foundation which we have built into our day-to-day relationship,” says Daniels.
Can Your Dog Do Parkour?
Parkour is a low-impact activity, and experts say that you can customize it for all skill levels. “It is possible to safely start a dog while minimizing physical or mental strain,” says Biehl.
People of all ages can do parkour with their dogs, Biehl says. “My 5-year-old daughter has worked on parkour skills with our dogs and will pretend to do it with her stuffed animals too. It helps her explore her environment—looking at trees, rocks, railroad ties, benches and other things differently and brings out creative ideas while keeping her active outside.”
Biehl’s canine students of all ages and sizes benefit from dog parkour. “Everyone celebrates each other’s success when a dog tries something in a new place or accomplishes a new skill they’ve been working on,” she says.
What’s Involved in Parkour Dog Agility Training?
After ascertaining your dog’s physical abilities (ask your vet for help with this), start parkour training slowly and easily to build your dog’s confidence and ability levels, says Daniels. “Make sure you know how to reward your dog, not just for success but also for effort. Everyone likes to feel smart as they are working to get better at a skill. Everything from praise, clapping and cheering, cookies and playtime, all of these things are part of a reward system for training your dog in parkour.”
It’s not a sport you need to do on a set schedule, says Dr. Abigail Curtis, a veterinarian, dog trainer and co-founder of IDPKA. “You can have just as much fun practicing once a day as you do once a month. Many people incorporate it into their daily walks, and find new stuff to explore when they are walking their dogs. Some people only go out exploring once a month. There is no right or wrong answer to how much you should train parkour, as long as you are both having fun and keeping safety in mind.”
Most of what you need for parkour dog training is already in the environment, but there are some dog supplies you will need, says Biehl. These include a leash, a safe and properly fitting harness, dog treats, dog toys and dog poop bags.
“For most skills, dogs should wear a flat buckle collar (no prong, choke, shock collars or head halters), be on a harness and leash with a human spotting the dog. This ensures that in case a dog slips or missteps, someone is there to help support the dog to minimize risk of injury,” says Biehl.
Maximize Your Dog’s Safety and Well-Being
Dog parkour is considered a safe sport, but there are some things you can do keep your pup safe. “Always check your surfaces,” says Karin Coyne, a dog trainer and IDPKA co-founder. “Watch out for surfaces that are too hot or cold, slippery surfaces, small holes that toes might get caught in, and dangerous items around your obstacle such as glass or nails.”
Adult dogs should not jump onto hard surfaces that are taller than shoulder height, and puppies should not jump off surfaces that are taller than stopper pad height. “Find another way down or help them down,” says Coyne.
Always spot your dog, adds Curtis. “Always be in a position that you can help your dog if needed.” Work at your dog’s pace and never force her to do an obstacle, she adds. “Dog parkour is all about having fun and building confidence.”
Being respectful to others is also important. “Please clean up after your dog if they go to the bathroom, do not do parkour on art installations and statues, and please only use children’s playgrounds if dogs are allowed on them and when children are not present,” says Biehl.
Jumping and climbing are activities that require strong joints. Ask your vet if joint support dog supplements, like Zesty Paws Hip & Joint Mobility Bites and Nutramax Cosequin maximum strength plus MSM soft chews, or special diets like Royal Canin Sporting Life Agility 4100 dry dog food, can help with dog agility.
Dog parkour is a safe, fun and challenging agility sport that you and your best pal can enjoy together just about anywhere. While you can most definitely do dog parkour on your own, IDPKA offers classes if you need help getting started.