This blog is all about having a great time with your dog doing a fun backyard activity that any dog and human team can participate in. Most of you have heard of dog agility and nosework, but have you heard of dog parkour, hoopers, treibball or rally? Each of these dog sports can be set up at home with simple items PLUS they can all be customized to accommodate dogs and people of any age or ability.
Watching this amazing agility run is inspiring, but since the vast majority of pet dog owners do not have a high-drive, purpose-bred agility dog, it is more the stuff of dreams. That said, … can you do something like this with your own pet dog? Absolutely! Backyard agility, doggie parkour, hoopers, treiball, rally and scentwork are all great activities that can be fully customized to suit both you and your dog’s abilities and available resources.
You do need a bit of space for this backyard activity, but it is easy to customize your equipment and course to fit the space you have available. If you are lucky enough to have a huge space, you can set up a full agility course. But maybe you have a tiny yard, or no yard at all. You can still set up a few pieces of equipment in your yard, in your basement or even a spare bedroom. Make sure your dog has room to navigate obstacles and that your flooring provides a safe surface for jumping, turning and running (e.g., grass, sand, carpet, foam floor tiles, etc.)
You can purchase agility equipment, make your own equipment, or transform items around your home. What are you going to need?
Cavaletti kits are available for purchase online and include cones and crossbars to create jumps. You can build something more permanent with PVC or you can rig up jumps with something as simple as a broom handle and a couple of overturned laundry baskets.
Tunnels are available to purchase online. You can also build your own. Create a frame with garden stakes and pool noodles. Push two garden stakes into the ground about 24-28″ apart. Push a pool noodle over the top of one garden stake. Arch it over and push it downover the other garden stake. What you have will look like a giant croquet hoop. Line up several of your hoops about two feet apart. Cover them with a sheet and secure the sheet to the garden stakes with zip ties or hose clamps.
Pick up 6 to 8 garden stakes or chain link fence tension bars. To make lawn care easy, place the stakes in the ground in a straight line, a few inches farther apart than the width of your lawn mower. This won’t meet national standards, but it will allow you to mow your lawn without have to remove the stakes each time. To make them easy for your dog to see, use a 2-3 feet length of PVC pip or pool noodle as a sleeve over the stakes.
You can use an elevated dog bed, a mat or a blanket for this piece of equipment. The key here is to have a visible target for the dog to sit/lie on to take a 15 second pause before moving on to the next obstacle.
The dog walk is similar to a narrow bridge that your dog will walk up and across. You can build an official elevated dog walk or you can use an appropriately wide board. For example, if you have a medium to large breed, pick up a 2×12 that is 6 to 8 feet long. Lay it right the ground and practice with you dog just walking the length of the board. Once he has this down, you can elevate the board by attaching 2×4 or 4×4’s to the bottom.
You can build a seesaw or you can use an appropriately wide board. For example, if you have a medium to large breed, pick up a 2×12 that is 6 to 8 feet long. For the center fulcrum, you can use a soup can or larger juice can laid on its side.
Other Obstacle Ideas
Grab a hoola hoop and have your dog jump through it. Set up cones to go around, do figure-8’s around or even a cloverleaf pattern. Lay out several pool noodles and have your dog step over them. There are so many possibilities.
Dog Parkour (AKA Urban Agility)
“Parkour is a physical discipline in which individuals move through their environment and conquer obstacles in their path. It includes climbing, balancing, jumping, running, vaulting, creativity and working past fear. So what is dog parkour?
Dog parkour, sometimes known as urban agility, is an activity based on the same principles. It is a challenging, but fun, physical activity in which the dogs learn to interact with their environment. Just like in the human version, in dog parkour we work on ways to conquer obstacles, such as climbing, balancing, and jumping.”
You can approach parkour as a sport in which you could earn titles – or as a fun way to interact with the environment on your neighborhood walks. Parkour has been shown to be helpful in calming reactive and anxious dogs.
- As your dog’s partner, you are keeping him safe by acting as his spotter.
- Harness and Leash: Use a harness with a 4-6′ leash clipped to the back of the harness.
- Retractable leashes and long lines can become tangled and create a safety hazard
- Long lines
- NEVER use prong collars, slip/choke collars, slip lead or head halter.
- Obstacles should be no higher than the handler’s shoulder height.
- Do not let your dog jump down onto hard surfaces from any obstacle higher than that dog’s shoulder height. Instead, use his harness to help lower him to the ground.
- Check before letting your dog enter public or private property.
- Parkour can be done off leash if spotting is not necessary.
- Balancing on stumps, rocks, logs, benches, parking space barriers, retaining walls, etc. Be sure that any obstacle that you are asking your dog to climb or jump onto has been checked for stability.
- Balancing on or weaving around parking spot barriers.
- Walking along retaining walls.
- Stepping up or backing up onto stairs or curbs.
- Walk on top of or crawl under benches.
- Weaving around a line of trees or bushes.
Another great backyard activity is hoopers. Hoopers is a more accessible form an agility for young, senior and disabled dogs. It involves running through tunnels and hoops and going around barrels.
You can create huge courses if you have the space, but you can also incorporate parts of this game into tiny spaces.
Hoops can be purchased online or you can create your own with garden stakes and pool noodles.
Tunnels are available to purchase online. You can also create your own by putting several of your homemade hoops about two feet apart. Cover them with a sheet and secure the sheet to the garden stakes with zip ties or hose clamps
Barrels are not easy to come by, but you can replace them with trash cans, waste baskets, cones, or even folding chairs.
Treibball is also called Urban Herding. From the National Association of Treibball Enthusiasts website: “Treibball is an exciting new dog sport that began in Germany a few years ago. The goal is for the person and the dog to work as a team. The handler directs the dog from a distance around a set of balls to push them into a goal one by one. In competition the dog’s work is timed. Distance, time, and the number of balls are some of the variables in the game.”
Human exercise balls work great for backyard treibball games.
You can get fancy and build a goal according to NATE standards or you could also use a soccer goal if you have one. If you want to make it super simple, just set up a couple of cones and use the imaginary line between them as your goal line.
In rally, you and your dog work through a course that includes 10 to 20 stations. Each station has a sign that displays a skill for your team to perform. As a backyard activity, you can set up as many, or as few, stations as you choose and use skills that are as easy, or difficult, as you choose. Backyard rally is a fun way to have friendly family competitions or practice skills with your dog.
Official sign holders are available to purchase online; however, you can just a easily clip your signs to cones or landscape stakes.
Create your own or download official signs for free.
Scentwork or nosework is an activity that puts your dog’s amazing olfactory senses to work. This can be a super simple game of Find It or a Scatter feed in the yard. Hide treats in strategic location (or container) or two in the yard and send your dog out to locate them. Stick small pieces of cheese, hot dog or lunch meat to a stump, retaining wall or fence and let your dog sniff them out. Set up a trail of treats for your dog to follow. These simple versions of scent work are easy to set up and give your dog instant gratification when he finds and eats the treat.
Another version of scentwork is freework. This amazing activity was created in the UK by Sarah Fisher to help reactive and anxious shelter dogs to decompress. Various objects, textures and surfaces are set up around the yard (or in the house). Different types of treats, both soft and crunchy are laid out around and on the obstacles at various heights. Intersperse with a few stations that include something to lick. This is a great way to help a fearful dog gain confidence through exploring known and novel objects and to help reactive and anxious dogs to calm down and decompress through the slow, methodical completion of the course.
Finally, there is “true” nosework during which a dog is asked to locate a particular scent and then is rewarded for locating that scent. You can purchase supplies online and the AKC has a short tutorial on how to begin teaching this sport to your dog.
I hope this gives you some inspiration for ways you can get outside and create fun backyard activities to do with your dog. Enjoy!
Kerrie Hoar. M.S., CPDT-KA, IAABC-ADT, LFDM, FFCP
Kerrie has a master’s degree in Biology and is a certified professional dog trainer and family dog mediator. She own Crimson Hound, LLC dog training in La Crosse, Wisconsin.