Dogs do parkour: Canine agility sport proving a hit in the UK

IT USED to be so simple. Clip the lead on the collar and take your beloved pet dog for a sedate walk around the park, nothing too taxing for you and your furry best friend.

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Parkour classes keep dogs trim and boosts their brain power (Image: Getty)But in an increasingly health conscious era there’s more pressure than ever before for owners to keep them fit and avoid becoming porky pooches. Now there’s yet another way to keep your pet in trim and boost their brain power... Parkour classes. Human Parkour was adapted from military training in France during the 1980s and involves moving around your local environment in the fastest possible way without the assistance of any other equipment.

Dog Parkour sessions are just like human Parkour where they learn how to climb, jump, balance and run on challenging obstacles such as beams and tree stumps.

Only 20 minutes of Parkour is the equivalent to an hour long run and it has been described as High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT – favoured by celebrity fitness coach Joe Wicks – for dogs. Canine Parkour came to the UK in 2017 and is becoming increasingly popular among dog owners across the country. We visited Michelle Walker, 35, who is one of only seven certified instructors and her classes have already helped many dogs with behaviour problems – particularly those who find it hard to concentrate.

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Michelle, from Failsworth in Manchester, says: “Parkour helps owners build a bond with their dogs and makes walks more fun. Many owners are already doing Parkour without even realising it.

“Helping your dog walk along a low wall or put their front paws on a step is practicing Parkour and if you learn the principles from taking classes it can help with behaviour too.

“I have a reactive dog myself, Cooper, an American bulldog, and he would bark and get very anxious and stressed while on walks. I tried Parkour with him and it’s helped massively.

“It gives them a focus. Rather than looking for something they might react to, such as a cyclist or other dogs, they concentrate on the task.

“They see it as their ‘work’ and find it rewarding.”

I tried a one-to-one Parkour training session for £45 with Michelle with my three-year-old terrier cross Patch. Whenever I go out on walks, he loves jumping on and off walls and is very active.

I’m still working on his recall as, like many terriers, he has a strong prey drive and is off at the slightest sniff of a rabbit or squirrel, so most of his walks are on lead.

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Michelle insists that Parkour would challenge him both mentally and physically as well as help strengthen our relationship.

“If your dog enjoys their walks and sees you as a fun person to be around, it will help you bond and improve their behaviour and obedience,” she said.

“With Parkour, once you learn the principles, everyday objects like fallen trees or walls become things for your dog to play on.

“Just like a child might look at you excitedly when they see a slide or a swing, your dog will do the same once they’ve learned Parkour.”

During the class we used an obstacle course made of beams, tree stumps, a ramp leading up to a raised platform and jumps made of logs.

We learned the basic moves which are ‘two paws on’, where Patch put his front paws on the tree stump, ‘four paws on’ which is balancing on all four paws, ‘under’ a beam, ‘over’ a beam and ‘along’ which is balance on a beam. In time dogs know how to go and practise on the obstacles themselves and owners can send videos to the International Dog Parkour Association to win titles and awards.

Celebrate Your Pet at Every Age. Everyone loves a new puppy or kitten, says Dr. Becker. “They’re wildly kinetic, and humorous. An older pet is thinner, bonier. Their coats aren’t as soft, they might have bad breath.” But, like people, a pet’s needs change with age. They may be less active, preferring a leisurely stroll to a rollicking tug-of-war. “Our old retriever, who’s blind, still wants to retrieve.” Adapting to their changing needs will ensure your old friend remains a healthy and happy member of your family.

Michelle also explains how to support dogs when they jump up and land.

“It’s important to protect their joints,” she says. “Your dog is using muscles they might not use every day to keep their balance so just like with ourselves, they can be sore the next day.

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In time, dogs learn the Parkour obstacle courses with support from owners (Image: Getty)

“Sessions should be little and often and in time they will build strength and power in their muscles and you’ll see the difference in their muscle tone. It’s mentally stimulating for them as they’re thinking for the entire session. They’re concentrating on following instructions and learning new exercises.

“The most rewarding thing is working with the reactive dogs who go from finding walks stressful to enjoying them and really bonding with their owners.

“It’s transformations like this that make such a difference and can help keep dogs and owners together.

“I’d love to see Parkour take off because life is so busy and it’s difficult for dog owners to make quality time for their pets but 20 minutes of Dog Parkour is enough to tire dogs out.”

●Find out more about Michelle at michellescaninecare.co.uk