I’m always looking for interesting ways to have fun with my dogs while keeping them mentally and physically active. Living in New York City without a car means we’re generally limited to that we can find in our neighborhood. For years, one of my favorite training games has been to have my dogs Mercury and Charlotte jump up, crawl under, go around, and otherwise engage with physical aspects of our urban landscape.
Little did I know that my fun training game was actually being organized into a dog sport! The International Dog Parkour Association has adapted human parkour (a street sport where people run, jump, and climb on obstacles in their environment) and combined it with dog agility to create a highly individualized and adaptive new canine sport!
What I appreciate most about parkour is that while it can be competitive, you and your dog are really competing against yourselves. With dog parkour, there are no competitions to attend; instead, you video your dog performing the appropriate actions for each level and submit those to the association. This makes it perfect for reactive dogs like my Charlotte, who wouldn’t be able to compete in a more traditional dog show setting, as well as for teams who are geographically isolated.
Video competition also enables handlers to create course plans for their dogs based on their physical condition, size, age, and training level, while also using the unique environmental features of their neighborhood.
The International Dog Parkour Association offers five levels of official titling: Training, Novice, Intermediate, Expert, and Champion. Each level is increasingly difficult and has specific skills that must be mastered to earn the title, including:
Creativity is important, because while the specific maneuvers required for each title are the same, each team’s execution of the skills will look different based on their unique environment. A core goal of the sport that I really appreciate, beyond working on the dog’s balance and strength, is to find ways to engage with the physical world around you. I also appreciate that while children’s playgrounds provide a variety of interesting equipment to work on, they are discouraged as settings in an effort to foster being responsible neighbors and keep dogs away from areas explicitly deigned for kids.
Parkour is the perfect sport for urban dogs who are already familiar with engaging with their environments. Even though I have been casually doing what I called urban agility with my own dogs for years — teaching them to walk the length of benches, weave through bike racks, balance on rocks and logs in the park, etc. — the organization of parkour as a sport has given me a whole new inspiration to work with my dogs.
Currently, my dog Charlotte and I are working toward the Novice title. She loves parkour-like activities and picks up new skills quickly, but she has bad hips and knees, so I make sure anything we do is low impact, which means a focus on muscle building, gentle stretches, and balancing at low heights. Similarly, because Mercury hates to be left out of any training game, I am doing what I call a light version of parkour with him, though we probably won’t ever compete.
Interested in doing some parkour training with your own dog? The association’s website has lots of great information to get you started. There is also a very active Facebook group for those who are looking for online support while training toward various titles in the sport.
Already playing urban agility games with your dogs? In the comments, please share the most interesting “obstacles” you have found in your neighborhood!
Read more about outdoor fun with your dog:
About the author: Sassafras Lowrey is a dog-obsessed author based in Brooklyn. She is the winner of the 2013 Berzon Emerging Writer Award from the Lambda Literary Foundation; her latest novel, Lost Boi, was released in April. Sassafras is a certified trick dog instructor, and she assists with dog agility classes. Sassafras lives with her partner, two dogs of dramatically different sizes, two bossy cats, and a semi-feral kitten. She is always on the lookout for adventures with her canine pack.