Interacting with Your Pet
Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith

No matter the breed, dogs and cats provide multiple ways in which we can interact with them. Here are just a few:

Obedience training

Woman teaching a dog the 'stay' commandThe goal of obedience training is not only to have a well-mannered pet, but to give you an opportunity to bond with your pet and spend more time together. Many dogs actually relish the time they spend in obedience training and are so happy when praised for obeying a command. Some of them literally jump for joy.

Cats can learn, too. Some cats can be taught to sit, and many cats enjoy playing a game of fetch. Almost any animal, including birds, mice, rats, hamsters, and other what we call 'pocket pets,' can be taught to do various tricks.

Agility training

Sheltie running through a cloth tunnel during agility trainingAgility training is a newer way of working with dogs, and helping them learn new commands. In agility, dogs are asked to climb stairs and ramps, go through tunnels and literally jump through hoops. These types of exercises can be more difficult for a dog to learn because they are less like the activities a dog would normally perform. This activity really helps build trust between the owner and the dog. The dog must believe the owner is not requesting him to do anything that would hurt him.

Disc handling competitions

Illustration of an Agility Course
Graphic representation of an agility course

You may have seen dogs and owners playing Frisbee. There are actually disc handling competitions in which the dogs are given a certain amount of time to make running catches. The owner and dog are also judged on a throw and catch routine in which they can demonstrate their prowess. As you can imagine, this takes excellent timing and hours of practice to do well. All the while the owner and dog are having fun and growing closer together.

Conformation & 4-H shows

Cats, dogs, horses, rabbits, cattle, sheep, and other animals can be shown in conformation competitions. These can vary all the way from a dog in the premier Westminster Dog Show, to a sheep in the local 4-H competition at the county fair. Many animal owners spend hours teaching the animals (and themselves) the proper way to show off the animal's best qualities. In 4-H shows, the youth are often asked questions about feeding and husbandry, so as they prepare, they learn more about how to care for their animals.

Horseback riding

Man on a horse roping a 'dummy' steerA person and their horse have a very special bond. They may engage in competitions, or they may just enjoy being together. Some horses and riders seem to work as one; you would swear they know what the other is thinking.

Dog sledding and skijoring

Some dogs love winter, and enjoy cold weather activities like pulling sleds through the snow. Skijoring is rather a new sport in America. This involves placing the dog in a harness and having the dog pull you while you are on skis. You better have taught your dog 'whoa' before you start this sport.

Canine freestyle

According to the Canine Freestyle Federation, Inc., canine freestyle 'is a choreographed performance with music, demonstrating the training and joyful relationship of a dog and handler team. Every movement is accomplished through the subtle use of verbal cues and body language. The emphasis is always on the dog, with the handler accompanying the dog in a harmonious performance.'

Field work

Retrievers and spaniels are dogs bred for field work. To them it is not work, but an enjoyable time. This type of activity requires excellent verbal and nonverbal communication between the owner and the dog. It takes a lot of time together to make a good team. Cat playing with a toy

General recreation and play

Sometimes, the best activities are just a walk through the woods, playing together with a favorite toy, or having a good grooming session. Simple pleasures are often the best.

References and Further Reading

Beck, A; Katcher, A. Between Pets and People. Purdue University Press. West Lafayette, IN; 1996.

McElroy, SC. Animals as Teachers and Healers. Balantine Books. New York, NY; 1997.

Serpell, J. In the Company of Animals. Basil Blackwell Inc. New York, NY; 1986. 

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