After taking part in the fast-growing, fun, and accessible sport of dog parkour, you’re not likely to look at park benches, tree stumps, or playground equipment the same way again. It’s an ideal activity if attending Agility or Obedience classes isn’t possible or practical. And, with a bit of imagination, any neighborhood offers boundless opportunities to safely train for dog parkour.
What is Dog Parkour?
You might have seen the impressive parkour viral videos of daredevil human athletes (called traceurs) climbing, leaping, and rolling from one high wall to another. Dog parkour (sometimes called urban agility) is the canine version of this. You’ll be asking your dog to do various tricks and behaviors on and around an obstacle, often involving balancing, jumping, and crawling. It’s still enriching, exciting, and challenging, but forget the nerve-jangling extreme stunts—the safety and enjoyment of your dog is paramount.
Parkour Points For You and Your Pup
This non-competitive sport has been around for about a decade, but its popularity grew amid the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. Dogs and their owners, stuck at home, couldn’t travel to clubs or classes and were searching for other fun challenges. It’s easy to practice parkour in and around your home, and instruction and virtual titling are available online.
This proved attractive for IDPKA Championship titlists Sophie Penson, 18, and her Collie mix Ducky. “The online learning, with Ducky’s dog reactivity, opened up a lot for us. It got us training and being able to practice and still set goals, despite our own personal challenges,” she says.
Karin Coyne, co-founder of the International Dog Parkour Association (IDPKA), says there are other great benefits. “First, it’s highly accessible, requiring only a harness and leash to get started. As you and your dog are working together to explore the environment, it really helps build teamwork and a bond between both of you as well as opening up some wonderful opportunities for communication.” She explains that “the nature of parkour, when done correctly, helps to build a dog’s confidence and ability to conquer fear.”
And the low-impact sport allows dogs of any age or ability to participate. Coyne’s own dogs love it. “The younger ones are working mostly on body awareness and control, while the older ones are working on more complex and challenging movements and those that involve a bit of height.” You can adjust elements to accommodate puppies, senior dogs, and disabled dogs.
Penson says adventure dog Ducky loves it too. “Obviously, she likes the rewards, because we’re all about positive reinforcement. But she also likes the activity, getting out and interacting with the obstacles. I think she likes to learn and train things that stretch her a little bit.”
And they’ve clearly built a strong, enthusiastic partnership. “I can just point to an obstacle, and she’ll go and guess what I want her to do on it. It doesn’t take much to coax her. She’s pretty fearless and definitely likes the fun of it, showing off.”
Mastering the Basics
One of the most impressive-looking behaviors is the tic tac (also called a round up). The dog makes a tight jump turn on a wall or other angled obstacle (similar to a Flyball box turn). But you don’t want to ask your dog to perform challenging tricks like this right off the bat. Building things up with simpler behaviors on less intimidating obstacles helps with body awareness, conditioning, and confidence building.
Getting your dog to put their two front feet on a low obstacle is a great newbie option. Initially, you might have to shape or lure the behavior, rewarding when your dog offers what you’re looking for. Be patient, build things up using lots of positive reinforcement, and always keep it enjoyable for your dog.
Penson says that once you get the hang of things, the possibilities are endless, as long as you do it safely. “Early into the journey, I would look at a bench and be like, okay, I guess Ducky could get on it. But now I’m able to say she can also put two feet on it, back up on it, run around it, go under it, and I can send her to it.”
Have Fun and Stay Safe
As with any dog sport, making sure your pup is safe and comfortable (mentally and physically) is key. You want to set them up for success, keep them injury free, and nurture your bond as a team. “That means building a strong foundation of confidence and communication instead of simply pushing your dog to do the next harder thing,” says Coyne.
“Always be ready to spot your dog (using a harness and leash), avoid jumping down from tall objects onto tall surfaces, and reward them for communicating their choices about their ability to do a movement, even if it wasn’t a success in your eyes.” The harness needs to fit well, with a clip on the dog’s back, and the leash should be six feet long or less.
Penson explains that there are lots of great resources to help ensure you’re supporting your dog correctly. The IDPKA crafts the title requirements around safety. But she reminds newbies to be mindful of their dog’s abilities. “You know what their strengths and weaknesses are. I don’t choose behaviors I know will push Ducky too much. Anything that makes me a little nervous, I trust my gut.”
How to Learn More About Dog Parkour
The IDPKA website is a great place to start. “There you will find a list of IDPKA certified instructors, the safety rules, educational webinars, and information about Dog Parkour titles. The Facebook group ‘Dog Parkour Training’ is also a wealth of information,” says Coyne.
And the top tip from both Coyne and Penson? Remember parkour is a journey! “I’m happy that I didn’t just try to push through it and get it done. Instead, I rode the ride and really found a lot of joy in it,” admits Penson. Even with Ducky’s natural love for learning, her previous trick training title skills, and Penson’s infectious enthusiasm, it took them two years of work to achieve their Championship title. Still pretty impressive, especially considering Penson was an Advanced Placement student with a full-on school schedule for much of the time.
And the journey doesn’t end there for Penson. Her love for the sport and her partnership with her “very special and smart heart dog” Ducky are obvious. She is also on the way to becoming a certified IDPKA instructor.