Bodger the collie cocker spaniel cross is rebounding off the base of a tree. Playful Douglas is leaping on some logs. Zuri the fluffy Samoyed trots happily along a balance beam. Welcome, my canine-loving friends, to “dog parkour” – the discipline that may soon be sweeping the nation after Me and My Dog airs on BBC2.
Me and My Dog: The Ultimate Contest stars eight fairly average dogs and their eight fairly average owners, who have upped sticks to the Lake District for four weeks to hang out with Springwatch presenter Chris Packham and dog trainer Sian Ryan. Through a series of slightly bizarre challenges (tethered races! Stand-up paddle-boarding! Nature slaloms!) they must prove that they have the best connection between human and hound. It is seriously the most heart-warming programme on TV right now.
One of these challenges is “dog parkour”, which features in episode two. (We can’t help but feel that it should have been called “barkour” – a missed opportunity.) On hand to help the owners get the hang of this little-known discipline is Ryan, who actually runs some of the UK’s only dog parkour workshops.
“What is generally called dog parkour, is probably something that a lot of dog owners are doing with their dogs anyway,” she tells RadioTimes.com.
“Most people go out on a walk, and if there’s a log they’ll encourage the dog to walk along it. So it’s about using the different things that you see, in whatever environment you are, to engage with your dog and to do stuff with your dog.”
As a dog owner herself, she adds: “Whenever we see a park bench I encourage them to crawl underneath it or put their paws up on it, so all it does is just give them a little bit more they can do, they can realise, ‘Oh there are some extra moves that I can do with the same piece of equipment.’ And we could have a little bit more fun on our walks.”
But things have got more serious than that, because there is now a new International Dog Parkour Association which has standardised moves and offers titles and grades. Like normal parkour (using the urban landscape to perform jumps, leaps and tricks), this is a discipline which uses the natural and built environment as a sort of obstacle course – but in this case it has to be adapted for a four-pawed animal who doesn’t understand human language.
“There’s different moves that you have to learn like two paws on, four paws on, under, over, and the one that everyone wants to do, which is a tic tac – a rebound, the one where the dog bounces off the tree or wall,” Ryan explains.
So what’s the point of this all?
Dog parkour, Ryan says, is all about engaging and challenging a dog, keeping it healthy, and strengthening that bond. It revives something which has been lost from the dog’s daily walk.
“These days you see someone walking around with a mobile phone in their hand and their dog is off doing whatever,” Ryan continues. “And at the end of the half an hour they’ve spent plodding around the field, the owner calls the dog back, puts it back on the lead, and leaves.
“Walks are the dog’s time, so I’m absolutely all for dogs getting a chance to be a dog, to switch off, to do some sniffing and everything else, but equally part of the walk should also be about engaging with the owner and getting used to being able to respond to them. That owners are worth paying attention to.
“Because if your dog doesn’t give a monkey’s whether you’re there or not, if your dog doesn’t care that you’re in the environment with them, if you absolutely need to recall them for something, what chance have you got? Because as far as they’re concerned this is the half-hour they spend completely ignoring you.”
Get dog parkour right though, and you might find yourself strengthening that friendship with your dog. “It’s all about being someone that they want to hang out with,” Ryan adds. “And fundamentally most of us have dogs because we enjoy their company, so let’s make sure that they enjoy ours too.”
Me and My Dog: The Ultimate Contest continues at 8pm on Wednesday 12th April on BBC2