If you want to turn your back yard into a playground wonderland for your dog, get creative and think like a dog. Dogs love to jump, run and find their way over, through and around obstacles. Look to the world of dog agility for ideas, then make your own.
In agility trials, participants use collapsible tunnels that are quite expensive. However, for less than half the price, you can find a child's collapsible tunnel made of nylon attached to a large spiral wire that can fold down accordion-style to just a few inches when not in use. Popped open, it can be anywhere from 5 to 10 feet long and creates a long, tube-like hiding place for your dog. Interact with your dog by encouraging him as you toss treats or toys at various intervals from one end of the tunnel to another, or just let him discover the tunnel on his own. Your dog's natural denning instinct will help him be enthusiastic about his hiding toy.
Also taken from the world of agility, weave poles can easily be duplicated using anything from PVC piping to driveway marker reflector poles, which sell for only a few dollars each. Place them at 2-foot intervals and teach your dog to weave in and out of them by showing him how it's done and encouraging him to follow you. Holding a treat just below nose level, show him the treat while walking backwards as you weave in and out of the poles. He will follow and soon catch on that running between the poles in alternating directions as he heads towards you for a treat will be a fun bonding experience for both of you. If he doesn't catch on with a treat after several tries, put him on a lead and gently lead him in a weave pattern.
Over the Top
Place an obstacle for him to jump over such as a broomstick set on two low garden chairs or anything else you can use to prop up the wood. You can also use PVC piping to build a more elaborate system of jump obstacles by attaching the pipes together with PVC corner pieces to make U-shaped jumps you can turn upside down and pound into the ground. Toy limbo sets are available for a fraction of the price you would need to pay for the regulation agility jump poles. To make it extra challenging, add a hoola hoop for your happy hound to jump through; you can actually make your dog jump through hoops for your -- and his -- delight.
Digging a Hole
If your dog is a digger, partition off a part of your yard where he is allowed to dig, then dig a hole yourself. Place his favorite toy or a paper bag with treats in it in the hole, and then cover the prize. The obstacle is the dirt between him and the treasure. Not only will this teach him that digging in that area is permitted, but it will encourage him to dig in that area because he never knows when another treat will appear. Naturally, you will want to keep him in if the weather is bad or the area has turned into a muddy mess. Covering it with a tarp in the rain or placing a pop-up awning over the area will help keep it from getting too wet in the rain.
Kit and Kaboodle
If you are not all that creative or want to take an easier route to building an obstacle course for your dog, there are ready-made sets of obstacle toys you can buy for your dog online and at pet stores that include all kinds of items from which you can make a variety of obstacles for less than $50. The kits often include mock agility winner's ribbons and rules.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.