One of the Midlands’ best features is its weather. All year long, for the most part, residents and visitors are able to enjoy the outdoors. And for the active dog lover, the area’s weather suits for all types of outdoor pursuits.
“The most important thing is that you and your dog are active,” says Jan Epting, who has been involved in all types of outdoor activities with her American cocker spaniels for many years. Jan lives in Aiken, but is a member of the Greater Columbia Obedience Club because of its facility for training dogs. While some people may consider cocker spaniels as indoor froufrou dogs, Jan says they love to play although they are also content to lie at your feet.
Jan participates with her cocker spaniels, Skip and Aisha, in hunt tests, rally, agility, and more. She points out that all dogs can enjoy “scent work” and other activities. “I love doing things with them because they love it. It keeps me healthy, and it keeps them healthy.”
A growing number of pet owner/dog activities involve agility sports. Many Saturday mornings, Sam Dooley meets with owners and dogs at the State House to go to Soda City Market. “Besides just getting outdoors and bonding with your dog, walking around downtown continues to build training,” he says. “It’s a positive experience for both dogs and owners and provides mental and physical exercise. It’s enjoyable and rewarding on all fronts.”
GCOC President Robbie Black, who owns two American Field Labrador retrievers, Ellie and Otis, says he originally got involved with the club because of the joy of spending time with his dogs. “I always took my dogs for walks,” says Robbie, “but I decided I would learn more activities to do with my current dogs. That’s how I got involved with the club. I don’t have kids, so they are my free time, my hobby.” He has taught his dogs to enjoy an activity called rally, which involves the owner and dog working as a team to maneuver a course. He has also trained Ellie and Otis to do scent work — sniffing out essential oils and then alerting, which could be a myriad of trained behaviors from becoming still to whining to tail wagging.
He knows some dog owners who participate in agility: a dog is trained to go over, under, and through a prescribed course of obstacles. For example, they must leap over jumps, maneuver through tunnels, navigate a slalom of weave poles, and cross over ramps of different sizes and lengths. For owners who enter their dogs in an agility competition, they can expect scoring to be based on the dog’s performance.
Agility training can lead to more extreme activities, such as mountain biking or parkour. “Neo, the Parkour Collie Dog,” for example, has hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. He climbs trees, scales walls, and jumps atop structures. In fact, for dog owners unable to attend activity and obedience classes, free online instructional videos are numerous.
Robbie says many of the nearly 150 GCOC members are involved in some sort of activity with their dogs, including bringing their pets to classes at the GCOC facility. It is located near Williams-Brice Stadium on the former state farmers market property in a warehouse.
Other activities local dog owners enjoy include:
- Dock diving. “It’s a mix of retrieval and jumping into water, and Labradors and spaniels are especially great at it,” says Robbie.
- Flyball. According to GCOC, dogs jump hurdles to retrieve balls released by a trigger from a spring-loaded box.
- Freestyle. “A choreographed performance organized with music, illustrating the training and joyful relationship of a dog and handler team,” touts GCOC.
Dogs can also participate in paddleboarding at Sesquecential State Park, Saluda Shoals, and Lake Murray. Tyler Ryan, who owns AquaFun Paddle, started “Paddle with Your Pups,” a bimonthly opportunity for dog owners and their dogs to hang out on boards in the lake. Tyler often takes his German shepherd/husky mix, Nixon, who loves the water.
“All shapes and sizes and breeds of dogs are out on paddleboards,” says Tyler. “Some dogs just take to it right away and love it. I let Nixon jump off the board and swim around and other owners let their dogs do the same. We sometimes tie off the boards so all the dogs can walk on the boards and visit.”
Tyler will often recommend a slightly larger board for taking out a dog. He also provides a short orientation for newbies. “I put them in the shallow area so they can acclimate. Most people who come out here with their dogs to paddleboard know their dogs’ behavior and will figure out right away if a dog’s not going to take to it.” He also recommends dogs, large and small, wear a special life jacket, just to be on the safe side.
Besides paddling a multitude of South Carolina waterways and along beaches, plenty of other dog-related activities exist. However, they may include some traveling. For example, skijoring is a Norwegian-originated winter sport in which a person on skis is pulled by a dog or dogs. The American Kennel Club calls it the “best winter dog sport ever.” Anywhere cross-country skiing is located, a dog — regardless of breed — can be strapped to the skier. “Once you’ve skijored, you’ll never think about cross-country skiing the same way again,” according to the AKC.
Just beyond Columbia, in the Upcountry, and just over the state line into North Carolina, plenty of dog accessible hikes are available. Blue Ridge Outdoors must-do hikes include Fall Creek Falls, Jones Gap State Park, Mountain Bridge Wilderness Preserve, Eastatoe Gorge, Big Rock Mountain in the Nine Times Forest, and Pinnacle Mountain at Table Rock State Park, just to name a few. Each spot has rules regarding leashes; some allow dogs to be unleashed if they are well trained. And, while various hiking accoutrements can be strapped on dogs for carrying water, an abundance of water spots are available on most hiking trails for dogs to quench their thirst. But a doggie supply pack is ideal for carrying treats or a meal. Bringfido.com is a great source for planning trips with dogs.
Become a member of a pet therapy team for a less strenuous but rewarding form of recreation. A therapy dog is different from a service dog in that a therapy dog provides a service to everyone except his owner or handler, while a service dog is specifically for its handler. Pet Therapy in Columbia offers opportunities to visit nursing homes, schools, rehab facilities, and more for registered owners and dogs that have passed an evaluation. Pet therapy involves participants simply visiting people with their dogs or reading to people with their dogs. GCOC also offers pet therapy opportunities.
Bringfido.com touts dozens of dog-welcoming restaurants all over Columbia, especially downtown and in the Vista. Dog owners can walk Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park or West Columbia Riverfront Park and then enjoy coffee, ice cream, and whole meals at dog-hospitable sites. Yappy Hour at Jake’s on Devine Street is held every Tuesday and Thursday from 4 to 9 p.m. Dogs can run freely on a back deck and have access to water stations and treats. River Rat Brewery also has a green space for dogs off its deck. Just down Shop Road from River Rat’s location is the city’s main Doggie Park, with a secure space on Humane Lane where pets – and owners – can run and play to their hearts’ content. Another dog park is located at Sesquicentennial State Park. “In general, Columbia is just a dog-friendly city,” points out Robbie.
Finally, periodic “dog days” are offered during the Columbia Fireflies and Lexington County Blowfish seasons. Facebook and websites list designated green light days to enjoy games with dogs.
Grab a leash, call the dog, and go!