Dog gym breeds enthusiasm and bonding

At Frolick Dogs, in Alexandria, it’s all about fun and celebrating the canine-human bond. See videos and photos.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — We’re deep in awards season: From the Golden Globes to the Oscars to the Grammys, it’s all about the competition.

Even dogs have been chasing awards. Tuesday night, at New York’s Westminster Dog Show, the canine cream of the crop was crowned Best in Show.

But there’s one local dog gym where the pressure’s off.

At Frolick Dogs, in Alexandria, Virginia, it’s all about fun and celebrating the canine-human bond. Co-owners Kevin and Kim Gilliam know the idea of a dog gym generates some serious eye-rolling, but Gilliam explained that having the dog you want — one that’s well behaved and happy — starts with keeping your pup active.

“We have a full agility course, doggy treadmills and balance equipment,” Gilliam said, and it’s all designed to fill your dog’s need to channel their seemingly boundless energy. “They really need that structure; they need that mental stimulation to kind of keep them out of trouble.”

In the days and weeks following the Westminster Dog Show, it’s common to see prospective dog owners asking about different breeds, especially the recently recognized lesser-known breeds such as the Pumi or Sloughi.

Gilliam said that’s when dog owners have to step back and think hard. Consider the breed’s characteristics: Is it a large, active breed? If you’re a couch potato, keep looking. Love a fluffy coat? Keep the need for grooming in mind. Choosing the wrong type of dog for your lifestyle can lead to trouble.

“That’s where you’ll get frustrated. They’ll get bored, they might chew up the house, things like that. That comes from a mismatch of what your lifestyle is with what kind of dog you’ve chosen,” Gilliam said.

Frolick Dogs isn’t an indoor dog park, where owners simply let dogs off the leash to play, but Gilliam doesn’t want people to be intimidated when it comes to teaching their dog the ins and outs of an agility course, for example.

“We’re here to show you how,” she said.

And if your dog is nervous, or forgets his or her manners from time to time, don’t worry. “We’ve seen it all!” Gilliam said with a laugh.

Sherri Fries, the agility instructor at Frolick Dogs, said her own dogs — both of whom have multiple titles from the many competitions they’ve mastered — have quirks of their own.

“This one here,” she said, pointing to Spitfire, her young Border Collie, “she jumps on her back legs and barks at fire hydrants, which is pretty funny.”

Kevin Gilliam said that if you want a really great relationship with your canine, “Just spend time with your dog. Know your dog. Bond with your dog.”

When it comes to getting the most out of your dog in a learning or training situation, instructors at Frolick Dogs use positive reinforcement and, yes, treats. For those who think treating a dog with food amounts to bribery, Fries explained it this way: “If you worked all day and you didn’t get a paycheck, you would think ‘This is a really bad job!’”

Fries said that when a dog gets treats and connects that to a task, the dog thinks: “This is so incredibly awesome, I want to do this some more!”

Fries also said there’s something special about the human-dog relationship, and a lot of it comes from that generous canine spirit.

“No matter what kind of mood you’re in, they’re happy to see you. They are joyful — I just think they spread joy wherever they go.”

Learn more about Frolick Dogs Canine Sports Club on their website.

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