(MNN.com) -- As a stay-at-home mom who home-schooled her children, Kimberly Chiles Lanum wanted an activity that she could call her own.
The solution came with four legs and a tail. She had grown up in a home filled with dachshunds, so that felt like the perfect breed to teach her three boys about responsible dog ownership. After doing her homework, Lanum purchased a retired American Grand Champion long-haired dachshund named Beamer (aka Taxvalpar Andromeda Moonbeam) and began competing in dog shows around the state.
Eventually, her older two sons joined the effort, competing with Beamer — and winning.
But boys do two things very well: eat and grow. After a few years, her oldest son towered over their pint-sized pooch, so the Lanums added whippets — a taller and more athletic breed — to the family mix. At age 12, her son David and his dog Wink (aka Grand Champion Snow Hill Body Sport) won Best of Breed together, defeating several adult competitors.
Dog show competitions are now part of the kids' already packed schedule, along with basketball games, handling classes and other activities.
"Animals change children," Lanum says. "It's work. But it's fun and it teaches them how to take care of something, and how to show that living thing in the best light that you can. And they learn to lose."
Beyond simple games of fetch or long walks in the park, there are long-term benefits of keeping dogs mentally and physically active. Activities such as canine freestyle, nose work and dog show competitions also help pets and their people address behavior issues, build stronger bonds and simply have a good time together. Dog lovers offer tips on how to get started with a few fun, dog-friendly activities.
Canine freestyle — dancing with dogs Canine freestyle involves teaching your dog a sequence of movements, then linking those movements with music, says dog trainer Kate Jackson of Jabula Dog Academy in Georgia.
She fell in love with the quirky sport after watching a YouTube video of championship duo Carolyn Scott and her dog Rookie performing to "You're the One that I Want," and started practicing with her dog Winston. (In case you missed the video of Carolyn and Rookie, be sure to check it out at the bottom of the page.)
"One of the first little sequences I ever taught him was to 'Who Let the Dogs Out?'" Jackson says. "If that song is ever on, anywhere, his little ears perk up." (Check out the company spokesdog in action.)
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