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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 July, 2004, 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK
Stressed out dogs relax through yoga
By Alastair Lawson
BBC News Online

It's official...Canine swimming pools, canine hairdressers and canine manicures are, to put it bluntly, so last year.

Canine yoga participant
Most dogs enjoy a stretch and a massage

The latest canine craze to hit town is altogether more sophisticated and may even prompt your pooch to abandon its ego in search of higher, more spiritually and physically fulfilling objectives.

Yoga for canines is the latest American import to have taken off in London, and may eventually be exported to the rest of the world.

Animal therapist Dan Thomas is head of grooming at London's Pet Pavilion company which introduced the scheme to the UK.

He says he is amazed at the effect of the classes on the dogs taking part.

Ancient Hindu practice

"After a few minutes even the most unruly of participants appeared to chill out, relax and become calmer," he told BBC News Online.

"The dogs may not have been assuming the lotus position, but their breathing really did seem to be in synch with their owners and the class instructor."

"A person who does yoga classes usually ends up becoming more placid. For dogs it's just the same, even if they do occasionally require assistance to contort their bodies into the required yogic positions.

Canine yoga class
At the end of the lesson, dogs take part in a concluding prayer

"It has often been said that some dogs look like their owners, but it is equally true to say that they often mirror their masters' temperaments as well."

Yoga is an ancient Indian Hindu practice, dating back to 2500BC, possibly even earlier. It is a combination of relaxation, breathing techniques and exercises which combats stress, helps circulation and movement of the joints.

The idea of canine yoga - or doga - classes was dreamt up by American-based yoga instructor Suzi Teitelman. She discovered that her dog, a spaniel, liked to join in with her yoga exercise routine at home in America.

'Bonding and exercise'

"Most dogs like to stretch, and enjoy being massaged," she told BBC News Online.

The proof of the pudding lies in the eating, and most human and canine participants of Britain's first doga class seem to have been impressed.

Londoner Claire Margarson took along her three Shi Tzus - Tia, Tango and Tequila - to sample the benefits of the bonding and exercise routine. She said the results were amazing.

It is not frivolous to say that most dogs derive enormous benefits from these sessions
Animal therapist Dan Thomas

"Neither of them has done anything like this before and it was totally new. But Tia in particular loved it, spending six hours in class.

"She had her legs stretched in the air, was bent over into extraordinary positions - at one point she even resembled a wheelbarrow - and had her paws massaged. The dogs did most of the things that the humans did.

"At the end we were even encouraged to get them to hold their paws together so that we could recite a specially adapted concluding prayer," she said.

Ms Margarson says that at the end of the session her other two dogs also showed visible benefits.

"Tango - normally a bit grumpy - was a lot more pleasant to live with," she said, "while Tequila temporarily lost her obsession with smelling out the nearest lamppost. All of them slept very well that evening and were far less energetic than normal."

Canine yoga in London's Battersea Park
Both dogs and humans find class to be a good stress buster

The famous 18th Century English essayist Samuel Johnson once remarked that "a woman's preaching is like a dog walking on its hind legs. It's not done well but one's surprised to see it done at all".

His views on impeccably turned-out dogs performing canine yoga can only be guessed at, but the facts speak for themselves.

Latest statistics from the US suggest that 15 million Americans now include some form of yoga in their fitness routine - twice as many as five years ago.

Backers of "doga" hope that it too will quickly catch on and show a similar statistical upsurge.

But then statistics, as Dr Johnson himself might have observed, are often used as a dog uses a lamppost - more for support than illumination.

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