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Md. Yoga Class Incorporates People And Their Pets

The Capital of Annapolis

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- It was literally downward facing dog. As a small group of women bent their bodies into the classic yoga pose last weekend, they gazed into the faces of their canine companions.

Welcome to doga, or dog yoga, a new class at Ridgely Retreat in West Annapolis.

The session was the pet project of Kater Leatherman, a longtime yoga instructor and professional organizer. Leatherman, who takes her dog, 14-year-old Norwich terrier Sweet Potato, to regular yoga classes, discovered doga on the Internet and offered doga as a trial.

The $20 hour-long session went well, so there are plans for more. The first will be Jan. 19.

"People like to be with their dogs, and dogs like to be with their people," said Leatherman, who has been teaching human yoga for 15 years. "Is it for the dog, or is it for the owner? I think it's for both."

But doga isn't exactly as it sounds.

Owners don't learn how to put their pets into yoga positions -- what self-respecting dog would want to get into cat pose -- they mainly use the dogs as weights.

This is one reason Leatherman wanted to keep the dogs to 25 pounds and under, though a couple bigger ones showed up anyway.

The dogs do get a good stretch, along with a massage, but the class is first and foremost a bonding experience.

That was just fine for Nancy Winters of Annapolis. She brought her 60-pound Portuguese water dog, Jack, and although she couldn't lift him, incorporated her pet into as much as possible.

Jack sat calmly between in her legs or by her side during the session.

"It was wonderful," Winters said. "I missed the opportunity to lift him, but I thought it was very good. He seemed calm and it was relaxing."

The verdict was a far cry from how she felt beforehand. "This could be total chaos, but no matter what, it will be a lot of laughs," Winters said.

Not only wasn't there chaos, there wasn't even any barking. The dogs were well-behaved, and only two of nine, a golden retriever and a shih tzu, were a bit too hyped up to make it all the way through the class.

The other dogs, which included two papillons and a cockapoo, fared well. They stayed quiet and by their owners until after the class, when the dogs got a chance to run around and socialize.

"I've had a lot of positive experiences with yoga in general and with Kater," said Pat Sweeney of Annapolis, who brought her papillon, Apollo. "I feel like he got something out of it, and I'd love to do it again."

Dr. Jessica Heard of Severna Park Veterinary Hospital said she knows a lot of pet owners who practice doga via online videos. "It promotes being with your dog, and anything that promotes that is a good thing," she said.

In addition, doga can be beneficial for keeping older, or arthritic dogs, limber. "It fits in with where we're going in veterinary medicine and rehabilitation -- increasing the quality and length of lives," Heard said.

Leatherman's doga class was in a large studio with soft lighting and mellow music.

At one point, a solo guitar broke into Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide." There weren't any tunes by Three Dog Night.

Andrea "Andie" Lichtenstein, the owner of Ridgely Retreat, was a bit skeptical when Leatherman first approached her with the doga idea, but eventually relented.

"This is new for me, (but) it's a great way to socialize dogs," Lichtenstein said. "To have a whole hour to spend with your dog, that's kind of nice."

Leatherman started the session by having the pet owners do some deep breathing. The dogs, she said, would pick up on it. "They begin to calm down as you do," she said. "See if you can synchronize your breathing to your dog's."

Next, the humans and pets did a little basic stretching. Leatherman then started incorporating yoga poses, with the women in the class (no men signed up) holding up their dogs.

"Oh my God, this is magnificent," one of the women said.

Leatherman concluded the class with some dog massage. Sweet Potato wasn't present, so she used a stuffed dog to demonstrate for most of the session. She also briefly borrowed one of the dogs in the class.

Frances Kirkland was very impressed. Her usually anxious papillon, Athena, was soothed.

"It was amazing; it had an instant impact on Athena," Kirkland said... "I'm hoping this will be a key to unlocking her serenity."

Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md.,
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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