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Dogs, humans bond over dog yoga, called 'doga'

Nora Hawkins faces Hibley nose to nose last month during a “doga” dog yoga program offered by SPCA Tampa Bay in Largo.
Published Apr. 20, 2012


LARGO


Dogs sprawl on the floor in the dimly lit room.


The relaxed scene is a far cry from the chaos of an hour before when excited dogs barked and eagerly tugged at leashes to sniff at each other and explore unfamiliar territory.


The difference in attitude: a session of doga.


Doga, pronounced DOE-ga, is dog yoga.


The idea of dogs doing yoga may conjure thoughts of pit bulls struggling to sit up, cross their hind legs while murmuring the canine equivalent of "om," but that's not what it's about. The canines don't even do the quintessential yoga move of "downward facing dog," although they seem happy to watch while the humans in the class strike the pose.


Doga is something a bit different.


"People almost joke about it," said Donna Bainter, director of behavior and training at the SPCA Tampa Bay. "It's really a way to bond with your dog."


Doga also makes adjustments for its participants.


"We do a lot of massage because dogs really can't stand on their heads," said Lisa Recchione, one of the instructors. "This is an activity of really connecting with your dog. ... They'll snuggle up with you."


She explained that "there's nothing in your dog's world that is more important than you" and doga is the time to give back to your canine.


The SPCA offers a doga on the fourth Sunday of each month. The one-hour classes feature massage, meditation and gentle stretching. Recchione and Heather Brandt from Seminole's Yoga4All studio teach the classes, which are held at the SPCA.


Although the concept may sound a bit silly, or at least as no more than an outing with a lot of petting, class participants say they see a difference in their dogs' attitudes that carry into the outside world.


Duncan, a 5-year-old Newfoundland, is a rescue dog. His owner, Kent Naderhoff of St. Petersburg, has had him for four years. Last month's doga session was the second for Duncan, who likes to pull on his leash and generally try to take control. But that calmed down a lot after his first session, Naderhoff said.


"The results were so dramatic the first time," Naderhoff said, that he came back.


"I love it. It's just so energizing," he said. "I can sure tell the difference in him. ... I wouldn't have missed today for the world."


Duncan seems to enjoy doga. At one point during the class, he lolled on his side and made noises that sounded like snores.


The class starts with dim lights and soothing music playing in the background. Recchione tells the class the first rule: Don't worry about your dog embarrassing you. The second rule is related: Don't worry if the dog doesn't want to do the poses.


"Yoga should never stress you out, and neither should doga," she says.


The class starts with a breathing exercise designed to relax the humans.


"You inhale, exhale," Recchione instructs. "Close your eyes and keep your hand on your dog."


She tells the class to put their hands on the dogs' chests to feel their breathing.


"This is a partner activity," she says. "They're going to sense you relaxing, and they're going to relax."


As the class goes on, smaller dogs get to sit in laps. Larger dogs have their backs rubbed. Owners hold their dogs and gently twist them from side to side, as if they're doing waist-trimming exercises. Owners stretch their bodies over and around their dogs.


Dogs' reactions vary, although none seem to object.


A Rhodesian ridgeback yawns and looks around the room. A fluffy white American Eskimo licks his owner's face. Duncan chews a tail itch before rolling on his back for a tummy rub. At one point, he rolls onto his side and moves his paws as if he were running. Soon, he totally relaxes and starts snoring.


"Notice how different our partners are now than when they came in," Recchione tells the class. "You could float them out of here on a cloud."


Reach Anne Lindberg at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

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