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8 Sports Your Dog Can Play

If movies have taught us nothing else, it's that animals have great potential as athletes. In movies, golden retrievers can play basketball, mules can kick field goals, and chimps can play hockey. Unfortunately, when you try to recreate any of these scenarios with your own pets, it's inevitably disappointing. Don't give up yet, though. Dogs can be pretty stellar athletes in the right context. So why don't you and your dog try a sport a little more suited to their four-legged abilities? Like, for instance, one of these:

1. Flyball

Any old mutt can run around. Being a teammate is tougher, though. Flyball seeks to build this sort of fellowship. It's a relay for teams of four pooches to test their speed and catching abilities. Teams of four dogs are lined up at a start line, and when the first dog is released, he dashes down the 51-foot course, clearing four hurdles along the way, and hits a spring-loaded "flyball box." The box shoots a tennis ball into the air. The dog jumps up and catches the ball, then runs back down the course to the starting line, where the next pooch takes off. The first team to get all four members through the course wins, but penalties are assigned for dropping the ball or starting before the previous dog crosses the finish line.

Flyball originated in southern California in the 1960's and received a serious boost when Herbert Wagner invented the spring-loaded ball-launching box. According to the North American Flyball Association, the sport's popularity has advanced to the point where timing and scoring is done electronically. The team Spring Loaded holds the world record for the event; all four dogs completed the course in 15.22 seconds combined.

2. Musical Canine Freestyle

Your dog can sit, stay, and roll over, but can he dance? Musical canine freestyle lets pooches get down to their favorite tunes. In the event, dogs and their handlers pick a song and choreograph a dance routine, and then they boogie. The sport, which originated around 1989, showcases a dog's obedience and athleticism while also building teamwork between dog and handler. Each dog-handler pair's routine is then judged on its artistic and technical merit. Really, you should just watch this fantastic video of a routine straight out of Grease.

3. Bikejoring

Have you ever gone out for a bike ride, only to wish someone could just pull you along? That's where bikejoring and your dog come into the picture. Like its cold-weather relative skijoring, bikejoring involves having a team of harnessed dogs pull a biker. Any type of dog that could be used for mushing and pulling can be used for bikejoring. The sport encourages communication and teamwork between the dog and the rider; otherwise the cyclist is likely to end up in a ditch. The dogs seem to love it, and it makes some impressive videos like this one possible.

4. Earthdog Trial

When you see a dachsund or a miniature schnauzer, you probably don't think, "Ah! That's a vicious killing machine!" If you were a rat, though, you'd probably see things a little differently. For years these kinds of small dogs, along with many breeds of terriers, were prized for their abilities to control rodents. Their diminutive statures allowed them to slip into underground tunnels and nests to catch rats and other pests that hid in dens.

This sort of work has been largely outsourced to exterminators, but some owners still want to know how deft their dogs are as hunters. Earthdog trials offer dogs a chance to navigate courses of underground tunnels while trying to find rodent quarry, typically a rat or rabbit. The American Kennel Club's earthdog trials test dogs on three criteria: ability to find a scent, willingness to enter a dark tunnel, and willingness to find the quarry. When the dog finds the quarry in the tunnels, it must then "work" it by barking, scratching, or pawing at it. Don't worry too much about the rats, though; they're protected in boxes and aren't harmed. Here's a look at a terrier doing some earthdog tunneling.

5. Dog Pulling

Many breeds are meant to be workers and can get lazy or out of shape if they spend all of their time loafing on the couch. The International Weight Pull Association seeks to find a constructive outlet for these pups by having them pull weighted sleds or carts across 16-foot tracks. The organization describes the event as a tractor pull, but with dogs in place of the tractors. Canine competitors are divided into weight classes, and whichever dog can pull the most weight across the course wins. Handlers aren't allowed to touch the dogs or give them treats once the pull starts, so the onus is on the pooch to pull away. Typical breeds for the sport include huskies, rottweilers, and pit bulls, all of which were originally working breeds and can use pulling as a nonviolent outlet for their energy.

6. Disc Dog

Throwing and catching a Frisbee-type flying disc is a great way to let your pet run around and get some exercise. To many people, though, it's also a competitive event. The term "disc dog" encompasses several types of competitive disc events. In toss and fetch competitions, the dog and owner have sixty seconds to complete as many catches as they can on a marked field. Each catch earns points, with longer catches being more valuable. Bonuses are also rewarded for mid-air catches.

In freestyle competition, dogs and their handlers perform choreographed catching routines involving jumps, spins, and other tricks. Judges then score routines based on their flair, execution, and degree of difficulty. Not surprisingly, these events are pretty visually impressive, and if YouTube is any indication, seem to be quite popular in Asia.

7. Belgian Ring

Belgian ring is a specific example of the larger genre of protection sports, or events that test how well a dog can protect himself and his master. Belgian ring (also known as "Belgian Ringsport") originated in (surprise) Belgium in the early 20th-century as a way to test the country's working police dogs, notably Belgian shepherds. Formal ringsports were first held in 1908, testing a dog's abilities in fairly standard obedience events like walking without a leash, jumping, and retrieving items. Unlike other obedience competitions, though, the program tested dogs' protective mettle. They guarded items that belonged to their handler, defended their handler from attackers, and attacked protective-suit-clad assailants.

These competitions remain popular for shepherd and rottweiler owners throughout Europe and the U.S., as do defense sport variants like French Ring and Germany's Schutzhund. While the dogs may look fierce while protecting their owners, they must have fairly even temperaments and be willing to stop attacking on command.

8. Lure Coursing

If greyhound racing and rabbit hunting came together, the resulting hybrid might look a little like lure coursing. In the event, purebred sighthounds (think greyhounds, Irish wolfhounds, salukis, etc.) chase a mechanical lure through a field course. The lure moves and turns through the course to simulate a running hare. Under the American Sighthound Field Association rules, each dog is graded on its speed, endurance, agility, follow, and enthusiasm.

The sport originated in the early 1970s in California. Lyle Gillette and his sighthound-fancying friends who enjoyed rabbit hunting with their dogs. However, barbed wire fencing and other obstacles in the fields made it somewhat dangerous for the dogs, so they created a sport in which the course was controlled but the dogs still get the exercise and stimulation of tracking rabbits.

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

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History
A Founder of Earth Day Looks Back on How It Began
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Caruso Affiliated
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Caruso Affiliated

On the very first Earth Day in 1970, Denis Hayes stood on a stage in Central Park, stunned by the number of people who'd come to honor the planet. Now in his 70s, Hayes remembers it was like looking at the ocean—“you couldn’t see where the sea of people ended.” Crowd estimates reached more than a million people.

For Hayes, who is now board chair of the international Earth Day Network, it was the culmination of a year’s worth of work. As an urban ecology graduate student at Harvard University, he’d volunteered to help organize a small initiative by Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson. Nelson was horrified by the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, and wanted to raise awareness about environmental issues by holding teaching events similar to those being held by civil rights and anti-war activists.

Senator Nelson saw a growing disconnect between the concept of progress and the idea of American well-being, Hayes tells Mental Floss. “There was a sense that America was prosperous and getting better, but at the same time, the air in the country was similar to the air today in China, Mexico City, or New Delhi," Hayes says. "Rivers were catching on fire. Lakes were unswimmable.”

Nelson's plan for these environmental teach-ins was for speakers to educate college students about environmental issues. But he had no one to organize them. So Hayes, Nelson’s sole volunteer, took control on a national level, organizing teach-ins at Harvard first and then across the U.S. Initially, the response was tepid at best. “Rather rapidly it became clear that this wasn’t a hot issue at colleges and universities in 1969,” Hayes says. “We had a war raging, and civil rights were getting very emotional after the Nixon election.”

Still, both Hayes and Nelson noticed an influx of mail to the senator's office from women with young families worried about the environment. So instead of focusing on colleges, the two decided to take a different tactic, creating events with community-based organizations across the country, Hayes says. They also decided that rather than a series of teach-ins, they'd hold a single, nationwide teach-in on the same day. They called it Earth Day, and set a date: April 22.

Hayes now had a team of young adults working for the cause, and he himself had dropped out of school to tackle it full time. Long before social media, the project began to spread virally. “It just resonated,” he says. Women and smaller environmental-advocacy groups really hooked onto the idea, and word spread by mouth and by information passing between members of the groups.

Courtesy of Denis Hayes

With the cooperation and participation of grassroots groups and volunteers across the country, and a few lawmakers who supported the initiative, Hayes’ efforts culminated in the event on April 22, 1970.

Hayes started the day in Washington, D.C., where he and the staff were based. There was a rally and protest on the National Mall, though by that point Hayes had flown to New York, where Mayor John Lindsay provided a stage in Central Park. Parts of Fifth Avenue were shut down for the events, which included Earth-oriented celebrations, protests, and speeches by celebrities. Some of those attending the event even attacked nearby cars for causing pollution. After the rally, Hayes flew to Chicago for a smaller event.

“We had a sense that it was going to be big, but when the day actually dawned, the crowds were so much bigger than anyone had experienced before,” Hayes said. The event drew grassroots activists working on a variety of issues—Agent Orange, lead paint in poor urban neighborhoods, saving the whales—and fostered a sense of unity among them.

“There were people worrying about these [environmental] issues before Earth Day, but they didn’t think they had anything in common with one another," Hayes says. "We took all those individual strands and wove them together into the fabric of modern environmentalism.”

Hayes and his team spent the summer getting tear-gassed at protests against the American invasion of Cambodia, which President Nixon authorized just six days after Earth Day. But by fall, the team refocused on environmental issues—and elections. They targeted a “dirty dozen” members of Congress up for re-election who had terrible environmental records, and campaigned for candidates who championed environmental causes to run against them. They defeated seven out of 12.

“It was a very poorly funded but high-energy campaign,” Hayes says. “That sent the message to Congress that it wasn’t just a bunch of people out frolicking in the sunshine planting daisies and picking up litter. This actually had political chops.”

The early '70s became a golden age for environmental issues; momentum from the Earth Day movement spawned the creation of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Environmental Education Act (which was initially passed in 1970 and revived in 1990), and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We completely changed the framework within which America does business, more than any other period in history with the possible exception of the New Deal,” Hayes says. “But our little revolution was brought entirely from the grassroots up.”

In 1990, Hayes was at it again. He organized the first international Earth Day, with about 200 million participants across more than 140 countries. Since then it’s become a global phenomenon.

Despite its popularity, though, we still have a long way to go, even if the improvements Hayes fought for have made these issues feel more remote. Hayes noted that everything they were fighting in the '70s was something tangible—something you could see, taste, smell, or touch. Climate change can seem much less real—and harder to combat—to the average person who isn’t yet faced with its effects.

Hayes also notes that people have become more skeptical of science. “Historically, that has not been a problem in the United States. But today science is under attack.”

He warns, “This [anti-science sentiment] is something that could impoverish the next 50 generations and create really long-term devastation—that harms not only American health, but also American business, American labor, and American prospects.”

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13 Great Jack Nicholson Quotes
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI

Jack Nicholson turns 81 today. Let's celebrate with some of the actor's wit and wisdom.

1. ON ADVICE

"I hate advice unless I'm giving it. I hate giving advice, because people won't take it."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

2. ON REGRETS

"Not that I can think of. I’m sure there are some, but my mind doesn’t go there. When you look at life retrospectively you rarely regret anything that you did, but you might regret things that you didn’t do."

From an interview with The Talks

3. ON DEATH

"I'm Irish. I think about death all the time. Back in the days when I thought of myself as a serious academic writer, I used to think that the only real theme was a fear of death, and that all the other themes were just that same fear, translated into fear of closeness, fear of loneliness, fear of dissolving values. Then I heard old John Huston talking about death. Somebody was quizzing him about the subject, you know, and here he is with the open-heart surgery a few years ago, and the emphysema, but he's bounced back fit as a fiddle, and he's talking about theories of death, and the other fella says, 'Well, great, John, that's great ... but how am I supposed to feel about it when you pass on?' And John says, 'Just treat it as your own.' As for me, I like that line I wrote that, we used in The Border, where I said, 'I just want to do something good before I die.' Isn't that what we all want?"

From an interview with Roger Ebert

4. ON NERVES

''There's a period of time just before you start a movie when you start thinking, I don't know what in the world I'm going to do. It's free-floating anxiety. In my case, though, this is over by lunch the first day of shooting.''

From an interview with The New York Times

5. ON ACTING

"Almost anyone can give a good representative performance when you're unknown. It's just easier. The real pro game of acting is after you're known—to 'un-Jack' that character, in my case, and get the audience to reinvest in a new and specific, fictional person."

From an interview with The Age

6. ON MARRIAGE

"I never had a policy about marriage. I got married very young in life and I always think in all relationships, I've always thought that it's counterproductive to have a theory on that. It's hard enough to get to know yourself and as most of you have probably found, once you get to know two people in tandem it's even more difficult. If it's going to be successful, it's going to have to be very specific and real and immediate so the more ideas you have about it before you start, it seems to me the less likely you are to be successful."

From an interview with About.com

7. ON LYING

“You only lie to two people in your life: your girlfriend and the police. Everybody else you tell the truth to.”

From a 1994 interview with Vanity Fair

8. ON HIS SUNGLASSES

"They're prescription. That's why I wear them. A long time ago, the Middle American in me may have thought it was a bit affected maybe. But the light is very strong in southern California. And once you've experienced negative territory in public life, you begin to accept the notion of shields. I am a person who is trained to look other people in the eye. But I can't look into the eyes of everyone who wants to look into mine; I can't emotionally cope with that kind of volume. Sunglasses are part of my armor."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

9. ON MISCONCEPTIONS

"I think people think I'm more physical than I am, I suppose. I'm not really confrontational. Of course, I have a temper, but that's sort of blown out of proportion."

From an interview with ESPN

10. ON DIRECTING

"I'm a different person when suddenly it's my responsibility. I'm not very inhibited in that way. I would show up [on the set of The Two Jakes] one day, and we'd scouted an orange grove and it had been cut down. You're out in the middle of nowhere and they forget to cast an actor. These are the sort of things I kind of like about directing. Of course, at the time you blow your stack a little bit. ... I'm a Roger Corman baby. Just keep rolling, baby. You've got to get something on there. Maybe it's right. Maybe it's wrong. Maybe you can fix it later. Maybe you can't. You can't imagine the things that come up when you're making a movie where you've got to adjust on the spot."

From an interview with MTV

11. ON ROGER CORMAN

"There's nobody in there, that he didn't, in the most important way support. He was my life blood to whatever I thought I was going to be as a person. And I hope he knows that this is not all hot air. I'm going to cry now."

From the documentary Corman's World

12. ON PLAYING THE JOKER

"This would be the character, whose core—while totally determinate of the part—was the least limiting of any I would ever encounter. This is a more literary way of approaching than I might have had as a kid reading the comics, but you have to get specific. ... He's not wired up the same way. This guy has survived nuclear waste immersion here. Even in my own life, people have said, 'There's nothing sacred to you in the area of humor, Jack. Sometimes, Jack, relax with the humor.' This does not apply to the Joker, in fact, just the opposite. Things even the wildest comics might be afraid to find funny: burning somebody's face into oblivion, destroying a masterpiece in a museum—a subject as an art person even made me a little scared. Not this character. And I love that."

From The Making of Batman

13. ON BASKETBALL

"I've always thought basketball was the best sport, although it wasn't the sport I was best at. It was just the most fun to watch. ... Even as a kid it appealed to me. The basketball players were out at night. They had great overcoats. There was this certain nighttime juvenile-delinquent thing about it that got your blood going."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

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