Dog yoga and other Hong Kong pooch pampering

Dog yoga and other Hong Kong pooch pampering

Can dogs meditate? What is their favorite cake? Three pet experts address our pressing concerns

Unwelcome in our parks, banned from apartment blocks and with owners who spend too much time in the office, living in Hong Kong can be a dog’s life for man’s best friend.

“Without a doubt the biggest problem facing dogs and dog owners in Hong Kong is the lack of acceptance of dogs by the Hong Kong Government, which results in many private residential complexes banning the keeping of dogs and all public housing having a strict no pet policy,” says Sally Anderson, Founder of Hong Kong Dog Rescue.

“There are very few places where dogs can be walked, and many therefore spend their entire lives never leaving their homes,”

Lacking time and options, and ever more willing to jump on the latest trend, many of Hong Kong’s dog owners are turning to some alternative and unusual ways to spend time with and spoil their beloved bowwows.

I spoke to three of the more unique businesses that are flourishing in the latest wave of pooch pampering and to find out whether they are top dog or merely barking up the wrong tree.

Doga for dog body and soul

hong kong pet pamperingHands up if you love dogs.

“Do dogs meditate? Yes, I think they can. Animals can get into that same calm sense and state. I think your energy can transfer into them,” says Suzette Ackermann, Hong Kong’s first doga (dog yoga) instructor.

In her 10th-floor dance studio in Sheung Wan, the South African has been teaching the human form of yoga in Hong Kong since 2003, after previously spending nearly five years' instructing in Japan.

One day she was approached by Wendy Chan, a friend and owner of Hong Kong boutique dog salon Pawette, with a new proposition.

“When Wendy asked me to teach yoga to dogs, I kinda looked at her and thought she was joking,” says Ackermann.

Her own experience of practicing yoga at home with her dogs around, and her experience of doga’s popularity from her time in Japan, convinced Ackermann to give it a try. She began teaching classes at her studio last November.

“People here seem to really enjoy it. Two clients who came to my class didn’t have their own dogs so they borrowed some of mine. It’s fascinating. They became so absorbed in the animal that they totally forgot themselves,” recounts Ackermann.

“I think in Hong Kong there are not a lot of places you can take your pet -- not even the park -- so part of it is bonding and just getting to be with your pet.”

According to Ackermann, the idea of dog yoga is really not as outlandish as people might think.

“A lot of dogs are used in therapy,” she points out. “We have organizations in Hong Kong like Dr. Dog and Professor Paws. If you can have the opportunity to stroke or hold an animal you feel calm and de-stress. Some regular clients and their dogs have changed; they feel more serene [after practicing doga].”

Many of the poses found in yoga are derived and named after animal movements. Ackermann mentions the downward-facing dog and up-dog poses as common movements in the discipline.

As if on cue, Snowball the seven-year-old Pekingese who is watching us talk puts her front paws on either side of her head and tilts her upper body up in a stretch -- a literally perfect up-dog.

hong kong pet pamperingSuzette Ackermann and Snowball have been practicing yoga together for seven years, since Snowball was just a "snowflake."Snowball has been around the world of yoga since she was just a puppy.

As Ackermann demonstrates the different stretches, poses and massages that comprise doga, Snowball is at all times a willing and compliant participant.

“I took her into my practice and into my world ever since she was a puppy. When I do my meditation she too will go quiet. She’s so Zen, the perfect doga dog.”

Doga classes held weekly at Desert Mermaids Studio, 10/F, Crawford Tower, 99 Jervois St., Sheung Wan, +852 2537 9999

What is your favorite way to pamper your pet? Share your tips and experiences in the comments box below.

Gourmet treats at Three Dog Bakery

hong kong pet pamperingThe treat you didn't know your pooch was missing out on.Ever wondered about a dog’s favorite birthday cake flavor? It’s not chocolate or coconut or anything slightly more conventional like beef or chicken. It's carob, a sweet chocolate substitute made with pods from the carob tree.

That’s according to Clement Lo, a man who should know. Lo has been in the business of canine confectionary for over four years. Lo runs six Hong Kong branches of the San Francisco franchise Three Dog Bakery.

“I came across this cake shop for dogs when I was living in San Fran, after the birthday of my first pooch, a chocolate Labrador,” recounted Lo who grew up in the United States. “I thought it was a crazy thing back then.”

But after investigating the canine cake scene in his home city, Lo became fully converted to the cause and brought the franchise over to Hong Kong, opening the first shop in 2008.

“I believe we all treat dogs like our children. To celebrate a doggy's birthday without a birthday cake is, I believe, an odd thing to most pet lovers.”

At the main kitchen of the flagship store in Happy Valley, cookies, snacks and even doggy moon cakes (cranberry is this year’s hit) are baked, but it’s the birthday cakes that are consistently the biggest sellers.

Made at customers' requests, the ingredients include organic wheat, vegetable shortening in place of butter and honey for sugar. Chocolate, cheese carob or various vegetables are then added to give color and flavor.

Yes, they’re edible for our consumption too if you’re curious, although Lo reckons they are “not as delicious to humans."

Custom-made, the cakes come in various shapes and sizes -- including bone-shaped -- and they can be decorated with the pet's name with prices ranging from HK$120 to $350.

hong kong pet pamperingClement Lo, the Dogfather of canine cakes.The bowwow bakery business appears to be booming. Five Three Dog Bakery shops were opened in 2010 alone with locations in Mong Kok, Caine Road, Central Ferry Pier, Sai Kung and Tai Po. 

“Dog lovers here have birthday parties for dogs,” Lo said. “We have had several customers come in and buy many different cakes for these parties; often they’ll have hundreds of guests.”

Three Dog Bakery Flagship Store, 1a Wong Nai Chung Road, Lower G/F, Shop 2 and 3, Yee Fung Building, Happy Valley, Hong Kong, +852 2836 6760

Summer Camp for pooches

hong kong pet pamperingDog heaven at Pet World.Ah, summer camp. Depending on your personal history, it's either a place where mosquitoes fight a bitter war with poison ivy and stinging nettles for possession of your tender sunburned hide, or the best time of your life, full of magic and wonder.

Summer Camp 2011, which kicked off last month, is hoping to replicate the latter experience for those with four-footed friends.

Running till the end of August, summer camp for dogs is the brainchild of Charles Cheng, CEO of luxury dog resort Pet World and owner of seven dogs of his own.

The summer camp is five weeks of anthropomorphizing activities for their canine campers including pie-eating contests, volleyball camps and Frozen Yogurt Day. It all culminates, naturally enough, in Graduation Day.

Polly Lam, who works at Pet World’s 5,500-square-meter compound in Yuen Long, sees the summer camp as a natural progression from the regular exercise activities that kennels routinely provide.

“Around three-quarters of our clients travel out of Hong Kong for long periods and need somewhere to board their dogs for up to two weeks," Lam says. "They all want their dogs to have more diverse activities to enjoy during their stay. So we added some special options for the summer time camp: swimming daycare, sports, parties, or just having ice cream and frozen yogurt –- all things that dogs love to do.”

hong kong pet pamperingSummer camp exercise -- running on the treadmill.Prices for the camp run from HK$250 per day for a small, short-haired dog to $500 per day for a large, long-haired hound.

Pet World also organizes dog parties, dog swimming lessons and pool usage and weekend stays at its dog hotel.

351 Shiu Mei Tsuen, Kam Tin, Yuen Long, New Territories +852 2470 6928

What is your favorite way to pamper your pet? Share your tips and experiences in the comments box below.