Dog sports are a wonderful way to bond with your canine and keep them in tip-top condition. Many working breeds thrive when given a job to do. Sadly, most people no longer live on farms where their dogs could spend their days herding and protecting the property. Canine sports can fill in this gap and keep our dogs enriched—even if you never plan on competing.
There are many different sports to choose from. Agility is probably the most popular option, as it is also very entertaining to watch. However, there are many breeds that may not be best suited to agility. In this case, there are several other sports you could try, too.
The 10 Most Popular Sports for Dogs
Just about everyone knows what canine agility is. This dog sport contains several different obstacles set up in a course. There are several different official obstacles, including jumps, tunnels, and the seesaw. All the dogs run through the course as quickly as possible while also not making any mistakes, while their human handler guides them through with commands and hand gestures.
This dog sport is extremely fast-paced, which is why it is so fun to watch. Any breed can compete, including mixed breeds in some cases. Dog owners also get a workout, as they have to run around the course guiding their dogs. It’s a great way to burn some calories while keeping your dog healthy, too.
Breeds with a high work ethic do best in agility, especially high-energy breeds.
2. Dog Frisbee
Most people also know what dog frisbee is, though it is a newer sport. Simply put, the human handler throws the frisbee and the dog catches it. Different distances have different scores, and dogs may also be scored on how they catch the frisbee. For instance, more accurate catches are usually scored higher, though it depends on the rule set being used.
After catching the disc, the dog must bring it back to their owner. High-energy breeds like Border Collies and Australian Shepherds do best in this competition, as it requires a lot of running and jumping to be successful. It’s also about the skill of the human handler, though, as they must be able to throw the frisbee accurately to control for distance and direction.
Not all dogs will catch frisbees, but this sport is a suitable way to get a dog’s energy out even if you don’t compete in competitions.
3. Dock Jumping
As the name suggests, this sport involves the dog jumping off a dock. Dogs that jump further or higher are rated better. This sport is quite similar to the human long jump competition during track and field. However, the dog is jumping off a dock and into the water.
In the past, several breeds were utilized as dock dogs. Usually, these breeds helped retrieve game or fishing nets. As you’d imagine, these breeds are great for dock jumping competitions. You’ll see a mix of Labrador retrievers, Poodles, and similar breeds at these competitions.
Exactly how dock jumping works can vary. Some competitions are about the distance, while others are about the height. Therefore, if you want to compete, you should learn the rules of your local club.
4. Canine Freestyle
This competition is much more laidback than others. During canine freestyle, a human and a dog perform a choreographed dance to music. Simply put, the owner dances with their dog. Any move is allowed (just about), and routines can be performed to just about every music. Therefore, these competitions are great for those that are creative.
The dogs often perform a range of tricks while dancing, such as walking backward, jumping, and weaving through their handlers’ legs. Dogs can be guided via voice and hand commands. However, many dogs learn to perform the dance with the music.
This competition is similar to an obedience competition, but much less structured.
Flyball is a newer dog competition that involves a team of four different dogs—a bit like a relay race. These dogs go through a course, which involves jumping over several hurdles. At the end is the “flyball box.” The dog steps on a panel to trigger a tennis ball to be released. Then, the dog runs back down the course to give the ball to its owner.
Once the dog is back to the starting line, the next dog is released. Whichever team completes the course wins. The game usually has several stages.
This sport is less closely tied to any historical canine job, unlike dock jumping and obedience. Any dog can partake. This course is similar to an agility competition, though there aren’t as many obstacles.
6. Herding Trials
In the past, people often utilized dogs for herding purposes. Today, that is still true, especially amongst smaller farms and ranches. Herding trials mirror how dogs would herd in a work setting—only the dog is rated to determine who is the “best” herder. Often, this competition is utilized for dogs who don’t herd regularly, though many regular working dogs may also partake.
This sport is open to any canine in the herding group, as these are the dogs with herding instincts. Of course, there is some training involved, too. Handlers often have to give the dog some commands to ensure that herding goes well, and it helps if the canine gets practice outside of the competitions.
In an obedience competition, the handler and dog must perform a series of tricks and commands. Usually, the team must work their way through a course made up of several signs. At each sign, there is a command or list of commands to perform. The team that makes it through the course fastest wins.
There are several different types of obedience courses. Traditional obedience competitions are very strict and may only allow certain breeds to join. However, rally competitions are more open with fewer rules to follow. Therefore, they are often easier for a beginner to learn.
8. Field Trials
In a field trial, a group of hunting dogs is put up against each other to perform their hunting function. Usually, each field trial is only open to certain breeds, as the trial is designed around what that breed was historically bred to do. For instance, in field trials involving Beagles, the dogs track rabbits through the underbrush. Other breeds may track other animals.
There are typically judges that watch the dogs do their thing. Dogs are then rated based on the accuracy and quality of their tracking. Sometimes, these field trials work on a “pick up” system, where the judges instruct certain dogs to be picked up and removed—until there is only one or two left.
Often, these trials take place in fields in a natural setting. Rabbits or other animals are not brought in, and fake trails are not created. Instead, the group of dogs goes out with their handlers to find a trial. Once one is found, the scoring begins.
Tracking and field trials may be pretty similar. However, there are some key differences. Firstly, only hunting dogs typically compete in field trials. However, tracking competitions are open to most dogs. During these competitions, the dogs track a human that has walked through the area, typically how it would be done in a search-and-rescue operation.
If a dog is successful in these trials, they may be able to perform the work in real-life. Many awards given during this competition are used for real-world jobs.
10. Lure Coursing
Lure coursing is where sighthounds like Greyhounds thrive. This fast-paced competition is basically a race, with the dogs chasing a lure through a field. Sometimes, obstacles are put in the race, too, or the race may simply occur over natural ground.
Traditionally, sighthounds were only allowed to compete. However, some all-breed competitions are starting to pop up.
Lure coursing is an alternative to rabbit coursing, which involves a live animal. This alternative is considered much more ethical, so it has largely won over other coursing competitions today.
There are tons of different dog sports out there. Many of these sports arose from what dogs were originally bred to do. For instance, lure coursing resembles chasing prey, which is what sighthounds were designed to do. Tracking competitions resemble search-and-rescue operations. Field trials work similarly to hunting, only without any animal actually being shot.
Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule. Agility courses and obedience courses are open to a wide range of breeds, as they represent some very basic canine activities.
No matter what sport you pick, don’t feel trapped to just choose one. Preferably, you should look at what your dog is good at. A tiny toy dog won’t succeed in dock jumping—it just isn’t in their physique. However, they may do great in agility.
Featured Image Credit: Blue Bird, Pexels