Some dogs enjoy being couch potatoes and love bugs more than anything in the world. But, there are other dogs that seem to have a calling in life. They can have hidden talents, or not so hidden talents. Does your dog get a kick out of playing frisbee? Does he live for diving and retrieving things in the water? Is he great at jumping over objects or catching a ball on the fly? Or maybe your dog can dance like Fred Astaire?
There are numerous sports and activities for dogs with special talents or simply for dogs and their owners who enjoying doing things together.
Agility is the fastest growing dog sport in North America with thousands of dogs and owners competing each year. The sport calls for the dog, with on-course supervision by the handler, to complete an obstacle course. The course is usually comprised of such obstacles as a teeter-totter, weave poles, jumps, a tunnel, and other objects. The dog with the fastest time wins. Penalties in handling the objects add time faults to the score. Agility is a fast-paced, exciting sport that continues to grow in popularity. There are several organizations that offer agility competitions from the American Kennel Club, which caters to purebred dogs, to the United States Dog Agility Association and the North American Dog Agility Council, in which mixed breed dogs are welcome to compete.
Flyball is another very popular sport for dogs and their owners. Flyball pits relay teams of dogs racing against each other. The dog streaks down a short course over small hurdles toward a box, touches the box and makes a ball pop out, grabs the ball and then races back toward his teammates so the next dog can set out on the course. Fastest team wins. The sport is fast, exciting and lots of fun for all of the dogs and team members. In North America the sport is overseen by the North American Flyball Association (NAFA). There are flyball teams found virtually everywhere these days or it’s easy enough to start your own group with some friends.
Canine Freestyle is what many of us call dog dancing. It is basically a choreographed performance of dog and owner with music. It’s also known as heelwork to music and this is how the training is often done for this sport. If you can teach your dog to heel and follow basic commands then you can teach him the moves required to dance to music. Canine Freestyle is often presented as a demonstration but the World Canine Freestyle Organization also holds events for judging so dogs can receive titles. The Musical Dog Sports Association holds workshops and demonstrations, as does the Canine Freestyle Federation. Canine Freestyle can be a beautiful event to watch as the dog and human move together in choreographed steps to carefully chosen music.
Schutzhund is German for “protection dog” and it refers to the training which develops and evaluates the canine traits that are important for that work. There are three parts to Schutzhund: obedience work, tracking and protection work such as that used by police dogs. Schutzhund as a sport demonstrates a dog’s intelligence and utility. Schutzhund was originally developed to test German Shepherds but it is now applied to other breeds which seek to do the same kind of protection work. Many people enjoy training their own dog in Schutzhund. It allows them to improve their own training abilities and to bond more closely with their dog. Schutzhund is mentally and physically challenging for both dog and owner. It also provides owners with the chance to form friendships with other people training in Schutzhund. In the United States most Schutzhund training is affiliated with the United Schutzhund Clubs of America (USA) or the German Shepherd Dog Club of American-Working Dog Association.
Do you enjoy watching Purina’s Incredible Dog Challenge? Have you seen the big diving dogs? The name of the sport where the Labrador Retrievers go leaping into the pool is actually called Dock Jumping. You don’t have to have a Labrador Retriever to compete. Any water-loving dog can take the leap. This “big splash” is lots of fun for dogs that love the water. Don’t feel bad if your dog can’t leap 20 feet after a training dummy. It’s all for fun and small dogs can splash, too. There are a number of local and regional clubs for the sport but there doesn’t seem to be a national governing body at this time.
If your dog loves to play Frisbee there is a sport for catching the flying disc. Disc Dog is fun and exciting for both dogs and spectators. Dogs have the fun of chasing and catching the disc and on-lookers can oooh and aaah over the spectacular catches. Mixed breeds and purebreds can both play. There are competitive trials for Disc Dog. They can span everything from accuracy and distance to freestyle and team trials. Several organizations hold tournaments in the United States including the Canine Frisbee Disc World Championship, Skyhoundz, the UFO World Cup Final, and the US Disc Dog Nationals.
Earthdog trials are a lot of fun for Terrier breeds and other dogs that love to “go to ground.” If you have a breed that was originally bred to hunt rats or other vermin then he probably loves to dig and hunt in the earth. If he’s born to rat then you may want to check out Earthdog events for him. Earthdog events usually use tunnels that have been dug underground and which are supported by wooden sides. They have exits dug at the ends so the dog can be brought out when he finishes the course. The tunnels are laid with the scent of the dog’s natural prey (such as a rat) and the dog is turned loose to go in the tunnel and navigate his way around. (The prey is not in any danger during the test.) If your dog has natural earthdog instincts he will probably find these tests very fulfilling since they let him do what he was originally bred to do. AKC Earthdog trials offer titles for purebred dogs just as other AKC events do.
If you have a dog of a herding breed, such as a Border Collie or a Sheltie, then you may want to try them out in herding competitions. Herding dogs often have a natural instinct to herd and round up sheep, ducks, chickens, or anything else they can move around. If you’ve noticed this tendency in your dog then your dog may enjoy a herding trial. There are events ranging from basic instinct tests to advanced herding work. Events are offered by the American Kennel Club and by several breed organizations which seek to preserve herding instincts in working herding dogs.
Many people in the United States enjoy hunting with their dogs and the dogs enjoy it, too. Sporting dogs have been bred for at least 1000 years to hunt birds, while sighthounds such as Greyhounds have been used to hunt rabbits, small game and, in some cases, wolves, for over 4000 years. Scenthounds like Bloodhounds and their smaller cousins Foxhounds and Beagles have been used to hunt rabbits and small game for hundreds of years. The Bloodhound goes back to the time of the Roman Empire. With so much inborn instinct dogs like Pointers, Setters, Greyhounds and Beagles love to have a chance to do what they were bred to do. If you have any interest in hunting you may wish to give your dog a chance to see what the real thing is like. The American Kennel Club and other field organizations offer various events for hunting dogs. The AKC has hunt tests which test a dog instinct (this leads to the Junior Hunter title), as well as offering Master Hunter and Senior Hunter titles. The Amateur Field Trial clubs of America also offers titles for hunting dogs.
The AKC also offers similar events and titles for lure coursing. The American Sighthound Field Association also offers events and titles. Lure coursing simulates hunting conditions for the sighthound breeds, usually by using a plastic lure on a fishing line for the dogs to chase. Coursing in field events is more like actual hunting since the dogs are allowed to chase real prey.