Dog sports are fun, exciting and doggone habit-forming. You and your dog can participate in dog sports just for the fun of it, or you can ramp up training and compete in regional trials. Here are my favorite dog sports and some tips for discovering what might be the right sport for your pet based on his breed and training.
The Fab Four
1. Agility: This is my top pick and a sport you’ve probably seen on TV. It’s like gymnastics but you won’t find any balance beams here. The equipment includes weave poles, tunnels and jumps. Your dog negotiates a course following your commands, and the fastest and most accurate dog is the winner. If your Shetland sheepdog insists on jumping over the coffee table or your Parson Russell Terrier loves shimmying down the kids’ sliding board, this could be the sport for them.
2. AKC Rally®: Rally is a form of obedience. In Rally, the dog and handler walk through a numbered course with the handler giving specific commands at each station. The scoring is not as rigorous as traditional obedience, but Rally does involve intense teamwork. Training begins on-leash and progress to off-leash execution. If your German shepherd or poodle always has that “what do you want me to do next” look on his face, Rally could be right up his alley!
3. Scent or nose work: Do you have a beagle, dachshund or Norwegian elkhound? These are scent hounds, but training any dog to follow his nose can be lots of fun and it can even evolve into a career like being part of a search and rescue team. Typically, nose work involves teaching your pet to recognize a scent like peppermint or clove, and asking him to find something with that scent on it. Training starts off easy with hiding something in a box, then gets more difficult by moving the scent further away to a different room, and eventually to the outdoors.
4. Treiball: Treiball is German for “drive ball” and it’s becoming very popular with herding breeds like Welsh Corgis and border collies. In Treiball, your dog “herds” a large inflatable ball into a goal. This is a great sport for dogs that don’t have access to flocks of sheep or cattle to train with. When your dog engages in the sport of Treiball, its herding instincts can go wild without him actually being in the wild!
Walk Before You Run
Now that you know a little about dog sports, you should learn some basic prerequisites for participating. Before literally jumping into a sport, your dog should be well-socialized and have graduated from puppy and adult obedience classes. It needs to function in a group of other dogs without exhibiting any form of aggression, and it must follow your commands even if distracted. Lunging, excessive barking or growling is not acceptable.
Any dog can do any sport, but knowing your dog’s lineage provides clues about his inherent traits. In general, the herding breeds excel at agility, the working breeds are great at Rally and the scent hounds can’t resist a smell-based hide ‘n seek. There are always exceptions to the rule, so do an online search for “dog sports” or “dog agility” in your region and enroll your dog in a class just for the fun of it.
Photo: Corbis Images
Layne Kizler owns Arizona Dog Sports in Phoenix, Ariz. In September, Phoenix magazine readers voted her dog gym as a top training facility in the annual “Best of” issue. Layne has been active in the agility community since 2005, focusing on dog sports since 2009. You can also find Arizona Dog Sports on Facebook.