Do you have a dog breed that seems to have boundless energy, a curious nature or high canine instincts? If so, then introducing them to the world of dog sports is the way to go.
Dog sports, along with general recreation activities have been on a steady increase. Not only are they great for dogs that require a lot of physical exercise and mental stimulation, they’re also the perfect tool for creating an ongoing bond between human and canine.
But which sport or activity is right for you and your dog?
Perhaps you have a shepherd or collie that makes a perfect candidate for agility, or a greyhound that can’t quite give up the chase which is perfect for lure coursing. Or perhaps you’re committed to New Year’s resolutions and have taken up running with your Husky, in which case you might be interested in looking at Canicross.
First things first, ensure your pooch is given the necessary health clearance from your vet to participate in such activities, then get to researching the best options for you.
Here’s our list of the most popular dog sports.
1. Canine Agility
You’ve seen this before, Canine Agility is a steadfast event of any competitive dog show. The sport takes place within an obstacle course. Dogs are trained to travel through tunnels, navigate walkways and slaloms, hoops and make jumps, all in a specific order. Throughout the obstacle course, dogs are accompanied by their handlers who are able to direct and communicate the necessary instructions.
The mix of physical and mental challenges present in the canine agility sport category is highly impressive. At a national competition level, it typically suits dogs that have energy and brains in abundance. Think breeds such as Australian Shepherds, Border Collies etc. However, agility training is something that all dogs can take part in to varying degrees if their health allows.
The amount of communication skills needed for dog agility training is high, but also exceptionally rewarding for both handler/owner and dog as this helps to build high levels of trust, confidence and an everlasting bond.
Flyball is a high energy dog sport that requires a bit of teamwork between dogs. At a competition level, Flyball is exceptionally rewarding for fast paced, high energy dogs that like to indulge in pack mentality.
In flyball, teams are separated into four dogs who race against each other in a relay fashion. They will jump over hurdles to trigger a spring loaded box that releases a ball. They then race back with the ball to give it to its handler, then the next dog goes. The first team to have all four dogs complete the run wins the race.
Flyball is growing in popularity even amongst casual dog owners. It is a great way for you to give your dog time with other dogs, but also a great way to meet other dog owners with similar interests. Any healthy dog that loves to play and chase balls can play this game.
3. Canine Frisbee (Disc Dog)
Disc Dog, also known as Canine Frisbee is a dog sport that demonstrates exceptional agility, athleticism, coordination and acrobats.
The sport is one for the cameras and showreels. Impressive, stylistic air time is a given every time this sport is played at competitive level.
Disc Dog is typically played by breeds such as Border Collies, but other breeds such as Malinois, Presa Canarios, and many types of Terrier breed can also take part in this sport. The important traits are reaction time, retrieval, endurance and speed. This is not a sport for aging dogs, very young dogs or breeds with known genetic dispositions for joint issues or cardio problems.
Participants are judged on distance, catching accuracy and freestyle routines which showcase the handler and dogs bond and shared intuition. Scoring can differ based upon which association, club or dog group is hosting the competition, alongside the event type (distance or freestyle).
4. Dock Jumping (Dock Diving)
Welcome to the fascinating world of dock jumping, commonly known as dock diving. A recent boost in popularity thanks to some viral videos, dock diving is now more widely received as a common dog sport.
As the name suggests, dock diving is where a dog jumps into the water, aiming to achieve the greatest distance and height. Not so dissimilar to the human form of long jump or high jump.
The sport is well suited to breeds that have high amounts of energy and love the water. Labrador retrievers are commonly touted as dock jumping royalty, however some collie breeds due to their athleticism are also good. Larger dogs such as Newfies also enjoy the water, but their size may result in less “airtime”. Surprisingly, Rottweilers might appear as an outsider for this sport as their power, athleticism and strong ability to swim (despite not having webbed paws) are all great attributes.
The sport works by the handler throwing a toy off the dock in order to get the dog to jump as far as possible. The distance is measured where the base of the tail hits the water and is now recorded digitally as the sport has progressed.
5. Nosework as a Dog Sport
Perhaps you have your very own Scooby Doo or Hooch in your midst. And if that’s the case then nosework or sometimes called scent detection may be the sport for you.
Nosework as a dog sports category works by leaning into your dog’s fantastic sense of smell. Your dog will use its sniffing skills to find and solve a variety of puzzles.
The sport is mentally stimulating and rewarding for all dogs, allowing their instincts to run wild in a controlled environment.
Whatsmore, if you don’t feel like competing suits you, then Nosework makes for a fantastic game to play around the house, especially when used in conjunction with early training and socialization.
6. Herding Trials
Many dogs display herding traits, but obviously none more than dogs that belong to the herding group, for which it seems to be natural instinct.
If your dog is displaying signs of the herding trait, then herding trials is a fantastic way to let your dog explore those instincts.
Herding trials typically involve the herding dog, a group of flock animals (usually sheep), the handler and judges. The handler then gives the commands and the dog can showcase its intelligence, focus and control. There is nothing more satisfying for a herding dog than herding…duh.
7. Obedience Rally
Obedience rally is where the dog and handler must complete a course which is comprised of signs that describe specific obedience commands to perform.
The sport usually hinges on a few key elements. Firstly, a dog must show a strong willingness to work, responding quickly and accurately to commands in various situations. This includes understanding basic commands, retrieving different objects, and responding to both auditory and visual signals from a distance.
Another important aspect is the dog’s ability to follow directional commands such as “left”, “right”, or “center”. This skill is vital in tasks like directional retrieval, where the dog must choose the correct item from several options, and in finding objects handled by the owner.
The essence of dog obedience sports lies in the balance between discipline and enjoyment. It requires a strong commitment from both the dog and handler, yet the ultimate goal is to foster joy and enthusiasm in performing these exercises.
8. Lure Coursing
Lure coursing has risen in popularity and has provided a more ethical alternative to hare coursing. So rather than chasing a live animal, dogs will chase a mechanical lure across a field and compete for the best times. Additionally, for extra levels of complexity, sometimes obstacles are added to the field.
Lure coursing is a fantastic sport that allows your dog to indulge in its natural instincts for hunting and chasing prey. At a competitive level, the sport is more common with lean and fast breeds such as Greyhounds and Whippets, however the sport is slowly opening up to “all breed” categories, and lure coursing machines are becoming more popular for non-competitive games too.
9. Canicross Dog Sports
For those of you who are into your fitness, Canicross provides an excellent opportunity to compete with your four legged companion.
Canicross involves running with your dog whilst harnessed to them. It’s amazing for bond building and teamwork as you take on challenging outdoor tracks together. Courses can vary in intensity, and you’ll want to make sure that you are consulting a vet on this to ensure you have the right breed and that your dog has a clean bill of health before engaging in such endurance activities.
Breeds typically suited to this can be found in the worker dog category. Huskies, Malamutes, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Malinois are particularly suited.
Canicross can also come in different forms. CaniX-Run, CaniX-Bike, CaniX-Scooter are all options. The sport and its offshoots are born out of skijoring, where skiers and sledgers are typically pulled along. This means that this sport goes way back, and is still popular today.
Another similar alternative is dog carting, which may be suited to stronger worker dog breeds found within the mastiff and guardian families.
10. Tracking Trials
Similar to nosework is tracking. Dogs love to follow their noses, why not turn it into a fun challenge for them?
Tracking trials are set up so that a dog can follow a certain scent trail. The tests are typically set up to mimic a search and rescue mission. Judges will assess the dogs willingness to follow a trail left by a human.
This is a particularly rewarding activity for both dog and handler. It involves endurance, problem solving and focus.
11. Dog Parkour
Dog parkour is related to agility work, but with an extreme twist. It combines elements of human parkour with dog agility training to bring together a fun activity for both dogs and handlers.
Dogs will be trained to overcome obstacles that require good skills in jumping, crawling, climbing and balance. Many dog breeds can take part in dog parkour as a casual activity with their owners. At a competitive level, we expect to see athletic and agile breeds dominate such as Collies, Shepherds and Malinois.
As with other activities, the involvement of the dog and handler as a team is a wonderful tool for building trust and a strong bond.
Dog parkour is really taking off in many states, find a local instructor near you.