Dogs like to play as much as humans do—maybe even more! Here are some sports to play with your pooch.
One of the best ways to keep your dog challenged mentally and physically is to get it involved in a sport that makes the most of its natural instincts. Here's a list of fun sports you and your dog will love.
One of the most challenging of dog sports, agility requires your dog to run through a complicated obstacle course. Dogs are judged on the speed and accuracy of their run, and the handlers are only allowed to guide their dogs using voice and hand signals. Obstacles include tunnels, teeter-totters, hurdles, weave poles, and pyramids. It's a fast-moving sport that purebreds and mixed breeds can all participate in. Agility keeps your dog's mind and body in top form and helps keep you in shape since running alongside your dog and guiding it through the appropriate obstacles is part of the challenge.
If your dog loves to run (and chase tennis balls), flyball might be the perfect sport. It's a canine relay race where dogs are broken into teams of four that must jump over a series of hurdles to retrieve a tennis ball released from a box when the dog steps on a pad. As soon as one dog retrieves the ball and returns to the starting gate, the next dog is released. Any type of dog can participate, but some popular flyball breeds include border collies, Jack Russell terriers, Australian shepherds, and whippets.
Started in 1997, dock diving is an exciting aquatic sport where dogs compete to see which one can jump the farthest into a pool of water from an elevated platform or dock. This sport has become so popular it is frequently featured on cable TV with meets being held across the country. All dogs are welcome to participate, but the larger breeds such as Labrador retrievers, Chesapeake Bay retrievers, golden retrievers, and Belgian Malinois are often at the head of the pack. In fact, Baxter, a Belgian Malinois, made headlines when he jumped 29 feet 11 inches on the David Letterman show in 2011.
For sheepdogs, there's no greater challenge than moving a small flock of sheep through an obstacle course at a sheepdog trial. Patterned after real-life farmwork, each dog is required to move sheep around obstacles, over bridges, and into a pen. More advanced trials also require the dogs to separate a flock of sheep into smaller groups. Called "shedding," it is one of the hardest things a sheepdog is required to do. Originally a way for shepherds to show off their working dogs to each other, sheepdog trials are now held around the country. If you own a herding breed such as a border collie, Australian shepherd, rough collie, corgi, or bearded collie, it's an ideal way to give your dog lots of exercise and to utilize its natural herding instincts.
Started in the 1970s, disc-dog competitions challenge handler and dog to be the best at throwing and catching flying discs. The competition is generally divided into "toss-and-fetch" and "freestyle" competitions. In the toss-and-fetch category, competitors have 60 seconds to throw as many discs as possible over longer and longer distances. Points are awarded for accuracy and the amount of catches the dog makes. In freestyle, the handler and dog work together, often with music, to create a choreographed routine where agility, style, and fast catches make for an exciting show. Any dog can participate in disc dog as long as it can move quickly and enjoys catching discs.
One of the more fast-paced dog sports, terrier trials happen so quickly that if you blink, you could miss all the action. A terrier trial is basically a steeplechase competition for terriers. The dogs are encouraged to chase a piece of fur over an obstacle course, and the first dog to reach the target is declared the winner. This type of race is most often associated with Jack Russell terriers. It's a great way to keep these high-octane dogs happy and healthy.
In an Earthdog trial, dogs are expected to boldly go through a man-made, underground tunnel that mimics the real-life burrow of a fox or other animal. Once underground, the dog should find the scent of its prey (usually a rat that is safely protected in a barred wooden box) and "work" the animal by barking, scratching, or otherwise annoying the rodent. Dogs compete at different levels of difficulty depending on the experience of the dog. Dog breeds that excel at Earthdog trials include dachshunds, Jack Russell terriers, West Highland terriers, Cairn terriers, border terriers, Norwich terriers, Norfolk terriers, Welsh terriers, smooth and wirehaired fox terriers, and miniature schnauzers.
In lure coursing, dogs are encouraged to chase a mechanical lure over a distance of up to 1,000 yards. The mechanical lure is designed to change direction to simulate live prey such as a bounding jackrabbit or hare. Dogs run in groups of one or two, most often broken down by breed. They are judged on speed, agility, enthusiasm, and focus on the lure. Lure coursing is an excellent way to promote your sight hound's natural instincts. Consider lure coursing if you own any of these breeds: Irish wolfhound, Scottish deerhound, greyhound, whippet, saluki, borzoi, or Afghan hound.
Unlike other dog sports, field trials can vary greatly from organization to organization, but basically they are designed to test a dog's hunting skills. Generally broken into different classes for pointers, flushers, and retrievers, field trials are a wonderful way to keep a sporting breed active and challenged. And, if you do use your dog for hunting, field trials are a smart way to fine-tune its skills during the off-season. Breeds that compete at field trials include Labrador retrievers; golden retrievers; English, Irish, and Gordon setters; Brittany or springer spaniels; flat-coated retrievers; Weimaraners; German shorthaired pointers; Chesapeake Bay retrievers; German wirehaired pointers; Hungarian vizslas; and Irish water spaniels.
You might already have taken your dog to a basic obedience class to help it mind its manners, but you might not know that obedience competitions are a fun sport that dogs of all types can participate in. And, over time, your dog can master a wide range of commands in order to gain points to earn a formal title such as Companion Dog or Utility Dog. Even if your dog doesn't earn a title, it'll be a much better canine citizen in your home or in public.