Which Canine Sport is Right For My Dog?
Dog sports are growing in popularity every year. You may have seen videos online (see linked text below), know someone who competes, or even taken a class yourself. Practicing a canine sport gives you and your dog a chance to spend quality time together while building skills that can help your pup develop better manners in real life. Even if your dog isn’t natural athlete, there may be a sport to suit him. See which of the sports below is right for your Rover.
Agility involves the dog running a course of obstacles, including jumps, tunnels, weave poles, a teeter-totter and more. It is an ideal outlet for many active dogs, as it burns both mental and physical energy. Nervous dogs can build confidence by first practicing the foundation activities and slowly building upon them, and the teamwork necessary for Agility lets a skittish dog learn to trust his handler. As each obstacle requires the dog to pay attention both to you and to his surroundings, dogs who lack focus or are excitable can learn to channel their energy on a fun task.
There are many forms of Canine Freestyle, but in general, think of it as “dancing with your dog.” Essentially, Freestyle is a handler-and-dog routine comprised of tricks and heel work, usually choreographed to music. Dogs who enjoy learning tricks and like working closely with you are perfect for Freestyle. This sport is extremely flexible; since you come up with the routine, you can incorporate the tricks, moves, and music that your dog is best suited to. It also builds excellent leash walking skills, as most of the course is done in a heel.
Rally Obedience (also called Rally-O or just Rally) involves a course of ten or more numbered stations, with a dog and handler team completing a certain task at each station. The station has a sign asking the dog to do a down-stay while you walk in a circle around him, heel in a spiral pattern, or stay by your left side as you pivot. Rally is more structured than Freestyle and less physically demanding than Agility, so it is a fantastic sport for dogs of all ages and abilities, even couch potatoes. Its emphasis on heel work can significantly improve leash walking. By turning obedience into a game, Rally lets you practice polite behaviors in a fun context.
Dog Parkour gives you and your dog a new way of interacting with everyday objects, both indoors and out. Jumping on ledges, ducking under benches, and circling around lamp posts are just a few of the possible behaviors. Since it’s most often practiced during regular walks, Parkour is perfect for dogs that aren’t suited to a group class, dogs that get bored on their daily walks, dogs that need to burn extra energy while walking, or dogs who approach their surroundings with caution. Because the sport allows you to turn your environment into a playground, it burns mental and physical energy, all the wile teaching your dog to “play” with you rather than get distracted or stressed by his surroundings.
Scent Work utilizes the dog’s most notable ability: his talent for tracking odors. There are many kinds of Scent Work-based games, sports, and even jobs. Unlike the other sports, in Scent Work, the dog works independently, without much guidance from the handler. Therefore it is great for dogs who have an independent streak or haven’t thrived in other sports. While some dogs, such as scent hounds, are naturally gifted in this area, other high-drive dogs also find Scent Work gratifying. But any dog can enjoy it, even dogs with disabilities, as it is a low-impact activity with little health risk.
But wait, there’s more!
Here are a few other sports your dog may love.
Disc Dog: Take your fetch game to the next level!
Barn Hunt: This is basically Scent Work, but the target odor is a live rat, safely hidden among bales of hay. Natural ratters love this sport!
Flyball: Flyball is a fast-paced relay that involves jumping over hurdles, catching a ball, and running back at top speed.
Dock Diving: Some dogs love jumping off a dock into a body of water.
Treibball: Does your dog herd your kids or other dogs? Try Treibball instead.
What are you waiting for?
To get more involved, each of the sports above has one (and usually many more) titling organizations, which will give you tons of information about pursuing the sport either recreationally or competitively. You can usually find classes both in-person and online.
Kate Naito, CPDT-KA, is a dog trainer at Doggie Academy in Brooklyn, NY, and author of the training book, "BKLN Manners." She draws upon her experience as an educator and dog trainer to apply positive training techniques to a challenging urban environment. Kate is a rescue advocate drawn to special-needs dogs and currently has two Chihuahua mixes, Batman and Beans.
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