Dog sports and activities like agility, flyball, rally, musical freestyle, and disc dog are some of the fastest growing passions among dog lovers. But which sport is right for your pup?
Dog sports are a lot of fun and offer a great opportunity for you and your dog to get fit and connect with each other on a new level. They’re also an enjoyable way to meet other like-minded dog people! There’s no time like the present to explore your options and get involved in a sport that you and your best friend can enjoy together.
The first step is to understand the genetics of your dog and find a sport that might be most suitable for his breed. Canine sports range from those that require specialized training, to activities your dog can do naturally. Research your breed, find what they naturally do “for a living”, and keep that in mind when picking a sport. If you have a herding breed such as a Border Collie or Australian Shepherd, for example, herding might be something to explore, although it doesn’t mean that herding is the only thing you should look at doing. The key competitors in many agility trials and flyball tournaments are also Border Collies,
most of whom have never met any sheep. In other words, as long as your dog is physically able to do the activities required in a particular sport, there is no reason not to give it a go. Even toy breeds can get involved and are often seen scaling A-frames on agility courses.
Consider your dog’s personality
Not only should you be aware of your dog’s physical capabilities, but you’ll also need to look at his personality. Some dogs are more difficult to motivate, but give them a chance. I have seen many dogs start slow in agility, but although they take longer than others to get the hang of it, they all seem to benefit in the long run. In fact, it’s often suggested that under-confident dogs get into a sport like agility to help them realize their own potential.
Of course, there are dogs at the other end of the scale, those over-the top canines who love to feel the wind beneath them as they make their way around the obstacle course or leap to catch flying balls or discs. These dogs need to do sports. By getting them involved in an activity where they can exercise their bodies and mental abilities, their people are able to channel that excess energy into something positive.
Picking an Activity
Once you’ve determined what your dog is capable of doing, you can decide which activity to focus on. This means picking something you like as well, since the sport should be enjoyable for both of you. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of where you live and what
is at your disposal. If the closest flyball class is over an hour’s drive away, but you can get
involved in agility just down the street, then agility might be a good place to start. You can
always investigate other activities later. Many people who do dog sports don’t stop at one.
Many years ago, one of the only sports you could do with your dog was competitive obedience. This is an obedience trial where you are tested on a set of rules. While I enjoy this sport, many people buckle under the stress while being tested and that in turn can trickle down and affect the relationship they have with their dogs. Obedience work is wonderful, but perhaps rally obedience is a good first goal. In rally, unlike competitive obedience, you can use your voice to encourage your dog, and there are allowances made for beginners with regards to precision. Even food can be used as a reward during the trial. This sport allows people to work towards a goal, have fun while they do it, and still get a title in obedience. Once you have mastered rally, it might then be time to take a whirl at competitive obedience.
It’s one of the most popular of canine sports. In this activity, you direct your dog around a course of jumps, ramps, tunnels and other articles. Your dog’s performance is evaluated by how quickly and accurately he gets through the course. Agility requires considerable training, since you aren’t allowed to touch the dog or the articles during the run, but must rely on verbal commands and body signals to guide him.
Think of it as a relay race, with a team of dogs. The dogs take turns clearing a series of hurdles in order to retrieve a ball that has been shot from a spring-loaded box. The first team to have all dogs run without any errors wins the heat. Naturally, team strategy adds to the excitement.
If you like music, this is another great activity. Although it is commonly referred to as “dancing with your dog”, it is closer to precision heeling, and requires a lot of training, teamwork, coordination and creativity. Freestyle is a wonderful way to bond with your dog and is one of the most beautiful things to watch.
This sport involves catching a disc to a set of rules. Seasoned disc dog athletes take part in distance catching and choreographed freestyle events involving flips, vaults and multiple catches. In addition to your dog getting lots of exercise and enjoying all the activity, you’ll find yourself challenged learning how to properly toss the disc while manoeuvring your dog.
Gillian Ridgeway is the Director of Who's Walking Who Dog Training Centres in Toronto and Ajax. She has been featured on many television and radio programs, and appears regularly as the canine expert on Canoe Live. Gillian is a guest lecturer at the University of Toronto, and a popular speaker at Veterinary Technician and Trainer Conferences.