Not only are sports and competitions fun for both you and your dog, but these activities can also be great sources of mental and physical stimulation for your pooch. All dogs need a form of exercise, but some breeds need far more than others. Enrolling them in a dog sport is a great way to burn off extra energy. Also, the intelligence of some breeds makes them ideally suited for obedience or trick competitions.
If you are thinking of competing with your dog, there is no shortage of options, with the AKC sanctioning over 20,000 events every year! No matter the breed of your pooch, there is an option for them, be it scenting, obedience, agility, or simply the fact that they look beautiful! Dog sports and competitions have expanded to a range of different disciplines, and these are ever-growing. In this article, we look at 10 of the most popular and fun dog sports and competitions to take part in with your pooch. Let’s get started!
One of the most popular dog sports in the United States, canine agility is a test of both physical and mental ability. Agility competitions feature an obstacle course that a dog must navigate in the fastest time possible, guided by their owner. The course has various walkways, jumps, tunnels, A-frames, and more, all of which must be completed in order and as fast as possible. The sport is an ever-growing one, garnering more and more entries every year, with almost a million entries in recent years. Several other organizations offer agility competitions too, including the United States Dog Agility Association and the North American Dog Agility Council.
Flyball is a great competition for fast, energetic dogs. The sport is a type of relay race with teams of four dogs, racing down a stretch of hurdles and retrieving a ball from a “flyball box,” which is triggered by the dog stepping on it, and then returning the ball back to the start, where the next dog is released. The team that completes the course in the fastest time wins. This sport requires fairly intensive training, as well as a fast and agile dog. It is exciting to watch!
Obedience is one of the oldest dog competitions and has been a staple part of dog sports worldwide for almost a century. While the competition has changed somewhat over the years, the premise is much the same. Dogs are judged on their ability to obey basic to complicated commands at seven different levels, which range from heelwork, controlled sit and stays, retrieving, and scenting discrimination. If you and your dog love the process of training, obedience competitions are ideal for showing off your stuff!
If you have a purebred dog that epitomizes the standards of their breed, conformation competitions are the way to go. The competition is simple: Dogs are judged in accordance with their specific breed standards. It may seem like a simple beauty pageant to outsiders, but dogs are not compared with one another, but rather are measured by how closely they conform to breed standards in appearance and behavior. The ultimate goal of conformation competitions is to maintain the highest breed standards for future breed lines.
5. Barn Hunt
Barn hunt is a fun and exciting competition for your pooch, especially for scent hounds with a gifted sense of smell. The competition involves rats placed safely in tubes in a hidden maze, and your dog sniffs through the maze in search of the rats. The sports tests your dog’s smell abilities and their speed, agility, and obedience. Once the dog sniffs out the rat, they will alert their handler. The particular level will determine how many rats need to be found, but there are many different titles that a dog can receive based on their performance. The best part of barn hunt competitions is that they are all-inclusive, and any breed or size of dog is allowed to compete.
6. Scent Work
Scent work competitions are ideal for dogs with expert sniffing abilities, but they are open to any size and breed of dog. The competition involves hidden cotton swabs scented with essential oils that your dog needs to find and then alert you once they do. It’s a great sport because it does not involve much physicality from your dog and is exciting to participate in.
7. Dock Diving
Dock diving is a simple yet exciting sport for your pooch. In the same vein as human sports like high jump or long jump, the competition consists of dogs jumping off a dock into water, often chasing a toy, so it is a sport most suited to highly athletic pooches that love water, like Labradors. Dogs need to jump as far as they can off the dock into the water, and the distance is measured at the spot where the base of their tail meets the water — often recorded digitally for ultimate accuracy. Beginners usually jump between 2 and 9 feet, although experienced dogs can reach jumps of up to 30 feet!
There is also a vertical version of the sport, where a “bumper” is placed for dogs to jump over. With every successful jump, the bumper is raised, and the dog that can jump the highest wins.
8. Lure Coursing
A fast-paced, exciting sport that came to be as an alternative to hare chasing, lure coursing is much the same, with the exception of using an artificial hare or lure in place of live animals. The competition typically takes place on a large, open field, although obstacles and tight turns are often involved too. As you can imagine, the sport is ideal for fast, agile dogs like Whippets or Greyhounds, but competitions involving other breeds are becoming popular too.
Freestyle competitions are similar to basic obedience competitions, but with the addition of music, making it into more of a “doggie dance” with the dog and owner. While it is named freestyle, the routine is usually highly choreographed, though it can consist of almost any moves as long as the dog is not being forced. The sport is humorous and fun to watch and is just as exciting to compete in! Of course, this sport requires a great deal of training and a deep bond between you and your pooch, but it is suited to any breed of dog, big or small.
10. Trick Dog
As the name suggests, “trick dog” is a competition in which you teach your pooch a short routine (4–6 minutes) of unique tricks that are then evaluated by a team of judges. The routine can involve multiple tricks and props, music, and costumes. There are various levels at which your dog can compete, depending on their experience. Best of all, the competition has been done virtually in recent years, so you can compete from the comfort of your own home via video submission.
Disc dog competitions are fast-paced, exciting sports, making them a favorite among spectators. The competition involves the owner throwing a disc for their dog to catch, with a variety of categories like distance, accuracy, and tricks. The scoring is based on the “zone” where the disc is caught by the dog, so the owner’s throwing skills need to be on par with the dog’s catching skills! As you can imagine, the sport is best suited to athletic, nimble, and high-energy dogs like Border Collies.
Rally competitions are similar to obedience one, albeit less strict and with the twist of navigating your pooch through a course with various obstacles. Throughout the course, there are various signs where you and your pooch must stop and perform the requested behavior, be it sitting or retrieving. Points are gained for every successful command and deducted for missed signs or incorrect behaviors. There are various levels to compete at, and the competition is open to all breeds.
No matter your dog’s breed or size, there is a competition for them, and with such a variety of sports to compete in, you can really hone your dog’s unique strengths. Competitions test obedience, intelligence, agility, and training. These sports are great for your dog’s mental and physical stimulation and are fun and exciting ways to bond with your pooch!
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