Over thousands of years man has developed different breeds of dogs to perform needed jobs. Even in modern times there are jobs dogs do more effectively than man or robots. For example, livestock guarding is a job a few purposefully bred dogs (with the right guidance of their inherteited behaviors) can do far more effectively than a few humans. Dogs are more effective at moving livestock. Dogs who are working are getting physical and mental activity. However, The average pet is not going to be protecting sheep from coyotes, sniffing out accelerants at an arson scene, or helping people in the frozen north transport things. Yet many undesired behaviors dog owners report can be a symptom of needs not being adequately met. One way to address physical and mental needs is through sports.
The nice thing about many sports is they can be worked informally at home. Your dog never has to compete either for these sports to help meet your dog’s needs. I do recommend for some activities that you take a few classes to learn how to train in a safer manner. Let’s look at a few sports to consider:
Rally – Sometimes called Rally-O or Rally Obedience, you and your dog follow a numbered course with various stations. Each station has a task to perform before moving to the next. The tasks may include stays, sits, downs, turns, spirals and figure eights.
Agility – Dogs and handlers run through a numbered course with obstacles such as jumps, tunnels, weave poles, A-frames, dog walks (raised plank they go across). Though some breeds seem to excel at this sport, all dogs can do this if they are physically capable.
Tracking and Nose Work – Dogs are expected to follow a scent trail (tracking) or find a hidden scent (nose work). Tracking and Nose Work are based on something dogs love and need to do – sniff.
Lure Coursing – Dogs follow a lure pulled through a course. Dogs are scored based on how they follow the lure and time. Some tests are open only to sign hounds (think Whippets, Borzois, etc.). Coursing Ability Tests are open to all dogs and are a pass/fail. Fast CATs are hundred-yard dashes after a lure and is also open to all dogs.
Herding – Tests a dog’s ability to work sheep, ducks and other livestock. There are herding instinct trials which tests the dog’s natural ability for this job. From there training is done to hone the instinct for working, competition, or both.
Uhura earned her Herding Instinct certificate June 2018.
Mushing – This is not just for huskies anymore nor do you need snow! Check out urban mushing, skijoring, and similar sports.
Weight Pulling – Dogs are asked to pull weighted carts or sleds on ground, rails, or snow. This is not a big dog only sport. I have watched Papillons, Chinese Cresteds and other small dogs compete and love it. The key here is asked to pull. Dogs who want to do this will be most successful.
Dock Diving – Dogs run across a “dock” and leap in to a long pool. Often, they are encouraged to do so by chasing a tossed toy or retrieving dummy. If your dog likes to swim and is good at it, you may wish to check out Dock Diving.
Over the years I have done various sports including competitive obedience, Rally, Agility, Skijoring, packing (dog carries a back pack), conformation showing and lure coursing with my dogs. Currently my daughter and I are involved with conformation, junior handling and Fast CATs. Even my senior dogs enjoy formal activities. The big thing with sports is to train positively and respect it if your dog is not keen on a sport. Just because you want to do something does not mean your dog does.
Finally, should you want to try competing, both the American and United Kennel Clubs have provisions for dogs who are not purebred or who are purebred but do not have papers to take part in a variety of competitions. No matter what you have for a dog, there is a sport out there for you.
- Karen Peak – West Wind Dog Training