Dogs love spending time with their humans and having jobs. Participating in a sport with your dog is a great way to bond with your dog and to fulfill their needs for mental stimulation and physical exercise.
Some owners greatly enjoy getting involved in a sport with their dog in a competitive setting, while others enjoy casually participating in dog sports at home. Let’s discuss what options are available:
What Sports Are Available For Dogs?
The sports that dogs most commonly participate in are the following:
Obedience is one of the oldest dog sports; the American Kennel Club (AKC) began holding obedience competitions in the 1930s.
In obedience competitions, dogs perform commands they have been trained. The dogs must be able to successfully follow the commands not only at home but also in public in the presence of distractions such as other dogs and people.
The best behaved and most obedient dogs, who are eager and pleased to work with their owners or handlers, win these competitions.
Even if you do not want to participate in obedience competitions, training your dog basic obedience commands is an important part of dog ownership that is crucial to having the best possible relationship with your dog.
Obedience training also makes dogs more adoptable. If you enjoy obedience training, consider volunteering with your local shelter to train dogs to help them get adopted.
Learn more about Obedience on the American Kennel Club (AKC) website.
Agility consists of a dog going through an obstacle course at the direction of their owner. Obstacles include miniature versions of horse jumps, poles for dogs to weave between, tunnels to run through, see-saws to cross, hoops or tires to jump through, water jumps, A-frames to walk up and over, and platforms to place or sit and stay on.
The dog and owner or handler to complete the obstacle course correctly and in the shortest amount of time wins the competition.
After obedience, agility is the next easiest sport to begin casually at home. Many at home agility kits are available for purchase online, or agility equipment may be found at dog parks.
Learn more about Agility with our guide here.
Herding is when a dog runs around livestock, most often sheep, to keep them together and guide them where their owner or handler needs them relocated to.
Dogs belonging to the American Kennel Club (AKC)’s herding group were bred to do this activity, and generally speaking, other breeds of dogs do not have the instincts needed to enjoy herding or to herd successfully.
Learn more about Herding on the American Kennel Club (AKC) website.
Since there are not usually sheep in the city or in urban areas, owners of city or urban herding dogs may choose to drive for hours to a herding facility for their dogs to enjoy the fun. Others decided to embrace the urban atmosphere by inventing their own sport called treiball by teaching their dogs to herd exercise balls instead of livestock.
Earth Dog tests a dog’s ability to locate a rodent hiding underground. The Earth Dog sport is non-competitive; it is a hunting instinct test. Earth Dog is humanely performed by caging the rodents to protect them from the dogs during the tests.
Terriers and dachshunds most often excel at this activity, but any dog could try their paws at it.
Learn more about Earth Dog on the American Kennel Club (AKC) website.
Tracking requires a dog to locate and follow a scent. You can test your dog’s tracking talents at home by purchasing hunting scents from an outdoors store such as Cabelas or Bass Pro Shops and placing the scent around your yard and on a walking path by your home. If your dog enjoys it, then you can decide if you want to pursue tracking more formally.
Learn more about Tracking on the American Kennel Club (AKC) website.
AKC Scent Work
AKC Scent Work takes scent tracking to the next level. Scents are placed on cotton swabs and hidden from sight in a designated search area for a dog to find. When a dog locates the scent, they alert their owner or handler. Professional pups, such as dogs trained to find drugs, inspired this sport.
Learn more about AKC Scent Work on the American Kennel Club (AKC) website.
Most often enjoyed by sight hounds, dogs who participate in coursing chase a lure around a course that is 600 to 800 yards long. This simulates chasing live prey; most dogs thoroughly enjoy coursing.
Dogs and owners who are getting started with coursing would begin with the Coursing Ability Test (CAT). CAT is not competitive; dogs who chase a lure 300 or 600 yards and catch it in less than 1.5 to 2 minutes pass the test. Virtually all dogs have the instinct to go after the lure, but not all dogs complete the test in the required time.
Learn more about Coursing on the American Kennel Club (AKC) website.
AKC Rally is the ultimate sport for bonding with your dog. You and your dog go through a course together consisting of 10 to 20 signs with instructions on different skills to be performed. The dog must remain under the owner or handler’s control consistently, and they must work well together as a team.
While AKC Rally courses are timed, the teams are judged on their ability to work well together, not their speed. Most dogs thoroughly enjoy this because they love working closely with their owners.
Learn more about AKC Rally on the American Kennel Club (AKC) website.
And Even More Dog Sports:
How To Get Your Dog Started In A Sport
How you will get started with a sport with your dog depends on how you want be involved in the sport:
Formal Competition Involvement
Some dog owners choose to pursue a sport with their dog in formal or high level competitions. Generally speaking, these competitions are held by the American Kennel Club (AKC) or another formal organization. Often times a dog must be a purebred registered with the AKC or another breed specific organization to qualify in these competitions.
To get started in high level competitions, begin by:
- Locating an organization near you that holds competitions of the sport you are interested in.
- Researching the requirements needed to participate and see if your dog qualities.
- Attending an event to experience the competition and decide if you think your dog would enjoy the sport and do well.
- Contacting the organization to locate a trainer to help you get started.
Low Level Competition Involvement
If you want to participate in competitions with your dog, but your dog is not a purebred registered with the AKC or other breed specific organization, you can still participate in competitions held by other less formal organizations.
For example, if you wanted to do herding with your Australian Shepherd who is not AKC registered or certified, do an internet search for “herding dog training” in whatever state you reside in. The herding trainers you find will be able to:
- Conduct a herding instinct test to help you determine if your Australian Shepherd has the herding instincts necessary to be successful.
- Formulate a training schedule and work with you and your Australian Shepherd.
- Help you find local low level or less formal competitions, which usually are the only available competitions for non AKC registered dogs.
If you are searching for an activity to do with your dog casually, you can get started fairly quickly at home. To play a sport casually with your dog at home, begin by:
- Finding books, videos and websites to learn how to participate in a sport with your dog.
- Ordering necessary supplies, such as training treats and an at home agility kit or a hunting scent.
- Consider contacting a trainer to work with.
Too many dogs are left alone for long hours and/or are not receiving adequate exercise and mental stimulation daily. By playing a sport with your dog, you can ensure your dog’s mental and physical needs are fulfilled.
Some pet parents enjoy competing with their dogs in formal high level competitions, while others participate in low level competitions or enjoy casually participating at home. Whatever level of involvement you choose, your dog will be happy to be playing a sport with you.