More Fun and Games: Dog Sports

Very often, I am called to work with dogs who are “destructive” – rummaging through trash cans, pulling toilet paper off rolls, chewing favorite shoes and household items, damaging furniture and destroying gardens.  As with children, boredom can often lead to problems in dogs, and idle minds are, indeed, the devil’s workshops. And if you happen to have a high drive dog, then mental stimulation is even more important.

Evidence of a bored high drive dog (from client files)

While doggy day care, running and fetch games can offer great physical exercise, many dogs, particularly highly active working breeds, require more than just physical work outs. They also need regular mental stimulation in order to remain well-adjusted and happy.

As I’ve previously written, there are a variety of fun games that you can play with your dog at home to stimulate both mind and body. But if you are looking for something more interesting, there are also a growing number of dog sports available today to suit most every personality – human and canine. The idea is to give your dog’s brain a workout as well as the body.

Among the most popular and perhaps best known of dog sports today is Canine Agility. This involves a variety of obstacles, including jumps, tunnels, contact equipment such as a teeter-totter and A-Frame, and even poles through which the dog can weave. Competitors try to finish courses in the shortest time and with the fewest mistakes. Agility can be truly competitive or simply an amusing pastime with your dog, but it is always a great way to build a stronger and more enjoyable relationship for both of you.

Claire and Cecilia run a course together

Another fast growing and exciting sport is Flyball, a high-speed four-dog relay race. Each dog runs over a series hurdles, hits a spring-loaded box which pops out a tennis ball, and then returns over the line with the tennis ball in his mouth. The team with the fastest time to have all four dogs finish running without mistakes, such as dropping the tennis ball or going around instead of over the hurdles, wins.

For those who like music and choreographed performances, there is a sport known as Canine Freestyle. Commonly known as “dancing with your dog”, competitors here are judged on style rather than precision and creativity is encouraged for both dog and human. Competitors from every walk of life choreograph elaborate routines and compete to all kinds of music, from classical to country to the most modern.

Novice Freestylers: The Tail Tappin’ Dancers

My all-time favorite freestyle performance, Carolyn Scott and Rookie

Also fun is the sport of Rally Obedience. This is like traditional Obedience set to a sort of par course. Competitors heel the dog from station to station and perform the exercises listed on each sign along the course. One of the biggest differences between this and traditional obedience is that competitors are allowed to interact more with their dogs, giving verbal praise and encouragement as needed.

One of the fastest growing new sports on the scene is Canine Scent Work, also known as “Nose Work”. This sport is based on the scent work that is performed by the narcotics and bomb detection dogs, but it does not require the use of illicit drugs or explosives. The dogs are taught to “detect” and find essential oils of birch, cloves and anise, and compete in tests across the country. This is another great sport that can be practiced by virtually any dog with a nose!

Flash Finds the Hidden Scent

Another new sport is Treibball. Based on herding, Treibball involves pushing large balls around a course. The advantage over herding is that no livestock is needed, and virtually any breed can play, making it far more accessible than traditional herding.

Disc dogs, popularly known as Frisbee, actually has various different divisions in which people can compete: Toss and Fetch and Freestyle are the most common, and some others fall within these categories. Freestyle is the most popular to watch, involving sometimes elaborate choreography to music, along with fancy tosses and jumps to retrieve a multitude of Frisbee discs.

Herding, while originally an actual “job”, is now a popular dog sport as well. Competitors herd livestock through a variety of obstacles on a course, competing for time and precision.

Claire drives the sheep

And there are a wide variety of additional dog sports including Cart Pulling, Sledding, Hunting, Tracking, Lure Coursing and traditional Obedience, any of which can also keep your pooch mentally and physically stimulated.

Today, there are increasing numbers of local competitions, trials and tournaments in all of these sports. If you are interested  in trying a dog sport, but don’t know which one, check out the comprehensive sports listing at the High Drive Dogs resources page. If you’re not certain whether your dog is ready for a sport and you are in the South Bay Area, consider trying my Obedience for Dog Sports class, designed to teach you and your dog how to work through the high levels of distraction often experienced at dog sports events. And if you are not local to the Silicon Valley, you can look for a Control Unleashed course near you.

Do you have a favorite dog sport? Which one and why is it your favorite? Let me know!

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