Erica C. Boling, PhD
Northeast K9 Conditioning
Our dogs benefit from exercise just as much as we do. Exercise is important for both mental and physical health. If you are like most people, however, it can be challenging to find the time and motivation to exercise your dog on a weekly basis. We are more likely to make the time, however, when we are doing things that are fun and motivating.
One great way to get motivated to exercise your dog is by getting involved in one or more dog sports. You can do it just for fun or to compete, and it’s a great way to connect with other dog lovers. Millions of people participate in a variety of dog sports, and new sports are constantly emerging. If you have a healthy dog that has been cleared by your veterinarian to participate in exercise, there is a good chance you’ll find the perfect activity through dog sports.
A number of sports have minimum age restrictions for competition and should only be done by healthy, physically mature dogs. There are often ways, however, to safely introduce foundational behaviors to puppies without necessarily engaging in activities that will put them at risk of injury. If you are new to a sport, be sure to find a trainer or mentor to help you. This will ensure you don’t do anything to put your dog at risk. For the aging senior dog, there are safe and low impact sports for them too.
If you are looking for some fun and exciting ways to get more active with your dog, check out some of these very popular dog sports.
- Agility: According to the American Kennel Club, there are over a million entries each year at dog agility events. Agility is a fast-paced sport where a handler guides a dog through an obstacle course which includes various jumps, running through a tunnel and weaving through poles. During competitions, dogs are judged on accuracy and time. Keep in mind that agility is a high impact sport, and so doing things such as jumping and running through weave poles are not appropriate for young, growing dogs. If you’d like to give agility a try, check to see if there are any clubs near you. If no clubs exist, you might find a local dog trainer who can mentor you or who offers it as a class for fun.
- Lure Coursing: Lure coursing is not as popular as agility but is rapidly gaining popularity throughout the United States. Dogs participating in this sport chase an artificial lure (“prey”) that is attached to a pulley system that quickly drags the lure across the ground. Courses have a set number of turns and direction changes. Lure coursing is great for beginners to get started because it doesn’t require tons of training and is based on a dog’s natural instinct to chase. Lure coursing is a timed event where dogs are quickly changing direction while running, so it’s essential your dog is fit and healthy and can handle the physical demands of the sport.
- Flyball: Flyball is another high-paced sport where a team of dogs race one another. It’s a type of relay race where dogs run over a line of hurdles to reach a box that has a spring-loaded pad that they press to release a ball. The dog grabs the ball and then returns back over the line of hurdles to get back to the start line, where another dog is waiting his turn. The winning team is the first team to get all of their dogs across the finish line error-free. Penalties are awarded if a ball is dropped or if the next dog is released too early.
- Dock Diving: This is a great sport for your water-loving dog. Dogs compete by running and jumping off of a dock and into a body of water. Dogs are motivated to run and jump as they retrieve their favorite toy or “bumper” that is thrown by their handler or suspended overhead over the water. In Big Air competition, dogs are doing a long jump for distance. Extreme Vertical requires the dog to jump for height in order to retrieve a bumper suspended over the pool high in the air. Speed Retriever requires the dog to swim as quickly as possible to reach a thrown toy. Each dock diving discipline has various rules and dogs are ranked in accordance with them.
- Scentwork: There are a number of different sports that dogs can do where they use their nose for scenting. K9 Nose Work® and AKC Scent Work provide organized competitions and events where dogs search for and indicate when they find a particular odor. Odor can come from cotton swabs saturated with the essential oils of Birch, Anise, Clove and Cypress. In sports such as tracking, dogs follow human scent by following a track set by a human tracklayer. These sports are based on the work of professional detection dogs, such as drug detection dogs, and search and rescue canines. Scenting and detection sports are great for older dogs who can no longer withstand the physical demands placed on their body through high impact sports such as agility and flyball.
Before engaging in a new sport or activity, check with your veterinarian to make sure it’s appropriate for your dog. Many canine sports place demands on the body that can put unfit and unhealthy dogs at risk for injury. Young, growing dogs should not engage in repetitive, high-impact activities until they are physically mature and their growth plates have closed. Also be aware that dogs with short noses, such as the brachycephalic breeds such as Pugs, are more susceptible to overheating and heatstroke. If your dog is healthy and has no physical limitations, give a new dog sport a try! Who knows, you and your dog might find a new passion that is great fun and keeps your dog healthy for years to come!
Not sure what dog sports or clubs are near you? Do a quick online search for clubs. Can’t find a local club? Check out local dog trainers. Sometimes dog trainers participate in these sports with their own dogs or even offer sport and fitness classes to their dog training clients. Did you know that BabelBark has a free mobile app that allows you to quickly search for and find pet professionals in your area? Simply click below to download the app to get started. Are you already engaged in dog sports? Use BabelBark’s health monitor to track your dog’s daily, weekly and monthly activity. Seeing your dog’s improvement over time is a great way to stay motivated!