The new year is a time to start new habits and new hobbies. It’s a time to commit to health and wellness for both you and your pets. Dog sports are an endeavor that can meet this need. Sports encourage bonding, physical activity and promote health for both animal and human family members; and there are many different sports to suit the needs of any dog and owner.
Agility is one sport with which many people are familiar. It involves both the handler and the dog, and is a very bonding experience. Using only voice and body signal commands, the handler directs the dog through a series of obstacles, which can include jumps, weave poles, teeter-totters, tunnels and A-frames. In competitions, contestants are graded on both accuracy and speed. It is truly exciting to watch. Any breed can participate in agility, but dogs who do best need a desire to run. A local group holds trials in the covered arena at Wills Park, if you wish to see this firsthand.
Another well-known, but often not completely understood, dog sport is Schutzhund. This sport was developed in Germany as a test of German shepherds’ working ability for police work. Most people are familiar with the dramatic protection portion of Schutzhund, in which dogs subdue a person wearing a padded bite suit. But this is only a part of the sport. Dogs must also demonstrate tracking ability by following a scent trail to find a specific article and alert the handler. In addition, they must demonstrate obedience in the presence of other dogs, people and gunshots as they navigate an obstacle course. Dogs that succeed at this sport typically have high drive, intense focus and an ability to respond to commands.
Obedience training and competitions are other activities for dogs and owners. There are obedience classes at dog shows, and the American Kennel Club awards obedience titles. The first of these, the Canine Good Citizen, or CGC, is not awarded at a trial, but is tested by a certified trainer. In addition to performing basic commands, dogs must master 10 skilled behaviors, such as a five-minute stay in the absence of the owner, interaction with other dogs and people and appropriate reaction to distractions. Obedience trials are utilized to earn higher-level titles. Each title indicates proficiency in different higher-level behaviors.
Other dog sports to consider are flyball, dock diving, disc dog, lure coursing and tracking.
Flyball is a four-dog relay race in which dogs run a four-hurdle obstacle course, hit a spring-loaded box that throws out a ball, catch the ball and run the course back to the handler. Dogs with a good nose and high drive are perfect candidates for tracking. In this sport, a scent trail is laid and the participant is required to find the item or person whose scent is laid out.
Lure coursing requires dogs to chase an inanimate lure, which is pulled by a string on a spindle. The lure changes directions and makes turns during the course, and dogs must continue to follow. Dogs that enjoy swimming and jumping excel at the sport of dock diving. They are evaluated for the length of their jump off a dock after a thrown buoy.
Previously called frisbee dog, disc dog sporting events involve retrieving a thrown disc. Dogs can participate in choreographed routines or may compete for height or distance of catch. Participants do best if they have a high drive, energy and retrieving ability.
If you choose to pursue dog sports in the new year, local trainers, clubs and competitions exist and can be found on the Internet. YouTube offers a plethora of information and remarkable dog sport videos. Whichever sport appeals to you, I wish you and your dog many happy hours.