Competition dog sports are one of the most popular hobbies available around the world. The options are expanding every day for all different types and temperaments of dogs. Purebreds and mixed breeds, large dogs and small dogs, young dogs and old dogs – all are welcome in the world of dog performance sports. I have been training for and competing in competitive dog sports for more than 30 years, and those sports have shaped my life for the better.
Dog sports can bring tremendous joy to you and your companion when you train with respect. You’ll discover more than just how smart your dog is; you’ll learn how much your dog values her connection with you, in the same manner that you are learning to love your connection with her.
If you’re interested in trying out dog sports, read on! This page will introduce you to some of the competition dog sports that are available to you. If you find one that piques your interest, you can learn more about the sport in a variety of ways. There are books aimed at dog sports competitors, local classes with private trainers or dog training clubs, and online training opportunities that can take you from the very beginning steps all the way to competition readiness.
Please note that this is only a fraction of the total dog sports out there. This particular list is designed to specify performance events that are open to all breeds, ages, and sizes rather than identifying every possibility for each breed of dog. I also tried to identify sports that do require some training and effort to develop you into a team! If you want to learn about options that might be specific to your breed (for example, herding sheep for your herding dog), or simply fun things to do with your dog, then search the internet by breed to learn more about options for you!
Agility is a sport in which a handler directs a dog through an obstacle course in a race for both time and accuracy. Dogs run off leash with no food or toys as incentives, and the handler can touch neither dog nor obstacles. Consequently, the handler’s controls are limited to voice, movement, and various body signals, requiring exceptional training of the animal and coordination of the handler. In competition, the handler must assess the course, decide on handling strategies, and direct the dog through the course with precision and speed equally important. Agility is probably the most popular dog sport worldwide, and with good reason. Dogs and handlers love it! Agility classes are easily found in most locations.
Here, Loretta Mueller handles several of her dogs at a regional competition for Agility.
Rally obedience (also known as Rally or Rally-O) is a dog sport based on obedience where the competitors proceed around a course of designated stations with the dog in heel position. Each station has a sign that instructs the team what to do, such as various heeling moves, calls to front, and jumps at the higher levels. Unlike traditional obedience, handlers are allowed to verbally interact with their dogs during the course.
Here’s a nice run with a young rally team, complete with a few errors along the way. That’s ok; they’re having fun and they’re a well engaged team with a strong relationship, which is the point of dog sports.
Nosework was created to mimic professional detection dog tasks. One dog and one handler form a team. The dog must find a hidden target odor, often ignoring distractions such as food or toys, and alert the handler when she’s found it. Nosework is a fast growing sport in part because it accommodates canines with disabilities or behavior problems. Nosework is highly amenable to online learning for those who can’t find classes locally, or for dogs who struggle with fear or reactivity issues in a class setting.
This team is Denise Fenzi’s dog Raika with her junior handler, Ricky. This is from an Odor Recognition Test; the first requirement before a team can go on to formal competition.
Barn hunt is based on the traditional roles of many breeds in ridding farms, barns, crop storage areas, and homes of destructive vermin. In this sport, dog of any breed or mix search for and indicate live rates (that are well protected from harm!) that are hiding in strong, ventilated PVC tubes on a course made of straw bales. In the first level, the dog only needs to find 1 rat, go through the 18″ wide straw bale tunnel and get onto a bale of straw within 2 minutes. It is a fun sport based on instinct but at the higher levels, some handling skills do play a part.
When searching for local training opportunities, only work with groups that are clearly committed to training the rats to be comfortable and happy partners. Done correctly, the rats should willingly go into the tubes to be hidden from the dogs, and should be well cared for.
Here Dazzle is participating in a Novice level barn hunt run.
Flyball is a relay race with teams of four dogs. The dogs race against each other over a series of low jumps to a spring-loaded box that releases a tennis ball when the dog hits it with his front paws. The dog must catch the ball and then run back to his handler with it. Each dog must return the ball all the way across the start line before the next dog crosses. Penalties are applied to teams if the ball is dropped or if the next relay dog is released early. The first team to have all four dogs cross the finish line wins the heat. It is a fast and intense sport!
This video shows the intensity and fun factor in the sport of flyball!
Tracking encourages dogs to make use of their strongest faculty, their nose! The objective is for the dog to find the “lost” tracklayer and any articles that person may have dropped along the track. On the day of the trial, a tracklayer follows a designated path, leaving personal articles as specified by the judge. The track is then “aged” – or allowed to sit for a period of time – as determined by the organization and the level of competition. Then the dog and handler are directed to follow the track. In general, a dog must work continuously without assistance from the handler, and find the required number of lost articles to be awarded a passing score.
Here’s a nice training run showing some tracking across a variety of surfaces: Hannah Tracking
At an obedience trial, the dog and handler will perform various predefined obedience exercises, such as sit, down, stay, come, and heel. At the higher levels, jumping, scent work, retrieving, and following hand signals are included. The dog’s performance is evaluated by a judge. A handler may choose to train for higher degrees of accuracy in order to receive more points. Obedience competition provides an opportunity for a person and dog to work as a highly tuned team.
Here, Denise Fenzi and her dog Raika compete at a national level AKC competition:
In disc dog competitions, dogs and their human partners compete to catch Frisbees. They may be judged based on the distance to which the disc is thrown and caught, or on the artistic merit of a routine in which dogs are encouraged to do spectacular tricks while performing their catches. Disc dog is an extremely popular spectator sport due to the wide variety of routines showcased by the different teams.
Here you can watch Ron Watson showing of his dog’s spectacular skills in a Disc Dog competition.
Canine freestyle, also known as musical freestyle and dancing with dogs, is a modern dog sport that is a mixture of obedience moves and tricks which are performed to music. It allows for creative interaction between dogs and their owners. The sport has developed into competition forms in several countries around the world, and has become common in animal talent shows and specialty acts. This routine with Carolyn and Rookie is a classic!
Treibball originated in Germany and entered sanctioned competition in the US in 2008. The dog must move large exercise balls into a soccer goal within a set time period, usually about 15 minutes. The handler must stay within a predetermined area. The dog works closely with the handler, who is only allowed to use whistles and verbal or hand signals to direct the dog. The dog and handler team are scored on cooperation and direction, and can earn extra points or accrue demerits accordingly.
In this video you can watch lots of Treibball fun from Germany!
Rally-FrEe combines the trick behaviors from Canine Musical Freestyle with the station format of Rally Obedience. The dog may work on the left or right side, in front of, or behind the handler as they move through the course together. The sport emphasizes the precise execution of fundamental freestyle and obedience skills. “Free Choice” stations encourage the handler to teach their dog creative or complex tricks. Music is often a part of the competitions.
Here Julie Flanery and her dog Kashi demonstrate a lovely routine in Rally -FrEe competition.
It is now possible to teach your dog a wide range of tricks, videotape them, and submit them for trick titles! Classes are offered in person by Trick Dog Instructors all over the world and online as well! tricks are broken into different levels of skill and many dogs that are well trained already possess enough talent at the novice level to get a title with relatively little additional training!
In this video, Chris and her dog Dazzle earn their novice trick dog title
Dog sports instructors vary wildly in their choice of training methods, so select your sport and trainers with care. Look for a class where the instructor is warm and friendly to both you and your dog, and where the dogs are wagging their tails and appear happy, engaged, and excited to be there! Look for the liberal use of motivators; if you see a roomful of unhappy dogs wearing pressure collars (prong collars, electronic collars, choke chains), decide if that is the relationship that you want to develop with your dog. If not, then move on.
Ask yourself, is this fun for me? Is this fun for the dog? Is this something that we will enjoy learning and practicing together? If not, look for another sport! You might have to investigate a few before you find the one that works best for you and your dog.
Do not underestimate the value of online learning. The Fenzi Dog Sports Academy is a large and well-respected online training school that specializes in competitive dog sports, with students ranging from absolute novices to highly sophisticated world competitors. At Fenzi Academy, you can be sure that you’ll be receiving training that is kind to your dog, focused on having fun, and highly effective at preparing your team for any level of competition.
You can learn more at http://www.fenzidogsportsacademy.com