Activities You Can Do With Your Dog
A tired dog is a good dog, and fortunately, there are several fun activities in which to participate with your dog. Many are overseen by umbrella organizations that sanction various levels of competitions, while others are offered by local training centers and obedience clubs. Whether or not you choose to participate at a competitive level, time spent learning a new activity with your dog is an excellent relationship-builder and provides needed mental and physical stimulation.
In Rally Obedience, dog and handler teams navigate a course with numbered signs indicating different exercises to perform such as Sit-Down-Sit, Straight Figure 8, Send Over Jump, Recall Over Jump. Teams navigate the course at a brisk, continuous performance without direction from the judge. Unlike traditional obedience handlers are encouraged to talk to their dogs during the performance.
A popular dog sport where the handler guides his dog over, under and through a series of obstacles, and the dog/handler team is judges on their speed and accuracy through the course. Competition is generally offered at three levels – Novice, Open and Excellent – and exhibitors must successfully title in one level before progressing to the next. Most organizations allow dogs over the age of six-months (AKC requires over the age of one year) to compete, and the required jump height is based on the dog's height at the shoulders. Some organizations have historically allowed both purebred and mixed breed dogs to participate, and as of April 2010, mixed-breed dogs who register as such with the American Kennel Club (AKC) will also be allowed to participate in AKC agility trials.
The sport of obedience measures the dog/handler team's ability to work in a synchronized fashion as the handler cues the dog to perform a variety of exercises with minimal instruction. Like agility, competition is offered at three mainlevels – Novice, Open and Utility, with three qualifying scores required at each level in order to earn a title. Exercises incorporate on- and off-lead heelwork, retrieving, response to hand signals, recall, jumping, scent work and stays. Like agility, most sanctioning organizations (including the AKC in early 2010) allow both purebred and mixed breed dogs to participate.
Herding utilizes a dog's instinctual abilities to control the movement of livestock. While some herding breeds actively move livestock from place to place, others specialize in flock guarding behaviors, protecting livestock from natural predators. Talented herding dogs are a necessity for ranchers, but even city slickers of the human and canine variety can try their hand and paw at the sport in a recreational manner.
Earth Dog and Go to Ground events are designed to offer owners of small terriers and Dachshunds a way to utilize and measure their dogs' natural desire to hunt in an underground situation.
Lure coursing simulates the live game coursing that comes naturally to sighthound breeds (dogs that hunt primarily by sight vs. scent) such as Whippets, Greyhounds, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Salukis and many others. Dogs follow an artificial lure across a field in a pre-designed pattern of twists and turns that is meant to simulate the path of live game. Unlike the commercial Greyhound racing industry, no gambling is involved in lure coursing events.
Other Field Events and Hunt Tests
Over time, several breeds have been developed with a specific skill set that can be utilized in some fashion out in the field. For example:
- Retrieving Breeds – Demonstrate a natural ability to mark and retrieve game.
- Pointing Breeds – Demonstrate a natural ability to point and trail game.
- Spaniels – Demonstrate a natural ability to flush and retrieve game.
- Hounds – Demonstrate a natural ability to hunt using sight or scent.
Many organizations, including the AKC, offer hunt tests and field trials that allow owners of purebred dogs to involve their pets in a breed-specific task. Many owners report that their dogs seem to "come alive" when given the opportunity to participate in the very activity it was originally bred for. Involvement in such activities can be extremely fulfilling for both dog and owner.
Tracking is a sport of endurance! Dogs are trained to follow their nose and follow a laid scent trail. The AKC offers three titles in tracking, and the tracks vary according to the difficulty of the title. The more advanced scent trails incorporate a variety of surfaces like roadways, grass, and brush as well as require the dog to work or follow an older scent path. Dogs love to follow their nose, and this activity is an excellent exercise for both you and your dog.
Schutzhund is the ultimate performance sport. Originally developed in Germany as a method to test the workability of the German Shepherd Dog, it is now used to prove the strength, trainability, and character of a dog. While it is a primary event for German Shepherds, other breeds like the Rottweiler, Doberman Pinscher, and Belgian Malinois, also participate. In Schutzhund, a dog is required to perform equally well at three things: obedience, tracking, and protection work. A Schutzhund dog must be a well-trained dog.
Conformation & Jr. Handling
Conformation, also known as the "breed ring," is a type of dog show in which a judge familiar with a specific breed of purebred dog, evaluates individual dogs on how well the dogs conform to the specific breed standard. When a dog has completed the necessary number of wins in conformation shows, and fulfilled any other conditions that may be required by the individual breed club or kennel club, the dog is said to have completed a conformation championship. Dogs must be purebred and may not be altered (spayed or neutered) to show in conformation. Jr. Handling is a conformation program for children under the age of 18, that judges the handler's ability to properly exhibit a dog in a conformation setting.
Therapy dog teams are specially-trained, volunteer dog/handler teams to help people in a variety of settings just by visiting and providing temporary companionship. Facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes, residential treatment centers and crisis shelters frequently utilize therapy dog teams to help provide comfort to clients.
For dogs who love water and swimming, dock jumping gives them the opportunity to take a flying leap into a body of water, while being judged on the length of their jump! Dock jumping is open to both purebred and mixed breed dogs and newcomers are actively encouraged to join in the fun!
Also known as Frisbee Dogs. In this competition sport dogs and their owners use a free for long distance catching that can sometimes involve choreographed routines and elaborate jumps.
Canine Freestyle consists of teaching your dog a "dance" routine between the two of you. Sometimes the competitions for Canine Freestyle can involve extensive music and costuming. The emphasis of the sport is on teamwork between you and your dog and you can be highly creative in the routines you create together!
Ongoing Training Classes
It's never too late to teach an old dog new tricks, and even dogs who have mastered the basics can enjoy continued training. Look for a local obedience class that offers several different types of classes and activities for students, or consider attending classes at various facilities to offer your dog the chance to work in new environments and around different types of distractions.