All dog breeds were developed for a purpose. Some breeds were developed to herd sheep, some to hunt game, and some to pull sleds. Dogs, like humans, enjoy having a purpose in life. Dogs like to lead a structured life and be able to associate with their owners in activities and be given the opportunity to please their owner. The following is a short list of fun activities that you may want to consider for your dog.
Dog Agility is a sport in which a handler must control and direct his dog around an obstacle course within a set period of time. Dogs must be controlled off-leash using only voice and body language commands. The handler runs beside the dog and directs the dog through the obstacle course with precision and speed – trying to accumulate the minimum number of faults (both missed obstacles and time faults). Obstacles include: A-frames, elevated dog walks, teeter-totters, tunnels, jumps (such as hurdles and tires), weave poles (like a slalom), pause tables (where the dog must lie down for a fixed time), and other obstacles. In order to be fair, there are usually classes of competition to group dogs of similar size and experience. Therefore there will be several winners at a competition. Dogs and handlers need to be very well trained and seem to enjoy this sport immensely. There are a number of organizations involved in agility performance around the world who sanction clubs to allow them to host agility competitions. In the US, some of these organizations include: the American Kennel Club (AKC), the United Kennel Club (UKC), the United States Dog Agility Association, and the North American Dog Agility Council. Elsewhere in the world: the Kennel Club (in the UK), the Agility Association of Canada and the FCI (World Canine Organization) are all involved.
Obedience is a skill that ranges from mastering everyday commands that all dogs should know to competitive exercises that require significant training and aptitude to excel. You may start out teaching your puppy and young dog the basic obedience commands and find that you and your dog have an aptitude for obedience skills that you would like to take to a higher level. In competitive obedience the dog and handler team must perform prescribed activities off leash and in a carefully defined way. If the dog has the aptitude and training it will gain skills to allow it to advance through the ranks from Novice to Open (intermediate) to Utility (advanced) competitions. At each level the requirements become more difficult and the number of exercises to be performed get longer. Exercises are all done off leash using voice and body language commands and include such activities as: having the dog stay while you walk away; follow the handler in the heel position through complex patterns; come on command; sit and lie down for fixed periods of time while the handler is out of the dog’s sight; retrieve items over a high jump; and find a scented object amongst a group of identical non-scented objects. Dogs can earn obedience titles in obedience championships. Purebred dogs can compete in obedience trials sanctioned by the AKC, while the UKC recognizes other purebred dog competitions. As well, there are mixed breed competitions sanctioned by the Mixed Breed Dog Club of America and other organizations. In Canada, the Canadian Kennel Club sanctions obedience trials and awards titles.
Lure coursing is a sport for sighthounds that involves chasing a manually or mechanically operated artificial lure across a field in a “coursing” pattern. The competition is usually restricted to pure-bred sighthounds including: Afghan Hounds, Basenjis, Borzois, Greyhounds, Ibizan Hounds, Irish Wolfhounds, Italian Greyhounds, Pharaoh Hounds, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Salukis, Scottish Deerhounds, and Whippets. The operator keeps the lure or “prey” just in front of the chasing sighthounds until they have completed the course. The course must have a minimum number of turns and is usually 600 to 1000 yards long. The hounds love to play this sport and puppies can be introduced to the sport through lure coursing practice sessions. Competitions usually consist of two runs for each dog breed for dogs that have been pre-certified or qualified. In the US, the American Sighthound Field Association or the AKC can “certify” that dogs have been trained and are eligible to enter their sanctioned competitions. In Canada, the Canadian Kennel Club sanctions lure coursing but excludes the Italian Greyhound because they consider it a toy dog.
Tracking can be learned by all dog breeds because all dogs use their noses to identify things and explore the world. Training can be started as early as 10 to 12 weeks of age as all puppies love to use their noses to sniff out a trail. As with all training, positive rewards (treats, praise etc,) and re-enforcement work best. The AKC sanctions tracking tests and events in the US. This vigorous non-competitive outdoor sport allows dogs to demonstrate their ability to recognize and follow human scents. In Canada, the CKC sponsors tracking events and you can check their website for a list of nearby events.
Field Trials are regularly held for Basset Hounds, Beagles and Dachshunds to demonstrate their ability to find and track game. Similarily Field Trials and Hunting Trials are held almost every weekend across the country for: the Pointing Breeds, the Retrievers, and Spaniels to allow them to compete and demonstrate their hunting abilities under a strict set of conditions. If you are an owner of a hunting dog puppy, you will want to look into many of the organized activities designed for your dog. Check out the AKC or CKC websites for a list of contacts and field trials in your area.
Other Fun Activites that you might wish to explore include flyball, frisbee, herding and drafting competitions.