Release the competitive instinct in you and your dog by getting involved in canine sports.
They say you can’t teach a dog new tricks – but they’d be wrong. Because you certainly can teach dogs to play any number of new and exciting sports that are almost as much fun for you as they are for him. In some cases you may need special accessories or a particular venue. But if you are handy and creative, you can train at home, too.
It’s not all about competition, though, as some keen sports stars never take part in organised events, but many dogs recognise that they are competing and really enjoy it – especially when they win!
Here are some of the most popular canine sports…
Agility is the most popular of the modern sports for dogs. The discipline first appeared at the world-famous British dog show, Crufts, in 1977, with a small hurdle race for dogs. The dogs seemed to like it and the sport became a runaway success – literally!
Dog agility is a sport in which a dog moves through an obstacle course with the guidance of his handler. Dogs run off lead, so the handler’s only controls are voice and body language, requiring exceptional obedience training of the animal. In competition, both accuracy and speed are important.
Dogs just love flyball – and it’s a great sport to watch as well as play!
Flyball is a race involving two teams of four dogs. The dogs spring over a series of jumps (usually four), run to a box, activate a catapult machine with their forepaws, catch the ball that flies out and race back to the start.
To do its best, the dog has to not just clear the hurdles, but keep a smooth approach and landing to clear the maximum distance in the least time. The turn at the box can mean the difference between winning and losing, so a lot of effort goes into teaching the dog to do it well.
A more relaxed sport, obedience nevertheless requires extremely high levels of concentration and motivation from both dogs and owners. The sport involves elementary disciplines such as ‘Sit’, ‘Down’, or ‘Heel’ and retrieving. But it progresses to cover tests of character, like controlling dogs at a distance.
A relatively new sport, hugely popular in the US, where it began as dock diving, dog diving is now a big crowd pleaser at UK exhibitions and events, so expect to see it start to make an appearance in this country shortly.
The sport involves canine competitors diving from a ramp into a pool of water to retrieve a toy. The winner is the dog that dives the furthest. And don’t worry about the competitors – you can see the fun they’re having from the wagging of their tails.
Flying disc is another dog sport that catches the eye, although you’ll probably know it better as playing frisbee in the park!
The sport got its start in the early 1970s, paralleling the rise in popularity of human frisbee games. But the definitive moment came in August 1974 when US college student Alex Stein jumped the fence at a nationally broadcast baseball game with an amazing dog named Ashley Whippet.
Ashley astonished the crowd with eight minutes of catching frisbees, running 56km/h and leaping 2.5 metres in the air to snag discs. The stunt was so novel that the game was stopped and the commentators continued to announce the action on the field. Alex was escorted off the field, but the seed was planted and a new sport was born.
Competitively, the catch and retrieve event is the backbone of the sport. It consists of a timed round (usually of a minute’s duration) where teams of one dog and one thrower attempt to make as many successful throws/catches as possible before time runs out. Teams score more points for longer throw/catch combinations, so watch out for some serious party tricks!
Heelwork to music
Popularly known as ‘dog dancing’, this fascinating activity has recently developed and expanded very rapidly overseas. Speed and punctuality aren’t important, but co-operation and co-ordination between dog and owner are vital to success. The dog and his owner make one team and dance according to the music.
Playing sport with your dog could be the best fun you have – and the best thing is, he’s guaranteed to love it, too.