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Having Fun with Your Dog

Erica Green
Emmitsburg Veterinary Hospital

Have you ever flipped through the TV and found a program with dogs flying through the air catching a Frisbee or running through an obstacle course and thought that it looked exciting? Maybe you thought you'd like to get out there and try your hand at it? Dog sport is one of the fastest growing obsessions of dog enthusiasts today. With the growing popularity it's easy to find a trainer and get involved!!

Dog sport is a wonderful way to keep (or get) you and your pet in shape and provides a great release from the everyday stresses in life. Getting involved in an activity with your dog also gives you the opportunity to connect with other people who share the same passion - spending time with their best friend!

Before choosing an activity for your canine companion, you should try to understand their genetics & breed history. Some sports require the natural abilities that your dog was bred for. For instance, if you have a herding breed like a Border Collie or German Shepherd dog you may want to look into herding, or if protection sport is your cup of tea, you will need a dog that was bred for protection abilities such as a Doberman Pinscher or Rottweiler. Remember though, just because a dog breed was originally intended for a specific activity does not mean they are limited to that type of activity. The natural ability from genetics plays a part, but training, practice and teamwork will ultimately determine your success.

You should also consider your dog's personality. Some dogs are harder to motivate, but given the chance will be able to do well in a chosen sport. It will be your job to find what motivates your dog (food, toys, lavish praise, etc), and use that tool to succeed. On the other end of the spectrum are the dogs that are over the top with energy and enjoy nothing more than feeling the wind on their face as they run around the yard. These are the dogs that need sport. An activity like agility will challenge them mentally and physically. When energy (mental and physical) is properly spent through sport, it relieves the dog of having to find ways to expend the energy and boredom. Dogs that are left to figure out a way to use energy tend to employ digging, barking, eating our possessions and other frowned upon activities as an outlet.

Participating in a sport will also strengthen the bond between you and your dog and will help to define the roles of "leader" and "pet". When you reward your dog for following your request during training, you are asserting yourself as the leader. The successes during training will encourage your dog to continue to look to you as the leader and for guidance. This relationship will "breed" further success.

No matter what sport you choose for your dog remember; it is the journey that is most important, not the destination, keep an open and creative mind, and MOST importantly- it is all about having fun!!!

Types of Dog Sports:


Agility is the most popular of the modern sport for dogs. The first widely documented appearance of dog agility was as entertainment at the Crufts dog show in 1978. During the demonstration, people noticed how much the dog and handler seemed to enjoy it and the sport became a runaway success. Agility is a dog 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 (of course incentives are allowed during training). The handler's controls are limited to voice, movement, and various body signals, requiring exceptional training of the animal.

Dock Diving

Dock Diving is a relatively new sport and is gaining in popularity. This sport involves canine competitors diving from a ramp into a pool of water to retrieve a toy. The winner is determined by the dog that dives the furthest


The term "obedience" is commonplace when describing dog behavior. Formal obedience as a sport is more than not jumping on the company or stealing food off the counter. In formal obedience, the dog and handler team are required to perform specific tasks with precision. Beginner level obedience the tasks can include healing (dog walks on handlers left side), sitting/ laying down on command and staying in the position. As the team advances, the levels obedience can include retrieving, and even scent work!! Generally, obedience is not a timed sport, and the team is judged on precision and how the dog and handler act as a team. Obedience requires high levels of concentration and motivation from both dogs and owners.

New to dog sport is Rally Obedience. Rally or Rally-O is more relaxed than formal obedience, and the handlers are allowed to encourage their dogs. During a Rally trial, the dog and handler team travel a course that contains 10-20 "stations" and perform the exercise detailed in the sign. Although the team still strives for correct and precise performance, the course is also timed so the challenge is to be fast and correct.


Flyball is a dog sport in which teams of dogs race a straight-line track against each other in a relay-style race. Each team begins at the start line with their first dog, releases that dog to runs down the track which has several hurdles. When the dog gets to the end of the track, a spring-loaded box holding a tennis ball is waiting for the dog to press the pad to release the ball. With tennis ball in mouth, the dog must return to the start line, by turning around and following the same track and jumping the jumps. When the first dog returns, the team's second dog is released down the track. The first team to have all dogs complete the course (without error) wins!


Schutzhund translated means "protection dog in German. Schutzhund was developed in Germany in the early 1900s and is much like police dog work. Schutzhund consists of three phases (Tracking, Obedience, and Protection) all of which must be passed in order to obtain a title. The tracking phase tests not only the dogs scenting ability but also its mental soundness and physical endurance. The obedience phase is judged on the dog's accuracy and attitude. The dog must show enthusiasm and includes exercises such as heeling, retrieving and distance work. The protection phase tests the dog's courage to protect himself and his handler and his ability to be controlled while doing so. At all times the dog must show the courage to engage the decoy and the temperament to obey his handler. Again, the dog must show enthusiasm and a dog that shows fear, lack of control, or inappropriate aggression is dismissed.

The diversity in dog sport is as wide the diversity in human sport. There is something available to suit every dog and owner team from the precision of obedience to the excitement of agility. It's most important to get involved, and try something new. You might be surprised at what you find enjoyable. Always remember rule #1- HAVE FUN WITH YOUR DOG.

Happy Training

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