By Barbara Cannon
Here at Baxter and Bella, we have a wide variety of breeds in our membership. Many of our dogs and puppies are what is known as working breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Australian Shepherds, German Shepherds, Border Collies, Portuguese Water Dogs and more. Whether your dog is a pure breed or mixed with another working breed, these dogs often need more mental stimulation than, say, a Cocker Spaniel or a Bichon Frise. They often need a job to do to feel calmer and less overstimulated. But that’s not to say that your Cocker Spaniel can’t benefit from more mental activities as well! All dogs and puppies can get bored. This may result in more hyperactivity and often destructive behavior. Dog sports are a great way to help your dog calm down.
There are a variety of dog sports that can enhance your dog’s life and yours as well! There’s also a lot of different ways to participate. You can go from using a homemade agility course in your yard just for fun to more advanced agility classes in your area to local and national competitions, depending on you and your dog’s interests.
Please note that sports involving a lot of jumping are not appropriate for puppies under one year old while young bones are still developing. Modifications may be made with some sports such as agility but best to check with your vet if you have any doubts or concerns before you begin. We do encourage some form of these activities for adolescent dogs who often seem to have endless energy and get bored very easily.
Here's a list of activities you and your dog might explore.
AGILITY: Agility courses use a variety of structures to challenge your dog’s ability to maneuver. It’s usually a course completed off leash that involves low jumps, tunnels, jumping through hoops, in and out poles, bridges, teeter totters and more. In competition these courses are standardized and timed. You can buy inexpensive agility equipment for your back yard or make your own to get started. With dogs under a year old, focus more on tunnels, in and out poles, and low jumps. You can also use this time for socializing your young dog to different surfaces. Try looking for a variety of surfaces in a hardware store and see if you can get your puppy to walk across them successfully. Use your imagination and make this fun for both you and your pup. It’s also great for building confidence in young dogs!
SCENT WORK OR NOSE WORK: This is a great activity for younger dogs! You can buy scenting kits online to get started at home or see if there are some local classes in your area. We have a great game called FIND IT in our GAMES AND ACTIVITIES section on the website that can become the first step of nose work. Dogs love to sniff and smell, and some dogs are very good at it. Test your dog’s skills with a basic nose work class. Again, you can do nose work as a great mentally stimulating activity or, if your dog really seems to enjoy this, you could even train your dog to do tracking or Search and Rescue work.
DOCK DIVING: You’ll need to find a facility that has a pool for this activity. This is usually a competitive sport that involves measuring the height and distance your dog can jump off a diving board into a pool of water. It’s great fun for those water dogs who love to swim!
RALLY: Rally is similar to Agility, but the courses are a bit freer form and the dogs compete on leash. You could start by setting up an obstacle course of your own. You may be able to find other neighbors doing Rally in your area and find out what they are using for an obstacle course. This is generally a competitive sport.
FREESTYLE: If you have seen some of those dogs that do tricks on shows like America’s Got Talent, then you have seen Freestyle. Dog dancing is a popular form of Freestyle. We want to be sure our young dogs are physically well developed before attempting some of these Freestyle activities, but you can definitely start with some of the activities in our STEP BY STEP PROGRAM in Unit 5, the TRICKS section.
OBEDIENCE: Obedience trials are a competitive sport with very specific rules with regards to hitting marks and completing required tasks, usually within limited time periods. You can start here on our website by completing all the training sections and practice keeping your dog focused on you during training sessions while working on the 4 D’s: Duration, Distance, Distraction and Difficulty. You may be able to find other Obedience enthusiasts in your area to advance in the sport.
DISC WORK: Definitely for physically more mature dogs, this is a competitive sport for catching discs or frisbees. If your dog loves jumping up to catch a ball or frisbee, you might consider disc competitions when your dog has less chance of injury from jumping.
HERDING: If you live in a rural area, you may find classes and competitions for herding. This can be a great activity for your herding breeds such as Border Collies or Australian Shepherds.
BARN HUNT/SHED HUNT: Hunting activities are great for your sporting breeds. Barn hunts involve targets hidden in barns. In a shed hunt, dogs and their owners look for shed antlers from deer and elk. If you are interested in these activities, look for a knowledgeable guide in your area who can help you get started.
FastCAT: Primarily for sight hounds such as greyhounds, FastCAT is a sprinting sport where the dogs chase a lure. Depending on where you live, you may be able to find competition trials for your more mature dog.
There are lots of options here and you may even find more in your vicinity if you look around. Check local training facilities that offer classes in dog sports. Keep your thinking dog occupied and happy to work and you will both benefit with your dog’s balanced energy and calm behavior. And you might have a lot of fun in the process!