[Updated February 6, 2019]
We have had great fun over the past year and a half, taking a look at 16 different canine sports. The breadth and diversity of activities people undertake with their dogs is truly amazing. Activities that started out simply as something fun to do with your dog have been turned into formal sports complete with rules, regulations, and ribbons.
You can swim to boaters’ rescue, pull a load of freight, toss plastic discs high into the air for your buddy to catch or, if the mood strikes, dance with your dog. Some sports involve dogs and humans working closely together toward a mutual goal while others provide the dog an opportunity to work independently. Some sports require physical exertion that gets human and canine panting, while others tax the minds more than the bodies of the participants. There’s something for everyone!
If you have never tried a dog sport, we encourage you to do so. Over and over again, people we talked with about their chosen sport reported that their relationships with their dogs grew deeper as they worked and played together. To help you decide which sport might be best for you and your dog, we have listed the 16 most popular dog sports, comparing aspects such as prior training required, physical effort, training complexity, cost, and so on. The table on the next page is sure to include at least one sport that will pique your interest, fit your budget, and put a smile on your dog’s face.
Let’s say you have a bad knee and your dog is getting on in years and doesn’t like to be around excitable dogs. Agility might not be your first choice. However, nosework might be the ticket. On the other hand, maybe you have a ball-obsessed herding dog mix you adopted from a shelter whose adoptions counselor confessed that the dog had been adopted out twice and returned because “he has too much energy.”
In that case, you might want to look into flyball. But not if you yourself don’t play well with others: Flyball is a team sport in which you train and compete as a team. If you are more of the solitary type with a dog who loves to swim, you might enjoy dock/splash dog. It’s just you and your dog up on the dock.
When you look at the ratings for each sport, keep in mind that although all dogs benefit from being in good physical condition, some sports put a lot of physical demands on dogs. If you choose a physically demanding sport, your dog will benefit from crosstraining (swimming, jogging, etc.), as well as canine massage, chiropractic, and other modalities to keep him in tip-top shape. As dog sports have become more popular – and competitive – more and more information has become available about diets, supplements, and canine sports medicine (now a growing veterinary specialty) to help our canine buddies play the games they love and stay safe and live long, healthy.
Remember that dog sports are just like any other endeavors. There will be people whose primary goal is a good time with their dog and camaraderie with other people who enjoy spending time with their dogs, and there will be people who are “serious” about the game. Get to know people and find where you and your dog fit best. If you try one sport and your dog doesn’t seem to like it, then try another. If you don’t want to compete, still join in the fun. Any time spent with your dog is a good expenditure of time, isn’t it?
Terry Long, CPDT-KA, is a writer, agility instructor, and behavior counselor in Long Beach, CA. She lives with four dogs and a cat and is addicted to agility and animal behavior.