You might have seen it on TV or even in person: People competing alongside their dogs in any number of super fun sports. Agility, flyball and dock diving are just a few of the more popular competitive canine activities available to dogs and their people.
You can tell by watching competition dogs that they have special training to do what they do. Whether it’s racing through an agility course or pressing the level on a fly ball machine, these dogs had to learn how to compete.
While the idea of training your dog to perform in one of these sports might seem daunting, it’s easier than you think. The most important part is teaching your dog the basics of obedience. This is something he can learn at any obedience class, whether it’s held at your local pet supply store or a commercial dog training facility. Once your dog has these fundamentals down, both of you can move on to learning about your sport of choice.
Choosing the sport you’d like to pursue should have as much to do with your dog as you. Is your dog crazy about chasing balls? Does he like to climb up on things? Is he a water lover? Think about what your dog likes to do and focus on that sport.
If your dog is an American Kennel Club (AKC) registered purebred, he is eligible to participate in AKC-sanctioned events, such as agility, rally, herding, coursing and obedience, to name just a few. Certain sports like agility, rally, obedience and coursing ability are open to all AKC breeds, while other activities are only for certain breeds. For details, visit the AKC Events page at www.akc.org/events.
If your dog is a mixed breed or not AKC registered, you can be part of agility through the United States Dog Agility Association (usdaa.com). Dogs of any breed can also participate in flyball through the North American Flyball Association (www.flyball.org). All breeds and mixes are also eligible for dock diving through the North American Diving Dogs (northamericadivingdogs.com). All dogs are welcome in disc dog competitions, too. A variety of competitions are run by different organizations, including UFO World Cup (www.ufoworldcup.org), Ashley Whippet Invitational (www.ashleywhippet.com) and SkyHoundz Disc Competitions (skyhoundz.com).
After figuring out which competitions are best suited to you and your dog, your next step is training specifically for that event. The AKC has member clubs around the country that can guide you to a training facility that teaches your chosen sport (see www.akc.org/clubs). Or, you can contact the national clubs listed above for sports like fly ball and dock diving to find out where you can get local training in that event.
If you want to do well in competition, you’ll need to practice nearly every day, in addition to attending training classes. The beginner division for many sports is relatively easy to conquer for most dogs and owners if they work hard. Success at the higher divisions requires even more training and practice.
Whether you want to become a serious competitor or just have a little fun, participating in canine sports will deepen the bond between you and your dog. It will also give you a new way of seeing your canine companion—as a competitive athlete.
About the Author: Audrey Pavia is an award-winning freelance writer and author of “The Labrador Retriever Handbook.” She is a former staff editor of Dog Fancy, Dog World and The AKC Gazette magazines. To learn more about her work, visit www.audreypavia.com and hollywoodhoofbeats.net.