Intro to Popular Dog Sports

Written by: Sarah Seward-Langdon

Reviewed by: Amanda Nascimento, DVM, MSc, Ph.D

Published on: 04/28/2022

Looking for a brand-new way to tire out your high-energy dog? Exploring the extensive world of canine sports is the way to go! Dog owners of the past didn’t have the luxury we have today—there were very few options, most sporting activities were in their infancy, and some events discriminated based on breed. Luckily as dog sporting has become more popular, accessibility for all has increased and entire communities bond over their mutual love for specific events.

The benefits of dog sports go beyond just providing your pup with physical and mental stimulation; it’s great for both owners and pets! Not only can dogs become better behaved, but as a handler you’ll also get more exercise, strengthen the bond you have with your dog, and make new friendships with like-minded individuals.

Before we dive in, here are a few important terms you should know:

  • Trial = competition
  • Conformation = dog shows (official terminology)
  • Exhibitors = competitors

It’s also essential to mention that some of these activities may be intense and dangerous for pets with health issues (ex. Cardiac, pulmonary problems etc.) or genetic factors (ex. Brachycephalic dogs—short snouted dogs that commonly have breathing problems). For these reasons, it’s important to talk with your vet before starting any sporting activities.

5 Fun Canine Sports to Do with Your Dog

Here’s a quicky list of sporting events you can participate in with your dog (we’ll go into more details on each below as well):

  • Obedience
  • Agility
  • Nose Work
  • Dock Diving
  • Canicross


1. Obedience

Do you always get compliments on how well-behaved your canine companion is? A suitable sporting event would be obedience. As it’s one of the older canine sports, enthusiasts have seen ongoing changes and must stay on top of the rules. It is an event open to all types of dogs, where canines and handlers need to work in sync with precision and accuracy while presenting abilities like heel, stay, come, and retrieve (to name a few). During competitions dogs must prove their skills in public places and around other dogs.

 

Good For: All dog breeds, included mixes—especially dogs who are excited during training and who don’t mind repetition

Training Level: Moderate to Extreme

Physical Requirements: Low to moderate for both handler and dog

 

2. Agility

You’ve probably seen a few jaw dropping videos online showing the talents of dogs competing in agility competitions. This is a timed event where handlers guide dogs through a course of obstacles, including things such as jumps, tunnels, teeters and more. The teamwork between canine and human is pivotal for this event as the fastest time wins, and any mistake (ex. Completing obstacles in the wrong order) adds to your time!

 

Good For: Dogs who have high energy, are loyal to their handlers, and even dogs who demonstrate escape artist tendencies. Specific breeds that are known to do well include Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, and Schipperke

Training Level: Moderate to Extreme

Physical Requirements: Moderate to extreme for handlers, while high energy dogs excel at this

 

3. Nose Work

If you’ve got a dog that always has their nose to the ground, look no further than nose work, otherwise known as scent work. Scent work is a great way to play into your dog’s natural instincts and stimulate their minds. This activity generally requires less physical activity from you and your dog, but your communication must be on point. Based on the work of professional detection dogs, scent competitions require your dog sniff out hidden cotton swabs scented with essential oils and then signal your (the handler) that they have discovered one. This is a great precursor to other scent-based events such as Barn Hunt or tracking!

 

Good For: Perfect for scenthounds like Beagles or Bloodhounds, but is open to any dog

Training Level: Moderate to High

Physical Requirements: Low for both handler and dog

 

4. Dock Diving

Is your dog basically a fish? Do they find water wherever you go? Can’t keep them dry? Dock diving, or jumping, is a great way to play into your dog’s passion and keep their energy in check. When competing in dock diving, dogs jump off a dock (or platform) into the water, often chasing a toy, and are assessed based on either distance or height.

 

Good For: Any water-loving dog, purebred or mixed, that is a strong swimmer, loves to play fetch or retrieve a toy, and has agility and endurance

Training Level: Low to Moderate

Physical Requirements: Low for handlers; however, dogs need higher physical abilities

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5. Canicross

This more modern sporting event goes by many names: Canicross, canine cross country, urban mushing. Although it started as an off-season activity for sledding dogs, it has now become a popular stand alone activity. The main difference between canicross and running with your dog is that the dog is attached to your waist using a proper pull harness and bungee leash. Your dog is pulling you! Remember that puppies should not partake and that your dog should have basic leash obedience with the ability to calmly pass both people and dogs.

Good For: High energy dogs that have great stamina, love running, and have healthy joints and cardiovascular systems

Training Level: Moderate

Physical Requirements: Moderate to high for both handler and dogs

 

How to Begin

So, you’re interested in starting dog sports? Your first step, if you haven’t already done it, is to sign your young dog up for puppy obedience class. This is a great way to ensure your dog has strong basic social and obedience skills that will contribute to their success in future specific dog sports. Additionally, as mentioned above, it’s important to talk to a vet. You should do this before you decide to do any serious dog sports with your furry friend!

Completed puppy obedience class and consulted a vet? It’s time to start attending a variety of dog sporting events as an audience member (this doesn’t need to be with your four-legged companion). Considering what you see at the events and your pet’s natural instincts and passions, start doing research and training for a beginner level of an event you want to try!

Dog sports have so many positives for both you and your dog; they’re great for both mental and physical stimulation and will create a stronger bond between handler and canine. Best yet, both you and your pet will probably make great friends and find an amazing community to be a part of. Happy sporting.

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About Sarah

"Sarah is a marketing specialist with a passion for anything creative! Her openness to working across industries and job opportunities has allowed her to gain enormous amounts of experience in graphic design, video production, and written content creation. Animals have a special place in her heart as she grew up with cats and now owns her own Alaskan Malamute. She has spent the last couple of years in Vancouver working with different companies within the pet industry and gained valuable knowledge about the ins and outs of the (alternative) pet food industry, supplementation, and various training methods. When she’s not digitally creating content for pet lovers to consume, she’s out eating great food, dancing at drop-in classes, or exploring the beautiful Canadian scenery with her fur-child Miso."