There was a time when dogs were expected to work for their food. They were employed on farms, they pulled sleds, guarded the home, or warmed their owners’ feet.
It’s Nice to be Adored, but Dog Behaviorists and Trainers Agree: Dogs Need Work
Purebred dogs were developed to serve a purpose and, despite the fact that many modern dogs wear designer collars, they’re still dogs. It doesn’t matter if it’s a five-pounder bouncing along in a handbag or a 150-pounder in an SUV… dogs crave focus. A reason for being. A reason to feel valued for something more than great hair and a waggy tail.
In addition, many dog behaviorists and trainers suggest that today’s “problem dog” behaviors are a result of human disconnect: people don’t understand their dog’s inherent need to excel at the work of their ancestors.
As more people understand that dogs want to do something meaningful with their lives, organized dog sports are developed to meet the needs of just about every canine athlete or athlete wannabe. From beginner to intermediate to advanced – every dog (and every human) can dream of waving the flag from the podium in the equivalent of each sport’s Olympics.
Purebred Type Narrows Sport Choices for Canine Athletes
Check the breed history behind every dog to discover the reason for its existence. That’s where that dog’s inherent focus will be found. With a mixed-breed dog, check the history behind at least two of the breeds in the mix to find its dominant working mode. Here are the six main categories:
- Sporting Dogs – point, flush, and retrieve game
- Hounds – hunt game by sight and smell
- Working dogs – guard and draft work
- Terriers – bred to hunt vermin
- Toys – lap dogs
- Herding – herd livestock
For a listing of breeds in each category, search American Kennel Club.
Body Type and Energy Level
When the dog’s category is identified, the next step is to identify factors in each sport that match body type, energy level, and preference. Since the handler will be very involved, it’s necessary to match the sport to the human, too.
Check the dog’s body type and energy level. Built for sprint or marathon? Gymnastics or body building? Deep thinker or firecracker? Land or water? Now check the human’s body type and energy level.
Some sports, such as agility and musical freestyle, can require almost as much energy from the owner as the dog. Others, such as flyball and mushing (sledding), require a high-energy dog but not quite so much energy output from the human. Thinking dogs who enjoy earthy pursuits might enjoy earthdog (digging) or tracking. Dogs who love water might want to try dock diving. Earthdog, tracking, and dock diving require lots of encouragement and praise from the human but it’s the dog who uses the most physical energy.
Creativity Needed to Match Inherent Skill with Modern Sports
A Beagle is in the hound category and hunting is his inherent preference, but creative thinking is in order. In North America, the act of hunting, in itself, isn’t recognized as an organized dog sport that leads to Olympic-type competition. Consider a competitive sport that requires hunting skills, i.e.: field work or tracking. Also consider any other sport that matches body type, energy level, and personal preference.
Popular Dog Sports
The following dog sports are currently in high demand by dogs, their owners, and spectators. In true Olympian spirit, many of these pursuits culminate in top-rung athletes who compete at national and world levels.
- Disc Dog
- Dock Jumping
- Field, Retrieving
- Lure Coursing
- Mushing, Sledding
- Musical Freestyle
Get the Vet’s Okay Prior to Signing Up for Any Dog Sport
A physical check-up by a veterinarian should be on the agenda prior to signing up for any organized dog activity or class. Physical soundness will be checked and vaccination certificates given, all or some of which may be required by the training instructor.
Is Sparky a Contender for Dog Olympics?
Who knows? That’s just one goal to be pursued and, as the saying goes, the journey is half the fun. If the handler is seriously interested in taking a dog to the highest levels of competition, he or she may want to consider getting a dog specifically for that purpose. Border Collies, for instance, are the royalty of the flyball circuit. Greyhounds thrill crowds at lure coursing trials. But that doesn’t mean that other dogs can’t join in the fun. Some simply enjoy going to the classes and aren’t particularly interested in competition. Others go for loftier pursuits, craving competition, and dreaming of waving the flag from the podium.
Have Fun or Go Home
Just as there’s no fun in forcing a disinterested child to play basketball, there’s no fun in forcing a dog to enjoy a sport that isn’t suitable. While his breed may have been developed for a specific purpose, not all dogs are perfect examples of their breed standards. Just like each human, each dog is different.
The breed check will narrow the possibilities while body type and energy level will provide more clues. But, in the end, if it’s not fun for the dog, it’s best to find another sport that will be enjoyed by both dog and human