The best ways to exercise and stimulate an active dog and build a bond through training.
Running, jumping, catching, sniffing, swimming, herding, pulling, chasing, retrieving... All things dogs are really good at, and also the core activities involved in a number of dog sports available for any dog and owner to try out.
And there is a broad choice to pick from, depending on your dog's abilities, breed characteristics and favorite games, and of course, whether you want to be an active player in the sport, too.
You've heard of Agility and Obedience, but here are seven alternative sports to try out with your dog:
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1 Dock Jumping
What is it?
Dock Jumping (aka Dock Diving or Diving Dogs) is a fun sport for dogs who love water and involves a dog running along a 40-foot platform (dock) and leaping off it into a pool of water to retrieve a toy. The goal is to jump as far as possible, with some of the best jumpers clearing up to 30 feet before hitting the water.
There are in fact three different disciplines for competing:
The long jump, or Big Air, is the fundamental discipline. In September 2019 a 4-year old whippet called Sounders beat his own previous Guinness World Record by leaping 36-feet 2-inches to set 'the farthest jump by a dog'.
Extreme Vertical is where a bumper toy is suspended above the water, 8-feet from the edge of the dock, and the dog must leap out and up to grab it. The height is raised in 2-inch increments to find the champion.
Speed Retrieve is the third discipline and involves a timed run where the dog must dive into the water and grab the toy suspended at the end of the pool in the quickest time.
Good swimmers who love retrieving.
What do we need to start Dock Jumping?
Initially, just a body of water and your dog's favourite toy or ball. My dog and I use our local river bank and one of Rumble's tennis balls, but there are organisations worldwide who host events where you can get involved, try it out and even compete if your dog shows potential for leaping great distances.
What is it?
Flyball is a high-speed relay race between two teams, with each team comprising of four dogs.
The teams run side-by-side down a 51-foot long course, jumping hurdles along the way. At the end they change direction by bouncing off the Flyball box, triggering the release of the ball, which they take back up the course before the next dog is released.
The first team to complete the course with all four dogs and no errors wins.
High energy, fast runners.
What do we need to start Flyball?
While there are plenty of automatic ball launchers available, they bear no resemblance to a Flyball box launcher, which is a flat angled surface that the dog uses to push against to change direction.
This force triggers the release of the ball, which is fired just enough to release it into the dog's mouth, as opposed to shooting it any distance.
To get involved, you'll need to find your local club or organisation who'll put you in touch with any local teams. The British Flyball Association (BFA) represents the sport in the UK, and the North American Flyball Association (NAFA) governs the sport in the US.
What is it?
Triebball was created for herding dogs and involves herding over-sized balls into a goal, in its most basic sense. In competition, the dogs will have to nose the balls in a specific order and within a time limit.
The handler must not physically intervene, but will use whistle, verbal or hand commands to guide the dog. The balls must not leave the marked area.
Herding breeds, such as Border Collies, will have an advantage and a natural instinct, but any dog that responds to training can learn.
What do we need to start Triebball?
Before finding a club or organisation to join, you can start off with any large ball in your garden, such as a pilates ball.
Tougher balls specifically for dogs are available and will last much longer, like this one from Jolly Pets. Just ensure it's big enough that your dog can't get their mouth around it. The American Triebball Association states balls should roughly be the height of the dog's shoulder.
But the ball is your least concern, as training your dog to respond to commands from a distance is fundamental and this is where you should focus your time initially. The main set of skills needed are:
Coming to you on command
Sending your dog away with the 'Go out' cue, to sit facing you from a distance. They will be required to circle a ball (or any target during training) in a clockwise direction.
Lie down on command facing you - this is the finish position to end the session.
And then comes the challenge of teaching them to nose the balls, and in the specific order instructed. The balls are usually different colors.
Suffice to say, Triebball requires some dedicated training and a smart and willing dog, but the partnership between handler and dog makes it an incredibly rewarding sport.
And you'll end up with a very well trained dog that you can control in many non-sporting situations.
4 Dog Scootering
What is it?
Dog Scootering is mushing sport, associated with sled-dog racing, where your canine partner pulls you, onboard a specialized scooter, through a time-trialled course.
Competitive events are available if you want to get serious, but otherwise it's a great way of exercising and having fun with your dog, and building a strong level of communication.
Medium to large breeds of dog with a high energy levels and a willingness to learn new commands.
What do we need to start Dog Scootering?
You'll need a collection of accessories to start, as you'll want to do this properly, for both you and your dog's safety.
The links below are examples from a UK store dedicated to sled-dog sports, but other options are available. I chose these as an example as they offer complete starter packs with all you need.
The scooters feature large, bike-size wheels for stability on trails, and some are a little longer than a standard scooter for the same reason. Some scooters have a protruding front fender, which serves as the hook-up point for the line.
The harness is not a standard dog harness as it extends further down the back and is designed specifically for pulling.
The running line is the type used in canicross and bikejoring and features a bungee-style construction for jerk-free pulling, and usually attaches via a carabiner that can rotate to prevent twisting of the line.
The small metal antennae attaches to the front of the scooter and the line feeds through it, helping direct the line and also prevent it from falling into the front wheel.
(I'd also highly recommend some form of helmet, such as a good cycling one.)
5 Disc Dog
What is it?
Disc Dog is basically throwing a Frisbee for your dog to catch. But in competition, there's a lot more to it than that, and official events include contests in the following three disciplines:
Throw and Catch - Also called Mini-Distance, these short distance events involve throwing the disc at ever-greater distances within a time limit, of usually one minute, with the aim of your dog catching the disc each time. Extra points are awarded for mid-air catches.
Long Distance - One of the oldest competition formats, this simply involves throwing and catching the disc at the longest distance possible. The original Quadruped series featured four teams of competitors, with the last standing being the winner. Today, many more than four teams compete in this internationally popular event.
Freestyle - Probably the most spectacular format, individual competitors perform choreographed routines, from 90 seconds upwards, and are awarded for complexity of routine, athleticism, showmanship etc and will usually include flips, multiple catches, body vaults and other impressively co-ordinated moves.
In recent years the advent of a more beginner-friendly format called UpDog has opened the sport to everyone, as there are many classes and being the best thrower or even your dog's ability to catch is not a barrier to entry, as fun and inclusiveness are key to the class.
There are even categories that don't involve a disc at all. Find out more about UpDog here.
Fast, athletically active dogs who love retrieving.
What do we need to start Disc Dog?
Just your dog, an open space and a flying disc (aka Frisbee, which is a trademarked name).
What is it?
Essentially, Canicross is cross-country running, while being aided by your dog, attached to you by a harness and line.
It's a great way of just running with your dog, but if you want to get serious there are events worldwide, but you'll have to get training with your pooch partner first.
Teaching your dog some basics is key, such as pulling into the harness, which might be unintuitive if you've spent time training them not to pull when out walking.
You'll also want to get them to learn to turn left or right, as they won't be looking at you for direction. Basic mushing commands are used in most dog-pulling competitions, as these sports derive from sled-dog activities (Canicross was invented to keep sled-dogs active during summer months).
Gee - right
Haw - left
On by - ignore keep going
Hike on - use more pulling power to carry forward
Let's go - speeding up or starting to go
Steady - slow the pace
Whoa - stop
Stand/line out - stand still facing forward
(You can use whatever terms you like, as long as you're both in agreement!)
Dogs and owners who love to run. They don't need to be the pulling type, such as Huskies, but a good balance of weight is important as a small 8kg terrier won't make much difference when pulling an 80kg human.
When running and pulling, a dog can add a couple of MPH to the runner's speed, and knowing when to use this effect is key to being competitive.
What do we need to start Canicross?
You'll need a sled-dog style pulling harness for your dog, as they are designed for pulling and distribute forces across the appropriate areas of your dog's anatomy.
You'll attach a flexible line, with built-in suspension, and this will attach to your own Canicross waist harness. They are often sold together, such as this example.
And as you'll be sharing the effort, you'll need some basic running gear too, with some decent trail running shoes.
7 Lure coursing
What is it?
Lure coursing is a humane method of hare coursing using a mechanised artificial lure, giving sighthounds the experience of using their inherent coursing traits.
Typically, competitive sport is restricted to purebred sighthound breeds, but as these are the fastest dogs breeds, ability is better matched and the speed of the lure appropriate to their speed.
Some clubs and organisations welcome non-purebred dogs and even non-sighthound breeds in more fun-centred competitions. But as sighthounds are instinctively triggered by moving prey, this is the perfect sport for allowing your dog to use their natural instincts, which could help to prevent unwanted chasing in normal daily situations.
Lures are usually made from brightly colored plastic such as bin liners or colored rags and is operated remotely by a lure driver, who stands atop a platform alongside the course.
Some courses feature turns and obstacles and are usually held within an enclosed area.
Purebred sighthounds such as greyhounds, salukis, whippets etc. As with most dog sports, dogs should be at least one year old before engaging in high intensity activities.
What do we need to start Lure Coursing?
Well, you could always tie some rags to the back of your car and speed off down a dirt track with your dog in tow, but you're better off finding your local club through the official organisations, below.
I hope this small selection gives you some inspiration for taking up a new sport with your dog. Any activity you choose to do will inevitably strengthen your bond with your dog through trust and communication. And you'll both be happier and fitter by exercising together as a team. Have fun!