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Play With Your Dog!

April 30, 2014

It can sometimes be hard for city-dwelling owners to keep our dogs’ bodies and brains active and exercised. In recent years there has been a marked increase in options for organized activities and sports that are growing in popularity. Some are very competitive at higher levels, but anyone can participate in most of them at novice levels for fun. This post is not an endorsement of any particular sport, nor is it a comprehensive list of every sport and activity available to dog owners. It is simply meant to provide basic information about a variety of options with links to learn more about any that may interest you.

Before beginning any sport with your dog, it is important to make sure s/he is healthy enough to participate and to find a mentor who can help guide you and your dog through training (and competing, if you choose) safely. In many cases (particularly agility, obedience, and rally obedience) there are several local options for classes to help prepare you and your dog and learn how to properly train and participate.

Most organizations require a dog to be registered in order to participate in the trials they sponsor. With a few breed- or group-specific exceptions, both purebred and mixed breed dogs may be registered and participate. The American Kennel Club (AKC) or United Kennel Club (UKC) sponsor many events. If you have a purebred dog who is already registered (has papers) with one of these you are all set. If you have a purebred dog who is not registered, you can register with AKC through the PAL/ILP program (http://www.akc.org/reg/ilpex.cfm) or with UKC through the Limited Privilege program (http://www.ukcdogs.com/Web.nsf/WebPages/Registration/LimitedPrivilege). If you have a mixed breed dog, you may register with AKC through the Canine Partners program (http://www.apps.akc.org/classic/mixbreeds/) or through UKC’s Limited Privilege program. Some sports such as Barn Hunt or Nosework may require registration with their individual governing bodies rather than with the AKC or UKC, and information is available in the provided links.

Agility: Agility is a sport where handlers direct their dogs through an obstacle course, competing both for time and accuracy. Obstacles include tunnels, jumps, a teeter, and more. There are several different organizations that hold and oversee agility trials, which are summarized (with contact information) at:


Barn Hunt:  Barn Hunt is a sporting event that tests a dog’s ability to locate vermin (rats who are safely contained in a bite and crush-proof container) by scent in a barn-like environment. Rats are not harmed and any breed can participate. More information is available at:


Competitive Obedience: Competitive obedience tests a dog and handler’s ability to perform a variety of traditional basic and advanced obedience skills. Dogs at different skill levels from novice to advanced can participate. More information is available at:



Dock Diving: Dock diving is a sport where dogs compete by jumping for height or distance from a dock into water. More information is available at



Joring: Joring, sometimes called urban mushing, may refer to one of several sports where dogs pull their owner, who is on a bicycle (bikejoring), a kick scooter (scootering), or cross country skis (skijoring). Any breed can participate, although it is important to make sure your dog is fit and healthy enough to participate and you find a mentor to help you find proper equipment and train safely. Further information is available at:





Lure Coursing: Lure coursing is a sport that tests a dog’s ability and interest in following a lure (typically plastic bags) by sight for a specified distance. Depending on the specific trial, dogs may compete for the fastest time or may simply qualify/disqualify based on whether they run the full length of the course. This sport originated as a field trial for sighthounds (such as greyhounds) and while true lure coursing competitions are still limited to sighthound breeds, the AKC recently developed a lure coursing event called the coursing ability test or CAT which is open to all breeds and mixed breeds. More information is available at:




Miscellaneous and Breed Specific Sports: There are a number of sports that are specialized and limited to certain breeds or groups of breeds such as hunting field trials for retrievers or spaniels, herding trials, Earth Dog trials (terriers), and hunting field trials for hounds. More information can be found at:


Nosework: Nosework is a recreational offshoot of search and rescue where dogs learn to locate and alert their handler to the position of scents (essential oils such as birch, clove, and anise) that are hidden somewhere in an indoor or outdoor location. Nosework is a great confidence building sport for shy dogs and any dog can participate. More information is available at:


Rally Obedience (Rally-O): Rally obedience is a sport that is based on competitive obedience but is a bit more freestyle. Handler and dog navigate a course of signs, and at each sign a specific exercise must be performed. A course typically consists of 10-20 signs and there are dozens of possible exercise, so every course is different. Novice courses are done on-leash and exercises are very basic, more advanced courses are performed off-leash and exercises are more challenging. This is a fun activity for someone who is looking for a relatively casual sport to play with their dog. More information is available at:




Tricks Training: While not truly an organized sport, many dogs enjoy tricks training immensely. One advantage to tricks training is that it can be done either in a class setting (several local training clubs offer tricks classes) or practiced at home. Tricks training is a great way to build the bond with your dog, give your dog a mental workout on these rainy days, and increase a dog’s confidence. More information is available at:




Weight Pull: Weight pull is a sport where dogs pull a weighted cart or sled for short distances on a track. Scoring is not determined simply by the maximum weight a dog can pull but on a formula that takes the dog’s own body weight into account, so any dog can participate competitively. If you are interested in weight pull, is very important that your dog be physically capable of participating in this sport and that you find a mentor to help you choose the correct equipment (harness) and to train safely. More information is available at




Remember: Life is short, play with your dog! Tell us about any activities you and your dog(s) participate in and what you like about them in the comments!

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