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Blog /Dog Sports
Life with Pets February 01, 2024

Dog sports to keep your pup happy and healthy

Explore the world of organized dog sports and find an activity that's a natural fit for your pup's skills and instincts.

Providing dogs with proper exercise isn’t just about their physical fitness. It’s also essential for their mental well-being. Like people, dogs need an outlet for their energy and a way to engage their minds. 

One fantastic way to achieve this is through organized dog sports. These activities not only keep your pup active, but also tap into their natural strengths. And as an added bonus, sports provide an opportunity for you and your dog to bond through a shared activity.

Border Collie on an agility course.

Understanding your dog’s natural skills

Dogs come in all shapes and sizes and have different skills and instincts depending on their breed or breed mix. Some are natural jumpers while others are fast runners. Some have an exceptional sense of smell and some have an innate desire to herd. Understanding and encouraging your dog’s natural abilities is rewarding for both you and your dog.

Luckily, there are so many competitive dog sports available that there’s bound to be an event that matches your pup’s interests and will bring out the best in them.

Golden Retriever jumping off a dock.

Popular dog sports

Dock diving

Dock diving is a water-based sport where dogs jump off a dock into a pool, aiming for distance or height. It’s a thrilling way to keep your water-loving dog active and engaged.

Skills needed: Strength, agility, and a love for water.

Breeds that excel at the sport: Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Portuguese Water Dog, and Belgian Malinois.

Agility

Agility is a fast-paced obstacle course where dogs navigate tunnels, weave poles, jumps, and other challenges. It’s a test of speed, agility, and the handler’s guidance. A dog’s drive influences how successful they are in this timed event.

Skills needed: Agility, speed, and obedience.

Breeds that excel at the sport: Border Collie, Papillon, Australian Kelpie, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Rat Terrier, Belgian Sheepdog, Belgian Tervuren, and Australian Shepherd.

Tracking trial

Tracking involves dogs following a scent trail laid out by a person that leads to a hidden object. It taps into a dog’s keen sense of smell and is an exceptional mental exercise.

Skills needed: Scent tracking, focus, and patience.

Breeds that excel at the sport: Bloodhound, German Shepherd, Beagle, Dachshund, Treeing Walker Coonhound, Airedale Terrier, and Pointer

Musical canine freestyle

Musical canine freestyle is a combination of obedience, tricks, and dance set to music. It’s a creative and entertaining sport that showcases the bond between you and your dog.

Skills needed: Obedience, intelligence, agility

Breeds that excel at the sport: Poodle, Pomeranian, Papillon, Golden Retriever, and Australian Shepherd.

Dog jumping in the air to catch a frisbee.

Disc dog

Disc dog, also known as canine frisbee, involves dogs catching flying discs thrown by their pet parents. It’s a fantastic way to strengthen the bond between you and your pup while showcasing their athleticism.

Skills needed: Agility, speed, and precision catching.

Breeds that excel at the sport: Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, Jack Russell Terrier, Whippet

Flyball

Flyball is a relay race where teams of four dogs take turns jumping over hurdles to trigger a spring-loaded box, releasing a tennis ball that they must then retrieve. It’s a high-energy sport that combines speed and teamwork.

Skills needed: Speed, agility, retrieving, and intelligence.

Breeds that excel at the sport: Labrador Retriever, Border Collie, Whippet, Vizsla, Border Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

Rally obedience

Rally obedience is a dog sport that combines elements of traditional obedience with a timed course. Handlers (that’s you!) and dogs navigate a series of stations, performing commands at each one.

Skills needed: Obedience, eagerness to please, focus, and teamwork.

Breeds that excel at the sport: Golden Retriever, Poodle, Doberman Pinscher, Miniature Schnauzer, Shetland Sheepdog, and English Springer Spaniel

Skijoring

Skijoring involves a dog pulling a person on skis. It’s a winter sport that combines the joy of skiing with a dog’s natural strength and enthusiasm. This sport is recommended for dogs 35 pounds and heavier. 

Skills needed: Pulling, endurance, and winter fitness.

Breeds that excel at the sport: Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Samoyed, Dalmatian, German Shepherd, Alaskan Husky, Canadian Eskimo Dog, and Eurohound.

Treibball

Treibball is a herding sport where dogs push large balls into a goal. It’s a fun way to engage herding instincts without the need for livestock. And for dogs that love to swim, Swimball offers a similar game, but played in the water.

Skills needed: Problem-solving, herding, and focus.

Breeds that excel at the sport: Border Collie, Collie, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Dutch Shepherd Dog, McNab, Lacy Dog, Rottweiler, and Cairn Terrier.

Two sighthounds doing lure coursing.

Coursing

If your dog enjoys running, hunting, and chasing, coursing may be right up their alley. Lure coursing simulates a hare chase, where dogs follow a mechanically operated lure through a course. It’s an excellent way to satisfy a dog’s prey drive (and need for speed) in a controlled environment. Dogs that want to test out the sport may start with CAT (coursing ability test), an event that uses an artificial lure and shorter course, or Fast CAT, a timed 100-yard dash.

Skills needed: Speed, endurance, and prey drive.

Breeds that excel at the sport: Greyhound, Saluki, Whippet, Silken Windhound, Italian Greyhound, and Rhodesian Ridgeback.

Mushing

Mushing involves a team of dogs pulling a sled or cart through the snow. It’s an exhilarating sport that showcases the strength and coordination of a dog team.

Skills needed: Pulling, endurance, and teamwork.

Breeds that excel at the sport: Siberian Husky, Alaskan Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Samoyed, Canadian Eskimo Dog, Eurohound, and Chinook.

Field trial

Field trials are competitions that simulate hunting conditions and evaluate a dog’s ability to perform. These trials include elements such as pointing, flushing, retrieving, and trailing.

Skills needed: Retrieving, obedience, stamina, and the ability to work in varied terrain.

Breeds that excel at the sport: Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, English Springer Spaniel, German Shorthaired Pointer, Pointer, English Setter, and Brittany

Earth Dog

Earth Dog trials are great for engaging small dogs bred to pursue quarry underground. In this sport, dogs navigate through a tunnel and locate a target scent, showcasing their natural hunting and digging abilities.

Skills needed: Scent tracking, digging, and determination.

Breeds that excel at the sport: Dachshund, Cairn Terrier, Norfolk Terrier, Border Terrier, and Jack Russell Terrier

Kicksledding

Kicksledding involves a dog or a team of dogs pulling a lightweight sled typically designed for one person. This winter sport allows dogs to participate in pulling activities in cold climates.

Skills needed: Pulling, endurance, teamwork, and ability to handle cold conditions

Breeds that excel at the sport: Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Samoyed, Greenland Dog, and Canadian Eskimo Dog

Getting started

Though certain breeds possess innate abilities that help them perform in different sports, many breeds and mixed-breed dogs can participate in most of the sports we’ve showcased. Like all sports, it takes patience and practice to improve. And your pup doesn’t need to take home the trophy to have fun or reap the benefits of organized sports.

Before you get started, consult with your veterinarian to ensure your dog is in proper health for the sport you’re considering. Then, look for local obedience classes, breed clubs, or events and competitions near you where you can learn more about a sport and what it takes to master the basic skills. And remember, the best part of any sporting event is the time you and your pup get to spend together—so make sure to enjoy the journey!