Healthy Dog Sports 101


If you want to give your dog some exercise, but walking or jogging seems "old school," think outside the sidewalk. With the explosion of individual and organized dog sporting events, there's a canine activity or two that's sure to perk your enthusiasm. The American Kennel Club sponsors many competitive events for dogs.

You and your four-footed friend can even vacation at a dog camp to enjoy new dog activities. "Spending quality time exercising with your dog is a great way to build a bond, manage weight, and maintain muscle tone," said Jeanne Richter, owner of Camp Gone For the Dogs in Marlboro, Vt.

Prepare for workouts

Before heading out to training classes for the doggy sport you're interested in, check out what's involved. See which ones fit into your schedule and lifestyle, and what you think your dog might like and can physically handle.

It's also a good idea to take your dog to the veterinarian for a checkup to make sure it's in shape for whatever activity you have in mind. Take along plenty of water for your dog and avoid extreme cold or hot weather, especially if you have a flat-faced breed with breathing difficulties. Condition your dog slowly and don't do too much too soon. It also helps to socialize your dog around people and other dogs so it's not overwhelmed later on.

"The first time you go to a class or expose your dog to a new activity shouldn't be the first time it sees 17 other dogs," said Terry Simons, an agility instructor and owner of Flying Dog Agility in Northridge, Calif.

Organized group sports

For the hustle and bustle of structured outings, consider these athletics:

  • Agility: A timed race over 12 or 13 obstacles, agility is divided into classes based on a dog's height and experience. "The one thing that agility does more than anything else is build a dog's confidence," said Simons. "It helps a shy dog come out of its shell and feel comfortable around other dogs and people."

  • Canine Musical Freestyle, or Dancing with your dog: Here's a great way to show off your dog to a crowd and dance to a musical routine at the same time. According to the World Canine Freestyle Organization, musical freestyle incorporates music, timing, costuming, routine development, and showmanship.

  • Flyball: The North American Flyball Association (NAFA) sponsors a lightening-fast team sport in which dogs in a relay jump over hurdles and press a spring-loaded box. The box releases a tennis ball the dog catches and hightails it back to the owner.

  • Tracking: A dog can sniff out odors nearly 100 million times better than people can. Tracking dogs find an article, such as a leather glove, left by someone on a trail. The dog follows the scent and alerts the owner.

Breed-specific events

  • Earthdog: This is a timed event requiring a dog to enter a tunnel and locate a caged rat by barking, growling, whining, or lunging at the cage. If you have a Terrier or a Dachshund with a strong prey drive who loves to dig, this fun event is right down its alley.

  • Field Trials: Sporting dogs such as Beagles, Dachshunds, Retrievers and Pointing Breeds use their noses to follow the scents of small game to locate and alert their owners.

  • Herding: Herding breeds move flocks of animals by following instructions from their owners.

Individual Activities

If you prefer to work independently, there's a wide range of outdoor pursuits to choose from:

  • Paddling a canoe. While this may not increase your dog's heart rate and burn many calories, it's a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors. Make sure your dog wears a properly fitted flotation device.

  • Swimming. Any dog can learn to swim. It just takes time, patience and a pool or lake. Make sure you take all necessary precautions and let your dog move at its own pace.

  • Skijoring. Large breeds and energetic dogs wear a sled dog harness and pull a skier across trails for long-distance travel or short sprints.

No matter what activity you choose for your dog, getting out and active helps mental ability and alleviates boredom, Richter said. "You never know what your dog will be good at until you try everything." Whether your dog is large or small, a purebred or a mixed breed, there's a fun, healthy outing for everyone - including you.


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