by Jenny Turner
These days there are so many enjoyable activities you can do with your dog. No matter what your dog’s breed, age or activity level (or your own for that matter), there is an activity for you. Have a look at our suggestions below to get an idea of what’s on offer.
Agility: Is easily described as an obstacle course for dogs. Obstacles include bar jumps, weave poles, A-frame (or scramble as it’s sometimes called), dog walk (or ramp), broad jump (or long jump), table, flexible tunnel (or open tunnel), chute tunnel (or closed tunnel), tyre jump and the see-saw (or teeter-totter). The judge decides the maximum time that the course should take to run, and the dog must complete the course within the time limit and without any mistakes to obtain a pass. There are three levels of competition – novice, open and masters. Each level simply adds more obstacles to the competition.
Flyball: Is a relay race between two competing teams. Each team has four dogs. One dog from each team (racing side by side), must go over four jumps, trigger a flyball box pedal, catch or retrieve a tennis ball and return over all four jumps to the start/finish line where the next dog eagerly awaits. Flyball is a sport in which any dog can participate, regardless of breed, shape and size or formal training. It encompasses all the things dogs love. . . chasing, jumping, catching, retrieving, competing and striving to please their owners.
Flygility: As the name suggests, this is a combination of agility and flyball. Instead of the standard jumps between the start/finish line and box, the dog has to negotiate agility obstacles such as the bar jump, broad jump, flexi-tunnel, ramp or 6 weave poles, then still release the ball from the flyball box and return over the obstacles to the start/finish line.
Earthdog: This activity is a simulated hunting situation, usually held in a field, in which the dog tracks the game by scent to the lair within 30 seconds. The simulated “earths” are trenches with timber liners inserted. The trench is scented and a fake (non-living) quarry is placed in a cage at the end of the tunnel. (In the U.S. they use a live rat in a cage, which the dog can see and smell but not physically touch.) Once the dog has found the quarry it is required to “work” it for 45 seconds. To “work” means to bark, dig, growl and lunge at the quarry. The dog may change its form of work, but there must be no significant pauses. This activity is only suitable for small breeds or their crosses, such as Dachshunds and smaller terriers, as they were originally bred for the purpose of pursuing and digging out quarry.
Frisbee: As the name suggests, this sport involves the dog chasing after a frisbee that’s been thrown by the handler. This requires the dogs to be extremely athletic and flexible (and coordinated for that matter). Always, always consult your vet before starting your dog in this sport, and be sure your dog is fully mature before teaching him to leap in the air to catch a frisbee – at least 12 months of age or older. There are two main events in a frisbee competition – catch and retrieve, and freestyle. The catch and retrieve involves the dog making as many successful catches and returns as possible within a set time frame – therefore the tosses are shorter distances. The freestyle component is the most spectacular and fun to watch. This event consists of a timed routine, usually performed to music. The routine is a choreographed presentation of tricks that involve many different types of throws and catches. Some of the more spectacular tricks involve the dog leaping off the leg or back of the thrower and catching a flying disc that is tossed high in the air for the dog. Other tricks have the dog doing back flips and twists. Any dog can be a frisbee dog as long as they are in very good health, not too young, too old or too large, and have a high prey drive.
Lure Coursing: This is what greyhounds do during a race – they chase an artificial lure which simulates the movement of a fast moving rabbit. Sight hounds such as greyhounds, borzois, Rhodesian Ridgebacks and whippets were specifically bred to track using their sight (as opposed to scent), but any dog with a strong prey instinct can do well at this sport. The lure consists of strips of white plastic attached to a continuous loop line that runs through a series of pulleys to simulate the zigzag path of a rabbit on the run. Obviously speed is a factor, but dogs are also judged on enthusiasm during the course, agility in making turns, how accurately they follow the path of the lure, and their endurance in completing the course.
Sledding: Before sledding became a novelty adventure sport, using draft dogs to pull sleds was the only way to get from place to place across the frozen tundra. To participate you’ll need at least two or three healthy (and athletic) dogs, a sled and harnessing equipment (oh, and snow). If you only have one dog your dog, can always join in another team to make up numbers.
Skijoring: Combines dog sledding and cross-country skiing. It’s a cooperative sport that employs the athletic ability of both dog and skier. Assuming you own cross-country ski equipment and a medium-sized dog, you can simply add the necessary harnessing equipment (and snow) and you’re ready. One or two dogs are hooked to the skier via their waists, and the dogs pull the skier along.
Carting: This is the kind of sledding that people do who don’t live in areas where it snows. The principle is the same as sledding. Teams can be as small as 1 dog pulling a modified scooter, or multiple dogs pulling 4-wheeled wagons. Competitions are held during the winter in forest or bush areas and run on dirt tracks or sand (such as done for the famous Oregon sand dune race), although dogs competing on sand require a high level of fitness.
Obedience: All trainers and vets would recommend that all dogs should attend basic obedience classes, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Competition obedience is much more than just sit, come and stay. In the higher levels of competition, dogs are required to find articles using their nose, retrieve dumbbells over jumps, refuse food, and bark on command. For the record, a lady in Australia competes in obedience while confined to a wheelchair, enabling her to still enjoy a partnership with her 4 legged companion.
Dancing with Dogs: Or Canine Musical Freestyle/Freestyle Heeling as it’s otherwise called, combines obedience moves, tricks and dance, and puts them all to music. Anyone with any breed of dog can participate. The dog and handler learn individual moves, then put them together as a choreographed routine. They can be short and simple, or long and complicated routines containing many spectacular and difficult tricks. The object is to display the dog and handler in a creative, innovative and original dance, to display teamwork, artistry, costuming, athleticism and style in interpreting the theme of the music.
Pets as Therapy: If you enjoy meeting new people, would like to volunteer some of your time to helping the community, and have a calm, friendly pet, then pets as therapy may be for you. Strong evidence indicates that pets help reduce stress, have a calming effect on people, help to draw out shy or isolated people, can help with the healing process, make people feel less lonely, and reduce depression. Pets as therapy provides therapeutic visits to hospitals, hospices, nursing and care homes, and is open to almost any species, including dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, and even ferrets. Sometimes called Therapy Pets, Visiting Pets or Animal-Assisted Therapy, each pet is required to undergo a training course and temperament test to gain certification and approval from the local organisation providing the service. This is also a great alternative for older pets that are less energetic than in their youth.
Tracking: A dog is “tracking” when he is following the scent trail left by a human or other animal that has passed along a certain route. Hounds track game, rescue dogs track lost children, police dogs track suspects, and well trained pets can find lost items. Many dog owners are involved in tracking with their dogs either as a hobby (for fun) or as a sport (to earn titles), or both. To participate you will need a tracking harness for the dog, a long lead, a few articles (leather glove, old wallet, old sock, etc.), some treats for the dog, and several flags to mark starts and turns. Eventually, you will need one or more other people to lay tracks for you. Any breed of dog can participate in tracking.
Herding: Is a controlled activity, not a wild frenzy of activity, where the dog must listen to the handler and direct the herd to the right position in the right way. Many breeds of dog may be suitable for herding, but it will depend on their individual instinct, which can be established via an Instinct Test. The handler directs the dog using a long bamboo or PVC pole in the initial stages until the dog has learned all the commands. You’ll also need a field and some sheep!
Weight pull: This is a heavy duty sport that involves dogs in harness pulling a wheeled cart (or sled in snow areas) that is laden with weights or sandbags. Obviously you’ll need a fit dog to compete, and the dogs must be older than 12 months and no older than 12 years. The pulling technique is very important, as is working up to using the cart by starting with your dog towing things such as tyres, to build strength and stamina. Obviously larger dogs are able to pull more weight, but if you divide the weight pulled by the weight of the dogs, smaller dogs have higher ratios. To give you an idea of how much weight these dogs can pull, a medium sized dog pulling a sled in snow will pull about 10 times its own weight, while the same dog pulling a wheeled cart may increase the load up to 30 or 40 times his own weight. It’s not uncommon for a dog in the heaviest weight division to pull more than 1500kg (3300 lb). Dogs are placed into divisions according to their weight (lightest category is 35 lb or under, heaviest is 120 lb or over) and all must successfully pull a set starting weight. Handlers can then choose to skip heats as weights are added to conserve their dog’s energy, but no more than two consecutive pulls can be skipped at any time. Dogs will be restarted or disqualified if they become tangled in their harness or turn around to face the cart. Some rules allow for the dog to take as long as they need to pull the cart the required distance (16 ft.) as long as they don’t cease pulling for more than 1 minute in total, while other rules state that the dog must pull the cart the full distance within 1 minute. Timing begins when the handler commands the dog to start pulling, and the handler must stay behind the finish line and can only encourage the dog with their voice – no food or toys permitted. Traditional draft dogs and larger breeds are the most popular dogs currently involved in weight pull (e.g., Malamutes, Samoyeds, Mastiffs, Bull terriers, St Bernards), but any breed can compete as long as they weigh more than 1/10th the weight of the cart (unloaded).
Schutzhund: Meaning literally “protection dog” is a sport composed of three parts – tracking, obedience and protection work. A Schutzhund trial is effectively one large, comprehensive temperament test. The dogs must be steady or they are excused. For each part of the trial, the judge performs a temperament or impartiality test. In tracking, the judge will examine the dog’s tattoo and/or make the dog stand in the spectator crowd. During obedience, the dog must do a heel through a milling crowd and is subject to hearing gunshots, to prove ability to perform in traffic. During protection work, the dog must do a hold and guard where he must not touch the helper (this person represents the “villain” who is hiding or being threatening). During the rest of the protection routine, the dog must release the helper on command. If a dog will not release, it fails. The helper, by the way, is wearing a full bite suit
Other Activities: As you can see, the list of activities goes on and on. If none of the above appeal to you, there is always Rally Obedience, Hiking, Hunting and Field Trials, Tricks, Roller blading, Search and Rescue, or simply going for a walk. And I’ve no doubt that there are dozens more I have missed. But one thing is clear – there is no excuse for not getting out there with your dog and having some fun together.