All dogs were initially breed for a purpose, such as herding, farm work, guarding, hunting, the list goes on. As time went on dogs became more of a companion animal than working animal. Dog sports began as a way of demonstrating the abilities for which the dogs were originally breed and to provide an outlet for the dogs physical and mental energy.
Dog sports are a fun way to build the relationship with your dog, providing an outlet for them to use the skills they were bred with while also providing both physical and mental stimulation which can prevent problem behaviours from developing.
What sports are available?
Dog sports have continued to grow and develop with new sports being recognised by the Australian Kennel Club (ANKC) as recently as 2020. There are over 15 sports on offer in Australia, there is bound to be a sport for every dog.
Agility requires the dog to manoeuvre its way through an obstacle course while being directed by the handler who can give verbal and visual cues while running with the dog.
Agility is open to all breeds of dogs however it is not advised for dogs that are overweight or have joint issues. It is not advised puppies start training until their joints and bodies are fully developed and generally don't start competing until after 18 months of age.
Don't let this amazing run put you off having a go at agility.
Dances with dogs
Dances with dogs is exactly what it sounds like, its about dancing with your dog. The sport combines obedience, agility and trick skills to create a dance routine to music. Dances with dogs is open to all dogs.
Check out this incredible Dances with Dogs display from Crufts 2017.
Disc dog is like a game of frisbee where the humans throw the disc and the dogs catch them. Teams compete in events such as distance and choreographed routines to music.
All dogs over 18 months are eligible to compete in disc dog. Dogs under 18 months are still able to compete in the Not For Competition (NFC) rounds where discs are rolled along the ground.
Have a look at the athleticism of these dogs at the European Championship
The Draft Test is designed to demonstrate a dogs usefulness as a draft animal and the skills from inherent ability and training of the many breeds that historically functioned as drafting dogs.
Draft Tests are open to all dogs aged 2 years and over. Some exceptions apply to dogs that suffer a disfigurement that interferes with their freedom of movement.
Earth dog is a sport for the many terriers and dachshunds that were originally bred to hunt and chase animals such as fox, rat, otter and badgers. The sport allows these dogs to use their natural instincts in a simulated hunt.
Earth dog is only open to dogs of eligible breeds aged over 6 months.
Watch as this master Earth Dog makes her way through the course.
The Endurance test is similar to the equine endurance and is designed to test a dogs ability to work without showing signs of undue stress or lack of fitness after being subjected to a degree of physical strain.
To assess this the dog is required to run 20kms, broken up into 8km, 6km and 6km legs with rest periods and vet checks between each, at a speed of 10km/h over varying surfaces before being subjected to a "willingness test". Handlers run or cycle the course with the dog.
Endurance is open to dogs of all breeds aged between 2 and 8 years of age.
These dogs had a go at the Endurance Test.
Flyball is one of the most exciting sports to watch. In Flyball two teams of four dogs race. Each dog has to jump over 4 hurdles, retrieve a ball from a Flyball box and return to the start over the four jumps before the next dog can go. If one dog fails to complete the run cleanly they have to run again. The first team to have all 4 dogs complete the run successfully is the winner.
Flyball is open to dogs of all breeds over 12 months of age.
Strap in and watch as these teams race to find the fastest team at Crufts 2020.
Herding is possibly the most complex and challenging of all the dog sports to learn but it's fantastic to watch these dogs perform the basic farm work they were originally bred for. There are a variety of courses that are tested in Herding trials each one testing the dogs ability to manoeuvre sheep, cattle or ducks through a specific course.
Herding trials are restricted to dogs of herding breeds. Dogs over 6 months are able to enter an Instinct Test and are able to compete at 9 months.
Check out these dogs herding ducks at the Maleny Show.
Lure Coursing was a sport developed to test the skills of sighthounds, originally breed to hunt jackrabbits, in a safer more controlled environment. The lure is made of plastic bags tied to a rope and pulled around a course laid out to simulate escaping game and pulled by a hand controlled motor.
There are two streams of lure coursing, one open to sighthounds, the other to all other breeds.
Watch this Basenji chase down the lure in NSW
Obedience is the sport that takes basic obedience training to a competitive level. Dogs and their handlers complete a series of standardised exercises as directed by the judge. Handlers are not allowed to speak to their dogs other than to give instructions for heel, stand, down, stay and come. Teams are judged on how well they execute each of the exercises. There are 5 levels, each one becoming progressively more complex.
This amazing display from Crufts 2020 will give you something to work towards.
Rally Obedience (Rally O)
Rally was designed as a way to introduce people to the world of dog sports. Rally is one of the most relaxed and fun sports with a goal of having fun and building a positive relationship with the dog. A course is set out with a number of stations, each one being an obedience skill. Teams navigate the course with the dogs working in a heel between stations. There are 4 levels, at each level the stations become more difficult.
Obedience and Rally trials are open to all dogs over 6 months of age.
These dog are having a go at the Novice (first) level of a Rally course.
Retrieving and Field Trials
Retrieving and field tests are a sport to test the natural hunting and retrieving ability of Gundogs. Retrieving Ability Tests for Gundogs (RATG) test the basic retrieving ability of Gundogs. Field tests or Retrieving Trials (RT) test the dogs natural hunting ability under natural conditions. Retrieval items are cast from a mechanical thrower and dogs must be able to cover challenging terrain, determine the depth of fall of the item, seek it out and gently deliver it to the handler.
These tests are only open to Gundog breeds over six months of age.
Here is Margo having a go at a practice retrieving trial.
Scent work is a sport based on the tasks of working detection dogs like police and customs sniffer dogs. Scent work allows dogs to use their strongest natural sense in a fun and engaging way. Dogs are trained to recognise and alert the handler to specific odours. Dogs and handlers search a designated area and the dog alerts when it finds the required scent.
Scent work is open to all dog over 6 months of age.
Watch a Bean has a go at their first Scent Work trial.
Schutzhound translates from German to mean "protection dog" and was originally developed to test the mental stability, endurance, structural efficiencies, its ability to scent, willingness to work, courage under duress and trainability of German Shepherds. IPO tests are similar to what you would see an a police dog demonstration.
IPO is open to all breeds over 16 months, however, is most suitable for working breeds including German Shepherd Dogs, Belgian Shepherd Dogs, Rottweilers, Dobermanns and Australian Cattle dogs.
Have a look at this amazing display of Schutzhound at the GSD Championship.
Sled dog racing was born in the northern hemisphere in countries where it snowed in winter. The sport of sledding is now a competitive sport on most continents. Teams of dogs pull a sled with the musher (driver) through a marked course and the fastest team is the winner. In Australia most races are held on dirt tracks and teams of 1 or 2 dogs pull scooters while larger teams pull three-wheels carts. Sledding is currently held in all States and Territories except Tas and NT.
Sledding is suited to breeds from the northern hemisphere such as Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes and Samoyeds, however, the Australian Sleddogs Sports Association allows any dog over 12 months of age that is able to pull and run to participate.
These dogs show us how sledding is done Down Under.
Tracking is a sport where dogs are trained to use their strongest sense and follow a scent trail on the ground made by a person to animal who has moved along the track and find any discarded articles of clothing along the way. Dogs that excel at Tracking can then progress to Track and Search where dogs are required to find a person in a test that mimics a real life situation of a person becoming lost.
Tracking trials are open to dogs of all breeds over 6 months of age.
Here is Hanna following her 6th track and earning her Tracking Title.
Trick Dog was developed to encourage handlers to teach their dogs skills and behaviour in a positive environment. Handlers selected a number of ticks that their dog loves to do from a set list and performs them for the judge. Dogs are judged on how well they perform each trick. Most tricks are an extension of basic obedience skills.
All dogs over 12 months of age are able to compete in Trick trials.
Here Kwin shows us some of the starter tricks.
How do I get started?
If one or more of these sports has caught your attention and you would like to know more or want to get started in the sport head over to the ANKC, your states member body or the sport association website to find more information on the rules and to find a club to help you get started.
You can also have a look at your states member body or the sport association website to find out when and where trials are being held. Entry to trials is usually free and going along to have a look is a great way to see if trialing is something you would like to do or just to watch some great displays by some amazing teams.
If trialing is not for you but you think your dog would still be interested in learning the skills of a particular sport you can also find a local club to help you, you don't have to compete.
What sports interest you the most or would you be keen to try with your dog?