Starting with activities which will suit more energetic owners and dogs, CaniX (pronounced Can-ee-cross) is cross country running with your dog. Organised races around the UK are listed on the CaniX website, with some events being held over a whole weekend, offering the chance to camp or caravan onsite, providing time to get to know your fellow runners.
Agility involves the dog jumping over and through, climbing on and along, and weaving between a variety of equipment. The heights of the jumps are adjusted for smaller dogs, so any reasonably fit dog can participate, and owners also need to be able to move at speed around the course. Remembering the order of the course and the signals and commands to give your dog provides a mental workout, but the feeling of working in harmony with your dog is a tremendous reward.
If you don’t feel like moving fast, but your dog is full of energy, check out flyball. In this frenetic canine sport, dogs race down a course, jumping over hurdles, to catch a tennis ball in their mouth and race back to their owner waiting at the start line. Two teams compete against each other, with four dogs in each team. As a team sport, flyball is very sociable, so it helps if both you and your dog are outgoing, however the sport can act as a kind of therapy for nervous dogs, as they focus on the ball, not the other dogs around them.
A more recent, more relaxed offshoot of formal obedience training is Rally. Rally involves the handler and dog walking around a course where there are up to twenty “stations”. Each station has a sign indicating a particular behaviour, which can be as simple as a sit or turn, and the simplest level is completed on lead. The real fun of this activity is that courses can vary greatly, so that the dog’s interest is kept – not to mention the handler’s.
For the more creative, heelwork-to-music is basically dancing with your dog. The real beauty of this discipline is that the moves can be as simple as basic obedience, or as complicated as the owner can devise; you work to your and your dog’s strengths, so your routine can be strenuous or gentle, fast-paced or relaxed. If you’re in a wheelchair, incorporate it as a prop, if you use a walking stick teach your dog to run around it. The key is to find a piece of music that suits the pace you can manage, then come up with the choreography and even a costume.
There are books and dvds that will help you get started, but if you join a class you’ll progress faster, and enjoy the camaraderie of your fellow doggy dancers.
While championship shows such as Crufts are for the well-bred elite, dog shows are no longer the preserve of pedigrees. Crossbreeds are celebrated in Scruffts, and any dog can compete in a fun dog show, which often include novelty classes such as waggiest tail or best trick.
Trick training shouldn’t be overlooked by pet owners; your dog is intelligent enough to do far more than sit, stay or fetch a ball. If you use gentle, reward-based methods your dog will relish the chance to learn some really impressive behaviours, from “speak”, to “play dead” or even to riding a skateboard. The bonus is that working out what you want him to do requires your dog to think, which can tire him out just as much as a several mile hike, and a tired dog is a happy dog.
The very latest dog sport to arrive in the UK is Treibball in which dogs round up a number of large inflatable balls and push them to the owner who is standing in the goal mouth. Neither owner nor dog requires a high level of physical fitness, but patience and perseverance on both parts is helpful as dogs must exercise a measure of self-control and push the balls with their nose, rather than biting them, as well as following directional commands.
Treiball Facebook page
Most dog sports offer the chance to train just for enjoyment as well as to compete at fun or more serious levels. Dog folk are friendly and love to mix with and talk to other dog owners, so you’re assured of a warm welcome whichever activity you choose.
Dogs pick up on our enthusiasm, so choose a sport which really appeals to you, and the chances are your dog will love it too. You don’t have to be athletic or own a brainy Border Collie – you just need to be willing to give it a try. You’ll not only build your bond with your dog, you’ll have fun and make friends, so get out there and get active.