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These 5 Breeds Excel at Dog Sports

Yes, the Border Collie often dominates the agility course, but here's a shout-out to the Rat Terrier and four other breeds with a spring in their step!

Lynn M. Hayner  |  Sep 9th 2016


Australian Shepherds and Shetland Sheepdogs may rock the agility courses, but let’s hear from five less-often-named nimble breeds with a taste for the performing arts. Lights, camera, action!

1. Leonberger

Didn’t expect to see me? Turns out I’m astonishingly agile for my size. In fact, I’m one of the few giant breeds you may see properly navigating an agility course. I may weigh some 150 pounds (males are heavier), but I evidence both speed and a natural sprightliness. We originated around Leonberg, a small country town in Germany. Heinrich Essig, a German breeder, developed us for all-around farm, watch-dog, and draft dog work. Essig seemingly wanted to create us to match the town’s crest, a lion up on his rear legs. So we males with manes have a lion-esque appearance. And our nimbleness is lion-like, too.

2. Rat Terrier

Rat Terrier, Ferris, courtesy Deb Stevenson. Photographer, Barry Rosen www.barryrosen.com

Rat Terrier Ferris, courtesy Deb Stevenson/photographer Barry Rosen.

Bred right here in America as a farm dog, I have many talents beyond rat chasing. I’m animated, merry, and a capable competitor in action sports such as flyball, disc dog, and rally. Just don’t expect silent, solemn performances from us. Our exuberance is contagious, and often audible. My cousins Remus and Ferris partner with Deb Stevenson in agility. Whenever Deb cues Remus to turn, he gives a single bark as if to say “I got it!”  And Ferris’ favorite agility warmup is a flying high-five up to Deb’s hand. Yep, we’re all about the movement, the movement, the movement! Offer us a new sport, and we’ll hit the ball out of the park. We’ll rid that park of rodents, too.

3. Papillon

Papillon courtesy Laura Simonelli, M. Nicole Fischer photography

Papillon courtesy Laura Simonelli, M. Nicole Fischer photography.

My French name suggests a butterfly, so it’s a lovely parallel that I’m light on my feet.  With a history tied to Spain and Italy, I was a popular companion of the European aristocracy. Rumor has it Marie Antoinette brought one of my cousins (who survived, thankfully) with her to the guillotine. I’m highly trainable, and a frequent agility star. I’m also a fan of canine freestyle, another sport that allows me to demonstrate my superb sprightliness. Canine freestyle blends three skills I easily master: obedience, tricks, and dance. And since I’m one of the most intelligent breeds around, you can choreograph our dance to intricate compositions, such as Beethoven’s 5th symphony. I’m up to any challenge.

4. Chinese Crested Dog

Chinese Crested Dog courtesy Lisa Christman, photography M. Nicole Fischer

Chinese Crested Dog courtesy Lisa Christman, photography M. Nicole Fischer.

While we receive much publicity about our hairlessness (humans seem preoccupied with the word hairless), we also have a Powder-puff variety with abundant fur all over his body. But let’s not focus on hair. Above all else, we’re elegant and nimble. Whether I’m weaving around poles or controlling a seesaw on an agility course, I’m fluidity in motion. No wonder I was a valuable trade item; Chinese explorers and merchants sold and exported my ancestors all over the world. Today my sparkly eyes, varied colors, and gaily carried tail liven up any dog sport ring. My new favorite is the sport of Rally-FrEe. Imagine the fun of rally, with the added novelty of tricks such as leg weaves and spins. I appreciate the limelight, but I’m also happy at home with just my people. We can dance joyfully with or without an audience.

5. Whippet

Whippet courtesy photographer, Mary Huff

Whippet courtesy Mary Huff.

Developed for great speed and to hunt by sight, I’m a natural sprinter. But agility is a major factor in successful rabbit chasing. Those little fellas can turn on a dime! Fortunately, I can too. I was bred as a working man’s racehorse, smaller to keep and cheaper to feed than my cousin the Greyhound. I’m a cozy companion indoors. But when activity beckons, I’ll kick into gear. My body type and personality make me a natural competitor in sports that involve speed and sprightliness. I’m a big fan of agility, high jumping, and disc dog freestyle. Such fun to dance, flip, and perform tricks as I catch discs. My flexibility and balance are celebrated, as is my ability to curl up successfully on the smallest human lap possible. Is there an award for lap curling?

Top photo: Rat Terrier courtesy Deb Stevenson, Rich Knecht Photography.