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What Are the Top Dog Sports & How Can I Participate? A Complete Guide

Written by: Grant Piper

Last Updated on June 20, 2024 by Dogster Team

Australian Shepherd Dog playing on green grass at park while raining

What Are the Top Dog Sports & How Can I Participate? A Complete Guide

Dog sports are a great way to get your dog some much-needed physical and mental stimulation. It can also be a great way to bond with your dog and to find yourself a new hobby to enjoy and invest time in. If you want to get into dog sports, there are a lot of options, from intensive hunting trials to basic obedience competitions. Finding a dog sport that is right for you is about matching up your dog and their skill set to an existing dog sport and finding one that you can potentially compete in.

Here are 11 of the top dog sports, including how best to start participating and what some of the most basic requirements are. Not every dog can do every sport, but there are sports here that will work for you and your pup.

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Top 11 Dog Sports & How to Participate

1. Agility

Agility is a sport in which you and your dog run an obstacle course in an attempt to achieve the best time. Each agility course is a little different and is made up of 12 to 20 different obstacles. Obstacles can include tunnels, ramps, seesaws, tires, poles, and jumps. The course must be completed in a specific order, with your dog tackling each obstacle one after the other. The dog with the fastest time is awarded the winner. Owners must run the course alongside their dogs (not going over the obstacles but running alongside them) and direct them using cues and body language. Agility is one of the most common dog sports, and almost any dog can participate in it.

black and white cardigan welsh corgi dog running agility course
Image Credit: Lisjatina, Shutterstock

How to Participate

The first thing you should do is consider taking an agility class. Agility is not a sport that you can easily get a grasp of from home. You need to go out and see a course and run through the basics with an instructor to see if it is a good fit for both you and your dog. Not everyone will click with agility.

After you take a class or two, you will want to consider setting some basic obstacles in your backyard so you can practice your cadence, obedience, and fitness with your dog. At home practice is key to eventually competing in an agility trial. The goal is to take a class, learn some basics, and then go home and practice what you learned in class for 30 minutes per day with your dog.

If you want to compete in agility trials, you first must take an Agility Course Test (ACT), which will qualify you and your dog for higher level competition. The first step is to find a place to administer the ACT to you and your dog so that you can begin applying for local competitions.


2. Obedience Trials

Obedience trials test a dog’s basic skills and ability to listen to their owner. Obedience trials score dogs on a variety of different tasks, from walking on a leash, walking off leash, staying, sitting, and more. Obedience is one of the oldest recognized dog sports, with official competitions emerging in the 1930s. Obedience is one of the most common dog sports, and it is open to dogs of all breeds, including mixed breeds. Obedience trials have a very low bar to entry. You don’t need any special equipment or courses. You just need to have confidence in your dog’s ability to listen to basic commands.

rhodesian ridgeback dog giving paw in training
Image Credit: Ivan4es, Shutterstock

How to Participate

If you are considering participating in obedience trials, you should have started training your dog from a very young age. Puppies are much easier to train than adult dogs. If you did not manage to instill the basics of obedience into your dog when they were a puppy, you might be too far behind to be competitive. If you are confident in your dog’s abilities, you can enter an obedience trial. Most trials are open to anyone. There are three different levels of competition for obedience: Novice, Open, and Utility.


3. Rally

Rally is a combination of obedience and agility. A judge sets up a rally course that pairs will compete in. You and your dog will work together as a team to navigate the course. There will be 10 to 20 different signs that tell you what needs to be done to complete the step. Some of the steps will be an obedience test, others will be a specific movement that you and your dog need to do together, and others will be basic obstacles like a cone weave or a small jump. Each owner-dog pair will start with a perfect score of 100, and points will be deducted throughout the course. Scores over 70 are considered good and will usually qualify you for the next step in the competition.

border collie dog doing agility training
Image Credit: Kamil Macniak, Shutterstock

How to Participate

Rally is one of the newest dog sports, but it continues to gain popularity year after year. There are six different levels of rally, and those curious about the sport should start with the novice level and seek out a training course or class. After Novice, rally participants move up to Intermediate, Advanced, Excellent, Master, and Choice. Each level is more complicated than the last, with more signs, more complex steps, and more rigorous scoring. You and your dog can gain certification at these levels by taking the classes, and then you can enter local competitions to try your hand at rally for yourself.


4. Herding Event

A herding event is a sporting competition where dogs are judged on their ability to move and control livestock. Live animals are used in these trials, and herding dogs are asked to move groups of animals such as ducks, cows, or sheep. The most basic competitions are conducted on a pass-fail scale, while the more elaborate events have complex scoring charts that will help differentiate between dogs of various skill levels. Scores are determined by the type of livestock, the difficulty of the course, and the level of the competition. There are three test levels: Starter, Intermediate, and Advanced.

Australian shepherd is herding sheeps
Image Credit: Ellis Berankova, Shutterstock

How to Participate

There are two basic requirements to start participating in herding events. First, you should have a herding dog. Herding is a sport that will not work for any breed. Most herding events are only open to herding dog breeds. Second, you need to take a herding dog test. This test is often called an Instinct Test or Herding Potential test. Any herding dog can apply to take this test at a local club. The judge will let you know whether your dog has what it takes to compete in a herding event. You should also familiarize yourself with the rules of herding events. Owning some sort of livestock is also a plus, as it gives your dog a way to practice at home. If you do not own any livestock, training and progressing in herding is going to be very difficult compared to other people who have livestock.


5. IGP

IGP, also known as Schutzhund and IPO, is a sport that combines agility, obedience, and protection into one overarching sport. The sport was designed to test the characteristics of a good working dog. Originally, IGP was a test used to qualify German Shepherds for certain jobs. From that point, the sport has evolved to encompass all German working breeds and, finally, all breeds. There are three levels of competition, and each trial features a tracking phase, an obedience phase, and a protection phase.

german shepherd dog in the forest
Image Credit: Osetrik, Shutterstock

How to Participate

The best way to start participating in IGP is to find a Schutzhund club that features some trainers that you can get in touch with. A club is the best gateway into the IGP community and is the best way to find out about local competition. While any breed can participate in IGP today, the competitive scene is still dominated by German Shepherds and Belgian Shepherds. Other breeds have very little chance of dethroning a well-trained German Shepherd in IGP since the test was designed around testing a German Shepherd’s working ability.


6. Dock Jumping

Dog jumping is a fun sport with a very simple premise. You get your dog to sit calmly at a starting line at the end of a dock. Then, you throw your dog’s favorite toy into the nearby body of water. When you release your dog, they will run full speed down the dock and send themselves flying into the water after their toy. The goal is for your dog to have the longest jump from the end of the dock. Judges will measure your dog’s leap and give them a score based on the total distance traveled in the air.

How to Participate

Dock jumping dogs need to have three key things. Dogs must be able to swim, they must love to be in the water, and they must be able to retrieve a toy from the water. Speed and power will also help your dog succeed in this sport. There are no breed restrictions on dock jumping, and any dog that has the three key characteristics can participate. Having a pool at home is a big advantage, so you can practice and train with your dog from your own backyard.

North American Diving Dogs (NADD) is one of the largest dock jumping clubs in the United States, and it is a great place to start when looking for events and local diving facilities.


7. Dog Surfing

Dog surfing is a sport that has become more popular in recent years. Any dog can participate in dog surfing. Dog surfing competitions occur in surf towns and regions where surfing is already popular. Dogs are graded on their ability to remain on a surfboard and to ride waves. There are solo competitions and tandem competitions. Tandem has two dogs, or one dog and one human, riding on the board together. Dog surfing is most popular in California, but it has also started appearing in Hawai’i, Florida, and Australia.

brown schnauzer dog on pool float
Image Credit: Mia Anderson, Unsplash

How to Participate

To participate in dog surfing, you need a surfboard, a dog that likes the ocean, and a beach where you can practice. Finding a dog that can sit or stand on a surfboard is the first step to success. You can practice putting a dog on a board in a pool, but you will only get a realistic experience when you transfer to the ocean. Any breed can compete in dog surfing, but sometimes smaller, stouter dogs have a better chance of staying on a surfboard. Most dog surfing competitions are open registration, and the competitive scene is not as cutthroat as other dog sports. Much like surfing itself, dog surfing competitions are friendly, fun, and largely casual.


8. Sled Dog Racing

Sled dog racing remains extremely popular in the northern regions of our planet. Places like Alaska, Canada, and Scandinavia all feature sled dog racing. Sled dog racing is a sport with an ancient tradition that extends back to the days when sled dogs and mushing were one of the only ways to get around Arctic regions. Today, the peak of the sled dog racing world is the Iditarod, which takes place each year in Alaska. Most races have some sort of qualifying component for the Iditarod. In some local communities, sled dog racing is a great way to pass short, cold winter days in snowy climates.

pack of wolves carrying sled
Image Credit: fox jia, Unsplash

How to Participate

Participation in sled dog racing is demanding. First, you need to have a group of sled dogs to work with. Second, you need to live in a snowy region where sled dog racing is common. Third, you usually need some experience, cultural background, or mentorship from an active sled dog racer. This is a difficult combination to put together. If you manage to get the prerequisites, then you must start training in mushing and obedience with the hopes of qualifying for a low-level race or regional race. However, if you manage to start sled dog racing, it is one of the most rewarding endeavors you can embark on.


9. Field Trials

Field trials are a series of sports targeting specific dog breeds. Field trials (or fieldwork competitions) are designed to test a dog’s skills in a certain area that the dog was bred to perform. There are a number of different field trials, such as Retriever trials, Pointing trials, and Gundog trials. Each trial will be designed with a specific type of dog in mind. These sports are geared toward working dogs and letting working dogs compete against each other to show off their general skills.

woman running on a trail in the woods with her energetic dog
Image Credit: knelson20, Shutterstock

How to Participate

In order to participate in a specific field trial, you have to have a dog that meets the requirements. Some trials will also require you to pass a prerequisite test to enter. Field trials are geared toward dogs that are highly trained and adept at a specific job, such as pointing or retrieving. Field trials are not usually novice friendly. Field trials require large investments in time and training in order to enter and be competitive. You should find a local club that specializes in the type of breed or field trial that you are interested in and get involved.


10. Tracking and Scent Trials

Tracking and scent trials are two separate but similar sports. Tracking is a sport in which a dog is tasked with following a trail using their senses to find objects dropped by a group of judges. Dogs are kept on a 20 to 40-foot lead and must remain on the lead at all times. Points are awarded for each object retrieved during the time period. Tracking events usually span two days and require a significant time investment.

Scent work is another similar sport in which a series of cotton swabs doused in specific scented oils are hidden out of sight throughout a search area. Your dog must find these swabs and alert their owner to the presence of the object so the owner can call the judge over. Scent work is based on working dog tasks like drug sniffing dogs and bomb sniffing dogs.

bloodhound
Image Credit: Edoma, Shutterstock

How to Participate

Any dog with a good nose who likes to sniff can participate in tracking or scent work trials. Classes and training are not necessary. The novice competitions usually have open admissions (provided you pay the entry fee). Know that tracking events can take multiple hours over two days. Scent work trials are shorter and more straightforward. Both use your dog’s nose and natural instincts to achieve victory. If your dog is good at sniffing things out, they can compete in these types of sports.

To start with tracking you should consider taking the Tracking Dog Test (TDT) to see if you and your dog are cut out for this kind of work. To start in scent work, you should find a local scent work club (or “nose work” club) to get involved with.


11. Disc Dog

Disc Dog (also sometimes called Frisbee Dog) is a sport in which a dog and a thrower compete in a series of games to accumulate points. Games involve distance traveled, distance thrown, and freestyle catching. Each dog is given points for their successfully completed catches, and at the end of the session, the dog with the highest number of points wins. Disc dog is a simple game, and any dog that has a knack or love for fetch can participate.

Dog chasing a Frisbee outside in the summer.
Image Credit: Ksenia Raykova, Shutterstock.

How to Participate

There are a number of disc dog clubs, leagues, and competitions throughout the country. Some of these leagues are intense, and others are more casual. Anyone who plays fetch with their dog has the potential to participate in disc dog. The American Kennel Club requires you to medal in three separate disc dog events in order to apply for a spot in a title match. Events can be found in your local area through nearby clubs. One of the best ways to practice for disc dog is to practice throwing a disc (Frisbee) to your dog at home or at a local park. You want to focus on distance and style in order to accumulate the greatest number of points.

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How Do You Find Dog Sports Events and Competitions?

There are two primary ways to locate dog sporting events and competitions. The first is to go through the American Kennel Club. The AKC maintains a master database of all sanctioned events called the AKC Event Finder. You can sort by type of event, location, and date, and the site will tell you where to go, who can enter, and what the requirements are.

The other way to find local sporting events and competitions is to find a local sporting club. For example, if you are interested in competing in disc dog, you should look up whether your local area has a disc dog club that you can approach to join. Not every area will have a club of every type. For example, dog surfing will not be popular in areas where surfing isn’t possible. Local clubs will have plenty of resources for prospective dog sport enthusiasts, including local trainers and competitors, plus resources like training guides and the history of past events.

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Conclusion

This list covers all of the most popular dog sports. There are sports for all sorts of dogs and all sorts of people to choose from. There are very broad sports that can accommodate almost any dog breed, such as obedience or agility. Then, you have regional sports like dog sled racing and dog surfing that require specific environments. It is possible to start participating in almost any dog sport if you are interested. You just need to find the local community and get plugged in.

See also:

Sources
 

Featured Image Credit: DenisNata, Shutterstock

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