Choosing A Sport For Your Dog

Our dogs aren't always made for the sports we choose. Unfortunately, this happens.  Depending on our dog's genetics, size, drive, age, and physical limitations certain sports may not be right for them.  The issue is, as handlers, we occasionally get caught up in our own addictions rather than honoring the dog in front of us.  So before you jump into a sport, take a step back and look at the whole picture of your dog.  What type of training do they enjoy?  How drivey are they?  What breed do you have?  Are they physically sound?  How old are they?  Here are a few different sport options to think about along with what they entail:

Agility - an obstacle course performed by dogs at high speeds.  Having a dog that loves to work and the energy to GO is a must.  Dogs in agility need to be physically sound and conditioned appropriately. Owning equipment and trialing can be expensive.  Also note that a dog that is comfortable in big crowds with high energy and noise is important.

Treibball - a great sport for most dogs.  Large balls are returned to the handler at top speeds.  It involves teamwork, directionals, and lots of training time.  Treibball has venues that allow people to compete in their own backyard making it easy on the pocket book.  It also makes it easy on dogs that prefer to work in their own back yards rather than traveling to competitions.

Scent Work - is a fantastic sport many dogs including dogs with concerns, reactive dogs, and dogs in between.  A dog has up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their nose (we humans have a mere 5 million.)  Scent work builds off of the naturally accurate nose of a dog and teaches them to move independently to search for scents.  Many trials now allow reactive dogs to participate and folks that choose not to trial can play scent work in their own homes.  The other benefit to scent work is that it can be played year round indoors and outdoors.

Musical Freestyle - a handler and a dog dancing together.  There is nothing more magical than a dog and person moving to the perfect music.  If you have a physically sound dog that enjoys movement, teamwork, and tricks, musical freestyle could be the perfect sport for you and your dog! 

Trick Titles - a fun way to work your dog’s brain and keep them mentally stimulated.  Tricks can be as simple as shake, or as complicated as wrap yourself up in a blanket.  Trick titles are an affordable sport and allow you to film in the comfort of your own home.  Tricks can also help timid or shy dogs gain confidence.


Rally FrEe - a relatively new sport that combines musical freestyle and rally.  There are 4 signs in every course that allow the handler to choose their own tricks.  Participants also get to play music as they perform the course which gives it a bit more pep.  Rally FrEe is a wonderful way to try musical freestyle with some structure.  It’s also great in that it can be filmed in your own backyard, making it very affordable.  Rally FrEe does require some precision and patience since it emphasizes verbal commands rather than physical ones.

AKC Rally - Unlike Rally FrEe AKC Rally focuses on left hand work only.  It also involves less tricks and more precision in movement together.  AKC Rally trials can involve multiple rings, and people surrounding the ring.  Participants in AKC Rally trials must be well prepared for crowds and a high energy environment.

Parkour - This sport is perfect for sound dogs that enjoy exploring, climbing, and jumping in new environments.  This is a wonderful starting place for teams looking to get started doing something new.  It's an affordable sport since no equipment is required and dogs use their surrounding environments to perform for titles.  If you have an interest in keeping your dog busy while on hikes, walks, or otherwise this would be a great option.

Have fun exploring the options or new sports with your dogs while you think about honoring them for who they are.  At the end of the day, it really comes back to the relationship you have together.  No ribbons, titles, or fancy alphabet soup behind their names will change the time you and your dog spend together.  So keep it all in mind as you move forward and enjoy the time spent together!

Magic Comes with a Price

The magic switch, the wand wave, the erase button: these all come up in classes or privates and it's common for folks to look for a quick fix. It makes me think about an author named Brandon Sanderson (New York Times best seller) and his Second Law of Magic: limitations are greater than the power.  Which means there is always a weakness or cost associated with magic.  For example, Gandalf (in Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien) defeated the Belrog but at a great price to himself (death.)  Meaning the magic he performed had a great cost.  

What the heck does this have to do with dog training?

Well a lot actually.  There are companies that take advantage of this magic seeking and sell products like ecollars and other aversive training methods.  An aversive may impact dog behavior but the overall cost isn't worth paying.  When you send an electric current through the artery of a dog there is a great cost.  There is damage to the relationship, the dog's trust of you, and an even bigger price of causing a possible negative association to whatever you shocked them for.  Meaning that if a dog is harmed every time they bark at another dog, they most likely will start associating dogs with pain.  Meaning that your dog may not have been aggressive, but you are now creating an aggressive dog.  Magic comes with a price, always.

Positive Reinforcement also comes with a price. However, it's one I'm willing to pay.  When I found agility many years ago, I watched fast flashy dogs run over, around, and through everything they were asked to.  I fell in love with the sport and wanted to start right away.  What I didn't realize was the cost.  Not the monetary cost, but rather the sweat equity cost that came with training my young brilliant and very distracted/over aroused/wild/beautiful hound.  So I became frustrated when a few months training really wasn't even making a dimple in the surface.  We didn't have a good foundation and our training time together hadn't been equal to the magic I wanted.  The magic did come with a very great time equity cost.  AND IT WAS WORTH EVERY MOMENT.

So when you start looking for magic, remind yourself that there is a cost.  Take a giant step back and really think about the price you are willing to pay in training.  The best moments, come with hours of time, sweat, and understanding with your dog.  Magic comes with a price, just make sure it's a price you are willing to pay.

If you'd like to read Brandon Sanderson's full article and law of magic you can do so here: