If you are looking for a way to strengthen your bond with your dog, it might be a good idea to check out dog sports in your area! Dog sports are a great way to get more involved with your dog, teach them something new, and help keep them active physically and metally. Below you will find a list of some of the most popular dog sports, including information on how to compete or title in them and what dogs each sport is best suited for!
Although regular obedience training is a must for any dog, did you know that it is a sport your dog can title in, too? Obedience as a sport was developed back in the 1930s and is one of AKC’s oldest sporting events. Dogs competing in obedience trials will be expected to perform various tasks and will be scored by a panel of judges. If they earn a qualifying score (at least 50% of the points for each exercise, with a total of 170 points minimum), they will be awarded an obedience title associated with the particular class they scored in. For example, the Novice Class is part of the regular titling path and is a great place to start for dogs just getting started in obedience. It focuses on both on and off-leash exercises, including things like recall, off-leash heeling, and sitting/laying down with other dogs present.
To compete in an obedience trial and earn titles, your dog must be at least 6 months old, registered with AKC in some way (AKC registration/PAL/FSS/Canine Partners), and be physically sound. It is also best to work with your dog and ensure you have trained them for the required skills before competing so that you can set them up for success!
All dogs can participate in obedience trials, regardless of whether they are spayed or neutered or purebred or mixed. Additionally, working on obedience is a great way to strengthen your bond with your dog and improve your dog’s overall manners at home and out in public. This is also a super easy-going sport for dogs who may be older or have mobility issues, and it is a great way to challenge and mentally stimulate dogs who are eager to learn and please.
Dock Diving is the perfect sport for dogs who love to swim! Dogs are expected to jump off a 40 foot dock after their favorite toy. Once the handler gives the “okay,” the dog runs along the dock, launches himself off the end, and lands in the water and retrieves his toy. The most popular way to compete is for distance. For this, the goal is to have your dog land in the water as far from the dock as possible. Alternatively, for more advanced dogs, you might want to practice Air Retrieve! In this subset of the sport, a bumper toy is suspended 2 ft. above the dock. Your goal is to have your dog launch off the dock and catch the toy in the air before landing in the water. The distance from the dock increases by 1 foot increments until the dog misses twice.
To earn AKC titles in dock diving, you will need one of the following: an AKC registration number, a PAL (purebred alternative listing) number, an FSS (foundation stock service) number, OR an AKC Canine Partners number. Additionally, if you compete through North American Dock Dogs (NADD), you will need an NADD registration number as well. Another dock diving association you might also want to check out is Ultimate Air Dogs.
Any dog can compete in dock diving, but the sport is best suited to dogs who already love the water and have some toy/retrieval drive. When introducing your dog to the sport, it is important to take it slowly and introduce them to the ramp before jumping right into the dock.
Dog agility is a sport where you direct your dog through a set obstacle course within a time limit. Typical courses have anywhere between 14-20 obstacles that can include tunnels, weave poles, seesaws, pause tables, and jumps. Your dog will be relying on cues and body language for you to direct them around the course.
Dogs that will excel in agility must get along with other dogs, be energetic, and enjoy running and be somewhat eager to please. Additionally, a lot of the training relies on the handler as well, as communication between the dog and handler is crucial to succeeding in the sport.
To earn titles in agility through AKC, your dog will have to be at least 15 months old, registered with AKC or the Canine Partners program, and must be up to date on vaccines. Additionally, spayed and neutered dogs are permitted to compete. To compete, your dog will have to participate in an AKC Agility Course Test. There are additional rules and regulations regarding agility trials that you should be familiar with as well that can be found here.
Flyball is a kind of relay race where dogs jump over a series of low hurdles to get to a box at the end. Once there, they jump off a spring-loaded pad that releases a tennis ball into the air that they then catch and bring back to their owners. After they return, the next dog takes his turn! Flyball teams typically consist of four dogs and four handlers, but two dogs and two handlers are often part of the team as back-ups. The goal is to complete the course as quickly as possible.
Any breed of dog can participate in flyball, but it is not for the easily distracted. Dogs will have to run past other dogs in adjacent lanes, so it is important that your dog has strong recall, listens well to commands, and has no aggression or reactivity issues around other dogs. Dogs must also be at least 15 months old to participate. Dogs who have a high ball drive could really flourish in this sport!
Just like many other AKC recognized sports, your dog will have to be registered in some way in order to earn titles. There are four different titles AKC recognizes for flyball in conjunction with the North American Flyball Association (NAFA) - Flyball Dog Champion, Flyball Master, ONYX, and Flyball Grand Champion. Flyball dogs earn points towards titles as a team, and every time the team completes a round in less than 24 seconds, each dog earns 25 points towards a title.
Treibball is a sport originally invented in Germany to entertain herding dogs without regular access to sheep, goats, or ducks - but the sport can be performed by any dog, and not just herding breeds! The goal is for the dog to nose 8 large balls into a goal without physical assistance (verbal and visual cues are okay) from the owner within an allotted time frame. This sport encourages the dog to think on its own and problem solve, so it’s a great way to give their brain a workout! This is also a great sport for nervous or reactive dogs since no dogs or food are allowed on the sidelines - greatly reducing distractions and anxiety.
To earn a title, you will need to be a current member with ATA, the American Treibball Association, and your dog will have to be registered as well. Video submissions are now being accepted for titles as well.
Any dog, mixed or purebred, herding or not, can compete in and excel at Treibball! For any dog that is ball-focused or enjoys having a job to do, Treibball will be an excellent sport to get involved in. It’s also an easy sport to do from home and is low-impact compared to other sports like agility, making it more suitable for dogs and handlers of all ages, sizes, and mobility levels.
AKC Rally is a great sport for those interested in trying dog sports for the first time, as it focuses primarily on the dog and handler working together as a team to perform various obedience tasks in a low-key environment. It’s a great way to sharpen your dog’s skills, strengthen your bond, and learn how to better communicate and work together as a pair! In a typical competition, the dog and handler will walk through a course that has several signs on it with different tricks/tasks the duo will have to perform at each stop. The number of signs varies depending on difficulty level, and the list of tasks are all available online so anyone can start practicing at home! You start off with 100 points and lose points as you go through the course. To qualify towards a title, you need a score of 70 points or better.
Mixed and purebred dogs can participate as long as they have some kind of AKC registration number (AKC, PAL, FSS, or Canine Partners) and they are at least 6 months old. Because the sport is focused primarily on obedience, any dog could be a great fit for this sport even if they don’t have a very high drive to work or be active. To earn a title in the sport, you must have at least 3 qualifying scores at each level of competition.
Though it was once just a fun backyard game, disc dog was transformed into an official dog sport in the 1970s and is now one of the most popular dog sports recognized by AKC! Now associated with UpDog, dogs can compete in various games to earn points. Cumulative points earn UpDog Achievements which can then be turned into AKC Disc Dog Titles. There are several different games the handler and dog can compete in. The games each have different objectives that the dog and handler team are trying to achieve. For example, the Far Out game objective is to earn as many points as possible in three catches, where 1 point is equivalent to 1 yard of the field. To apply for titles through AKC, your dog will have to be registered with AKC in some way but does not need to be intact or a purebred.
Any dog can compete in disc trials as long as they know how to fetch! No formal training is required, but working with your dog on fetching and retrieving would be a valuable skill set to have down prior to competing. There are a couple age limits for certain styles of UpDog games, but regardless, it is important to acknowledge your dog’s physical limitations and not push him too far. Teaching dogs to jump in the air to catch discs can be a useful skill in the sport and can speed up retrieval time. However, it is important not to ask or encourage young puppies to jump (<12 months of age), as it could put too much strain on their joints and lead to health problems later in life.
In this sport, dogs are required to rely on their nose and sense of smell to find hidden target odors. Neither the dog nor handler know where the targets are hidden, so the handler must rely on the dog to be successful! The sport of scentwork is based on the work detection dogs in the police or army do to find drugs or other scents/substances, and essentially turns the act of sniffing into a fun and rewarding game.
To compete and earn titles in Scent Work, your dog will need to be registered with AKC in some way (as listed previously) and must be at least 6 months old. Titles can be earned in two divisions: the Odor Search Division and the Handler Discrimination Division. In the Odor Search Division, dogs must search for the smells of specific essential oils. In the Handler Discrimination Division, dogs are required to search for the scent of his handler, and each division has four levels of difficulty.
Any and all breeds (purebreds and mixed breeds) are welcome to compete! It is also a great way to build confidence in shy dogs, as it requires teaching the dog how to think on his own to locate the scents and to then communicate that with his owner. Training can begin at home and doesn’t require any formal training, though you can look for local Nosework clubs in your area if you prefer a class environment.
A subset of Nosework, Barn Hunt was designed to test the nose, speed, and surefootedness of dogs with a history of above-ground vermin hunting! In Barn Hunt, dogs and their handlers work to locate and mark rats (held in aerated tubes) hidden in a maze of straw or hay bales. Although some breeds, like terriers, were created for this very task, any dog (including mixed breeds) is eligible to compete in the sport. The only requirement is that they be able to fit through an 18” wide tunnel! They will also need some form of AKC registration number to be eligible to earn titles.
Probably one of the most widely known dog sports around, conformation shows are held by the American Kennel Club and the Westminster Kennel Club to measure individual dogs and how well they conform to the standards of their particular breed. This helps evaluate the dog’s ability to produce puppies that align with the breed standard as well, which is also why mixed breeds and spayed or neutered dogs are ineligible to compete in conformation shows.
To compete in and earn titles for an AKC conformation show, dogs must be at least 6 months old on the day of the show, a recognized breed by AKC, registered with AKC, intact (not spayed or neutered), have no disqualifying faults, and be healthy and up to date on vaccines.
Any purebred dog is eligible, but properly training your dog for conformation shows is incredibly important if you are hoping to earn titles. Taking a conformation class will help prepare you and your dog for your first show, and will teach you the things you need to know to compete! These courses will teach you how to handle your dog in the show ring, but will also help you work with your dog on walking on a loose leash, stacking, and being comfortable (and not crazy) around other dogs. Proper grooming (trimmed nails, tangle-free fur, no mud or muck) is also a must the day of the show.
Similar to mushing, bikejoring is a dryland version of sled dog racing that was initially developed as a way to train and maintain sled dogs’ fitness levels during the spring and summer months. Essentially, one dog or a team of dogs are attached to a towline and run ahead of and pull the cyclist. Competitive racing is more popular in Europe than in the United States, but depending on where you live, you may be able to access some events and local clubs in your area.
If you are requiring the dog to pull while you bikejor, only breeds that are built to pull weight should be used. This includes many northern breeds such as huskies, samoyeds, malamutes, and alaskan huskies. However, if you are simply allowing your dog to run out in front but not have them pull weight, any dog who is fit, confident, and enjoys running would be a good fit! This can include breeds like border collies, aussies, staffordshire bull terriers, dobermans, and more!
Additionally, dogs should wear proper gear while bikejoring to stay safe. Bikejor harnesses typically have an “X” shaped pattern on the back - this helps evenly distribute any weight or strain from the tow line across their body. You will also need a rigid attachment for the bike to prevent the leash from tangling, in addition to a long bungee leash to attach to the bike and your dog.
You should also work with your dog on training specific to the sport to ensure that there is clear and consistent communication between the handler and the dog or dogs. Your dog should understand commands for controlling pace, staying straight, turning left or right, and should want to consistently stay in front of the bike (not run alongside it). Finding another bikejoring team to train with can be immensely helpful when starting out!
Similar to bikejoring, canicross is a dryland mushing dog sport where a dog is attached to his handler rather than a bicycle. Though it sounds like you are just running with your dog, it’s a completely different sport! In Canicross, the dog is attached to the runner’s waist with a bungee leash, in contrast to holding the leash and having your dog run alongside you. The dog helps pull the person forward whenever their feet leave the ground.
Dogs best suited for this sport are those who enjoy running, are in good physical shape, and those that can keep enough pressure on the tow line to keep it from going slack. If the line isn’t taut, it is less like Canicross and more like walking your dog in a fancy harness! Any dog breed can participate in the sport as long as they have the physical capacity to run and pull for an extended period of time. Additionally, puppies under 1.5 years of age should not participate in these kinds of activities, as it can put a lot of stress on their developing joints and lead to issues later in life.
It is best to use a harness designed for pulling (similar to the one used in bikejoring) to ensure the dog’s safety while running. Harnesses made for pulling help evenly distribute the weight across the dog’s body, allowing for easier breathing and more flexible shoulder movement. It is also important to use a Canicross waist belt and a bungee leash - these can help protect your back whenever the dog pulls.
There aren’t any ways to earn titles in Canicross through AKC, but Canicross USA has some information regarding events and chapters across the country!
Dogs have pulled carts and sleds for humans for many years, and was likely where this sport originated from! In Weight Pulling, a dog’s stamina and strength are tested when he is given 60 seconds to pull as much weight as possible down a 16 foot “chute.” Dogs who pull a larger percentage of their body weight earn the most points! The dog wears a padded harness that is connected to a “trace” - the thing that holds the weights that the dog is required to pull. The trace can be a sled (pulled on snow), a wheeled cart (pulled on carpet), or a rail cart (pulled along a rail system).
Although any dog can participate in this sport, a majority of the competitors tend to be “bully” breeds - American Staffordshire Terriers, Mastiffs, Boxers, etc. All dogs should be properly socialized with people and other dogs to be comfortable in a competition environment. Additionally, it is important to work on building your dog’s stamina and strength gradually over time to avoid potential injury - going too quickly may result in a dog that isn’t physically or mentally prepared for the amount of weight it is expected to pull! Proper equipment (harnesses and weight pulleys) is also a must for this sport to avoid injury and ensure proper training, so joining a Weight Pull club is an important step towards getting started in the sport. Once you are ready to compete, titles can be earned in the sport through the United Kennel Club.
The world of dog sports is vast and diverse, and offers many different options for many different dogs! Competing in or even just training for a sport can strengthen your bond with your dog, improve your communication, and help keep them in good shape mentally and physically. I hope this article gave you some insight into the different types of activities you can do with your dog, and I hope it has inspired you to try something new!