- Sharing sporting activities
- Trying some activities for fun and games
In addition to obedience competition, you and your dog can participate in numerous other competitions and events. Some are for specific breeds, such as herding trials, and others are for all dogs, such as agility. Many are conducted under the auspices of the American Kennel Club (AKC), and some aren’t, such as Schutzhund trials. Still others are for one breed, such as the Portuguese Water Dog rescue trials and the Newfoundland Club of America’s Water Rescue and Draft Dog events.
The AKC awards more than 50 different performance titles in eight different categories. And other organizations have an almost equal number of titles.
– Obedience titles — 6, plus 5 Versatility titles, each consisting of an agility, obedience, and tracking title, Rally titles, and more
– Hunting Test titles — 4
– Field Trial titles — 2
– Herding titles — 6
– Tracking titles — 4
– Agility titles — 17
– Earthdog titles — 3
– Lure Coursing — 3
Obedience competitions are one of the oldest performance events in which any breed registered with the AKC can participate. The AKC awards six obedience titles: Companion Dog (CD), Companion Dog Excellent (CDX), Utility Dog (UD), Utility Dog Excellent (UDX), Obedience Trial Champion (OTCh), and National Obedience Champion (NOC). (See Chapters The Companion Dog Title
through The Utility Dog Title
In addition, the AKC has five Versatility titles. A Versatility title requires that the dog has earned an agility, obedience, and tracking title.
Agility is one of the AKC’s newest events. It has experienced phenomenal growth over the last ten years, and with good reason: Dogs love it, competitors love it, and it has enormous spectator appeal. Agility competitions began in England and were then introduced in the United States by Charles (“Bud”) Kramer in the early 1980s. Kramer was instrumental in its success as an activity in which all dogs could participate. He also developed the increasingly popular Rally Obedience (see Chapter Getting Ready to Compete
After a slow start, the popularity of agility competitions exploded. It’s an exciting and exhilarating sport for both handler and dog (see Figure 21-1). You may have already seen it on one of the cable television channels that specializes in televising dog events.
The AKC isn’t the only organization that sponsors agility trials, but it now has the largest number of trials. Other organizations sponsoring agility trials are the United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA), which started it all, the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA), and the North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC). There are also international agility competitions.
The dogs, under the direction of their handlers, negotiate a complex obstacle course that includes walking over a three- or four-foot-high plank, weaving in and out of a series of poles, jumping over and through objects, and going through tunnels. To compensate for the size differences among dogs and to make the competition fair, four height divisions exist. You and Buddy can earn nine AKC agility titles, as well as titles awarded by other organizations. The original four titles are shown in Table 21-1.
Figure 21-1: Admiring a dog in action during an agility trial.
Table 21-1 The Original AKC Agility Titles
Novice Agility (NA)
Three qualifying scores under two different judges
Open Agility (OA)
Agility Excellent (AX)
Master Agility (MX)
Must have earned the AX title and then qualify ten more times
Other than the exercises themselves, there are some significant differences between agility trials and obedience trials. We outline the differences in Table 21-2.
Table 21-2 Differences between Agility and Obedience Trials
Your dog has to be able to work on both your right and left side.
Your dog always works on your left side.
You have minimum time limits during which you and your dog have to complete the course.
There is no time limit (within reason).
The order in which the obstacles are to be negotiated varies, as do the obstacles.
The exercises and the order of the exercises are always the same.
Continuous communication with your dog is encouraged.
During your dog’s performance of an exercise, you can’t talk to your dog and can give only one command.
As with obedience, the level of difficulty increases with each higher class, as does the number of obstacles.
No doubt, part of the appeal of agility competition is its seeming simplicity. Almost any dog in reasonably good physical condition quickly learns the rudiments of the various obstacles. And, almost any handler who is also in reasonably good physical condition can compete in agility. But few things are ever as simple as they appear.
Beginning agility is deceptively simple, but it’s not as easy as it looks. Because the courses you and your dog have to negotiate are never quite the same, there is a premium on your ability to communicate with your dog. Any lapses in communication invariably result in Buddy’s failure to complete the course correctly. You’re also competing against the clock and have to make split-second decisions. In addition, you need to memorize the course before you and your dog compete.
You can see what makes agility so exciting. The two of you really have to work as a team and keep your wits about you. We highly recommend that you try it. You’ll be amazed how your dog will take to it. We aren’t suggesting that you try to set up an agility course in your backyard — few of us have the wherewithal to do that. Find out from your local dog organizations where agility trials are being held and then take a look. Most communities have a group or an individual who has classes that meet on a regular basis where you and Buddy can get started. Even if you aren’t interested in competing, agility courses are a good mental stimulation for Buddy, as well as good exercise for both of you.
The dog’s fabled ability to use his nose and follow a scent is the basis for this activity. Any dog can participate, and if you enjoy tromping through the great outdoors in solitude with your dog, tracking is for you. Tracking is also the potentially most useful activity you can teach your dog. Many a tracking dog has found a lost person or lost article, not to mention the dogs that work in law enforcement.
Your dog’s sense of smell is almost infallible. Local law enforcement often uses dogs to sniff out bombs, drugs, and other contraband. Researchers are even using them in cancer research to detect cancer in a person.
Buddy can earn three titles:
– Tracking Dog (TD): The track has to be at least 440 yards, but not more than 500 yards in length. A person lays the track 30 minutes to 2 hours before the event, and it has three to five turns. It doesn’t have any cross tracks or obstacles.
– Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX): The track has to be at least 800 yards, but not more than 1,000 yards in length. The track has to be not less than three hours and not more than five hours old. It has to have five to seven turns. It has two cross tracks and two obstacles, such as a different surface or a stream.
– Variable Surface Tracking (VST): The track has to be at least 600 yards, but not more than 800 yards in length. Age of track is the same as for the TDX. It has to have four to eight turns. It has to have a minimum of three different surfaces, such as concrete, asphalt, gravel or sand, in addition to vegetation.
The principal differences between the classes are the age of the track and the surface.
Your dog has to complete only one track successfully to earn its title, unlike obedience or agility titles, for which three qualifying performances are required. You can also continue to compete at any level, even if you have earned your VST.
The basic idea of successful tracking is the dog’s ability to follow the track layer’s footsteps from beginning to end. A dog that veers too far away from the track and has obviously lost the scent is whistled off and doesn’t qualify on that particular occasion.
Field Trials and Hunting Tests
Hunting tests and field trials are popular and test your dog’s ability to demonstrate the function for which he was bred. They rival obedience and agility competitions in popularity. These events are for the pointing breeds, retrievers, spaniels, Beagles, Basset Hounds, and, you would never guess, Dachshunds. The tests are divided by type of dog and sometimes by specific breeds. Some of them, such as Beagles, work in groups of two, three, and seven or more.
The performance requirements vary, depending on the specific breed and the particular event. If Buddy is a Labrador Retriever, you and he can participate in both field trials and hunting tests, and the sky is the limit.
These tests are for dogs bred to retrieve critters that live in tunnels or dens. The Dachshund, which translated means “badger hound,” and the smaller terriers are eligible to participate in these competitions.
The object is to locate the quarry in a tunnel or a den. In the tests, rats, caged for their protection, or a mechanical, scented device, are used.
Tests are conducted at four different levels:
– First the dog takes an introductory test to see if he has any aptitude. There is no title for this test, but it’s a prerequisite for a title.
– After the dog has passed the introductory test, he’s eligible to compete for the Junior Earthdog (JE) title.
– Next is the Senior Earthdog (SE) title.
– Last is the Master Earthdog (ME) title.
Naturally, the level of difficulty increases with each title. As the levels progress, the distance from which the dog has to locate the den is increased and the tunnels that the dog has to encounter become more complex.
Earthdog trials are quite a specialized activity and explain the penchant these dogs have for redesigning the backyard. The instinct of terriers is to discover and root out the critters that live underground. This can lead to monumental “landscaping.” Our Dachshunds are forever digging for moles or anything else that might be under the ground. Of course, anything recently planted must be immediately dug up just to make sure nothing edible has been buried.
An equally specialized activity is lure coursing, which is for the sight hounds. These dogs were bred to run down game over great distances. If you have ever seen a sight hound running flat out, you can appreciate how fast-paced and exciting lure coursing is.
In an AKC test an artificial lure is used, which the dogs follow around a course in an open field. Scoring is based on speed, which is blazing, enthusiasm, and endurance. Of course, it helps if the dog is actually chasing the lure and isn’t off on a frolic of his own.
Again, the dog can earn three titles:
- Junior Courser (JC)
- Senior Courser (SC)
- Field Champion (FC)
The word Schutzhund means “protection dog.” After field trials, Schutzhund training is probably the oldest organized competition. It originated in Germany and is the progenitor of obedience exercises, tracking, and, to some extent, agility. It’s hugely popular in Europe, but competitions are held worldwide. Although Schutzhund isn’t an AKC performance event, it enjoys an avid following in the United States.
Schutzhund training is the progenitor of many of today’s training activities. It dates back to the early 20th century, and many of its exercises have been incorporated into today’s performance events.
It all began when the German Shepherd came to be used as a police dog. Billed as the only true multipurpose dog, he was expected to guard and protect, herd, track, be a guide dog for the blind and, of course, be good with children. Rigorous breeding programs were designed to cement these traits into the breed. Behavior was bred to behavior so that only those dogs with demonstrated abilities procreated. Looks weren’t considered as important as ability.
As a police dog, a dog’s main responsibility is to protect his handler. He also has to be able to pursue, capture, or track down suspects. Building searches require great agility, perhaps jumping into windows and negotiating stairs, even ladders. Naturally, he has to know all the obedience exercises.
It wasn’t long before competitions began among and between police units to see who had the most talented and best-trained dog. Dog owners became interested and the sport of Schutzhund was born.
Schutzhund training consists of three parts:
To qualify for a title, the dog must pass all three parts. When obedience and tracking were introduced in this country, they were patterned on the requirements for the Schutzhund dog. Agility competitions derived in part from the Schutzhund obedience exercises, which include walking over the A-frame as well as different jumps.
Schutzhund training, which is a rigorous and highly athletic sport and one of the most time consuming of all dog sports, isn’t limited to German Shepherds. Other dogs of the guarding breeds that have the aptitude can participate. Even some of the nonguarding breeds can do it, although you won’t see themat the upper levels of competition.
Flyball is a relay race, with four dogs on a team, over four hurdles spaced ten feet apart to a box that holds a tennis ball. The dogs, each in turn, jump the hurdles, retrieve the tennis ball, and return over the hurdles. When the dog crosses the finish line, the next dog starts. The team with the fastest time wins, provided there were no errors, such as a dog going around one or more of the hurdles, either coming or going.
Flyball was invented in the 1980s and is a popular, extremely fast-paced competition. For information, click on the North American Flyball Association’s Web site at www.flyball.org
Canine Freestyle is a choreographed musical program performed by a dog/handler team, sort of like figure skating for pairs. The object is to display the team in a creative, innovative, and original dance. In Freestyle, the performance of every team is different, although the various performances often share basic obedience maneuvers.
Started in the early 1990s as a way to bring some levity to obedience training, Freestyle has caught on like a house afire. Chances are you have seen it on one of the cable shows featuring dog activities. Freestyle is fun to watch and fun to train. For more information, see The World Canine Freestyle Organization’s Web site at www.worldcaninefreestyle.org
One way to describe skijoring would be cross-country skiing supplemented by dog power. Skijoring is an exhilarating winter sport in which a person wearing skis is drawn over snow by one or more dogs. The sport originated in Scandinavia and translated means “ski-driving.” The dog is harnessed and a line is attached to the harness. The skier in turn attaches the line to a skijoring belt, which she wears around her waist. And off they go with the dog propelling the skier along. Any medium-sized dog (30 pounds or more) can participate — finally he has an outlet for his desire to pull. Of course, the skier can’t expect the dog to do all the work and she has to actively contribute.
Skijoring can be divided into two general categories:
- Recreational: For owners who just enjoy being out with their dog
- Competitive: Such as Sprint Racing and Long Distance Racing
Would it surprise you that top sprint skijorers can reach speeds close to 30 miles per hour and that long distance races are sometimes as long as 320 miles? And here you thought your dog had a lot of energy. For more information, click on the North American Skijoring and Ski Pulk Association’s Web site at www.nasspa.com
Important Jobs that are Fun for Dogs
Okay, one more thing to add: We can’t forget important tasks that well-trained dogs can perform! Earlier in this chapter, we describe a variety of recreational activities for you and your dog. But in this section, we take training and sporting a bit farther. Here we give you a brief overview of the many tasks that dogs perform for people who are unable to perform these tasks themselves. Listing such important tasks with dog sports and recreation may be a bit odd, but many dogs and their owners greatly enjoy performing these deeds and have the added satisfaction of providing a valuable service. You may want to look into them!
The term “service dog” was used to describe police dogs and dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. Training for this job started in Germany and the dog was, you guessed it, the German Shepherd. Dogs used in the military for various duties, such as guarding, reconnaissance, surveillance, mine detecting, and peace keeping, are called service dogs.
After man discovered dog’s incredible scenting ability, the detection dog was born. Humans have approximately 10 million olfactory cells, compared to a Labrador Retriever’s 220 million and the German Shepherd’s 200 million.
Dogs are now routinely used to detect drugs and explosives and search for victims buried in rubble and avalanches. The dog has even replaced the pig to hunt for truffles, probably because he isn’t as inclined to eat the truffles he finds, as is the pig. Current experiments involve the use of dogs to detect cancer, giving new meaning to a “Lab” test.
Assistance dogs are used to help individuals in need. (See Figure 21-2.) The following include the main types of assistance dogs:
– Guide dogs for the blind: The use of dogs to assist blind individuals dates back to 1930, when the first training centers were started in England. Seeing-eye organizations tend to have their own breeding programs in order to cement the physical and behavioral traits necessary to become a reliable guide dog. Guide dogs undergo the most extensive training of any of the assistance dogs. The predominant breeds are German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Labradors.
– Dogs for the deaf and hearing impaired: These dogs are trained to react to certain noises and to alert their masters. For example, jumping on the bed when the alarm clock goes on, tugging at his owner’s leg when someone is at the door, or taking his owner’s hand to alert him to the presence of an unexpected guest.
– Dogs to assist the physically handicapped: A good assistance dog for the handicapped can respond to about 50 different commands, such as retrieving objects that are out of reach or have been dropped, opening and closing doors, pulling wheelchairs, or turning light switches on and off. Excellent retrieving skills are a must (see Chapter Retrieving for how to teach your dog to become a reliable retriever). The majority of these dogs are Golden Retrievers and Labradors.
– Therapy dogs: The main purpose of the therapy dog and his handler is to provide comfort and companionship to patients in hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions. The training is based on the Canine Good Citizen program (see Chapter Preparing for Your Dog’s Citizenship Test), with some added requirements. Any well-trained dog with good social behavior skills can become a therapy dog.
Figure 21-2: You can recognize assistance dogs by their jackets.
In addition to their specialized skills, all assistance dogs play an important therapeutic role for their owners, especially children who have impairments that can cause them to become physically or emotionally withdrawn from society.
Most of you reading this book have a dog that serves as a pet and companion, a living being that is devoted to you, is always happy to see you, and doesn’t argue or complain. What more could you ask for?
by Jack and Wendy Volhard