With the beginning of a New Year, it’s a good time to think of what new activities we want to learn with our dogs. A wide variety of fun sports and activities are available to dogs and their people! Even if a local class schedule doesn’t work for someone, there are lots of great online courses available so one can take classes to suit their own schedule.
Scenting training includes tracking and trailing, scent discrimination, searching and detection work. In tracking and trailing, the dog locates and follows a certain odor. This could be a missing cat, dog, person or other animals: whatever the dog is trained to identify and follow. There are several methods of training a dog for these activities whether it is using a toy to build up enthusiasm or food to create a positive association, many dogs like to use their noses.
Once dogs are proficient at tracking and trailing, they can learn to search a small area and then a larger area for either an item or a person or missing pet.
Scent discrimination is an activity that continues to gain popularity and is where dogs are trained to search areas and indicate to the handler that they have located an item with a certain odor. Often the odor is that of an essential oil but they can also learn to alert their person to the odor of a certain person or item. This activity is a great confidence builder for dogs and is great for dogs who are uncomfortable around other dogs. For those who want to test the skills of themselves and their dogs, there are fun competitions in a variety of locations.
Detection dogs can search for and identify things like invasive species, animal and human remains. Medical detection dogs detect changes in people’s health.
Sheep herding is a mentally and physically challenging activity. Many herding dogs (bred for this) excel at it. Dogs are often started as puppies but adult dogs can learn too and gain confidence and skills as they learn to get quiet control of the flock of sheep. More advanced dogs learn to drive the flock and separate sheep for the shepherd and to move sheep from one area to another.
Treibball is a sport often described as a combination of herding and billiards/pool. Exercise balls are used instead of sheep and the dog “herds” 8 large exercise balls across a field into a soccer goal or a similar net. The balls are initially placed in a triangle like in billiards or pool and the dog drives the balls into the goal. The initial steps in teaching this activity are to teach a dog to move in a variety of directions on cue. This activity can be done for fun or competition.
Agility is a fun sport where dogs are trained to navigate jumps, a-frames, tires, tunnels and weave poles. In foundation classes, core strength exercises help the dog get in physical shape to do this activity. Foundation exercises also help the dog and guardian build confidence and learn the skills needed to safely use the equipment. Once the dog is comfortable with the equipment, they learn to go from one piece to another. For those who want to compete there are many trials to attend and several organizations to belong to.
Rally Obedience or “Rally-O” is an activity where the dog and guardian use directional signs to go through a numbered course. Rally-O includes over 40 obedience movements starting at the beginner level and becoming more complex as the team gets more skilled. This activity is designed to be fun and accessible to everyone. There are several organizations who offer trials for those who enjoy competing.
There is something for everyone.
Jane Bowers, B.A., CABC, CPDT-KA
Jane Bowers has been training dogs for over two decades. She teaches people to train their dogs in group and private training courses and has a keen interest in assisting dogs with behavioral issues. Her company is Dogs of Distinction Canine Training Inc. Jane has a monthly newspaper column on dog-related topics and is a former host of a live call in TV show on animals. She is a strong advocate for force-free and humane training methods for all animals. Jane has a degree in psychology and is certified as a dog trainer through the "Certification Council of Professional Pet Dog Trainers" and as a behaviour consultant through the "International Association of Behavior Consultants"and through the "Association of Animal Behavior Professionals". These organizations require a minimum number of continuing education units be obtained to retain certification. She is also a professional member of "The Pet Professional Guild," an organization committed to force-free training of animals and the "Association of Professional Dog Trainers," a professional organization of individual trainers who are committed to being better trainers through education. Jane is the content creator of the online course "Assessing and Interpreting Dog Behaviour," which is a course for law enforcement personnel who meet unfamiliar dogs in the course of their duties. She is the author of "Perfect Puppy Parenting," a guide to raising a happy, confident, well-behaved dog. Jane spent 17 years working for Customs Border Services and in joint teams with US Homeland Security and the RCMP. She spent a further 8 years working as an Animal Control Officer and Bylaw Enforcement Officer. Jane lives on a small farm with dogs, sheep, donkeys, and chickens. The dogs each came from situations that prevented them from living in their original homes. The dogs range in size and age and with the dog training and behavioral work, whether it's participating in the development of an online training course, working with a client's dog or tracking a lost pet or animal.