Puppy sports are a great way to strengthen your bond, whilst also building fitness for both you and your dog!
So now puppy classes are over and you and your dog have mastered the basic training exercises, it’s time to decide what to do next. Dogs who have been trained using reward-based methods love to continue to learn and do new things.
It’s easy to think that your only options are to continue the training classes and focus solely on improving your dog’s obedience. But there are a whole range of puppy activities and sports you could try. So take your time and find something both you and your puppy can really enjoy.
Have a go at puppy agility
One of the most popular canine sports, both to watch and to compete in, is puppy agility. This is a fun, competitive activity done off-lead that comprises of a range of obstacles such as jumps, tunnels, puppy walks, and other pieces of equipment to either jump over, go through or walk along.
This canine sport first appeared at Cruft's in 1977, where it began as a small hurdle race for dogs. It was a hit with the dogs taking part, as well as their owners, and the sport became a runaway success – literally so, in the case of some mischievous and overexcited participants!
But what actually is dog agility?
- In dog agility, your dog moves through an obstacle course with your guidance.
- Dogs run off lead, so your only controls are voice and body language, requiring some exceptional obedience training.
Many people think agility is only for Border Collies and their super-fit owners but actually most puppies can do agility with varying degrees of success and huge amounts of enjoyment. There are competitions for dogs of various sizes including mini agility, or you can just do it for fun and for the social opportunities it provides for you and your puppy.
Both dog and owner need a degree of fitness, and while your adolescent dog is still too young to jump, many agility clubs have a puppy class where you can learn to do some of the other bits of equipment such as the tunnels and weaves and practice your basic control ready to start more serious agility training when your dog is older.
All that moving around will help keep both of you fit, and your training skills will improve every time you practise. If your dog is taking part in a competitive event accuracy and speed are important factors, but if you’re just having fun all the skills they’ve learned will still be useful – even if they insist on running under the hurdle rather than jumping over it!
Puppy agility is a great sport for improving your control and building your dog’s confidence.
Try out flyball
This is a far more energetic affair. This competitive team sport runs on a knockout basis. Most dogs love playing flyball – and when you’re a spectator, it’s easy to see why this dog sport is so popular!
Flyball is an obstacle race involving two teams of four dogs. In the game, dogs from each team spring over a series of jumps (usually four), run to a box, activate a catapult machine with their front paws, catch the ball that flies out and race all the way back to the start. The team that finishes first wins, but no matter who comes out on top there’s no doubt that everyone has loads of fun.
In flyball there are lots of interesting techniques your dog can learn from you. As well as having to clear the hurdles, your dog needs to keep a smooth approach and land well to cover the maximum amount of distance in the least time possible. A tight turn at the catapult box can mean the difference between winning and losing, so there’s lots of fun to be had training, too. If your dog loves to catch balls and run at full speed off the lead, just imagine what they can do in a flyball race!
This can be a good skill for your puppy to master and you can have a great time adding another string to your training bow even if you have no intention of competing. And who knows… you could get addicted!
Heelwork to music
Often thought of as ‘dancing with your dog’, if you want to brush up your training and have fun, then this could well be the activity for you. Involving cooperation and coordination, this sport is great for dogs that love a bit of team work. And the best part is, you have just as much involvement as they do! Competitive Heelwork to Music involves working out a four-minute routine that comprises of heelwork in various positions mixed with a variety of tricks that is performed in front of a group of judges – but just like ballroom dancing, you can have just as much fun at home or within your training club. Training involves learning through play, improving your general control, mastering new tricks, and of course putting it all to music.
Speed and punctuality aren´t important, but success is based on the way you and your dog work together. With weaving and other skills incorporated into a routine, you really are ‘dancing’ with your dog, making this relaxed yet skilled pastime a great way to spend time with your pet.
Dogs of all sizes and breeds can enjoy it and even compete at the highest levels, but it does need you to perfect your training and obedience skills as well as your dancing and coordination!
Work out with canicross
The name comes from a mixture of ‘canine’ and ‘cross country’ and the sport is exactly that - running off-road with your puppy. The dog runs out in front following directional commands while wearing a comfortable padded harness attached to a waistband of the owner by a 2m bungee.
Canicross provides a great physical workout for both you and your dog – and the use of directional commands helps your dog use their brains as well as building their confidence. Owners in turn benefit from having their own canine personal fitness trainer who will encourage them to run faster and farther, and both will benefit from the increased fitness and exercise.
Improve your teamwork with rally
This sport is a cross between obedience and an obstacle course! It differs from obedience in that dogs and their owners attempt a pre-set course with up to 15 signs along the route telling you what to do at each point. At the lower levels, these are all simple exercises done on a lead such as sit or turn but get harder, much more complex and are done off lead at higher levels. This is a sport that improves general training and teamwork in a less formal setting than traditional obedience.
Dog obedience is a more relaxed sport that doesn’t involve lots of high-speed chasing, but it does mean your dog will stretch their levels of concentration and motivation – and yours, too! As the name suggests, it’s all about your dog’s obedience and their training.
This popular and useful dog sport involves basic commands such as ‘sit’, ‘down’, and ‘heel’, and retrieving things when asked. If your dog becomes good at this, you can move to more challenging things such as giving your dog commands from a distance or asking them to ‘stay’ for longer periods of time. It’s not as fast as some dog sports, but it’s just as challenging in different ways – which you can see as your clever dog tries to ignore all those tempting distractions, focusing instead on your commands.
Dog diving is a relatively new dog sport, and it’s perfect for all those pups who love to splash around in the water. The sport involves canine competitors taking it in turns to dive off a ramp into a pool of water to retrieve a toy. Quite simply, the winner is the dog that jumps the furthest. And don't worry about the dogs taking part: you can see the fun they have in the wagging of their tails and the enthusiastic way they launch themselves into the water!
Flying disc is another favourite in the world of dog sports, although you'll probably know it better as playing dog Frisbee in the park. Chances are you’ve already played a game with your dog; at its simplest, flying disc is about you throwing the disc, and your agile dog running and catching it.
Ashley astonished the crowd with eight minutes of catching flying discs, running at 35mph and leaping nine feet in the air to catch them as they flew. The stunt was so novel that the baseball game was stopped, and commentators continued to announce the action to a hooked audience. Alex was eventually escorted off the field, but a new sport had been born!
If your dog plays competitively, the ‘catch and retrieve’ event is the main part of the sport. In a timed round (usually of about a minute), teams of one dog and their owner attempt to make as many throws and catches as possible. Teams score the most points for long throw and catch combinations, but in other versions, some freestyling might be involved – so look out for some serious party tricks! If your dog loves a good game of throw and catch, or they’re good at jumping and catching things mid-air, this might just be the sport for you.
These are just a few of the many sports and activities you can do with your dog and for these, and ideas on others, the best starting point to talk to your local dog training class.
As your dog is still young, check with your vet before you start any new activity to ensure they are physically fit and mature enough to take on the new challenge – and have fun!
And if both of you are already in playing mode, check out our puppy brain games and puzzles tips for even more fun bonding ideas. Or find out all you need to know about puppy exercise from this in-depth article.