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MOVE.

Top 5 canine sports

Why the effort?

If you are at all like us, you are well aware that regular exercise, whether it be walking, jogging, or working out at the gym, is:
1) good for you
2) vital to maintain long-term health and well-being and
3) something that you really should take off your “to do” list and start doing now.

Indeed, in a world of health clubs, senior aerobics, hot yoga, and parent-kid zumba, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore that exercise is important (although some of us may still valiantly try!).

However, as a dog owner, you perhaps are less aware that getting exercise is as important for your dog as it is for you. While you instinctively give him lots of love including a daily dose of snuggling on the couch, you may also consider that the appropriate physical exercise, adapted to your dog’s age, breed, character and physical aptitude, is essential to help him stay mentally alert and physically fit throughout his lifetime. In short, while taking your dog for a walk twice a day is a good start, it may very well not be enough to meet his physical and mental needs.

From working to companion dogs: satisfying your dog’s exercise requirements

While it is still open to debate, some recent research suggests that from 12 000 (Middle East) to 31 000 years ago (Belgium) , the first domesticated dogs lived with hunter-gatherers and may have assisted in tracking food and keeping potential predators at bay. Over the centuries, dogs have been bred to help humans in different types of often very physically demanding activities. Border collies and Australian shepherd dogs have long been trained to herd sheep while the incredibly athletic Alaskan Husky is still used in Arctic regions as a working sled dog. The Labrador retriever, traditionally a gundog bred for hunting duck, is now trained to assist the blind or work with the law enforcement agencies.

However, today, most dogs are simply our beloved companions, living comparatively sedentary lives. As a member of your family, your dog shares your home life, but he is often left on his own when you are away at work or simply out and about. Yet, whatever his age, your canine needs physical exercise to release pent up energy and unwind. In addition, some breeds need much more activity than others and this is not necessarily linked to size. Hence, herding dogs such as the medium to large sized German Shepherd or the Australian shepherd dog have high activity requirements, but so do the much smaller Jack Russel terrier, originally bred to hunt foxes, or the small but extremely energetic Cocker.

Deprived of the opportunity to release energy, your lovable friend may begin to engage in some not so lovable behaviour. Physical exercise and play are also extremely important to keep your friend mentally stimulated, to maintain his muscle mass and prevent weight gain. It teaches him socializing skills, as well as discipline while reinforcing your bond with him. Incidentally, exercising with your dog may even give you a good workout too (besides being a lot of fun), provided of course that you always put his physical capacities and limitations first.

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What type of sport should I do with my dog?

If you are not an especially gifted athlete or have an instinctive tendency to duck when you see a ball coming, have no fear you can still do sports with your dog! While long walks will certainly help keep you both fit, and tossing a ball around is fun, there are also many stimulating, physically challenging games for dogs out there. Here are the top five.

Most popular dog sports in the UK

There are a number of dog sports, each of which offers different benefits to your dog as well as requiring certain skills or aptitudes. Today, there is an increasing number of clubs offering this kind of dog sport classes. The top five are:

  1. Agility, a sport where your dog must complete an obstacle course as fast as possible following your instructions. As its name suggests, this very complete sport develops your dog’s agility, flexibility, and listening skills in what is one of today’s most popular canine sports!
  2. Cani-Cross is a more physical sport with an emphasis on endurance and speed as the idea is to run while being pulled along by your energetic friend, equipped with a specific harness. For those of you with smaller and/or less energetic dogs, you may want try Cani-Walk, which is the same but involves walking rather than running.
  3. Bikejoring is a recreation sport where a harnessed dog or team of dogs runs ahead of a cyclist who is basically being pulled by the dogs. This is a great sport for dogs who are already in good condition and like to run.
  4. Obedience tests your dog's ability to walk at the heel, to jump, to fetch objects, and to socialize with other dogs and humans. Especially suitable for lighter dogs, it is less physical but just as demanding and can be performed to music, also known as 'Dog Dance'!
  5. Flyball is a straight obstacle course to be completed without instructions, and at the end of which your dog must fetch a ball and bring it back through the course in the opposite direction as fast as possible. Played with teams of four dogs, competitively and for fun, it involves running, jumping, catching, and retrieving. It is best for high energy dogs.

What to do before starting a sport with your dog

Before trying out a sport with your dog, be sure to take into consideration his age, physical condition, and natural inclinations. It is highly recommended to have your dog assessed by a vet to determine what are his aptitudes for certain sports and to make sure that he does not have any health issues which need to be addressed. Keep in mind that you may need to adjust his diet depending on the level of activity you introduce. There are many high-energy sports foods adapted to very active dogs. Also while it is sure to be fun and exciting to share this new experience with your dog, be careful not to go overboard. Learn to read the signs of how your dog is reacting to his new level of activity (ie. Does he seem overheated? Is he breathing hard?). Remember, just like you, your dog may need time to adjust to new challenges-so first and foremost, keep it fun!

To learn more about it, see our article “How to engage in physical activity with my dog?”.