If you think of the practice of dog sports as a competitive and fairly serious business, you’re only about 10 percent right. Just as in human athletic pursuits, the vast majority of dog sports enthusiasts are hobbyists; happy amateurs not much interested in ribbons or plaques. So what hooks people? The numerous benefits two- and four-legged sportsmen alike reap. For starters, a quick alphabetic inventory reveals something for every ability and temperament: agility, caniscross, disc dog, dock diving, earthdog, flyball, freestyle, herding, lure coursing, mushing, nose work, rally-o, tracking, treibball, and weight pulling. An exhaustive list would be much longer, of course, and still wouldn’t include the many fun, creative activity classes trainers, dog facilities, and dog groups might offer.
On the two-legged side of the benefits scoreboard, consider the ageless appeal of all this variety. We expect kids to enjoy playing sports with furry friends, but don’t underestimate the delicious challenge to an analytical adult of helping her dog herd a group of uncooperative sheep into an enclosure. Or the allure of canine freestyle to an artistic soul, whether 23 or 53. Retirees with time on their hands can cherry-pick a dog sport that offers community as well as activity. Pile on the advantages of mental and physical exercise—at whichever level suits—and it’s a no-brainer.
Of course the positive effects on dogs double up as human perks. First, a tired dog is a good dog. Burning off excess energy through regular activities, preferably exercising both mind and body, is key to a happier, healthier, and more polite dog. If Fido is blissfully conked out after a morning’s rally-o, he is less likely to scavenge the trash. Also, dog sports involve cross-species collaboration and therefore boost communication skills on both sides. One common side effect of this is that dogs start to pay more rapt attention to their humans; another is increased confidence. Fun on the field has transformed many a dog from jittery to jaunty. Best of all perhaps is the deepened relationship that often results—something many cite as their chief reason for taking up a dog sport.