Sports for the Pooch – Part I

Sports channels, sports bars, sports quota… Sports are an integral part of our lives, so why should our furry friends be devoid of the fun and entertainment that come as a complimentary gift with any sport.

Dog sports are a great way to bond with your pet, teach them discipline and more than that it helps in their mental and emotional well-being. There are also some organisations that host dog sports. These organisations help you with all the required supports – training, getting the pets ready for races and competitions, providing regular updates, making sure the competition is healthy and most importantly setting the rules and guidelines for the safety of the pets.

Here are some of the most popular dog sports.
Flyball: a pooches’ relay
Remember the relay race that we all used to enjoy, crossing all those obstacles to get to the finish line. Flyball is the doggie version of the race.
Flyball started as a dog sport in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Southern California. It has two teams of four dogs each who race against each other to complete the race in a relay fashion. The course is 51 ft. It begins when the dogs run over the hurdles/jumps, then trigger the flyball box to release the tennis ball, the dog retrieves the ball and continues over the jumps. The dog brings the ball back over the hurdles/jumps to his handler. Each dog has to complete all these steps. The next dog is released only when the first one has returned over all the four jumps. The first team in which all the four dogs finish the race error free wins the competition. If a run is not completed correctly, the dog must re-run at the end of the line. For example, if the dog drops the ball, misses out a hurdle/jump, starts too early, if the dog is assisted by the ball loader, or the handler crosses the start line while their dog is still running – it is an error.
In earlier times, the race would be started by a head judge in the basic ‘ready-steady-go’ manner. There were no start and passing lights. All starts and passes were called by the line judges, who used a hand-held stopwatch to time the races. But today thanks to technology a lot has changed. The electronic system that is used by NAFA (North American Flyball Association) is commonly known as EJS (Electronic Judging System) which uses lights and infrared timing sensors. With technology judges are able to track the starts, passes, finishes, and individual dogs’ times to the thousandth of a second.
Size/breeds: The sport is not limited to the size or the breed of the dog. Many small breeds like Miniature Poodles, Jack Russell Terriers and even Whippets are seen enjoying it. The height of the jump is determined keeping in mind the size of the smallest dog in the teams.
Training tip: The main concern is that sometimes small dogs not able to trigger the release pad and may have to jump upon it. But with a little training, they can reach perfection.
Organisations involved: Some international organisations organising Flyball competition include American Flyball Association, British Flyball Association, United Flyball League International and The Kennel Club.
Disc Dogs: catch the disc in air
Have you ever wondered if your pooch can catch the disc in the air? Well, he is a pro at Disc dogs or Frisbee dogs.
The team includes one person and one dog. The pet parent throws the Frisbee and the pet runs to fetch it. From being leisure and fun, today it has become a full-fledged dog sport. Points are rewarded on the basis of the distance at which the Frisbee is caught. Mid-air catches are rewarded extra points. The sport celebrates the wonderful bond and deep understanding that you share with your pet.
Size/breed: Mixed breed or purebred – any dog can play Frisbee. Be sure to choose a disc which is comfortable for your dog, keeping in mind his size and weight.
Training tip: Amidst all the excitement and fervour don’t forget that your pet might not understand the concept at once. So be patient. Generally the Frisbee is thrown over their head but in the beginning when your pet is an amateur it would be a great idea to directly toss the Frisbee at a short distance. This would help them learn the game faster and would be a motivational factor to keep doing better and finally reach perfection.
Organisations involved: Some Disc dogs organisations include Canadian Disc Dog Association, United States Disc Dog Nationals, Flying Disc Dog Open and Disc Dog of Michigan.
Dock Jumping – a water sport
It is also known as dock diving. Dogs compete with each other by jumping from a dock/ramp into water, natural body or a pool. The dock is a platform 0.6 m above the water level, 11-12 m long and 2.4 m wide. The depth of the pool should be at least four ft. The distance is measured from the end of the dock to the point where the base of the tail touches the water surface. It is important to train them in way so that they jump right from the end of the ramp in order to cover maximum distance.
Size/breed: Though Labrador Retrievers are essentially waterdogs and often excel in this sport, any dog with a Retriever instinct would love to play this sport. In general, bigger dogs do better than smaller ones in this sport because of their body length, they can cover more distance.
Training tip: It is a great way to strengthen that special bond and burn off those extra calories. While training your dog, keep the session short because the longer they are in water greater are chances to catch infection. Stagnant water is often a breeding ground for mosquitoes, bacteria and fungus. So, make sure the water is clean. Once the session is over, dry them properly and let them rest.
The most important point is that your dog should enjoy splashing and playing in water. In the beginning, you can toss their favourite toy a couple of times and watch them go after it with joy and enthusiasm. And never forget that pat on the back after a tiring session.
Organisations involved: Some organisations in this dog sports category include Ultimate Air Dogs, United Kennel Club, Dock Dogs and Splash Dogs.
Herding Trials – managing the livestock
It is a competitive dog sport for the herding dog breed also known as the pastoral breed, a particular breed developed for herding case sheep in a field or an enclosed area. This sport is highly popular in farming nations like the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand. The key element of this sport is their ability to move and manage the livestock. Make sure that the dog has proper training and prior exposure to livestock before entering the trials.
Initially it was used as a way to control the herd of animals but as time passes it turned into a competitive dog sport. The initial concept was slightly different, the dog would chase the sheep in an unfenced area, but when it became an official dog sport, many rules and regulations were introduced. The sport particularly judges the combined skills of dog and man in a trial. On the whole, it develops their herding skills and characteristics.
The dog is required to complete a set number of tasks. The trial begins with 100 points and points are deducted if the dog fails in completing a task. Eight sheep are used in the competition while the other eight sheep wait in a yard area. Initially eight sheep are let out and the dog brings them back to the yards, they are then joined by the eight in the yards.
Size/breed: Some common herding breeds are – Rottweiler, Samoyeds, Standard and Giant Schnauzers, Pyrenean Shepherds, Swedish Vallhund, Norwegian Buhund, Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs, Border Collies, Tibetan Terrier, etc.
Organisations involved: Some international organisations involved in this sport include American Herding Breed Association, Australian Shepherd Trial Association, United States Border Collie Handlers’ Association and The Kennel Club.
Lure Coursing – the chase game
Lure coursing is a famous dog sport in which dogs chase a mechanically operated lure (white plastic bag). The operator can stop the lure and change the direction at any time. Usually a lure course is between 550 m and 914 m and some courses also have jumps, small obstacles and hurdles for stimulation and extra excitement. The Hounds have to run the course twice, a preliminary run and a final run. Scores from both runs are added for a combined total score.
Size/breed: The competition is usually restricted for the Sight Hounds (Gaze Hounds). They hunt by speed and sight, instead of by scent and endurance. But with the sport gaining popularity a variety of breeds take part in the competition. Another restriction is that of age, the dog should be at least a year old to participate.
Organisations involved: Some organisations involved in this sport include All Breed Lure Sports Association, American Sight Hound Field Association and American Kennel Club.
Sport is a fun activity which gives the dogs a great opportunity to run, sniff, play and get dirty, what they are best at… So, get out and make the most of the time that you spend with your furry companions.
(To be continued in the next issue)