Ask The Dog Trainer: Looking for an organized sport for my dog

My dog Macy and I are excited for the warmer weather ahead, and I was interested if you had any ideas for activities to do this summer? We already hike and kayak but Macy is getting bored and I’m looking for more of a structured sport or event. I figured as a dog trainer, you might have some insight.



Dear Rose,

The world of dog sports and activities has exploded in recent years, and I’m delighted to offer some suggestions. As you know Macy best, you will want to begin by writing down a list of her likes and dislikes, interests and instincts, as well as taking note of any health issues she may have or be prone to.

For example, my dog Boomer is a male Labrador, three years of age, who loves steady activity. He is very nose driven, so we do allergen detection work and human scent tracking. He loves to swim, so dock diving and kayaking would be very enjoyable to him, while barn hunting and lure coursing less so.

He is recovering from a sprained tail from his ecstatic wagging habit (true story), so we are slowly introducing him back to full physical activity. He enjoys the company of other dogs but prefers to be working, so we generally avoid group sports and focus on individual fun. Whatever it is that makes Macy’s eyes light up and her tail wag, that’s the path you will want to take.

When considering an activity to learn and invest in, you will also want to take into consideration your own time and energy involvement. Some sports are highly competitive and require extensive travel, while others are more laid back and local. Additional activities are only open to dogs of a specific breed or size, or only available in certain parts of the country or need specialized equipment or host locations.

If Macy loves the water, then dock diving may be a great sport to look into. Dogs are taught to run at a dangled lure and leap into the air straight out over a pool. They are scored on how far they can jump. The current record is held by a four-year old whippet named Sounders, who lept 36 feet, 2 inches at a recent dock diving competition in Santa Rosa, California.

If Macy is energetic and loves to run and jump over obstacles, then you can see if there is a local agility chapter. Agility is a great way to hone your dog’s off-leash obedience skills and bolster their confidence as they zigzag and sprint through obstacles. There are tunnels, seesaws, poles and jumps.

If Macy has a passion for obedience work, then you can check out rally. Rally has similar components to the sport of agility, involving a course of 10 to 20 activities that you navigate through with your dog as a team, however you are performing obedience skills instead of physical feats. My husband loves to run through an agility course with our other dog, Ragnar, while Boomer and I enjoy the slower pace and emphasis on mental strategy of rally.

If you and Macy enjoy obedience work but would like to be involved in the community, then you may consider joining a therapy dog team and working with individuals in crisis. Some teams go to hospitals or airports to offer cheer and comfort. Others become involved in administering to the survivors of natural disasters or at schools. Therapy dogs need to be polite, confident and cheerful when surrounded by stressed individuals. They should pass the Canine Good Citizen or an equivalent temperament and obedience training evaluation, be well socialized to crutches, sirens and elevators, and genuinely enjoy comforting people.

If Macy always has her nose to the ground and loves to follow smells, then she may be a great candidate for scent work. Dogs can be trained to find and follow certain scents. Cadaver detection and search and rescue teams are often called upon by local law enforcement to help after a disaster. Some dogs are trained to identify a specific ingredient such as gluten or peanuts, a bacterial strain or even the feces from one species of animal. The world of scent work is huge and rapidly growing as we discover new ways we can use our dog’s noses to make the world a better place.

If Macy loves to chase animals, then herding may be a great way for her to channel that drive. Herding is a structured sport that involves a dog moving and controlling livestock through fetching or driving, and is highly competitive. If you ever get a chance to observe the superb teamwork and refined instinct of a herding team, then I highly recommend it.

There are a great deal many more sports and activities that dogs can become involved in. The American Kennel Club, Dogs Sports America and Dog Sports USA are great places to begin deeper research, as well as asking around at your local breeders, dog trainers and dog boarding locations. There are also numerous books and videos of the aforementioned sports and others I did not have time to mention.

As a last note, whichever sport or activity you choose, consider taking a canine first aid and CPR course to keep Macy as safe as possible. A hands-on class that covers cut paws, ingested toxins and sprained tails is always a great investment.

I wish you and Macy a wonderful rest of your summer, and whatever sport you end up choosing, remember to have fun.

Kendall and Chandler Brown are owners of Custom K-9 Service Dogs, a dog training business serving Minden/Gardnerville, Carson and Reno. For information go to or email


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