Are those backyard games of fetch not challenging enough for your energetic pup? There’s many ways to get more active with your dog, from fun outdoor dog activities to competitive dog sports!
If you’re looking for a new activity that you and Fido can do together, why not take your dog on your next outdoor excursion, or see which of the many unique dog sports would be perfect for your pup to take up?
Outdoor Dog Activities: Adventure Together!
There are many outdoor activities for dogs that you and your best furiend can do together. In fact, almost any outdoor adventure is enhanced by having your faithful pup at your side — from camping and hiking to fishing and kayaking.
One of the most popular outdoor dog activities is hunting, and for good reason! Hunting dogs have assisted human hunters in the field for many, many years. Today, dogs are most commonly used to hunt birds like pheasant, duck and grouse. Setters and pointers find the game and flush it out, while retrievers…well, retrieve it! Hounds may also be used to track bigger game.
If you’re both an outdoor sportsman and a dog-lover, having a faithful pup at your side while you hunt is a fantastic way to spend time together and enhance one of your favorite hobbies. However you adventure, make sure to bring high-protein treats to fuel your pup’s activity, and stay safe when on the water or in the woods.
Hint: if you love the great outdoors and dogs and live in the Wisconsin or Illinois area, Vital Essentials sponsored the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sports Show in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in March 2022. It’s a celebration of all things outdoors, featuring vendors and speakers to answer all of your questions about outdoor dog activities.
We also sponsored the Vital Essentials Fastest Retriever Contest, which occurred LIVE at the sports show.
Dog Sports: Go for Gold!
Many pet parents don’t realize how many different dog sports are out there or how different they all are. It doesn’t matter if your dog is a runner, jumper or sniffer — you’re certain to find a sport you and Fido will enjoy and excel at.
The structure of a dog sport gives you and your pup goals to aim for, a reason to spend more time training together, and an outlet for your competitive spirits!
Herding Dog Sports
As anyone who’s seen the movie Babe knows, the key to herding sheep…is to know the secret sheep password! Just kidding — it’s actually the incredible bond between dog and handler, and many hours of dedicated training.
In formal herding competitions, dogs will herd small groups of sheep (or ducks) down a course and into a designated space. Handlers are typically not allowed to physically touch their dog or give them treats, and must instead direct them with verbal commands, whistles or hand signals only.
There are many different herding competitions (also known as sheepdog trials). One fun variation is Treibball, in which a dog will “herd” eight large exercise balls into a confined space within a certain time period.
Dancing Dog Sports
Dance with your dog in this ultimate expression of joy! In Canine Freestyle, you teach your dog a series of moves and behaviors choreographed to a song, and then perform the dance together! You and your pal are judged on your creativity and showmanship, and how complicated your dog’s dance moves are. Costumes and themes are highly encouraged!
Heelwork to Music
In Heelwork to Music, your dog mainly stays right by your side, matching your steps like a ballroom dance partner. This differs slightly from Canine Freestyle, where your dog is allowed to run across the room from you and do his own solo dance moves before returning to your side. In both styles of Dog Dancing, training and enthusiasm are key to turning you and your pup into Lords (or Ladies) of the Dance!
Obedience Dog Sports
Does your dog have a rock-solid Sit, Stay and Come? Then Obedience Trials may be the dog sport for you! This competition tests if Fido is truly faithful and will instantly obey your every command. At higher levels, handlers aren’t even allowed to use verbal commands, instructing their pups with hand signals only.
Rally (also known as Rally Obedience or Rally-O) is a fun variation on Obedience Trials that’s a bit more casual and relaxed. In a Rally competition, you guide your dog through a simple course where each station has a sign with instructions of what behaviors to perform (such as Sit, Lie Down or Retrieve). Unlike in Obedience, talking to your dog is encouraged! Rally is often considered a good introduction to other obedience sports.
Is your pup full of party tricks? Then you may be ready for Trick Dog, which is exactly what it sounds like! This competition quizzes your pup to see how many tricks they know and how complicated those tricks are. If your dog has moved beyond Sit and Stay to master more impressive tricks, like opening doors or balancing treats on their nose, then Trick Dog may be just the sport for you!
“Schutzhund” is a German word meaning “protection dog.” This dog sport tests if Fido has what it takes for police-work! Put your pup through their paces on a variety of skills, including obedience, tracking and protection. Schutzhund is a fun and challenging sport, but it may be difficult to master without a dedicated Schutzhund club in your area to train with.
Pulling Dog Sports
No, it’s not crossfit for your dog! Canicross is cross-country running alongside your faithful friend. Your pup is attached to you with a special hands-free leash as the two of you jog over hill and dale together. It’s considered a “pulling” sport, even though your dog isn’t really pulling you, per se. (Unless, perhaps, you get really tired!)
Skijoring, Bikejoring & Dog Scootering
These dog sports are not for the faint of heart! To really test your coordination and control of your pup, strap a harness to your dog and let them pull you along while you’re on a pair of skis, bicycle or scooter. Make sure you take safety precautions before trying these activities, and that your dog’s obedience skills are reliable. Once you and Fido get going, your voice may be the only “brakes” you have!
Move over, horse-and-buggy — it’s time for dog-and-cart! If you love the idea of your dogs trotting you around town in your own personal carriage, then dog carting may be for you. It’s also known as “dryland mushing” and is a common activity among sled dog racers in the offseason. With training and the right equipment, dogs of any breed can learn to pull an appropriately-sized cart and have fun doing it!
Sled Dog Racing
Perhaps the most well-known dog sport in the world, sled dog racing allows your pups to channel their inner Balto. It’s typically cold-weather breeds like Huskies, Malamutes and Samoyeds that compete at high levels, but almost any dog can learn the basics and pull you around the backyard! Get ready to “Mush!”
If you have a muscly pooch so powerful that you can’t play tug-of-war without concern for your limbs, you may want to test your dog’s mettle at Weight Pulling! In this unconventional dog sport, determined dogs pull small carts loaded with weights over a short distance. Many breeds have historically been used to pull carts and love the challenge. When done safely, Weight Pulling can be a fun way for Fido to flex!
Racing Dog Sports
This high-speed canine relay race is for dogs who can go from zero to a hundred in an instant! To play flyball, your pup sprints across the room (jumping a series of small hurdles on the way) to retrieve a ball from a box, and then returns to you with it. As soon as they’re back, the next dog on your team can go. The zippiest team wins!
Agility is one of the most classic and popular dog sports in the world. Dogs race through a predetermined obstacle course of jumps, tunnels, ramps, see-saws and slalom poles, aiming for the best time with the fewest faults. Even at the beginner level, teaching your dog a simple jump or weave is a relatively easy and fun way to get active!
Lure Coursing and CAT/Fast CAT (Coursing Ability Test)
If your dog is a masterful squirrel hunter, put those instincts to good use!
Lure coursing simulates chasing a rabbit or hare. The live prey is replaced with a flag on a wire line that darts and whips across a field, requiring pups to be not only fast but also able to turn on a dime. Most lure coursing competitions are geared towards sighthounds (such as whippets, greyhounds and borzoi) but dogs of any breed can participate in CAT (Coursing Ability Test), which is a good introduction to the sport.
Track & Field Dog Sports
Hound & Gundog Breed-Specific Field Trials
Field Trials test your dog’s ability to do the job they were originally bred for, whether that means following a scent, retrieving fallen game or even going underground!
Field Trials are a fun way to challenge your pup’s skills without hunting, as no prey animals are harmed in these competitions. Field Trials are available for many hound or gundog breeds, such as Coonhounds, Basset Hounds, Beagles, Dachshunds, Pointers, Spaniels and Retrievers.
If you have a Dachshund or small terrier who just won’t stop digging holes in the backyard, stop viewing them as a disobedient digger and start seeing them as the ideal Earth Dog! Earth Dog tests assess your small dog’s willingness to go underground and hunt down a rodent (don’t worry, no rats are harmed).
There was a farmer who had a dog…
If you’ve ever wondered how well Fido would do as a working farm dog, wonder no more! The Farm Dog test determines if your pup would thrive on Old McDonald’s farm through a series of twelve simple exercises, ranging from jumping on hay bales to staying calm near livestock.
Some dogs were bred to hunt rodents underground, while others were bred to assist the barn cats as resident rat-catchers. Medium or small dogs of any breed can participate in Barn Hunt competitions to mimic this important profession. Pups use their sense of smell to locate hidden rats in a maze of hay bales, and alert their handlers to the rodent’s presence. (Don’t worry: No rats are harmed).
If your pup feels compelled to thoroughly sniff every leaf, branch and fencepost on your walks, he may be the perfect candidate for Scent Work! This easy-to-learn skill mimics the training of “drug-sniffing” or explosive detection dogs, except your pooch is looking for strongly-scented oils. Teach your dog to show you where the scents are, and let your pooch’s nose lead you to victory!
There’s more than one way to use Fido’s sniffer. Instead of looking for scented objects, Tracking Trials test your dog’s ability to find a person by following their scent trail. The “tracklayer” sets a path, sometimes dropping items of clothing along the way, which your pup then attempts to follow as if actually looking for a missing person.
Tracking Trials can be a precursor to preparing your dog for certified Search-and-Rescue work, or simply a fun dog sport all on its own!
Disc & Water Dog Sports
Take that backyard Frisbee game to the next level with a Disc Dog competition! This dog sport actually has a few different variations. Can your pup “go long” and catch a disc from the farthest distance? Or is a freestyle disc-and-trick routine more your speed? Test both your dog’s skill at catching and your accuracy at throwing to become a star disc dog team!
This relatively new dog sport is similar to Disc Dog, except that handlers use specially designed “Puller rings” instead. Dogs must catch, retrieve, jump over or otherwise interact with these rings when directed. It’s mostly a European sport for now, but is quickly gaining popularity!
Dock Diving/Dock Jumping/Diving Dogs
If you’ve ever taken a water-loving dog to the lake, you’ll understand the sheer joy and excitement your pup feels as they take a running start and leap headlong off the end of the dock. Now you can take all that passion for splashing and make it a bonding activity for the two of you! Dock Diving (also known as Dock Jumping or Diving Dogs) challenges your dog to leap as far or as high as they possibly can in pursuit of a toy thrown into the water.
Is Fido ready to hang ten? As human surfers know, surfing requires balance, coordination and skill. It may sound unbelievable, but some dogs take to surfing like…well, like a fish to water! Start your dog out on a bodyboard or wakeboard, and soon you and your pup may be riding the waves together.
There’s no limit to the number of dog sports and outdoor dog activities for you and your best furiend to enjoy.
If you’re looking for a way to get more active with your pup, you’re sure to find something new that you and Fido can do together. Whether you end up competing or not, remember that it’s all about having fun and being together with your dog!
(Also, for our Wisconsinite friends, don’t miss out on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sports Show and your chance to be surrounded by like-minded dog-lovers and outdoors enthusiasts!)