The Best Dog Sports for Each Breed Group
Dogs and activities go hand in hand. After all, have you ever met a furry friend who doesn’t enjoy some spirited play from time to time? Along with offering a fun experience for your pet, dog sports can be especially beneficial for your best friend’s mental and physical health. Plus, they are a fun way for you to exercise with your dog and strengthen your bond together.
Because different dogs were historically bred for different purposes, each breed group includes pups with their own unique skillsets and athletic prowess. Discover which dog sports are a match for your best friend!
The Sporting Group
With “sport” in their name, athleticism comes easily to dogs in the Sporting Group. Because these canines were originally trained to find and retrieve small prey, they’re naturals at any game involving fetch. For example, disc dog is a sport where a handler throws a flying disc and the dog catches and returns it. Some competitions measure distance and others judge freestyle, but they always require teamwork and communication.
Water-retrieving breeds, such as the Golden Retriever or Chesapeake Bay Retriever, generally perform well in dock diving because of their inherent love for water. In this sport, dogs leap from a dock into a pool, competing for distance or height.
The Herding Group
Dogs from the Herding Group, such as the Border Collie and Australian Shepherd, were bred to gather and protect livestock. With such an important job, these active dogs are especially obedient. Therefore, they typically succeed in agility—responding to commands, body signals, or their handler’s movement to maneuver through obstacles and complete the course fastest.
Musical canine freestyle is another good dog sport for this highly intelligent group. In this modern activity, a dog and their pet parent perform a choreographed song-and-dance routine. Using music and movements such as weaving or spins, the key is to be creative while showcasing collaboration and talent!
The Toy Group
Dogs from the Toy Group—including the Maltese and Chihuahua—have ancestors who served as lapdogs and provided comfort and entertainment. Today, these smart furry friends are eager to please their pet parents and perform well in agility and rally, two sports that require obedience skills.
In rally, a handler directs a dog through an obstacle course featuring stations where specific skills must be performed. The handler uses positive reinforcement and specific dog obedience training commands such as sit, stay, and down so the dog performs the required tasks. Though rally is timed, the goal of the sport is to work together and earn points for accurately completing each exercise.
The Non-Sporting Group
From the French Bulldog to the Poodle, breeds within the Non-Sporting Group vary so much in their temperament, physical features, and history. Therefore, it’s difficult to make a generalization about the sports ideal for these dogs. For example, the French Bulldog was originally bred as a companion dog, and they tire easily due to their short nose and flat face, which make breathing more of a challenge during physical activity. Therefore, French Bulldogs typically prefer more laidback dog activities such as fetch.
Meanwhile, the muscular Poodle was a hunter of waterfowl, so it is a natural-born athlete. Poodles succeed in a variety of dog sports, ranging from agility to flyball. Flyball is a competitive team sport where dogs navigate hurdles before reaching a spring-loaded pad holding a tennis ball. Once the tennis ball is released, each team member must return their tennis ball to the handler, and the team that completes the race without errors in the fastest time wins.
The Terrier Group
The fearless Terrier—including the Jack Russell Terrier and Cairn Terrier—was bred to dig and hunt vermin, making it an ideal candidate for an activity called earthdog. This noncompetitive sport tests dogs’ natural and trained ability to find prey. It involves dogs maneuvering through a tunnel in the ground while aiming to locate mice placed at the end of the tunnel. Don’t worry—no mice are harmed in this sport; the rodents are located in cages! Though tracking down prey with their sense of smell is instinctual for Terriers, the real challenge is steering through the dark tunnel solely reliant on their sense of scent.
The Hound Group
While Hounds are a diverse group, they all share a common ancestry as hunters. Some breeds in this group, such as Basset Hounds and Bloodhounds, are categorized as “scenthounds” because they were bred to hunt using their especially strong sense of smell. Naturally, this makes scent work a great activity for Hounds! This game involves a dog leading their handler to a target odor—such as birch, anise, or clove— hidden in a container.
Another variation of Hounds known as “sighthounds” tracked prey with their exceptional speed and vision rather than smell. Some sighthounds include Greyhounds and Irish Wolfhounds, and they tend to flourish at lure coursing—a sport where dogs chase a mechanically operated lure to test their agility, speed, and more.
The Working Group
The strong, watchful breeds in the Working Group were raised to protect property, pull sleds, and engage in water rescues, according to the American Kennel Club. That makes sled dog racing a clear fit for some breeds within this group, particularly those that came from cold climates such as Siberian Huskies and Samoyeds. This dog sport is exactly what it sounds like: a group of dogs pulls a handler on a sled through a course and compete for first place.
Other breeds within this group, such as the Bernese Mountain Dog and Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, were trained to transport items around farms. Therefore, they have a natural pulling instinct and excel at a sport called carting. This is where a dog pulls a cart or wagon filled with different supplies and follows their handler’s verbal cues to change speed or direction.
Our Talented Cadets
Who would have thought dogs’ instinctual abilities can help them thrive in a variety of dog sports? Our talented Cadets make us proud in so many ways!
Keep in mind that all dogs are different, so be sure they participate in dog activities that fall within their physical limits. As with any playtime or training, always give your best friend plenty of positive reinforcement by rewarding them with dog treats. Belly rubs are welcome, too!