For every type of person and dog, there is a type of competition to suit their interests. Some are popular, like the conformation show the Westminster Kennel Club puts on every year that is nationally televised. Others are more obscure, although just as well loved by their devotees.
There are two basic types of competitive events for dogs; the first showcases the dog’s beauty, grace and precision teamwork, and the second, while still often requiring teamwork, is often a stunning display of skill, training, athletic prowess or some combination.
Conformation events are often considered to be nothing more than beauty pageants, but their real purpose is to identify the dogs that most closely represent their breed standard. In fact, ideally, the dogs aren’t really so much competing with each other as they are with the judge’s mental picture of perfection for the breed
Other events, like obedience, rally, and freestyle, showcase an owner’s commitment to an exceptional relationship and teamwork with their dog. A well- trained and synchronized team is a thing of beauty to watch. The “Showman” events include:
As mentioned previously, dogs compete against the breed standard for points toward a breed championship. How the dog is presented (groomed) and handled has a huge impact on the success of a show career.
Also as mentioned earlier, obedience titles are earned by successfully completing the required parts of all of the exercises in the Novice, Open, or Utility classes multiple times with a minimum score of 170 out of 200. Scores are based on precision and accuracy. Titles include the Companion Dog, Companion Dog Excellent, Utility Dog, Utility Dog Excellent, and Obedience Trial Champion.
The newest competitive dog sport, rally is less formal and a nice bridge between pet dog training and traditional competition obedience. Rally has owner-dog teams follow a preset course of signs with both stationary and moving exercises.
Quite literally, freestyle is dancing with dogs. Owners choreograph elaborate routines to music, in which dogs move in synch with, and in contrast to, their owners.
While the “showman” events do require training, and a great deal of it at the advanced levels, they don’t require dogs to be particularly athletic to participate in them at a winning level.
The second type of canine performance activities utilize or showcase a dog’s natural abilities, which have been directed and honed to perfection by their owners. Although all dogs can compete in these events, they do favor the more naturally athletic breeds or individuals. They include:
High speed balanced with precision, agility is fun and exciting to watch and compete in. With too many available titles to list, agility competition is offered by several organizations. Dogs qualify by completing an obstacle course within the allowed amount of time, and depending on the class, few or no mistakes, like dropped bars on jumps.
Fun and usually loud, flyball is a relay race of sorts, with teams of four dogs negotiating four jumps, jumping on a box that launches a ball for them to catch and return over the jumps so the next dog can go.
Tracking dogs must follow a human scent trail that is often several hours old and indicate articles left by the person who laid the track. The age, distance and terrain depend on the title being pursued — Tracking Dog, Tracking Dog Excellent, Variable Surface Tracker, and Tracking Champion.
Schutzhund and French Ring Sport
These sports are designed as tests of the working dog. Schutzhund has three phases: tracking, obedience, and protection. French Ring forgoes tracking for agility. They are both great, if misunderstood, activities for the high-drive dog and committed owner.
Because of the bitework involved, Schutzhund and French Ring Sport are suitable pastimes only for responsible people with very stable dogs. This is not the sport for the out-of-control biter that terrorizes the neighborhood. It is absolutely imperative that you get qualified instruction before undertaking any bite or protection training with your dog.
No matter what type of activity you want to pursue with your dog, plan on spending a good bit of time practicing to meet your goals. Your goals may be “just” to get that title, or you may want to strive for perfection and national rankings. Like any game, learn the rules before you play. It is a good idea to find a local group — either a club or private trainer — with similar interests to guide you. In addition to the activities mentioned earlier that are open to essentially all breeds, there are others that are breed or group specific.