By Beth McEwen
Many of us have a furry pal that we’d love to find activities to get involved with beyond a walk around the block. Since most dogs were bred for a purpose beyond companionship, Fido certainly can benefit from some extra-curricular activities! We are fortunate in West Michigan to have a myriad of groups to get involved with ranging from doggy pageants to hard-core athletics.
Both Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Lansing have Kennel Clubs, extensions of national clubs like the American Kennel Club (AKC) or United Kennel Club (UKC), which cater to breed enthusiasts. The goal of these clubs is to protect and advance the interest of dog shows and obedience trials and encourage sportsmanlike competition at such events. Whether your pure-bred pup is an excellent representation of his or her breed, or maybe has a few “flaws” (who doesn’t?), Kennel Clubs are a great place to find like-minded dog-owning friends and explore some of the activities our pups were originally bred to do.
Is “rescue” your favorite breed? Kennel clubs have ways for mutts to get involved, too! While you may not be able to compete in conformation shows, dog sports are open to all kinds of pups. Visit grandrapidskennelclub.com, kalamazookennelclub.com or inghamcountykc.org for information on these groups and their offerings.
Agility is a fun activity for dog and owner alike, as you guide your pooch through an obstacle course in a specific order while being timed. Pure-breeds and mutts love this sport, and it’s great exercise too! Both the Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo Kennel Clubs also offer agility. If your pup can jump, bend, balance and pay attention amidst distractions, then this may be the sport for you!
Barn Hunt or Earthdog
In these competitions, a pooch attempts to find the hidden rodent — an easy task for most of our terrier friends! During Barn Hunt, the caged rodent is hidden among straw bales.
In Earthdog, the rat is hidden underground. In both events, your pooch gets to embrace his instincts to climb or burrow his way to find his prey. Check with your local Kennel Club for Barn Hunt or Earthdog trials.
Obedience competitions celebrate the hard work and self-control of our furry friends. A judge instructs the handler to ask his or her dog to perform specific tasks without assistance to test the obedience of the pooch. Rally Obedience is a twist on traditional obedience where the handler navigates a course of signs that dictate what tasks the pup is to perform. In Rally-O, handler interaction is encouraged, which makes it a great team-building sport for pup and person. Both Obedience and Rally are offered through the Kennel Clubs.
If frisbee is your dog’s preferred method of fun, explore the world of Disc Dogs. These pups vault, flip, catch and fly in perfectly-timed combinations with their handlers. Start at home in your backyard or get some professional tips from Disc Dog trainers (discdogsofmi.com or midmichigank9events.net) and prepare to be hooked.
Many of our retriever breeds enjoy splashing around. Did you know that poodles were originally bred to retrieve from the water? A great sporting option for our water-loving friends is dock diving. What’s better than running to the end of a dock and jumping as far as you can to splash into refreshing lake water? Well, pooches can even enjoy this event in cold weather when competitions construct an indoor pool for them to launch into!
Visit northamericandivingdogs.com for a list of events near you as well as some handy instructional videos to get started.
This doggie relay-race is a favorite of dog athletes. A team of pooches each takes a turn running down a lane, hurdling jumps along the way, to snag a tennis ball and bring it back across the jumps as fast as they can. This sport is high-adrenaline and loud — where a dog can be a dog. Barking and being excited is encouraged, as long as Fifi stays on task! Your local Kennel Club can offer information about upcoming events.
Whether you have a corgi or collie, a shepherd or a sheltie, our herding-breed friends can give us a run for our money at home! Dogs who were bred to run circles around livestock all day are great candidates for dog sports, and herding may be just what the doctor ordered! Check with your local Kennel Club for information on herding trials in your area.
The sport of Nosework takes place inside, outside, on vehicles, in different containers and even searching for the handler’s scent. Learn about how scent travels and how you and your dog can have fun using your pup’s number one sense. Your local Kennel Club can get you started.
Inspired yet? These sports represent just a fraction of the activities available for you and your pooch! If your pup is healthy and ready for an active lifestyle, look at what her favorite activities are at home. Alternatively, what does she do that gets her into trouble? That is usually an indicator of what she will enjoy the most! So, if you’ve got a jumper, a barker, a chaser, or digger, there’s a sport for you!