Outdoor Sports for the Un-Pedigreed Dog
In our last regular issue, we talked about all of the options you have for sporting events sponsored and sanctioned by the American Kennel Club. Most of these events are open only to dogs who are members of the AKC, meaning that they are purebreds.
Now, we present the sports in which you and your dog can participate outside the AKC. In some cases, there is overlap where the AKC-sanctioned events attract purebreds and the other events allow mutt-i-grees to compete in the same sports with similar rules.
In Dock Dogs, otherwise known as dock jumping or dock diving, your dog is led up onto a dock, then encouraged to jump into a pool or lake. There are three events: Big Air, Extreme Vertical, and Speed Retrieve.
In Big Air, the handler throws a toy into the water, and the dog jumps in after it. The goal is to get the dog to catch big air, i.e. jump as far out from the dock as possible before splash down. The world record hovers around 29 feet.
In Extreme Vertical competitions, a toy known as a bumper is suspended from a bar over the end of the dock. The goal is to get the dog to jump high enough to knock the bumper from the magnets that hold it to the bar before landing in the pool. The dog need not come down with the bumper in its mouth, but it’s fun to watch them try. The event is run in the same manner as a pole vault or high jump competition at a track and field event. Each dog jumps at a certain height, and those that succeed move on to the next height. To save their strength, dogs who could easily accomplish lower heights are allowed to skip certain rounds.
In Speed Retrieve, a bumper is attached to the far end of the pool, and the dog’s time from leaving the dock to the time he grabs the bumper is measured. Big Air skills come in handy for this event because the farther the dog leaps, the less he has to swim. Check out a video of a speed retriever in action.
Dogs who compete in all three events can win the designation of Iron Dog.
Weight pulling events are sanctioned by the International Weight Pull Association and might best be compared to the tractor pulls you may have seen at your local county fair. Dogs are put in harness and asked to pull an increasing amount of weight through a certain distance.
A freight harness is used to distribute the weight more evenly behind the dog. A bar runs across the back of the dog, and a sled is loaded with weights. The dog is put in a “stay” at the start line, then the handler walks across the finish line and calls the dog. The course may be set up on snow, simulating a sled dog race, or on a hard surface where wheeled carts are used.
There are different classes, based on the weight of the dog, and the objective of the sport is to pull the greatest amount of weight in the shortest amount of time.
Agility contests are great big obstacle courses where your dog can romp and have just an inordinate amount of fun with you. Events are sanctioned by the United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA). Courses use a combination of apparatuses, including contact obstacles, tables, weave poles, tunnels, and jumps / hurdles.
Each station has its own scoring rules, as follows:
Contact obstacles: the dog must ascend, cross, and descend the obstacle in the marked areas. The most common example of a contact obstacle is a see-saw, where the dog must enter the obstacle on the colored (often yellow) end, walk across the see-saw making it tip the other way, then get all four paws on the area designated for descent before leaving the obstacle.
Table: the dog must jump up onto the table, then remain in a down position for at least five seconds.
Weave poles: The dog must enter to the right side of the first pole, then alternate sides between poles, passing on the right, the left, the right, the left, etc. No poles may be skipped.
Tunnels: The dog must enter and exit in the defined direction.
Jumps and hurdles must be completed in the proper direction, with the dog clearing the top rail or traveling through the ring (often a tire).
The judge lays out a course using many of the obstacles, and each handler leads his dog through the course, the objective being to have the shortest time with the fewest faults. Dogs are classed according to size and ability level.
Getting started in agility is easiest to do as a member of an agility club. They have the proper equipment you will need and can give you tips on training your dog. Basic training involves starting on each apparatus at a low level or short course. For example, you might place the table just a few inches off the ground or you might start with just 2 or 3 weave poles. Tunnels are generally started with just an open PVC pipe, allowing the dog to get used to running through before adding a cloth tunnel that collapses around the dog.
Check out this video showing dogs competing at the Purina Incredible Dog Agility Challenge. In the first few frames, you can catch a glimpse of dock diving, as well.