June 02, 2022
After hunting season is over, you and your dog don't have to retire to the couch and wait for fall. There's a whole slew of dog sports and activities—many of them new—that will help keep your dog engaged with you all year. Many of the things you'll train in these sports can help your dog with its field work and help keep it in shape for next year's hunting season.
Probably the most traditional of the dog sports is obedience. As the name implies, you're telling the dog what to do and he's doing it, but it's much more than that. Obedience is based on field work, and as you progress through the levels, you'll see a lot of the same skills that retrievers use. Obedience starts with simple skills, such as walk politely at heel and sit-stay, and progresses to some very difficult tasks such as selecting the correct article out of a pile of 10 and going straight out to a designated point and returning to you over the jump you indicate.
A more relaxed form of obedience is rally. You walk the dog through a course of signs, each of which tells you a specific skill to demonstrate. You're allowed to talk to your dog throughout the course, clap your hands, pat your leg, and generally encourage the dog. This is a great starting place for Obedience, and can be lots of fun for the dogs as well as the human.
For fast-paced action, try agility. This activity will help keep both you and your dog in shape, since you have to run with the dog and indicate which obstacle it takes next. Obstacles include jumps, tunnels, weave poles, an elevated dog walk, and an A-frame. Most dogs love agility, but it takes some specific and specialized training for the dogs to be able to interact with the obstacles safely.
One of the newest dog sports is barn hunt. This one is great fun for both the dog and the handler, and helps the dog learn to use its nose. The object of barn hunt is for the dog to find a rat that's in a ventilated tube. Along the way the dog must navigate simple barriers and mazes, the difficulty of which increases as the dog becomes more experienced.
Another new activity is scent work, where the dog must locate a “hide” with a specific scent in or on it. There are a number of categories of hides, including interior, exterior, vehicle and container. If this sounds like something a K-9 drug detection dog would do, that's exactly what scent work is based on, and like barn hunt, it teaches your dog to use its nose. Scent work is rapidly becoming a very popular pastime for both dogs and handlers.
One of the best places to learn any of these skills is at a local dog sports club. Both the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the United Kennel Club (UKC) maintain lists of affiliated clubs; you can find AKC-affiliated clubs at www.akc.org, and UKC-affiliated clubs at www.ukcdogs.com/club-directory.
If you decide to participate in one or more of these dog sports, remember that the number one thing to do is have fun. It's all about enjoying what you're doing while you and your hunting buddy are waiting for fall. FS