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A Quick List of Canine Sports for Your Dog

Kristin is a dog agility instructor and competitor with 20 years in the sport.

In the U.S., trained dogs regularly compete in a wide variety of exciting events.

In the U.S., trained dogs regularly compete in a wide variety of exciting events.

Sports and Competitions for Your Dog

Half a century ago, dog owners faced limited opportunities for competition fun with their dogs. While some canine sports like disc dog and flyball were in their infancy, few dog sports could be easily found nationwide.

Fast-forward to today when the range of sports available to dogs and their owners runs the gamut, affording any dog a competition that fits her personality and abilities. Now, mixed breeds can compete beside their pure breed cousins in most dog sports. No longer are mixes labeled as second-class citizens when it comes to sporting fun. All dogs are welcome.

Some of the benefits you can gain from getting involved in dog sports include a stronger bond with your dog, a better-behaved canine companion, new friendships, and a healthier lifestyle for both you and your dog.

Below is a quick and dirty list of some of the most common canine sports practiced in the United States. The American Kennel Club (AKC) offers competitions and title recognition in many of these sports. You can visit their website at akc.org to learn more or simply Google these sports or competition organizations. Study the following list and see which sport best fits you and your dog.

The Top 11 Dog Competition Types in the U.S.

  1. Barn Hunt
  2. Agility
  3. Nose Work
  4. Dock Diving
  5. Obedience
  6. Lure Corsing
  7. Flyball
  8. Rally
  9. Disc Dog
  10. Trick Dog
  11. Freestyle

1. Barn Hunt

In Barn Hunt, rats are placed in safety tubes and hidden in a maze created with bales of hay. A dog sniffs through the maze searching for the rats. When she locates a rat, she alerts, and her handler, who is following, shouts “Rat!” It's a fun sport to watch and compete in and has been gaining popularity of late. It’s a great sport for dogs who love to sniff out critters. The Barn Hunt Association offers titles that can be recognized through the AKC.

  • Training: Low to moderate
  • Physical requirements of dog: Low to moderate
  • Physical requirements of human: Low

2. Agility

A timed event, agility requires a dog and human handler to navigate a course of obstacles such as jumps, tunnels, teeter, A-frame, and more. The team successfully completing the course with the fewest mistakes and the fastest time wins. Agility has not stopped growing since it came to the US over 30 years ago, and today the AKC records over one million entries a year. There are other organizations offering agility competitions including USDAA (United States Dog Agility Association), NADAC (North American Dog Agility Council), UKI (UK Agility International), CPE (Canine Performance Events) and more.

  • Training: Moderate to extreme
  • Physical requirements of dog: High to extreme
  • Physical requirements of human: Moderate to extreme

3. Nose Work

Also called scent work, this fun sport requires less physical activity from the human and canine, but it requires strong communication skills. In competitions, dogs sniff out hidden cotton swabs scented with essential oils such as Birch, Anise, Clove, and Cypress. Handlers have to read their dogs’ alerting signals to know when a hidden cotton swab has been discovered. Another growing sport, nose work is offered by organizations such as the NACSW (National Association of Canine Scent Work), USCSS (United States Canine Scent Sports), and the AKC.

  • Training: Moderate to High
  • Physical requirements of dog: Low
  • Physical requirements of human: Low

4. Dock Diving

Another growing dog sport, dock diving is simple enough. The dog jumps off of a dock or platform into a body of water, often chasing a thrown toy. The dog who jumps the farthest wins. This fun, warm weather sport is ideal for water-loving dogs. Competitions can be found through such organizations as DockDogs and NADD (North America Diving Dogs.)

  • Training: Low to moderate
  • Physical requirements of dog: Moderate to high
  • Physical requirement of human: Low
Scent Discrimination Exercise in Obedience

Scent Discrimination Exercise in Obedience

5. Obedience

Heading into its ninth decade, obedience is one of the older sports, but it’s changed over the years. If you haven’t competed lately, you may wish to refamiliarize yourself with the rules. It’s a precision event where dogs are judged on their ability to heel, stay, come, retrieve, jump, and more.

Aside from the AKC, some other organizations offering obedience competitions include the UKC (United Kennel Club) and ASCA (Australian Shepherd Club of America).

  • Training: Moderate to Extreme
  • Physical requirements of dog: Moderate
  • Physical requirements of human: Moderate

6. Lure Corsing

In this fun sport, a dog chases a lure (usually a white, plastic bag) pulled by a wire and pulley. The lure moves fast through a course set on a flat, open field, and the dog with the fastest time chasing the lure through the course wins. Organizations offering lure coursing include the AKC and the UKC.

  • Training: Low
  • Physical requirements of dog: Moderate to extreme
  • Physical requirements of human: Low

7. Flyball

A loud sport, flyball involves two teams of dogs racing down a line of hurdles, slamming into a box that spurts out a tennis ball, and returning the ball back over the jumps to their owners where the next dog in the team is released to do the same thing. The fastest team wins. Flyball is found among organizations such as NAFA (North American Flyball Association) and U-FLI (United Flyball League International).

  • Training: Moderate to high
  • Physical requirements of dog: Moderate to extreme
  • Physical requirements of human: Low

8. Rally

A form of obedience, Rally continues to gain traction. In this sport, a dog heels with his owner through a course of signs, stopping at each sign to perform whatever behavior(s) the sign requests. Another precision sport, points are removed for errors such as missed signs, not performing the behaviors correctly, or errors in exactness. Some of the organizations offering Rally are the AKC, the UKC, WCRL (World Cynosport Rally Limited), and ASCA.

  • Training: Moderate to high
  • Physical requirements of dog: Low
  • Physical requirements of human: Low to moderate
Rally Obedience

Rally Obedience

9. Disc Dog

A spectator favorite, disc dog sports involve a person throwing a flying disc for their dog to catch. There are several different types of classes, but the most eye-catching are the routines where the dog and handler perform intricate trick after trick. Some of the organizations offering disc dog competitions are Skyhoundz, UFO, USDDN (United States Disc Dog Nationals), AWI (Ashley Whippet Invitational), the Quadruped, and more.

  • Training: Moderate to extreme
  • Physical requirements of dog: Moderate to extreme
  • Physical requirements of human: Moderate to extreme

10. Trick Dog

A great option for the dog and owner who can’t travel to competitions, trick dogs learn a variety of specified tricks and perform them in front of an evaluator. Some organizations offering trick titles include the AKC and DMWYD (Do More With Your Dog).

  • Training: Low to high
  • Physical requirements of dog: Low to moderate
  • Physical requirements of human: Low

11. Freestyle

Often called “Dancing with Your Dog,” Freestyle obedience is basically obedience and tricks set to music. Routines mix choreographed dance with obedience and can be humorous to moving. Organizations offering freestyle include WCFO (World Canine Freestyle Organization), CFF (Canine Freestyle Federation), and MDSA (Musical Dog Sport Association­).

  • Training: Moderate to extreme
  • Physical requirements of dog: Moderate to extreme
  • Physical requirements of human: Moderate to extreme

Other Canine Sports Your Dog May Enjoy

  • Tracking
  • Herding
  • Earthdog
  • Hunt and field events
  • Skijoring
  • Trieball
  • Schutzhund

Go Play!

Is your dog shy or aggressive? Some of the above sports offer video competitions where you can video your dog doing the behaviors. These video competitions are great alternatives for dogs with behavior issues that keep them from competing safely among other dogs and people.

There’s a dog sport for every human-canine team. Research, choose a sport that fits you and your dog’s strengths and weaknesses, find a good instructor, and go have fun! The days of doggie couch potatoes are over!