Dog agility trials is probably one of my most favorite “sports” to watch, No, wait, herd dog trials are. No, hold on, canine freestyle is. Ugh! Okay, breathe…

I’m sure that all of you have heard of dog agility trials. It’s where dogs are taught to run an obstacle course with obstacles like, poles, tunnels, bridges, teeter-totters, and steep ramps. Each obstacle has different rules associated with them like having to wait until the teeter-totter actually touches the ground instead of bounding off it it half way down, or making sure that the dogs paws touch the strip that is at the bottom of the ramp; things like that. It is a timed event and as long as all of the requirements are met, it is considered a clean run. After a clean run is completed, it then comes down to time. I have watched dog agility trials, for a long time, and have even attend some of them in person, always wanting to get my dogs into something like that. I mean, I have herding dogs, which is what most of the agility dogs are. That and work dogs, like Belgian Shepherds, Let’s face it; those dogs must be kept busy and what better way to do that than to have them run around a course, as fast as they can? It’s brilliant, really!

Then there are the herding trials. Since I live in a very rural part of California, I am surrounded by cattle, sheep, and other livestock. This means that there is plenty of work for these “herding dogs” to do, out on the ranch. Several years ago, during our local fair, my husband and I discovered that a couple of the fair events showcased these amazing dogs: sheep dog trials and cattle dog trials. The days that those shows run are really the only two days that we attend the fair anymore. Cattle dogs work as a team with their handler on horseback. The ranch horse can offer assistance, if needed, but they earn more points if the dogs can move through the obstacles with as little assistance as possible from the horse. The only cues that the dogs get are from their “handler” who commands them with a series of whistles and voice commands. They have twelve minutes to get four steers through two gates, into a holding pen, into and out of a “T”, and then loaded into a stock trailer. It is amazing to watch as the dogs are truly doing what they have been bred to do; herd cattle.

Sheep dog trials are a little different than cattle dog trials. Sheep dog trails also have four animals that the dog has to “herd”, but the handler is on foot and stands at the starting end of the arena. They also use a series of whistle and voice commands to get the dog to move the sheep. Instead of having to move the sheep through obstacles, they herd the sheep into a pen, at the far end of the arena. Once all of the sheep are penned, the handler will go down and close the gate, completing the first part. The handler then opens the gate to release the sheep. The dog is then told to separate one of the sheep, away from the heard, and keep it separate. Once that is done, the dog is called off and the trial is complete. Both herding trials are not only timed but they are scored by judges to look at how responsive the dog is to his handler, how much the handler tries to intervene, and how “rough” the dogs are with the livestock. Any biting, of any kind, is an automatic disqualification of that team. Again…it’s what these dogs are bred to do!

Then there is the absolutely astounding sport of Canine Freestyle. If you have never seen this, you must google a video of it and watch because it is beautiful to watch. This sport takes dogs of all sizes and breeds and teaches them a choreographed routine…with their owner/handlers. In laymen terms, they do a perfectly synchronized dance. I have seen dogs do flips, rollovers, leaps, spins…anything you could imagine, and maybe not imagine. I love to watch the bond between these dance partners and one hundred percent appreciate the time, effort, and “oneness” that they have with each other. These competitions are judged based on difficulty, originality, grace, and synchronicity. Again, if you have never watched this, please do so…you will thank me. You’re welcome. ?

Have you ever seen or heard of Fly Ball? I discovered this sport a few years ago when I was looking for something to keep my husbands red border collie, Payton, busy…without completely throwing out my arm. This is a sport that was created for ball crazed fast runners who chase tennis balls, in their sleep. The dog starts at a staring line and when given a cue, runs and jumps four consecutive hurdles. At the end of those hurdles is a box. When the dog hits the box, at a certain point, in a certain way, the box throws up a tennis ball, which the dog must catch, in the air. Once the tennis ball is caught, the dog then has to jump back over all of the hurdles to cross the finish line, where the timer is stopped. Obviously, this is a timed competition and one that is full of excitement and adrenalin. It is so fun to watch! Should you ever have a chance to go and watch one of these events, go! You’ll never forget it.

I know that there are many other sporting events, that I didn’t talk about, like obedience trials, bird dog trials, fox hunting races, dog racing, confirmation, disc dogs, and even dock diving…which is another one of my favorites to watch. If you do a search for local dog sports, you might just be surprised at what you will find. Of course, different areas have different sports available to them, but it may even be worth traveling thirty minutes or so to observe, or to join. You have no idea the bond that you will create, with your four-legged-friend and the extra exercise may do both of you some good. In fact, I think I am going to take my own advise and look for one of these sports to  get into with my new pup, Henry. With his love of water, I may be seeing some dock diving in my near future!

Many blessings to you and your four-legged-loves ~ Tammy

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