12 dog sports for energetic pups (and their owners)

February 17, 2024 - 13 min read
Dog Sports

In a world where dogs are not just pets but also partners in adventure, it's no wonder dog sports have bounded into the spotlight. From the adrenaline-fueled leaps of disc dog competitions to the peerless precision of tracking trials, dogs and their handlers showcase athleticism, intelligence, and teamwork at the highest levels.

Whether you're competing at an elite level, looking for a high-energy activity to keep you and your doggo in shape, or simply seeking a mentally stimulating challenge to strengthen your bond, there's a dog sport out there for everyone. We'll start with 12 of them.

Agility

A focused black and white Border Collie mid-jump over a yellow hurdle at a dog agility course, with intense concentration in its eyes and ears perked up, showcasing the breed's agility and training

What is dog agility?

Agility is a fast-paced and exhilarating sport where dogs navigate through a timed obstacle course under the guidance of their handlers. The course typically includes a variety of obstacles such as jumps, tunnels, weave poles, and A-frames.

Dogs and handlers must work as a team to complete the course as quickly and accurately as possible. In competitions, dogs are judged on their speed, accuracy, and ability to successfully navigate the obstacles while following their handler's commands.

Looking for a top-tier goal to pursue? The AKC National Agility Championship is one of the most prestigious events in the sport.

What does dog agility cost?

The cost can range from $100 to $500 for basic equipment and training classes.

How much time does dog agility training take?

Expect to spend 1-2 hours per week in training classes, plus additional practice time at home.

Breeds that excel at agility

Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, and Shetland Sheepdogs (aka Shelties) are natural athletes for agility. Wit, a Border Collie, was the winner in his size group for "AKC National Agility Champion" in 2023.

Agility training is a great way to stay active with your dog. And remember, it involves navigating obstacle courses together, you need to be fit for the challenge too. But be cautious and avoid pushing too hard -- otherwise, both you and your dog will be at risk for injuries. Take it easy, gradually increase your training intensity, and most importantly, cherish the time you spend bonding with your pup.

Rally

A cheerful black and white dog sitting on a polished wooden floor indoors, tongue out and looking up with a joyful expression. The background is softly blurred, showing people and agility equipment, suggesting the setting is a dog training facility or event.

Rally, also known as rally obedience, combines elements of traditional obedience with the energetic excitement of agility.

In rally, dogs and handlers navigate a course with a series of designated stations, each featuring a different obedience exercise. The exercises may include commands such as sit, stay, heel, and recall, as well as various turns and changes of pace. Unlike traditional obedience, handlers are allowed to encourage and praise their dogs throughout the course.

In competitions, dogs are judged on their ability to perform the exercises with precision and enthusiasm while maintaining a strong connection with their handler. The AKC Rally National Championship showcases the top teams in the sport.

What does dog rally cost?

Training classes may cost around $100–$300, plus additional expenses for equipment.

How much time does dog rally training take?

Plan for 1-2 hours of training per week, with practice sessions at home.

Breeds that excel at rally

Golden Retrievers, Labradors, and Australian Shepherds are well-suited for Rally, but a Border Collie named Zayne took home the title of "AKC Rally National Champion" in 2023.

Rally is an excellent choice for those who value precision and enjoy working closely with their dog. It's all about teamwork and communication as you tackle the course together. Remember to stay consistent in training and be patient as you progress through the challenges.

Flyball

Border Terrier running with ball in mouth

What is flyball for dogs?

Flyball is a high-energy relay race where teams of dogs compete against each other to retrieve a tennis ball from a spring-loaded box and race back over a series of hurdles. Dogs are released in succession, with each dog completing the course as quickly as possible.

In competitions, teams are judged on their speed and accuracy in completing the course, with the fastest team winning. Points are awarded for successful ball retrievals and clean runs. The North American Flyball Association (NAFA) hosts regional and national championships.

What does dog flyball cost?

Initial setup costs for equipment can range from $200 to $500, plus ongoing expenses for competitions.

How much time does dog flyball training take?

Training sessions typically last 1-2 hours, with regular practice to maintain skills.

Breeds that excel at flyball

Whippets, Border Collies, and Jack Russell Terriers are known for their speed and agility in flyball, but mixed breeds often feature as winners. This was the case for 2023's AKC Champion team (only one purebred, a Whippet, was present).

Flyball provides an excellent outlet for dogs with endless energy. It's the perfect choice for active individuals who thrive on the thrill of competition and have the space to set up a flyball course. Just be ready for the fast-paced action and the importance of consistent practice to keep those skills sharp.

Obedience

A well-groomed golden retriever stands attentively in a sandy arena, looking to the side while being held on a leash by a person in dark clothing. The background is blurred with people and event barriers, suggesting an outdoor dog show or competition.

What is obedience in dog sports?

Obedience is a sport that emphasizes a dog's ability to follow commands and demonstrate good behavior in various situations. Dogs and handlers work together to perform a series of exercises, such as heeling, recalls, and stays, with precision and reliability.

In competitions, dogs are judged based on their accuracy and speed in completing the exercises, as well as their overall attitude and enthusiasm. Points are deducted for mistakes or disobedience.

Looking for a challenge? The AKC National Obedience Championship is one of the highest levels of competition.

What does dog obedience cost?

Training classes may range from $100 to $300, depending on the facility and instructor.

How much time does dog obedience training take?

Plan for 1-2 hours of training per week, with daily practice sessions.

Breeds that excel at obedience

German Shepherds, Dobermans, Retrievers, and herding breeds are often top performers in obedience. Zayne, a 7-year-old Border Collie, won top dog at the 2023 AKC Obedience Classic. (Yes, the same Zayne who won the 2023 Rally National Championship -- he's quite a canine.)

Obedience is ideal for those who appreciate structure and enjoy teaching their dogs new skills. It emphasizes consistent training and clear communication between dog and handler. By participating in obedience, you'll strengthen your bond with your dog while mastering essential commands and behaviors.

Herding

What is herding in dog sports?

Herding is a sport that simulates the work of herding dogs on farms and ranches, where they gather, move, and control livestock, such as sheep or cattle. Dogs use a combination of instinct, intelligence, and obedience to respond to their handler's commands and guide the animals through a series of obstacles or tasks.

In competitions, dogs are judged based on their ability to move the livestock efficiently and effectively, as well as their responsiveness to the handler's cues. Points are awarded for skillful maneuvers and the successful completion of tasks. If you're ready to test your skills against the competition, the USBCHA National Sheepdog Finals is a premier event for herding enthusiasts.

What does dog herding cost?

Herding lessons can range from $50 to $150 per session, with additional expenses for equipment and travel.

How much time does dog herding training take?

Expect to dedicate 1-2 hours per week to training, with regular practice sessions.

Breeds that excel at herding

Herding breeds such as Corgis, cattle dogs, and collies all have a natural talent for herding (no surprise there). Pip, a Border Collie, was the 2023 USBCHA National Champion.

Herding is an engaging choice for those who appreciate the intelligence and working prowess of herding breeds. If you have access to appropriate training facilities, this sport offers a unique opportunity to tap into your dog's natural instincts.

Scent Work

What is dog scent work?

Scent work is a sport that harnesses a dog's natural ability to detect and identify scents. Dogs are trained to search for specific odors, such as essential oils or target scents, hidden in various environments.

Handlers guide their dogs through the search area, encouraging them to indicate when they find the target scent.

In competitions, dogs are judged on their ability to locate and alert to a target scent within a specified time frame. The National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW) hosts annual scent work trials, perfect for testing your pup's skill.

What does dog scent work cost?

Scent work classes typically cost $100–$300 for a series of sessions, plus expenses for equipment.

How much time does dog scent work training take?

Plan for 1-2 hours of training per week, with regular practice sessions at home.

Breeds that excel at scent work

Strong sniffers tend to do best here, but listening is also an important skill. Beagles, Labradors, and German Shepherds are well-suited for scent work.

Scent work lets your dog showcase their natural talents while you play the roles of trainer and detective together. If you're patient and enjoy watching your pup use their nose, this sport offers a rewarding experience. Start with the basics and gradually increase difficulty levels as your dog progresses.

Lure Coursing

What is lure coursing for dogs?

Lure coursing is a sport that simulates the chase of prey by sight hounds, such as Greyhounds, Whippets, and Salukis. A mechanized lure, typically a plastic bag or artificial animal, is pulled along a course with twists, turns, and obstacles.

Dogs are released in pairs or small groups to chase the lure, demonstrating their speed, agility, and hunting instincts.

In competitions, dogs are scored based on their ability to complete the course within a certain time and with enthusiasm and skill. The American Sighthound Field Association sponsors lure coursing trials around the country, and the American Kennel Club's National Lure Coursing Championship is a prestigious event in the sport that's worth looking into when you and your pup are ready.

What does dog lure coursing cost?

Entry fees for lure coursing trials can range from $20 to $50 per event, with additional costs for travel and equipment.

How much time does dog lure coursing training take?

Lure-course events typically last a few hours, with minimal training required beyond basic obedience.

Breeds that excel at lure coursing

Greyhounds, Whippets, and Salukis are bred for speed and excel at lure coursing.

Lure coursing is a good fit for those who admire the athleticism of sight hounds. With access to suitable coursing grounds, it's an exciting activity. You'll need to make sure your dog is well-conditioned and supervised to prevent any injuries during the chase.

Dock Diving

What is dock diving for dogs?

Dock diving is a water sport where dogs jump from a dock into a pool of water in pursuit of a thrown object, usually a floating bumper or toy. Dogs are judged based on the distance or height of their jump, measured from the end of the dock to where their nose or feet break the surface of the water.

In competitions, dogs typically have multiple attempts to achieve their longest or highest jump, with the best jump recorded as their score. The DockDogs World Championships is a great competition to aim for.

What does dog dock diving cost?

Training classes may cost $100–$200 for a series of sessions, plus expenses for equipment and competition entry fees.

How much time does dog dock diving training take?

Plan for 1-2 hours of training per week, with regular practice sessions at a dock or pool.

Breeds that excel at dock diving

Labrador Retrievers, Whippets, Portuguese Water Dogs, and Belgian Malinois are often top contenders in dock diving. As of 2023, Sounders, an 8-year-old Whippet, has yet to be beat for his incredible leap of 36 feet, 11 inches.

Dock diving appeals to individuals who enjoy outdoor activities and have access to a suitable dock or pool for training. Just know there are inherent risks associated with jumping into water, including the potential for injury if dogs are not properly trained and conditioned.

Barn Hunt

What is barn hunting for dogs?

Barn hunting is a sport that replicates the traditional role of dogs in hunting and eliminating vermin, such as rats, in barns or other enclosed spaces. Dogs are tasked with searching through a course of hay bales or other obstacles to find hidden PVC tubes containing live rats or rat scent. Dogs indicate when they find a tube by barking, digging, or other alert behaviors.

In competitions, such as the Barn Hunt National Championship hosted by the Barn Hunt Association (BHA), dogs are scored based on their ability to find and indicate the presence or absence of rats within a specified time frame.

What does a dog barn hunt training session cost?

Barn hunt classes may cost $50–$100 per session, with additional expenses for equipment and competition fees.

How much time does dog barn hunt training take?

Expect to spend 1-2 hours per week in training classes, with practice sessions at home.

Breeds that excel at barn hunting

Terriers, such as Jack Russell Terriers and Rat Terriers, are natural hunters and excel at barn hunting. But that doesn't mean other dogs, especially mixed breeds, won't do well. A four-year-old Dutch Shepherd/Lab mix named Shiloh was the national winner in 2023.

Barn Hunt is great for teasing out your dog's tenacity and hunting instincts; the only challenge might be finding the right Barn Hunt facilities near you.

Tracking

What is dog tracking?

Tracking is a sport where dogs use their keen sense of smell to follow a scent trail left by a person or object. In competitions, dogs are tasked with following a track laid out by a human, usually with a variety of turns, terrain changes, and distractions. Handlers follow behind, guiding their dogs but allowing them to lead the way. Dogs are scored based on their ability to accurately follow the track and locate specific items or targets along the way.

Various organizations host tracking trials, including the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the United Kennel Club (UKC), which offer titles and recognition for dogs who demonstrate proficiency in tracking.

What does dog tracking cost?

Training classes and equipment for dog tracking can vary in cost but may range from $100 to $500 or more, depending on the program and resources needed.

How much time does dog tracking training take?

Expect to dedicate 1-2 hours per week to training sessions, with additional time for practice sessions in various environments to build skills.

Breeds that excel at tracking

Bloodhounds, German Shepherds, and Belgian Malinois are renowned for their exceptional scenting abilities and are commonly seen in tracking competitions.

Tracking is perfect for those who love challenging their dog's natural scenting abilities and enjoy outdoor adventures. It's a mentally stimulating activity that deepens the bond between you and your pup.

Canine Freestyle

What exactly is canine freestyle?

Canine freestyle, also known as dog dancing, is a creative sport where dogs and their handlers perform choreographed routines set to music. Routines can include a variety of movements and tricks, such as spins, jumps, and weaving between the handler's legs.

Dogs and handlers work together to showcase their bond, creativity, and precision timing. In competitions, judges evaluate the performance based on criteria such as musical interpretation, creativity, and technical skill.

Want to take it to the next level? Organizations such as the World Canine Freestyle Organization (WCFO) and the Canine Musical Freestyle Federation (CMFF) host competitions and championships for canine freestyle enthusiasts.

What does dog canine freestyle cost?

The cost of participating in canine freestyle can vary depending on factors such as training classes, music selection, and competition entry fees. Expect to spend anywhere from $50 to $200 or more for training and equipment.

How much time does dog canine freestyle training take?

Plan for 1-2 hours of training per week, with additional time for choreographing routines and practicing with music.

Breeds that excel at canine freestyle

While any breed of dog can participate in canine freestyle, breeds with good obedience skills, a love for attention, and a willingness to learn often excel. Popular choices include Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers.

Canine freestyle is perfect for creative individuals who enjoy dancing and performing with their dogs. It's a joyful activity that allows for artistic expression while strengthening your bond with your doggo.

Disc Dog

What is disc dog/canine disc?

Disc dog, also known as canine disc, is a dynamic sport where dogs catch flying discs thrown by their handlers. Dogs and handlers work together to perform a series of catches, throws, and tricks, demonstrating the dog's speed, agility, and catching ability.

In competitions, teams are judged on criteria such as distance, accuracy, and style of catches. Points are awarded based on the difficulty and execution of the throws and catches, with bonuses for impressive maneuvers and teamwork between the dog and handler.

Prestigious organizations and events like the Skyhoundz Canine Disc Championship help showcase the skills of top disc dog teams.

What does dog disc dog cost?

Initial costs for equipment such as discs and training aids can range from $50 to $200 or more. Additionally, entry fees for competitions may vary, typically ranging from $10 to $30 per event.

How much time does dog disc dog training take?

Plan for 1-2 hours of training per week, with regular practice sessions to improve disc-catching skills and develop routines.

Breeds that excel at disc dog

Breeds such as Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, and Belgian Malinois are commonly seen in disc dog competitions due to their athleticism, agility, and enthusiasm for chasing and catching flying discs. A Border Collie named Pete was the winner of the 2023 Disc Dog Challenge that aired on ESPN in 2023.

Disc dog training is perfect for active individuals who love outdoor fun and want to tap into their dog's natural instincts for chasing and catching. It's an exhilarating sport that builds teamwork and trust between you and your furry friend.

The bottom line? Whether you're navigating the agility course or sniffing out scents in scent work, there's a canine/handler sport tailored to your dog's unique abilities and your shared interests.

Each one offers an exciting challenge and a rewarding opportunity to strengthen the bond between you and your dog – much more so than the usual walk around the block.


Leanna Zeibak
Content Manager

Leanna Zeibak is a Content Manager at ManyPets. In her spare time, she paints pet portraits and bakes far too many chocolate chip cookies.