Even though dogs don’t run around doing all the work they once did, a wide range of sports means keeping them fit has never been easier. Kate Mornement reports.

Many dog breeds originated to fulfil a specific working role such as herding, guarding, hunting, sledding and retrieving. Today, dogs are more commonly kept as companions and many are no longer required to fulfil the working role they were originally bred for.

This, in addition to the busy lives of many dog owners, means that lots of dogs are not provided with ample opportunities to exercise. Providing dogs with appropriate exercise, or an outlet to express behaviours they were originally selected for, can help to ensure that dogs remain healthy, both physically and mentally.

Of course, the exercise needs of dogs will vary depending on their age, activity level, breed and health status and it is important that you choose exercise activities that suit both you and your dog, and which you both enjoy. In recent years, dog enthusiasts have come to realise this and there are more opportunities than ever before to become involved in recreational exercise activities and competition sports with their dogs. No matter where you live – inner city, suburbs, rural or seaside – there are lots of ways you can enjoy exercise with your dog.


Bike riding

Some people have been enjoying bike riding with their dogs for years, by holding the dogs’ leads while riding their bikes. Now, equipment is available which is specifically designed for this activity and makes it safer for both dog and rider.

Riding your bike with your dog is great exercise for both of you, however, it’s important to take things slowly. Allow your dog time to get used to running alongside the bike and to build up its fitness level before embarking on long distance rides.


Off-lead parks and beaches

One of the most popular ways people exercise their dogs is by taking them to off-lead dog parks. There are many benefits to offlead exercise. It provides dogs with opportunities to run, play and socialise with other dogs.

Beaches provide a fun and exciting physical and sensory environment for dogs to explore.

Check restrictions before you take your dog along, though, as off-lead access to beaches is increasingly restricted, especially in the summer months.


Agility

Agility is a team sport in which a handler directs a dog through an obstacle course in a race for time and accuracy. Dogs leap over hurdles, run through tunnels, weave through upright poles and scale ramps of different sizes.

The aim is to find the balance between the control of the dog and the speed of the performance.

Scoring is based on faults, so a dog that completes the course correctly within the set time earns a ‘clear round’. Dogs then earn and advance through Agility titles when they achieve a set number of clear rounds.


Obedience training

Most dog owners participate in Obedience training with their dog at some stage, usually in the first year of having their dog. Obedience training is an excellent form of exercise as it teaches dogs basic obedience and manners, and socialises them to other people and dogs.

Well-behaved dogs are included in more family activities and are less likely to be surrendered to shelters.


Flyball

Believed to have originated in North America in the 1950s, Flyball is a relay race between two teams of four dogs racing side by side. It involves one dog from each team jumping over four hurdles, triggering a Flyball box pedal, catching a ball that is shot out upon the trigger, and then racing back over the four hurdles to the finish line, where the next dog awaits its turn.

Flyball has become extremely popular over the past few years and competition is fierce! Flyball became an official canine sport in Australia in 1996, when the Australian Flyball Association was formed.


Dock dogs

Dock dogs is a fun performance water sport for dogs that has recently taken off in America and Canada. It involves dogs taking a running jump off the end of a pier or platform into water, and competing to jump the furthest, highest or fastest.

Although in its infancy in Australia, Dock dogs events are likely to become popular in the coming years.

Most Dock dogs competitions are comprised of several contests, including ‘Big Air’, ‘Extreme Vertical’ and ‘Speed Retrieve’.

Big Air judges how far a dog can jump from the edge of the dock across the pool. The dog can start by running from the beginning of the dock in order to generate momentum, and distance is calculated from the edge of the dock to where the base of the dogs tail hits the water.

Extreme Vertical is high jump for dogs. When competing in Extreme Vertical, dogs jump upwards from the dock in order to retrieve a toy, landing in the water, and the highest jump wins.

Speed Retrieve involves a run, jump and swim. The clock starts when the dog leaves the starting line on the dock and stops when the dog reaches the end of the pool and retrieves the toy – fastest wins.


Sled racing and social sledding

Sledding is an activity enjoyed by many breeds of dog, but especially by the breeds originally bred for pulling in-harness, such as the Alaskan Malamute.

The majority of sledding events in Australia are conducted in bushland on dirt tracks with one- and two-dog teams pulling scooters. Larger teams pull a three-wheeled cart. Sledding events are held from April to September each year in Australia and include training days and sprint race events. There are also private clubs that conduct sledding events open to anyone who wishes to enter.

 

GET INVOLVED!

Bike riding:

Special leads and harnesses that attach under the bike seat or to an axle are widely available.

Ask at your pet supplies or cycling accessories store for details.


Off-lead parks and beaches:

Check with your local council to find out which parks, beaches and walking trails are designated
off-lead areas, and to find out about any restrictions.


Agility:

DOGS NSW-affiliated Agility clubs offer training, competitions and titles.

Contact DOGS NSW for details.
W: www.dogsnsw.org.au
T: (02) 9834 3022


Obedience:

Train and compete with DOGS NSW-affiliated clubs.
Contact DOGS NSW for details.
W: www.dogsnsw.org.au
T: (02) 9834 3022


Flyball:

Contact the Australian Flyball Association for details of upcoming events.
W: www.flyball.org.au


Dock dogs:

Although popular overseas, Dock dogs competitions are not yet common in Australia. You and your dog can still have fun training at home with a favourite toy and your pool.


Sled racing and social sledding:

 The Siberian Husky Club of NSW hosts sledding events from May-September each year.

The Club also holds an annual Introduction to Sledding Day. Visit the Club’s website to find out more and download an Introduction to Sledding manual. W: www.shcnsw.org.au


Tracking:

DOGS NSW-affiliated clubs run regular training and competitions.

Contact DOGS NSW for more information or to find a club.
W: www.dogsnsw.org.au
T: (02) 9834 3022


Weight pulling:

The Alaskan Malamute Club of NSW holds regular weight-pull events, and any breed can participate.
Contact the Club for more details.
W: www.amcnsw.com