Using Training as Exercise in Dogs

By Tracey Hagan, Pawsitive Purpose Dog Training & Behavior. Please note, I received compensation in exchange for this blog post.

We all know that dogs need exercise, both physical and mental. But have you ever thought that exercise doesn’t always mean taking your dog for a walk around the neighborhood, or playing fetch in the backyard? Did you ever think about other ways to get your dog the exercise they need?

If you have a more active breed that needs more exercise, or you just want to switch things up for you and your dog, you may want to look into dog sports to help you get your dog the exercise he needs. Dog sports can not only help you and your dog get exercise, but it can also strengthen your bond with your dog and you will join a community of other, like-minded dog owners.

There are many different dog sports out there to try. Check out some of the most common sports for dogs below and see if you and your dog may want to try them out.

Flyball is a team sport for dogs. Each team has four dogs that run a race course of hurdles. They race over the hurdles towards a box that has a spring-loaded pad that releases a tennis ball for the dog to catch and they take it back to their handler. The first team to have all four dogs return to their handler with the ball without errors on the course, wins! Errors include things like dropping the ball or starting their relay early.

Any breed can compete in Flyball. The only exception is that the dog must be tall enough to trigger the spring-loaded pad that releases the tennis ball. So some small or toy breed dogs may not be a good fit. Medium dogs seem to be a good fit.

If you have a dog that is fast, have exceptional agility and balance, love to fetch, and aren’t easily distracted being around other dogs, this may be the sport for you.


Agility is one of the more well known dog sports. This is an obstacle course for dogs and handlers. The dog works directly with the handler following verbal cues, body signals, or
movement of their handler to race through the course together and performing specific actions at each obstacle along the way.

The goal is to complete the course accurately in the fastest time. Any breed can participate in agility. Some dogs are better than others but all can try it.

If you have a dog that has great “drive”, is capable of reading and interpreting your cues accurately, have good stamina, is fast, has good balance, coordination, hearing and vision and are not easily distracted, this may be the sport for you.

Dock Diving
This is a sport where dogs jump from a dock into a pool, lake or other body of water. Dogs can compete for distance or height depending on the event. Any breed can take part in this sport. As long as your dog loves the water and swimming they can be good at this sport.

Your dog should have some endurance with swimming, able to jump well, have a strong drive to follow a toy, fetch a toy or retrieve to be good with this sport. If you have a water loving dog that meets this criteria, maybe this will be the best sport for you and your dog.

Tracking Trials
This dog sport encourages pets to use their sense of smell to follow a scent trail. Tracking trials are most often used today as practice for search and rescue work and for scent tracking in the case of missing persons or fleeing criminals, but they are also performed as a competitive sport.

Any breed can participate in tracking trials. Dogs such as hunting dogs and scent hounds tend to be great at this, put any breed can do it.

Dogs that are best suited for this sport have a strong sense of smell, strong drive, stamina, work well you, will work for praise and are not easily distracted.

Disc Dog
Also called “Frisbee Dog” and is exactly what it sounds like. Humans throw a frisbee and their dog catches it and returns it. This may sound extremely simple, but it requires great
communication between a dog and their handler. There are various categories of disc dog competitions. Everything from measuring the distance the frisbee goes to freestyle choreography to see how well the handler and dog work together.

Any breed can compete in disc dog, but most often the dogs that enjoy this sport the most are sporting breeds and herding breeds. Most seen in this sport are Border Collies, Australian Shepherds and Australian Cattle Dogs.

Dogs that are best suited for this sport should have great reflexes, a love for fetching and retrieving, have a strong bond with their handler and excellent communication skills, are very focused, are agile and have good stamina and be coordinated.

Rally Obedience
This sport is about obedience skills and requires a dog to move through obedience course with 10 to 20 stations. It is similar to agility but is less about physical abilities and more about accurate obedience understanding and demands.

Each station requires the dog to perform a designated obedience cue and upon completion, must heel with their handler as they move to the next station. The goal is to complete the course in the best time with the least number of penalty points.

Any breed can take part in rally obedience, although for AKC rally obedience, only AKC purebreds and mixed breed dogs registered with the AKC Canine Partners program are
permitted to take part.

Dogs that are best suited for rally obedience, have a strong desire to follow their handlers, have great obedience and advanced obedience, excel at agility work, are able to focus their energy and are not easily distracted.

Herding Trials
This sport is for dogs with a strong herding instinct and is solid on obedience. It requires the handler to communicate cues quickly and efficiently with their dog – usually with a whistle or short verbal cues – providing instruction for herding sheep around a field, around gates, around enclosures, or around fences.

Depending on the trial, some allow other breeds to enter while others only allow herding breeds. Check the trial to make sure before you begin.

Dogs that are best suited for this sport have a habit of driving, heading off, or otherwise directing livestock or people, they are fast moving, have good stamina, learn quickly, they must have good balance, excellent hearing and vision, and have a “strong eye (stalk)” that is used to “stare down” and elicit compliance from other animals.

There are many other dog sports out there for you to look at. If you don’t see a sport that will fit your dog, start thinking about what skills your dog already has, what was your dog “bred” todo? What do they enjoy? Then consider what motivates your dog. Are they prey driven? Food motivated? Using this information, take a look at all the dog sports available in your area and see what would fit your dog the best.

Dogs sports are just like sports for our children. They should be something they want to do and enjoy doing. This should be fun for both you and your dog. These can be a great way to get your dog some exercise and for you to find others who have similar interests to hang out with.

Always have fun with your dog, no matter what you are doing.

Tracey Hagan, is a certified dog trainer at Pawsitive Purpose Dog Training & Behavior. To see her full list of credentials, check out more here.