Performance Sports To Do With Your Dog

2024 statistics say that 65.1 million U.S. households have a dog. We love to walk with them, play with them, sleep with them, and even travel with them. A healthy dog gets physical as well as mental exercise and there are many performance sports that you can do with your canine companion that are enriching for both dog and human. What are canine performance sports? Nose work, diving, obedience, agility, flyball, rally, tracking, and more. Most of us have heard of obedience training, but perhaps the others are new to you. Here’s a look at the more popular American Kennel Club (AKC) performance sports that you can do with your dog, which will add a whole new level of fun and bonding to your relationship.


canine agility.
Image courtesy Andrew Morgan.

Agility is a fast-paced sport where dogs navigate a course of obstacles, including jumps, tunnels, and weave poles, guided by their handler’s cues. The course must be completed accurately and as quickly as possible.

Agility training improves dogs’ physical fitness, coordination, and agility. For humans, it enhances communication skills and builds a teamwork dynamic with their dogs. The sport is also a fun way to meet other dog enthusiasts and compete in a friendly environment.


Obedience. Dogs sitting.
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Obedience competitions involve dogs performing a routine of tasks on command, such as sitting, staying, retrieving, and following the handler amidst distractions. The performance is judged on how well the tasks are executed.

Obedience training promotes discipline and good behavior in dogs, making them well-mannered companions. For owners, it teaches patience and the nuances of canine learning and behavior, deepening the understanding of their pets.


Tracking. Dog sniffing.
Image credit Happy monkey via Shutterstock.

Tracking tests a dog’s ability to follow a human scent over various terrains. The dog must follow a trail left by a person and indicate objects that the person has dropped along the way.

This sport taps into a dog’s natural scenting abilities, providing a mentally stimulating challenge that is highly rewarding. For handlers, tracking is a test of trust in their dog’s instincts and abilities, which strengthens the bond between them.


dog doing rally.
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Rally involves a series of stations, each with a sign providing instructions for a skill to be performed, such as turning in place or weaving through cones. Teams of dogs and handlers navigate the course at a brisk pace, with continuous performance until the course is completed.

Rally promotes a spirited attitude and constant interaction between dog and handler. It enhances dogs’ obedience skills in a more relaxed environment compared to traditional obedience trials and provides mental stimulation and physical activity for both dog and handler.


Image credit Marcel Blanc via Shutterstock.

Flyball is a relay race where teams of dogs race against each other from a start/finish line, over a line of hurdles, to a box that releases a tennis ball when pressed by the dog, which they catch and carry back to their handler.

Flyball is an exhilarating sport that utilizes a dog’s natural instincts to chase and retrieve. It provides intense physical exercise and is great for energetic dogs. The team aspect of the sport also fosters a community spirit among participants.


Image courtesy Elissa Rae.

Herding trials test a dog’s ability to move and control livestock (such as sheep, cattle, or ducks) on a course in a specific manner directed by their handler.

Herding is deeply satisfying for breeds with natural herding instincts, allowing them to engage in an activity that they are instinctively drawn to. For handlers, it’s a profound way to connect with their dog’s ancestral roots and work together in a highly coordinated effort.

Nose Work

nose work.
Image courtesy Amy Conrad.

Nose Work is a scent detection activity where dogs search for a specific odor in various environments. They are trained to detect birch, clove, and anise odors. The odors are within small containers, eventually hidden from view, as their training becomes more adnaced. At higher levels, dogs not only have to find the “hides”, but they are presented with “distractions”, such as cheeseburgers, toys, pizza, and other foods they might be interested in. 

It leverages a dog’s natural sniffing talents, providing mental stimulation and building confidence, especially in shy or reactive dogs.

Fast CAT

Photo courtesy Dale Schuur.

Fast CAT (Coursing Ability Test) is a timed 100-yard dash where dogs run one at a time, chasing a lure.

It is an excellent outlet for a dog’s predatory instincts and provides a high-energy, exhilarating activity that improves fitness.

Barn Hunt

Dogs locate and mark rats (safely enclosed in aerated tubes) hidden in a hay-stacked arena, demonstrating their hunting and scenting abilities.

This sport taps into the natural hunting instincts of many breeds, offering mental and physical challenges and enhancing problem-solving skills.


border terrier.
Image credit xkunclova via Shutterstock.

Earthdog trials test the skills of small terriers and dachshunds as they navigate underground tunnels to search for a scent trail that leads to caged rats. The rats are safe and unharmed, serving purely as a scent lure. The trials are designed to simulate the natural underground hunting that these breeds were originally bred for.

Earthdog trials engage the natural hunting instincts of these breeds, providing mental stimulation and physical exercise. For the dogs, it’s a chance to engage in an activity that satisfies their innate desires to dig and hunt. Handlers get to see their dogs in action, tapping into their primal instincts in a controlled, competitive environment. This sport not only reinforces natural behaviors but also strengthens the bond between handler and dog as they work together.

Dock Diving

 Dock Diving.
Image courtesy of GoDogPhoto.

In dock diving, dogs jump from a dock into a body of water in an attempt to achieve distance or height. Events are judged either by how far or how high the dog jumps.

Dock diving is a fun way for dogs to enjoy swimming and fetching, while also enhancing their athletic skills. It’s also a great way to keep dogs cool and active, especially in warmer climates.

Lure Coursing

Lure coursing.
Photo courtesy Wonderfur.

Lure coursing is a sport for sighthounds that involves chasing a mechanically operated lure around a course that typically simulates the unpredictability of chasing live prey. The course is designed with turns and straights, testing the agility and stamina of the dogs.

It allows sighthounds to engage in their natural hunting behaviors in a safe and structured environment, promoting physical fitness and mental agility.

Canine Good Citizen (CGC)

beagle obedience. Dog sitting.
Image credit Svitlana Hulko via Shutterstock.

The Canine Good Citizen program is a two-part course designed to teach responsible pet ownership to owners and basic good manners to dogs. At the end of the course, dogs undergo a test that includes aspects like accepting a friendly stranger, sitting politely for petting, and walking through a crowd.

CGC training fosters responsible dog ownership and polite behavior in a variety of settings. It’s a foundational step for many other activities and a requirement for some therapy dog certifications.

Therapy Dog

Woman in wheelchair with dog.
Image credit AnnaStills via Shutterstock.

Therapy dog programs involve dogs that are trained to provide comfort and affection in therapeutic settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and schools.

This program provides emotional or physical benefits to humans while giving dogs the opportunity to enjoy human contact and socialization. It also enhances the natural bond between dogs and humans.

AKC Temperament Test (ATT)

Opening umbrella.
Image credit dzmat.ph via Shutterstock.

The AKC Temperament Test is designed to evaluate a dog’s temperament through a series of scenarios that test its reaction to visual, auditory, and tactile stimuli. The test includes interactions with strangers, exposure to novel objects, and different sounds which might be unsettling or surprising to the dog, such as popping open an umbrella. The goal is to assess the dog’s ability to adapt and recover in these situations, demonstrating balanced, stable temperament.

The ATT is enriching as it provides a structured environment to assess and further understand a dog’s behavior and reactions under various conditions. Successfully passing the ATT can be a source of pride for the owner and can also serve as a foundation for further training and participation in other canine activities. For the dog, it helps in building confidence and learning to handle stress in a controlled setting.

This test is beneficial for anyone looking to deepen their understanding of their dog’s behavioral tendencies and to ensure their pet is well-adapted to a variety of social situations. It’s also a useful credential for those looking to involve their dogs in roles that require reliable temperament, such as therapy work.

Have Fun With Your Dog!

woman hugging dog.
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As you can see, there is a broad spectrum of AKC-sanctioned activities that cater to various breeds and their specific instincts and abilities. Each of these sports offers unique benefits, making them enriching for both dogs and their human companions. Whether it’s the precision of obedience, the thrill of the chase in Fast CAT, or the strategic challenge of Earthdog, AKC canine performance sports provide diverse ways to enhance the lives of dogs and their owners alike.

How Many Of These Foods Did You Know Could Kill Your Dog?

Dog with poisonous foods.
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Our canine companions bring immense joy into our lives, and it’s our duty to ensure their well-being. However, certain everyday foods found in our homes can pose serious risks to their health. Here’s a look at foods that should never be fed to dogs or left within their reach.

To be prepared, have contact details of your local veterinarian, the nearest emergency clinic, and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) at hand. READ: How Many Of These Foods Did You Know Could Kill Your Dog?

Understanding The Surge In Veterinary Costs: Is It Becoming Too Expensive To Have A Pet?

Vet, woman and dog.
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If you own a pet, we bet you have noticed that veterinary care costs are escalating, leaving many of us with sticker shock and struggling to secure timely appointments. There are reasons for this burgeoning phenomenon; we unveil the many factors steering this surge. Read: Understanding The Surge In Veterinary Costs: Is It Becoming Too Expensive To Have A Pet?

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  • Dede Wilson

    Dédé Wilson is a journalist with over 17 cookbooks to her name and is the co-founder and managing partner of the digital media partnership Shift Works Partners LLC, currently publishing through two online media brands, FODMAP Everyday® and The Queen Zone.

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