Updated: Aug 14, 2022
✦ On first glance the words “dog” and “sport” do not really seem to sit comfortably in the same sentence.
Man’s best friend kicking a footie around, swimming laps of the pool, swinging a golf club or serving an ace? Of course not! However, dig a little deeper and there are more than the fair share of sports-related activitives that our furry buddies can and do get involved in.
The majority of dogs are full of beans with boundless energy levels and that is something that needs to be addressed. They absolutely need to burn off that pent up energy which often means more than just a brief walk around the block or in the local park. Maybe you could consider introducing your beloved pooch to some of the following!
The most obvious commercial sport that springs to mind is greyhound racing. Established over 100 years ago, typically dogs will race around an oval track chasing what they believe is a hare or rabbit but what is actually an artificial lure, most often a mechanical form of windsock. It is a sport that is hugely popular in the USA, UK and Australia where it has become a key component of the betting and gambling industry.
Australia is home to the world’s largest commerical greyhound racing industry which saw $7 billion placed in bets in 2019/20 alone.
Animal rights and welfare groups are highly critical of the sport though, especially the fact that so many of the dogs are left abandoned after they retire from the track. Adoption movements spearheaded by kennel owners have subsequently become more prevalent in recent years to help the retired dogs find homes – recent figures showing adoption rates of over 95% in the United States alone suggest they are on their way to achieving their goals.
Take away the oval course and add some snow and you have sled dog racing! This winter sport sees timed competitions where a team of dogs pull a sled manned by a driver around a designated course with the quickest team declared the winner. Races include sprints which can be anywhere from four to 100 miles, mid-distance which is between 100 to 300 miles and long-distance where anywhere between 300 to over 1,000 miles are covered. Typically categories include four-dog, six-dog, eight-dog and 10-dog teams.
Sled dog racing is especially popular in the Arctic regions of the United States, Canada, Russia,
Greenland and some European countries. It was a entered as a demonstration sport at the 1932, 1952 and 1994 Winter Olympics although it never did receive official event recognition or status.
Maybe when the Beach Boys sang the iconic lyrics “Let’s go surfing now everybody’s learning how” in their 1962 hit Surfin’ Safari they were also referring to dogs when they said everybody! Regardless, dog surfing is very much a thing, starting way before the Wilson brothers formed their legendary group.
Originating in Hawaii and California back in the 1920s, dog surfing has grown in popularity over the
years whereby competitions and exhibitions now feature regularly in various coastal areas of the United States. Dogs are actually trained to surf the ocean’s waves on either surfboards, bodyboards, skimboards or windsurf boards, either alone or joined by a human companion.
The Loews Coronado Bay Resort Surf Dog Competition at Imperial Beach in California is considered the biggest event of its kind. In June 2012 the competition saw over 50 dogs participate and also three Guinness World Records broken, including a new record of 18 dogs on a surfboard - the most ever photographed!
Closer to home we have the Noosa Surfing Dog Championship, an annual event founded in 2012 and organised by online retailer VetShopAustralia. It is an invitational event in which eight to 10 dog-human-combo teams use stand-up paddle boards to win the Best Wave Award which is judged on skill, coordination between dog and person, and entertainment value. This year’s event took place on March 5 at First Point in Noosa with Team Freddy claiming the trophy.
Still in the water we have what is known as Dock Diving or Dock Jumping. This sees the dog jump from an elevated height into a pool or body or water with the goal to achieve the furthest distance. The jump distance is measured from the lateral midpoint of the end of the dock to the point at which the base of the dog’s tail breaks the water’s surface. Think of it as a derivative of long jump, with water instead of sand, and you’re on the right track! Since originating in 1997, annual competitions have sprung up in the likes of the USA, UK, Australia, Germany and Austria.
On the pull!
Pulling sports have increased in popularity in recent years whereby dogs and humans combine to engage in the likes of Canicross (cross country running with dogs), Bikejoring (cycling with dogs) and Skijoring (skiing with dogs). Canicross is especially popular in the UK and across Europe where regular events are held. Distances vary, anywhere from a mile up to 28 miles or more.
Elsewhere, there is “Disc Dog”, otherwise known as Dog Frisbee - and there are no points for guessing how this game works! Owners and dogs combine with the former throwing the frisbee for his or her furry friend to catch in their mouth. Competitions are staged globally with categories including long distance, freestyle and toss and fetch. It is a hugely popular sport, mainly due to its simplicity and accessibility, and dog disc clubs can be found all across the world, including in Australia.
Finally we have what is known as “Dog Agility”. This sport sees a handler assist an unleashed dog
through an obstacle course race which is judged by both time and accuracy. Handlers are not permitted to interact by touch and can only use their voice or gestures to help the dog navigate the course which emcompasses tunnels, jumps, hurdles and various other obstacles. It is a complex sport that requires intensive, disciplined training to achieve an exceptional understanding between the handler and the dog.
So there you have it, a brief but hopefully engaging and entertaining insight into the wild, sometimes weird but always wonderful world of dogs in sport! Maybe, after all, it isn’t such a stretch to imagine our furry friends one day kicking a footie around, swimming laps of the pool, etc, etc...
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