In our latest guest post, we’ve teamed up with the Kennel Club to talk about some of the more innovative types of exercise and activities you can take part in with your dog, whether in competition or at home – from agility to heelwork to music and beyond!
What does agility involve?
Agility is an action-packed and exciting canine activity for both you and your dog. Comprising of various obstacles for your dog to run through, jump over, and weave in and out of – and all against the clock! Not only does agility test your dog’s fitness, it also measures your ability as a handler to direct your dog over the course.
What dogs can take part in it?
Any dog can take part in agility, whether crossbreed or pedigree, as long as your dog is registered with the Kennel Club, either on the breed register or on the activity register. There are also more informal agility classes, for example run by some dog trainers, and you can even have fun with your pet over obstacles or practise weaving at home.
To compete, dogs are divided into small, medium and large classes by their height and they jump heights of up to 35cm (small), 45cm (medium) and 65cm (large). A dog may only be entered into an agility show when they are 18 months of age or over and have been officially measured and placed in the correct height category. All dogs competing in small and medium height categories must be measured by official agility measurers before they compete at their first agility show. A second measurement must be undertaken 12 to 24 months after the first measurement to check that they are still in the correct height category. Dogs competing in the large height category do not need an official measure before competing. In order to take part, you will need to have an Agility Record Book (available from the Kennel Club online shop) in which to record your dog's height category and all your competition wins and clear rounds.
Aside from agility, tell us a bit more about other types of innovative exercise for dogs, like flyball and heelwork to music
There are a number of different canine activities to take part in to keep your dog happy, healthy and fit. Here are some: if agility isn’t for you, why not try one of the below?
Canicross is an easy, energetic and exciting new discipline within the canine world. This activity brings together both dogs and their owners from all over the country to become not only fitter but also healthier. The human participant wears a waist-belt which attaches via a 2 metre bungee line to the dog’s harness. Both owner and dog then run together, with the dog taking the front spot from the start line to the finish. Both owner and dog will need a reasonable level of fitness to start this activity and your dog will need to be at least 12 months old.
Dog showing, or exhibiting as it is known, is the most popular canine activity in this country. At shows, the judge compares each dog against the official Kennel Club Breed Standard, which is a description of the ideal characteristics for that breed – covering every aspect of the dog, from head to tail. The dogs which conform most closely to the Breed Standard will be the ones that receive the top places. The health of the dog is of paramount importance when making this decision – a dog must always be fit for the function for which its breed was originally bred. All pedigree dogs can take part in this unique hobby and you never know – you and your dog could even end up at the world’s greatest dog show – Crufts!
Flyball is a fun and energetic sport your dog will love. The competitions consist of two teams racing against each other in relay. The dogs in the teams take it in turns to jump over four hurdles in succession and then trigger the flyball box. A tennis ball is released, which the dog must carry back over the hurdles to the start line allowing the next dog in the team to race. The first team to have its fourth dog across the finish line wins the race.
Heelwork to Music
Heelwork to music (HTM) is a competitive activity in which participants devise routines of up to four minutes, set to music, and perform the routines with their dog. There are two categories of competition: heelwork to music, where two thirds of the routine must be specifically heelwork and the remainder choreographed as you wish, and freestyle where, as the name implies, the routine is entirely of your devising! Heelwork to music requires many dog training skills, and those taking part usually have had backgrounds in other training activities, although this is certainly not a prerequisite for heelwork to music. Competitors are judged over three sections: content and flow, accuracy and team performance, and musical interpretation, each allocated a maximum of 10 marks. Events are held around the country, and training classes range from starters up to advanced.
Competitive obedience is exactly what you would imagine – obedient and well trained dogs having their abilities tested. General training classes will teach you the basics and then if you decide you want to progress in this activity your dog could even end up doing such advanced exercises as scent discrimination. There are seven levels of obedience classes at shows and dogs start in the basic introductory class. By gaining a series of first prizes, dogs qualify through to class C, the highest and most difficult. Exercises range from heelwork (on and off the lead), control exercises such as one minute sit and two minute down stays, to a scent discrimination exercise. There are numerous obedience shows held in the UK.
Rally (or ‘Rally O’ in the USA) is a canine sport derived from the heelwork elements of competitive obedience. It differs from obedience, primarily in that competitors and dogs attempt a pre-set course with signs placed at up to 15 stations along the course, requiring them to perform one of around 50 different exercises. The selection of exercises and design of the course is at the judge’s discretion. Each individual round is performed at a ‘brisk pace’ and takes around three minutes. There is no direction from the judge or steward as in obedience; the signs are all the guidance competitors receive. At level 1, the first level, dogs compete on the lead and a loose lead is emphasised. The handler may give verbal commands and encouragement throughout as necessary. More advanced levels require dogs to compete off lead.
Originally introduced for police dogs, working trials can be said to be ‘CSI for dogs’! Working trials are physically demanding, but are great fun and extremely rewarding. Dogs compete in ascending levels called ‘stakes’. From the lowest stake, Companion Dog, through Utility Dog and Working Dog, to Tracking Dog and Patrol Dog at the very top. Exercises are divided into three sections: nosework, agility and control. They comprise various tests, including heelwork, searching for hidden items, long jump and scaling a wall.
What benefits do agility and these other types of activities have for dogs?
One of the main benefits of agility and the other canine activities are keeping both dog and owner fit and healthy! We all know the importance of exercise and a sensible diet for our own health, but we don't always realise the same applies to our pets. Balancing the nutritional requirements of our pets with a suitable level of exercise according to their fitness is the key to success. Remember your pet, just like you, can’t go from ‘couch to marathon’ overnight and just like you, your dog needs to increase fitness levels gradually. If you have any queries, have a chat with your vet first.
The Kennel Club runs a yearly campaign called Get Fit With Fido, which encourages dogs and their owners throughout the country to get fit together. As part of the campaign we have a 'Slimmer of the Year’ competition, looking for the dog and/or owner who have lost the most weight through exercising together. It is free and easy to sign up to Get Fit With Fido and the Slimmer of the Year competition – for more information, please visit: www.thekennelclub.org.uk/activities/get-fit-with-fido/.
Another benefit to these activities is meeting new friends – there is a great social scene to be enjoyed, for both owner and dog. As well as showing off your dog’s new skills to your friends and family.
If you’re a dog owner looking to get involved in any of these types of activities, including agility, where would you start?
The Kennel Club website provides information for all disciplines depending on which one you would like to participate in. To find a local dog club which holds competitions and training in your preferred discipline (such as agility or heelwork to music), visit www.thekennelclub.org.uk/findadogclub. For Canicross see www.canicross.org.uk.
Want to find out more about how to keep your dog happy and healthy? Take a look at our expert advice on dogs here. Got a pic of your dog enjoying one of the activities above? Share it with us on the Happy, Healthy Pets Gallery or tweet us @IHeartMyPetUK.