It's TV Tuesday. The kids are asleep, and it's just you and your favorite furry friend cuddled on the couch. As you flip through the channels, you pause on a show that's highlighting dog competitions, and wonder, "Would my dog ever be able to do something like that? Is there really a lot to learn about competitive dog training? Maybe we should start." If you're seriously considering entering your dog in a show, know that you aren't alone. Some shows and dog sports have thousands of competitors.
Do you want to learn what it takes to prepare a dog to compete athletically? Your dog's breed, behaviors, age, and agility will all greatly affect whether or not he is an ideal participant. So, how do you choose whether to watch the shows on the television or be a part of the show yourself? These five factors will help you decide whether or not your dog is ready for the spotlight, and also tell you how to prepare for the big day.
1. Is Your Dog Interested?
While you might be seriously considering dog competitions as a new hobby, how interested do you think your dog will be? Rachel Sentes has been involved with competitive dog training for approximately 16 years, and she's traveled the country with her pups, Lucy and Daisy, to be in shows. Her first advice before enrolling in any competition is to test out the sports first with your dog. "You will know after a few weeks if that sport is for him. Dogs are great at expressing interest in something they love. It's important not to force them to do something they don't love because reward and enthusiasm is such a key element." This doesn't mean that your dog needs to be a professional right from the get-go. It simply means that he needs to enjoy his test and training time with you. If he's not feeling the competitive spirit — or the particular sport you're training on — it will show in the dog competitions.
2. Match the Dog to the Sport
Similar to basic interest, remember that your dog is the one actually competing, so even if you're interested in a particular sport, it must be something he enjoys doing. It may be helpful to learn more about how his breed and behavior will influence which sport he is best suited for.
Sentes says, "If you have a dog that likes to run and get a ball, but who doesn't like to bring it back, then fly ball probably isn't the best fit. If you have a dog with a high prey drive that likes to run fast, get a ball, and then comes back to you, then that's a dog that most likely can be trained to play." She continues, "With agility, you are looking for a dog that likes to be independent, but takes cues from you and listens really well. They love getting rewarded and figure out games that have both low and high challenging characteristics. This is the very basic side to learning if your dog likes to play sports. You are basically looking at your dog every day and seeing what they love to do and then capitalizing on it. For example, if your dog likes to roll over and bounce around, then perhaps dog-dancing training would be a good fit. If they love going after toys and swimming, then try dock diving. If they love chasing flying things, then attempt disc dog training."
3. Practice Makes Perfect
You are going to be spending an intense amount of time training your dog to participate in shows. Remember that you need to focus on skill for the sporting rounds, but also behavior and grooming. Similar to the training you did when you first brought your dog home, the effort needed to prepare your pet for dog competitions is extremely high. Consistency is key, so when you work on any of the skills your dog needs to master, make sure you're not skipping steps or approving so-so activity (or behavior!). Hold your pet to a high standard, and he'll put in the effort to meet your expectations.
4. Check Your Dog's Health
Dog competitions are a lot of work, and may be tough on your pup's body. Before any competition, make sure to bring your pet to the veterinarian for a full assessment. You want him to be in the best physical shape he can be to compete, so this also means feeding him a healthy and balanced diet. No sneaking snacks, and if you are using treats as part of your training regimen, make sure they are healthy dog treats. If your dog is feeling under the weather or your vet notices anything suspicious during his examination, cancel your appearance at the competition until your pet is better. While your dog may sincerely enjoy the competition, it still is a stressor in his life. For him to succeed now and later on, his physical health has to be at its peak.
5. Prepare for the Day of the Event
Congratulations! You've made it to the actual competition. After all that hard work, you and your dog are ready to show off all the skills he's learned. But, how do you prepare? "On the day of the event, keep things as close to normal as you can with feeding and going for walks," says Sentes. "Get them used to the venue, and the new smells. Do everything like you've done in the training up to the event."
However, it is important to note that the environment is completely different from what your dog is accustomed to. Sentes says, "Dogs will naturally be more excited when competing, so having good one-on-one bonding to make them feel continually safe is important. Keeping them in their own space and crate before the event is good to let them rest." And remember, it's okay to bring your dog elsewhere when they are not needed to perform. "I used to take my dogs away from the venue when I could because it can become very noisy."
The world of dog competitions is extremely exciting and challenging to any dog and his human parent. With proper training your pet could be the next prize-winning pooch that other people are watching on television.
Erin Ollila believes in the power of words and how a message can inform—and even transform—its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, blog posts, and creative nonfiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.