If you are doing agility, you have to trial...right? Maybe you're training in competition obedience. Clearly that is to perfect skills that will be useful in obtaining titles, why else would you be doing it? Barn Hunt, disc dog, rally, treibball...these are all dog sports and therefore you MUST be getting ready to compete in that given sport if you are training them with your dog. I mean that only makes sense!
Or does it?
Game v. Sport
If you have ever heard or read my pontificating surrounding Scent Work, you know that I am a big proponent of identifying the Game of Scent Work and Sport of Scent Work. In a nutshell, it is entirely possible for someone to solely play the Game of Scent Work without ever stepping foot into the Sport of Scent Work. However, the opposite is not true. If you want to participate in the Sport of Scent Work, you cannot do so without also playing the Game of Scent Work. Clear as mud, right?
It can be a bit of challenge to wrap you brain around it at first, but give it a try.
Basically, not everyone is interested in competing. However, this doesn't mean that those people who would prefer to not compete are somehow barred from playing the Game of Scent Work! That would be absurd!
This same principle applies to any other dog sport.
"Um, Ms. Bloggy Teacher Lady, they are called dog SPORTS...as in SPORTS...as in COMPETITION...what aren't you getting here?"
Your point is well taken and is one that many people believe. If you are going to go through all the trouble of training for a [enter dog sport of choice], then you must be working toward competing and earning titles in that said dog sport. It only makes sense!
I'm here to say that is actually not the case at all.
You have the same dynamic in agility, barn hunt, competition obedience, disc dog, rally, tracking and treibball that you have in Scent Work: two components being the Game and the Sport. The Sport is completely and entirely contained within the Game, meaning you can have people who only play the Game but you cannot have people who only participate in the Sport...because the Sport is predicated on the Game.
For a more specific example, you can absolutely PLAY the GAME of agility on your own, doing short sequences in your backyard with no plans whatsoever of ever competing. BUT, you cannot competently and successfully participate in the SPORT of agility without first playing the GAME of agility with your dog - meaning all of the training and practice sessions you do.
Why Playing is Just as Important
One of the common questions students would ask me as they were graduating from a basic obedience or manners class was why I would promote them moving on to explore such dog sports as agility or rally or barn hunt or Scent Work...what value did all of that have for them and their dog? They now understood the value of the basic manners class - their dog was not driving them as crazy as they were before and now had a semblance of training - but why should they invest their time and money into these other activities? After all, they were never going to compete, so clearly these activities were not for them.
The reasons to play the GAME of any given dog sport are multifaceted:
Every dog sport will require that you perfect and focus upon your training, thus developing your dog's skills even further.
The old adage, "A tired dog is a good dog" is very true. Training in these sports will work your dog out both mentally and physically.
Most, if not all, dog sports are a partnership endeavor, meaning you will strengthen the relationship you have with your dog by participating in them.
Oh, and dog sports just happen to be super fun for both human and canine alike.
If you had the choice between not doing much with your dog and training for a given dog sport even though you were never going to compete, I would sincerely hope you would choose Option B!
Okay, strap in.
For those of you who are serious competitors and are passionate about your given sport of choice, I implore upon you to please, please, pretty please with a cherry on top stop looking down your nose at those people who are not as competitive or are not competing at all.
That person you may be pooh-poohing may very well want to compete in the future...against you...and may do quite well. But that is beside the point.
The more crucial thing to recognize is that this person is actively involved in doing something with their dog. Instead of nothing.
Just sit back and take that in.
Here is the stark reality as it pertains to the world at-large: as a professional, I can either get a dog owner to be engaged and involved in their dog's life, in whatever manner it will work best for them and the well-being of their dog OR I can fail in that endeavor and the dog can be more of an afterthought to their owner, with no active engagement, simply living meal to meal and maybe taking a walk now and again. Which reality do you think sounds better for the dog?
Am I saying that if someone were to step up to the line with their dog in ANY sport at a given trial or competition that they should not have done the requisite homework, training and practice necessary to get there? Of course not.
What I am saying is that if you happen to see someone playing agility with their dog and their lines are not the best, there are no blind crosses and you cannot even believe they are holding their arm out like that as if they were about to take off in flight...who cares?! Is the dog having fun? Is the person having fun? Are they improving their relationship and understanding of one another? If so, I call that win. Would that performance earn them any ribbons at a trial? Maybe not. But, participating in the activity with their dog and reaping the benefits of it are all the accolades they may be interested in and are looking for.
Simply because someone is playing the GAME of your dog sport of choice does not lessen the prestige of the SPORT portion of the activity. These people are not tarnishing your sport or what you may have accomplished while competing in it. They are actually adding to it. Showcasing how the very same core training principles that help you earn a qualifying score help them earn a closer relationship with a happy and fulfilled dog.
So Go Get Started!
Does running around an obstacle course with your dog sound like fun? Go try it out?
Does having your dog do a series of obedience behaviors with pizzazz and precision tickle your fancy? Find a trainer and dive in!
Do you have an athletic hound who loves leaping through the air? Disc dog may be their calling!
I think you get the point.
There is nothing preventing you from playing the Game of any given dog sport with your dog. And who knows, maybe you will love it so much that you do decide to compete in the future. But until then, playing the Game of a given dog sport can further develop the awesome bond you have with your dog. No ribbons or trophies could adequately capture that.
What types of dog sports do you participate in for fun with your dog and why?
Author: Dianna L. Santos, KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA, CNWI
Dianna has been training dogs professionally since 2011. She has done everything from teaching group training classes and private lessons, to specializing in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, to being a trial official and competition organization staff member.
Following a serious neck and back injury, Dianna was forced to retire from in-person dog training. But she was not ready to give up her passion! So, she created Pet Dog U, Dog Sport University and Scent Work University to provide outstanding online dog training to as many dog handlers, owners and trainers possible…regardless of where they live! Dianna is incredibly grateful to the amazingly talented group of instructors who have joined PDU, DSU and SWU and she looks forward to the continued growth of PDU, DSU and SWU and increased learning opportunities all of these online dog training platforms can provide.
In June 2021, Dianna and her business partner, Sean McMurray launched Cyber Scent Work, Inc., an organization that operates in the gray space between training and trialing in Scent Work. With Cyber Scent Work, Inc., handlers have the opportunity to earn Qs, titles and ribbons while also receiving helpful training advice regardless of whether they qualify or not! Be sure to check out Cyber Scent Work, Inc., you will be happy you did!