Page 116 - ShowSight, March 2020
P. 116

                THE SPORT OF DOGS
 Dog sports seem to be somewhat analogous to track and field competitions. We have sprinters, mid-distance runners, long dis- tance runners, hurdlers, jumpers, relays, triathlons and walking competitions. Most of these competitions include some training, coaching and partnership with a human who has a good relation- ship with the dog. Much as no coach can force a child with no interest or talent to succeed in sports, no trainer can force a dog to be a successful athlete. The successful dogs love to do what they are trained to do, and many are not at all happy without having a job (having been bred to work for their owner/trainer). There are also professionals and amateurs in our dog sports. In track and field, professionals sometimes are granted amateur status to compete in events like the Olympics. In dog sports, amateurs compete with professionals on a regular basis, including at shows like Westmin- ster, but also have Owner-Handled competitions available.
Conformation competitions might be considered a walking (trotting) competition for the dogs. Some handlers only show one or two dogs and they may be working alone, while for others there are many dogs and there is an entire team to help with what may be seen as a sprint, a relay, hurdles (making way through a crowded aisle), or a marathon, particularly when there are multiple shows and/or multiple clusters of shows. Both dogs and people must be in the best possible condition to be competitive at the highest lev- els, but the focus is on the dog. An extraordinary dog who is well trained can be very successful with a skilled and determined train- er/handler who is perhaps not in the best condition.
Coursing and racing are sprinting competitions. They may be run in a straight line, on an oval track or in a unique pattern with turns and uneven terrain. Typically, the dogs have some obedience training so that they are responsive to the trainer off lead. They may be introduced to following a lure as a game when they are
puppies and are eager for their turn to run. The trainer is less engaged with the dog as the competition is taking place, other than to cheer and encourage the dog and retrieve the dog at the end of the competition.
Sled dogs compete in both sprint and endurance races. The Idi- tarod is a re-enactment of a days-long race completed by a team of sled dogs to get vaccines to people to save many lives. Others par- ticipate in weight pulls, or sledging competitions of various lengths and durations.
Pack dogs are marathoners and hurdlers. Those who follow the pack have to negotiate the terrain and obstacles as well. Other hunters may need the endurance of a marathoner combined with an ability to attend closely to signals from their handler. Agility dogs work both numerous types of obstacles and with a timer. Lots of stretching and massage involved in maintaining both condition and flexibility for these doggy athletes. Track and field athletes all want the best atmospheric conditions and good oxygen levels to ensure optimal performance. Scent work, tracking, and barn hunt, along with some other hunting sports, depend on the dogs’ ability to discriminate those scents that are specific to the target. An area where dogs outperform their partners consistently.
There are many more dog teams and people-dog teams who are outstanding in their field of endeavor. Hopefully, as time goes on, dog sports will continue to involve more people and their dogs, as well as draw more spectators and enthusiasts of these sports. More purpose bred dogs from preservation breeders engaged in athletic activities, watched by more and more of the Internet and television audiences can only help in the competition we are all engaged in to stop those who believe we should not have pets, nor train them to work for/with us. Hope to see you soon at a dog show!

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