Dog Sports For Fun: Why Sports Training is Worth it – Even if You Never Compete

"But I don't want to compete!!!" 

I hear it all the time. People take their dog to training classes or see a private trainer to fix problems and get the basics. And then they stop. Just like that. The problem is fixed. The dog civilised. Why do more? 

Well, there are some VERY good reasons to continue training after 'the basics' have been installed. Let's look at some...

No more "but I don't know what to teach!" moments

Sports training gives you a training focus – a ready made set of goals and outcomes. It means you don't have the "what shall I train today?" dilemma, which is what stops many people from 'just having a go' at taking their training further.

Education is NEVER wasted

To train your dog, you need to build new skills yourself. You need to understand how the training process works, how to plan what you want and how to get to that end point. This is well worth knowing and understanding. If you have this, you can train ANYTHING your dog is physically (and emotionally) capable of doing. That means you can solve future problems, avoid future pitfalls and generally make your life with your dog a whole lot easier.

Need to groom your dog? You can teach a rock-solid stand. Need to check ears/eyes/teeth on a regular basis? Now you know how to build a chin rest to keep his head still while you fiddle about. Want to play fetch or tug on the beach? Now you know how to get the ball delivered to you (not 5 ft away!) and tug is a safe controlled game rather than an all-out war with flashing teeth and wrestling matches to regain control.

Teaches your dog new skills

Sports training obviously teaches your dog new skills. However, I'm not talking about just 'heel' 'sit' or 'jump' here. Oh no. It goes much deeper than that. Your dog learns how to pay attention in distracting places. He learns that rewards don't necessarily happen straight away and that working harder with you leads to bigger pay offs. He learns that cooperation with you is ALWAYS worth the effort because you have the best game in town. 

The more training you do, the more your dog will enjoy engaging with you and the less value everything else will hold for him. Can you imagine having a dog that prefers to engage with you, rather than dashing off while out walking? One that frequently checks in to see if you have anything interesting in mind? That dog is a joy to spend time with because he is responsive and willing; there is little conflict of interest because now your dog's interests are your interests: playing together!

It's enrichment for your dog

Dogs love to train! If you are using reward-based training, very few dogs will turn up their noses at the chance to spend time with you, playing games and earning cookies. Why would they? However, the benefit goes beyond the moments of training. A dog's life is often pretty dull. We are busy; we work, we have family commitments, we have chores to do. If you actually add up how many hours your dog spends doing 'interesting' stuff, it's not that much in most cases. 

Day to day training, just for fun, gives your dog regular mental stimulation and tires him out. It engages his body and brain in a way that promotes emotional benefits by giving him puzzle solving, engaging activities that provide a sense of fulfilment and success. A dog that uses his brain to earn rewards is a dog who is getting a lot of feel good chemicals on a regular basis. Would you prefer him to do this WITH you? Or solve puzzles such as "How can I get the cat food", or "Where can I push through the fence?" Believe me, enrichment is not optional if you want a happy, healthy, well behaved dog. Training can give you a LOT of enrichment bang for your buck!

It builds a strong relationship

A benefit that is often overlooked is that ongoing training of any type builds a stronger relationship between you and your dog. If you have got this far, then I shall assume that you acquired a dog as a pet, a family member, a best friend — not as a garden ornament. So, relationship is part of the deal. 

Sometimes our dogs don't get the memo. They are unaware that they are supposed to be bonded and interested in us – they can be independent and self-absorbed to the point of insult! Ongoing, reward-based training will help with that. It won't turn your independent, aloof dog into a cuddle bunny, but it will give you a lot more relevance in your dog's eyes. When you train, you are building positive associations between the activity, the rewards, the fun and YOU!

It can be social for you

If you choose to continue your training journey in a class situation it can be very social. You are all working through similar things; you have a common interest, beyond fixing a problem. In many cases, sports training needs you to occasionally have a helper. This leads to interactions and social situations. Just because you don't want compete doesn't mean you can't help someone who does. It doesn't mean that you won't enjoy being part of the scene or helping at events. It can be fun to go along and watch your friends in the ring – strutting their stuff and riding the emotional rollercoaster that often accompanies it. It's nice to cheer or commiserate with people who work along-side you in a shared interest. None of it says you have to enter that ring yourself!

Competition? Who needs it?

As you can see, there are a lot of benefits to training your dog for sports, even if you NEVER intend to step foot inside a competition ring. Just get out there and give it a go!

Happy training!

E265: Dr. Chris Zink - Evaluating Puppy Structure
E264 - Petra Ford - "Thriving Under Pressure"

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