Printer Friendly

Chapter 7 Competitions.


If you're wealthy you ride to the hounds; if you're poor, you go to the dogs.







weight pulling

American Kennel Club (AKC)



Canine Good Citizen (CGC)

lure coursing

breed standard




Canine Freestyle

Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA)

American Fancy Rat and

Mouse Association (AFRMA)

Over the centuries, humans have worked with creativity and scientific know-how to develop specific traits in our companion animals. We have bred animals to have certain shapes, colors, strengths, and characteristics to help us in our work--the Australian cattle dog has been bred to crave the opportunity to weave and dash to keep a herd moving together, the homing pigeon can find its way home from hundreds of miles away to carry messages, and the cats that live and work on the family farm seem pleased to catch unwanted rodents. Many of these species also live in our homes, away from their intended work. They no longer need to work for their supper; yet they keep the same behaviors their relatives have as working animals. Are there ways for the cattle dog living in the suburbs to use its intelligence and stamina? What about the Ragdoll cat? It has most likely been hundreds of generations since one of its relatives had to catch a mouse. Sometimes in the absence of their original occupations we have found ways to provide an outlet for our companions to demonstrate their innate behaviors and physical abilities through the sports and work companions can share with us.

Humans are very social beings. We enjoy the company of others, and if the individual is not another human, our companion animal becomes critical to our welfare. We like to join other people to share interests, skills, and information. As youngsters, we may have been members of the Scouts; in college, a sports team or chess club; and later in life, a professional society or social club. We also enjoy sharing experiences with our friends, and who is better than our favorite companion animal? We know that our pet is incredibly special, much like parents feel that their child is unique and no other baby can be quite so beautiful or intelligent. It is likely that the first time two people showed up on market day with their dogs, a discussion developed over who had the best looking, fastest, strongest, best hunting, or best herding dog. This spirit of competition has since given rise to a bewildering array of competitions and show for all sorts of companion animals. Over centuries, humans have developed many different ways to demonstrate to others that their pet is the best. By using their animal's natural behaviors or physical characteristics we have designed competitions for our pets. The competitions can be for prestige, money, or just for the sheer fun of it. They may be for young competitors, experienced professionals, or a family out for some wonderful recreation. But no matter what the goal, or who the competitors may be, through shows and sport we heighten the relationship between pet and guardian. We travel and train together, thereby spending hours working as a team, getting to know each other's ups and downs--always strengthening the bond.

We have all heard of frog jumping contests, 4H competitions for young people to show the care and knowledge they have put into raising a pig, goat, or calf, horse races, and cat shows but the greatest variety of competitive sport has been designed for canines. The following is a list of the many activities and sports designed for dog sports (<>).

* Agility

* Bikejoring

* Canicross

* Carting

* Dog hiking

* Earthdog trials, or ground trials

* Field trials

* Flyball

* Disc dog

* Musical freestyle

* Mushing

* Obedience training

* Protection sports

* Pulka

* Sootering

* Sled dog racing

* Skijoring

* Sheepdog trials

* Sighthound racing

* Tracking trials

* Weight pulling

And there are certainly more waiting in the imaginations of people in the United States and around the world. We will not address all of them in this book, but rather focus on a few that explore the variety of competitive sports for dogs and their human partners, and we will consider a few activities for other pets.


Organized events where people can show their farm or domestic animals for fun or as a way to enhance their value as breeders of their species are immensely popular in the United States. There are organized events in almost every city and small town across the country--anywhere where people wish to compete by exhibiting the animals they love and care for.

Judging is based on how well the individual conforms to the accepted standards of the breed, or can be more playful and judged as being the most beautiful, unusual, or most similar in appearance to the owner. The Cat Fanciers' Association (<>) recognizes 39 breeds of cat for their national shows. As with all official shows, there are classes the animal passes through, beginning with the kitten class for cats under eight months old, and moving through several levels to reach the champion status. Probably a weekend does not pass in the United States when there is not a rabbit show going on somewhere. It is a perfect sport for children to participate in as they care for and show their pet rabbits. But it is also a very serious undertaking for people who are in the business of breeding animals, are professional handlers, or just love the show as a hobby (<>).

The showing of dogs is a most popular competitive undertaking by dog fanciers around the world. Perhaps the best known competitive show in the United States is hosted by the Westminster Kennel Club every year in New York City (Figure 7-1). The American Kennel Club (AKC) was established in 1884 to promote the study, breeding, exhibiting, and advancement of purebred dogs. Through its registry and stringent rules, the AKC makes certain that breeds stay pure and their features are true to the characteristics of the breed. This is important for owners of the dogs for they can be assured of the dog's quality when they buy, sell, or show their dog. The registry assures that the highest quality canines are maintained. The AKC is the largest nonprofit purebred dog registry in the country.


For a dog to be AKC registered as a certain breed, it is essential that there is written record of its family tree going back three or more generations. If a dog is registered with the AKC, it must mate with an AKC registered bitch (female canine) in order for their offspring to also be registered with the AKC.

The AKC approves and maintains official records of over 15,000 sanctioned and licensed events involving registered dogs per year. The AKC has about 500 member clubs and over 4,000 affiliated clubs across the country. These clubs arrange and host dog shows, field trials, and obedience events. They also provide educational activities to benefit the community; giving presentations at schools, fairs, libraries, shelters, hospitals, scout groups, and health clinics.

Showing dogs combines the thrill of competition with the joy of seeing beautiful dogs--those that conform closest to the standards of their breed. Dog shows (conformation events) are one of many types of AKC dog events in which AKC registered dogs can compete. These events draw nearly two million entries every year. The dog's conformation, or overall appearance and structure, are judged as an indication of the dog's ability to produce quality puppies. In addition to conformation events, AKC registered dogs participate in competitions of strength, tests of instinct, and the breed's trainability. Trainability is tested specifically in obedience trials, Canine Good Citizen (CGC) tests, field trials, agility trials, lure coursing, rally, hunting tests, herding trials, tracking tests, and coonhound and Earthdog events. The size of dog shows can range from all-breed shows with 3,000 dogs entered to small local specialty club shows.

All-breed shows are open to over 150 breeds and varieties of dogs recognized by the AKC. Specialty shows are restricted to dogs of a specific breed or to a variety of one breed. The Bulldog Club of America is only for bulldogs, while the Poodle Club of America allows three varieties of the breed: standard, miniature, and toy poodles.

Group Shows are limited to dogs belonging to one of the seven groups recognized by the AKC: hounds, sporting, working, terrier, toy, nonsporting, herding (the newest group that broke away from the hunting group in 1983), and miscellaneous. Miscellaneous means a transitional class for breeds attempting to advance to full AKC registration. These dogs have clubs specifically for their breed, there are breeders across the country, and consistent standards are being met for or the breed. To be eligible to compete in an AKC show, a dog must meet the following criteria:

* Be registered with the AKC

* Be six months or older

* Be a breed for which classes are offered at a show

* Meet any eligibility requirements in the written standard for the breed

Spayed and neutered dogs are not eligible to compete in conformation classes, because the purpose of the competition is to evaluate dogs of quality to continue a line of excellence for the breed.

Each breed has "an official standard." These are characteristics that allow the breed to perform the function it was bred for, including structure, temperament, and movement. The judges are experts on the breeds they evaluate. During the competition, the judge goes to the standing dog to examine and evaluate each individual dog against the breed standard, awarding points for how close it comes to the idealized standard for its breed. The judge runs his or her hands over the dog's body to see if the muscles, bone structure, coat texture, teeth, ears, and eyes conform to the breed's expectations. They watch the dog move to see its gait and observe if it is physically pleasing and up to standard. Each dog is also viewed in profile--stacking, or positioning, the body so that head, torso, and legs are lined up properly for the breed.

The dogs participate in the competition to win points toward their AKC championship. It takes 15 points, including two "major" wins of three, four, or five points awarded by at least three different judges to become an AKC "Champion of Record." This is an honor, and also assures that puppies will be in great demand and bring greater prices. The number of points awarded at a show is based on the number of dogs competing, with five being the maximum number points possible.

There are six classes--each one divided so males (dog) and females (bitch) compete separately.

* Puppy--for dogs between 6 and 12 months, not yet champions

* 12-18 months--for dogs of that age who are not yet champions

* Novice--for dogs aged six months and over that have not won three first prizes in the novice class, a first prize in Bred-by-Exhibitor, American Bred, or Open classes, nor one or more points toward their championship

* Bred-by-Exhibitor--for dogs that are exhibited by their owner and breeder, not yet champions

* American Bred--for dogs born in the United States from a mating that took place in the United States, not yet champions

* Open--for any dog of the breed, at least six months old

During the show, each dog has its turn to come before the judge. If it is a small dog, it will be placed on a table so the judge gets a good look and can easily touch the dog. Larger breeds learn to stand still, in the most perfect position. You will often see the handler reposition a leg or hold up a tail to make certain the dog is seen in the most flattering and breed appropriate way. This is stacking. The judge evaluates each of the following points for every breed.

Finally, the dog is invited to run around the ring in order to demonstrate their gait or way of moving, and how well they meet the standard for the breed. The dogs and handlers always look proud and agile, almost floating in front of the judge and audience.

With all of this information in mind, the judge may ask for all of the dogs to come out again or go back to reexamine one aspect of the dog's body before making the final evaluation. As the judge points at the dog and handler, they step forward to take the blue, red, yellow, or white to indicate first, second, third, and fourth place, respectively.

After the various classes are judged, all the dogs that win first place compete again to see which is the best of all the classes. Only the best male and the best female receive championship points and a coveted purple ribbon. Then the winning dog (male) and winning bitch (female) that were awarded the blue and white ribbon compete with the champions for the Best of Breed award. At the end of the Best of Breed competition, three awards are usually given: Best of Breed, Best of Winners, and Best of Opposite Sex.

Dog shows are a process of elimination. Only the Best of Breed winners (a purple and gold ribbon) advance to compete in the Group competitions. Four ribbons are awarded in each group, but only the first-place winner advances to the Best in Show competition. This dog will be judged to be the best of any of the other dogs competing in that show--the best of group, either sex, and any breed. In being judged, it is important to keep in mind that these dogs are not being compared to one another. They are being judged against the standards for their breed. The essential question is whether the beagle is closer to being the "perfect beagle" or is the golden retriever closer to being the "perfect golden retriever." When the judging is over, however, win or lose, they can go back to their crate for a well-deserved rest, the Red, White, and Blue ribbon hanging on the kennel door.

Certainly, it is the dog, its genetics, and care that make it a fine example of its breed, but the handler can bring out the best in his or her dog to create a champion. The handler, or person who shows the dog to the judge, may be the owner, a friend or family member, or an individual who is paid to present the dog in the best possible way, much like a jockey in horse racing. The handler will travel to the show--sometimes down the block for a "match" show that is informal with no championship points awarded, or across the country to one of the most prestigious competitions, like the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. The dog will have gone through much preparation for the event. There is training, grooming, excellent diet, and exercise. And, just before the competition begins, the dog will be groomed with brushes, hair dryers, and even gel to assure every hair is in its place, providing the best possible appearance. The dog must be in good "sound," meaning in excellent mental and physical shape. In order to be good competitors, the dogs must enjoy the competition and be well behaved, as well as an excellent example of the breed.

Of course, there are other less formal competitions that are not AKC sanctioned. They are sponsored by clubs or designed to show off the funniest, biggest, or smallest dog in a community. There are professional handlers and children who find this a wonderful way to bond with their dog and share a sense of fun and challenge. Dog shows judge the standard and appearance of the dog, but there are other forms of competition that demonstrate the innate traits of the dog and are far more athletic.


Agility is a competitive sport emphasizing teamwork between the handler and dog as they negotiate a timed series of obstacles. Agility trials are open to all dogs, of any size, which are physically and temperamentally suited to the sport. Cats, not to be outdone, have recently begun to have agility competitions, but here we will focus on our canine companions.

The dog that competes in the agility trials must be quick, intelligent, and willing to respond correctly to every command given by the handler. Using their natural instinct to follow the pack leader, the dog cues in to the human's shoulder and arm positions to instruct him to slalom in and out of poles, jump through rings, run into a tunnel and out, and after going full speed--stop, lie down for a count of five--then jump up to race through the remainder of the course. Each set-up is very different, depending on the age, size, and ability of the dogs. They look like fabulous play spaces for children, colorful, multidimensional, and fun.

The agility course looks a great deal like the obstacles in a horse show, and this is not an accident, but based on the beginnings of dog agility trials. In order to entertain the audience at the Crufts dog show in 1978 in England, between the obedience and conformation competitions, a dog trainer, Peter Meanwell, constructed a largely jumping style course resembling something from the equestrian world to demonstrate a dog's speed and agility. The audience loved it, and the sport of agility was born. (There are reports that other places at other times had developed the sport. But it is widely believed that the event in 1978 was the first major presentation.) People wanted to see more, and have their own dogs participate. The sport went on to grow locally, nationally, and internationally. By 1979, several British dog training clubs were offering training in the new sport of dog agility, and in December of that year the first Agility Stakes competition was held at the International Horse Show at Olympia in London. By 1980, the British Kennel Club became the first organization to recognize agility as an official sport with a sanctioned set of rules. The competition then traveled to the United States (<www.wikipedia.dog_agility>, August 14, 2007).

One of the many wonderful things about agility trials is that they are open to all kinds of dogs--purebred or not--and all kinds of humans. The American Kennel Club admits only purebred dogs to their competitions, but many other associations welcome all dogs, including mixed breeds, as long as they are ready for the sport of the agility course. It is quite something to see Australian cattle dogs alongside golden retrievers, rat terriers, brown spotted "who knows what" dogs, and even basset hounds as they mill about the grounds before going to the competitive group for their size and ability. The most common breeds to enjoy the challenge are those who are quick on their paws, like border collies, Shetland sheepdogs, retrievers, and Australian shepherds. Dogs as large and cumbersome as Newfoundland's have been known to impress the crowds. Very serious competitors are breeding hybrid specialists for competition. One popular cross is the border-border, a border collie crossed with a border terrier. Agility trials are also open to all kinds of people: experienced handlers, children, persons with disabilities, and casual competitors who simply enjoy the challenge and time with their canine friend.

The object of the agility course is to run clean, meaning to run through the course and take all obstacles correctly in the proper order. There can be no dropped bars on jumps, all contact points have to be hit, and the dog and handler together must finish on or under the time designated for the run. It is fast and complex. There are no standard courses. The judge sets every course before the competition. The handler can walk the course before the trial begins, memorizing each obstacle, distances between them, difficult obstacles for their dog, and then remember them during the competition while running full tilt and instructing the dog at the same time. The dog, on its part, must be able to "read" the handler's instructions while also running at top speed and executing jumps, turns, and stops. Being a team, understanding each other perfectly is paramount to their success. The dog must be in sync with the trainer, understanding a new language of hand signals, posture, and words, because there is no other means of control. The dog must want to follow directions, and the handler must be clear in giving them. The dog knows if it is being asked to weave in and out of poles or rush through the tunnel, repeat the hoop jump, or stop at the yellow line on the way down the A frame. The successful team is made of a dog and human that love the challenge of the agility course and are up to the challenge, both intellectually and physically (Figure 7-2).


Just like any athletes, both human and dog must be in excellent physical shape. From puppyhood on, the dog is conditioned. Beginning at four months of age, the dog starts to take longer and longer walks, and works up to some little obstacles, a ramp, balance beam, or jump. As with young human athletes, care must be taken to assure that growing bones and fragile joints are not damaged by too much activity too soon. For the humans, the workout is also intense, with lots of running and quick turns, often resulting in knee injuries.

To get a true understanding of the pace of these competitions, imagine: On a "jumpers" course there are only jumps and tunnels (the AKC includes weave poles). There are many twists and turns and traps. A "trap" is an opportunity for the dog to go off course without proper attention from the handler. Obstacles are placed between 15 and 20 feet apart. A fast dog can cover a 140-yard jumpers course with multiple twists and turns, 20 jumps, and two tunnels in about 22 seconds. This is like you running 100 meters in 18 seconds where each hurdle is set at 6'6''.

The North American Dog Agility Council (the other organizations have similar, if not the same system) has a number of classes: Regular, Jumpers, and Gamblers. Within these there are skill categories that include novice, open, elite, and champion. The team moves up through the various categories by acquiring points. Points are awarded for the time to complete a course, how well each obstacle is completed, with points taken away for mistakes (knocking off a bar, not stopping on time, refusing the tunnel). Judges call out the points at each hurdle, while others keep track of the points.

Agility trials are a growing sport. The fun and excitement of the competition is spreading to clubs, backyards, and formal competitive circles around the world. This activity brings out the best in the dogs and humans as they strengthen the bond between them, working as a team.


The sport of agility trials, though not exclusively for herding dogs, is well suited to their intelligence and physical ability. But, what of the dogs who are low to the ground, bred to hunt game above and below the earth? The small terriers and dachshund are excellent at tracking animals that live underground, tunneling after them and/or barking like mad to alert the human hunter that something has been cornered. Now that most of these dogs no longer have jobs as hunters, a sport was devised that allows these breeds to demonstrate their skill and speed. There are four levels of Earthdog competition:

Level One: Quarry. The dog is introduced to a 10-foot tunnel with one right angle turn. At the end of the tunnel there is a cage with rats (safe from any danger from the dogs). The dog follows the scent of the rats to the end of the tunnel, navigating the turn and barking at the rats. He is then removed from the tunnel.

Level Two: Junior Earthdog. The dog can earn a title at this level. Now it gets trickier. The dog has to navigate a 30-foot tunnel with at least three right angle turns, in 30 seconds, bark at the rats for 60 seconds, and then allow the handler to take him out of the tunnel. No one should get hurt in the process. If the dog can do this twice under two different judges, it is awarded the title of J.E. (Junior Earthdog).

Level Three: Senior Earthdog. Now it gets even trickier. The tunnel is 30 feet long, with three right angle turns, but there is a false unscented exit and unscented bedding with used rat bedding at the end of it. The dog has 90 seconds to travel the tunnel and get to the rats. The rats are barked at for 90 seconds until their cage is taken out of the tunnel with them in it. The dog has to get out of the tunnel and back to the handler within 90 seconds. Successful completion of the course under two different judges awards the dog the title of S.E. (Senior Earthdog).

Level Four: Master Earthdog. To become an M.E. (Master Earthdog), the dog, with a companion, has to find his way above ground to the den for 100 to 300 yards--a true "hunt." He has to investigate a "fake" empty den, and then both dogs have to find the real entrance, mark it, and make it through the tunnel. This tunnel is a bit more complicated than the senior den. There are barriers that resemble tree roots and rocks. Again, the dog "works" the rats for 90 seconds, and has to allow the handler to remove him within 15 seconds. During these three minutes, the other dog has to wait his turn for the hunt, with minimal barking or agitation. Once his teammate comes back out, it is his turn to find the rats, make sure the handler knows they are there, and get back out to the entrance of the burrow within the given time frame and least amount of agitation.

Perhaps the Earthdog trials do not appear to be as much of a human/dog team as the agility trials, but the dogs are able to demonstrate their innate ability, while still working with the handler for a successful finish.


Flyball is a relatively recent sport. Conceived in the late 1960s, the sport took off after the first tournament in 1984 and a demonstration on the Johnny Carson show. It is a team sport, matching two teams of four dogs each. Tournaments are divided into divisions of dogs of equal ability. Currently there are 16,000 dogs registered in the North American Flyball Association (NAFA).

Each team runs a relay race over a series of hurdles spread along a 51-foot course. The hurdles accommodate the smallest dog on the team. The hurdles are set at the height of the shoulder (rounded up or down) minus 400. So, a dog that stands 15 inches at the withers will set the team hurdles at 11 inches (Figure 7-3A-D).

After a quick start and taking one hurdle after the next, the first dog makes it to the end of the course and triggers a flyball box. This sends a ball flying. The dog retrieves the ball, returns up the course leaping over the hurdles, and back to the start. Once over the start/finish line the next dog races over the hurdles, releases the ball, retrieves it, returns over the hurdles to the start so the third dog can begin. After the fourth dog finishes, time is called. The team to finish the fastest, with the least errors, wins. Amazingly, the fastest team on record has run all four dogs through the course in less than 16 seconds!



Sight hounds, the regal breeds of greyhounds, Ibizan hounds, Irish wolfhounds, salukis, whippets, and Afghan hounds, to name a few, have been admired for their dignity, speed, loyalty, and agility for centuries. Sleeping at the feet of kings, they were resting from the hunt. They joined in the chase of game, using keen eyesight and bursts of speed to bring down prey. In today's world, they have little opportunity to exercise in a way that allows their bodies to move at full speed. Nor can they use their intelligence and hunting ability. Lure coursing was developed for the pleasure of the owners and the passion of the dogs. The American Sighthound Field Association (ASFA) was started in 1972. Every weekend, one or more of the 120 ASFA member clubs around the country organize a field event to provide an opportunity for the hounds to test their ability to hunt by giving chase to the lure that represents a racing rabbit-- although it is often a white plastic bag.

Generally three dogs race at once, wearing different color jackets. They give chase to an artificial lure that moves like game trying to escape the hunt. The dogs are judged for their ability to follow the lure, their enthusiasm, their agility, speed, and endurance. The dogs are given points for each of those categories. The hounds run the course twice. They are awarded placements and points based on where they finished, first, second, or third place, and the number of hounds they competed against. Points from both runs are totaled to get their score.

Always excited to run, the winners may go on to compete for Best of Breed and then the Best in Breed may run the course to be named the Best in Field. Lure coursing leads to titles, but most importantly it keeps their natural abilities honed and bodies and minds at peak performance.

The sport of greyhound racing came from lure coursing. The dogs chase competitively around a track in pursuit of an artificial lure. Many dogs are bred for the sport, but if they are not suitable or do not prove to be winners they are kept out of the races. Some are adopted as pets; others may be euthanized.


The American Herding Breed Association (AHBA) is serious and proud of herding breeds and their ability to keep other animals together and out of harm's way. The organization serves as a resource to people who are interested in learning more about canine behaviors related to herding, herding breeds, training, and practical herding. In addition, the AHBA Herding Trial Program provides dogs of different levels of ability to show their skill in ranch or farm work. The dogs are not competing but rather showing how well they work and how well their owners have cultivated the dog's instincts to keep hoof stock, sheep, or fowl in control (Figure 7-4).


In addition to the AHBA there are also organizations for specific herding breeds such as the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA). The ASCA holds competitions that lead to a certificate and title of Stockdog. The AKC states, "The purpose of competitive herding trial program is to preserve and develop the herding skills inherent in the herding breeds and to demonstrate that they can perform the useful functions for which they were originally bred."


Dogs appear to be happy when they please their human partner. With kindness, patience, and clarity, most dogs will quickly learn what is expected of them. As pack animals, they look for direction from their leader. An eagerness to learn, coupled with a particular breed's ability to use their physical ability to assist humans, makes it possible to be extremely obedient and well trained. In their work, in competition, and as members of our society it is important for our dogs to be controlled, friendly, and safe.

The CGC program is an excellent way to teach human and dog to behave in such a way that they are well mannered in public, allowing safe and pleasant interactions with the community, on the street, on meeting a child, or on a visit to a hospital. In the program, the basic commands are learned as well as skills such as walking comfortably in a crowd, allowing strangers to touch him, and stay relaxed in any situation without becoming distracted. These are the basic skills for a companion dog and for pursuing other sports, or becoming active in the community. To make the training more fun and challenging, the CGC has developed a program so dog and trainer can earn certificates.

If the partners want more of a challenge after accomplishing the goals of the CGC program, they can enter the Obedience Trial competition. Obedience trials test a dog's ability to perform a prescribed set of exercises. In each exercise the dog must score more than 50 percent of the possible points and get a total score of at least 170 out of a possible 200 points. With each qualifying score, the dog has earned a leg toward an obedience title. After earning three legs, the dog has earned an obedience title. The team can then advance through three more levels to win more advanced titles.

Rally Obedience is a bit less stringent than obedience trials. The dog and handler complete a course designed by the Rally judge. The team moves through a course of 10-20 stations at their own pace. Each station has a sign providing instructions regarding the next skill to be performed. The dog and handler move as a team. Unlike the obedience trials, the competition is much less strict. The team can communicate through vocal commands and signals, but there can be no touching or physical corrections.

The Rally provides a step for the dog/human team and handlers from training for the CGC program to obedience and agility competitions.


Mushers and dogs race over some of the Earth's roughest terrain ... frozen rivers, endless tundra, deep forests, and treacherous mountain ranges. The dogs learn to work together, and the team works with the human to survive the below freezing temperatures, the wind whipping snow so powerfully that they are barely able to see, and a grueling, dangerous course of 1,200 miles (the distance is often quoted as 1,049 as a symbolic figure referring to a thousand mile race in the 49th state).

Each Musher has his or her own strategy for running the race: how to care for their dogs, which dogs run best together, when to rest, and how to train. The dogs, usually northern breeds such as Siberian huskies, Alaskan malamutes, or Samoyeds, are eager to run. Nonetheless, it takes years of training and running for hundreds of miles to become a good sled dog and part of a great sled team. The Musher must not only care for dozens of dogs but also organize to carry enough supplies for all the dogs and himself for up to three weeks on the trail. They must have enough to sustain them, but not so much weight that it becomes more difficult for the sled team to negotiate the terrain at a good speed or become too unstable to follow a narrow trail.

Musher comes from the French word marche, which means to walk. During the gold rush days, the word was used and then made into a stronger command, "Mush" to drive the dogs.

The rules of the Iditarod are stringent. The dogs must have booties to protect their pads from being cut on the ice, veterinarians look them at each of the 20 checkpoints, and rest times are enforced. Each Musher has 2,500 pounds of food for the dogs that is distributed by volunteers at the various check points. Despite stops, exhaustion and accidents happen so that dogs must sometimes be airlifted to a clinic. Dogs have died during the race and many animal rights groups protest the treatment of the dogs before and during the race.

In the city of Anchorage, where the annual race starts on the first Saturday of March, the human population is excited for the event to begin. For most of the people along the route, from tiny village to metropolitan area, the Iditarod is a celebration to be proud of. Local schoolchildren, foreign visitors, film crews, people from all socioeconomic levels, and corporate sponsors all do what they can to be involved. The event is so important that the Mushers and dogs are well-known celebrities.

The dogs are also excited to begin the race. They strain on their leads, barking, eager to begin a race that may last up to 17 days! The dogs pull as a team; their coordination is critical as they speed over a route that will take them from the mountains to the seacoast. As they rush to the finish line, they are always vigilant. Any turn taken too quickly or misjudged by the Musher may lead to disaster. An accident or the decision to take the wrong fork on the trail will cause the team to lose valuable time, but more importantly, will risk injury in a wilderness cloaked in snow, a region covered in almost constant darkness, and temperatures so low that the breath of the dog and the Musher turns to ice. Winds along the river blow mercilessly and temperatures can dip to -60[degrees]F.

This Iditarod trail was once the only route for mail and supplies from coastal towns to mining camps in the interior and out to the harsh Western territories of Alaska. Without roads or sea planes it was only possible to bring a bit of civilization in to parts of Alaska by dog sled. The sleds were not empty going back to the coast; rather they were filled with the gold that made many men rich and even more just cold and hungry. The Iditarod is celebrated to remember this part of Alaska's history and the bravery of the men and dogs who helped settle the land. Of greatest significance was the "Great Race of Mercy to Nome." In 1925, sled dogs saved the citizens of Nome from an outbreak of diphtheria. A package of antitoxin had to get to the dying population and the only way to get there was by sled dog. The Mushers and their teams made the 674 miles in less than six days, saving lives and making history.


Those who complete the race are still connected to the hardy people and loyal dogs who settled this wild land. Although they may come from countries all around the world to compete for the monetary prize, they are also there to test themselves. If they come in first or last, they have competed against other teams and against some of the harshest circumstances nature can produce. Human and dog, as fragile as they seem, race over one thousand miles through the grandeur and danger of Alaska's wilderness, and survive. The Iditarod may be the most well known of the sled dog races, but there are many other races and simple excursions that are less intense that people are able to enjoy with their dogs (Figure 7-5).


It is likely that sled dogs that have participated in the Iditarod would make good competitors in a very "athletic" sport, weight pulling. The object of this activity is for a dog to pull the greatest weight. The dog pulls a cart or sled that is weighted down for 16 feet within a 60-second time period. The competition can be held on dirt or on snow. Sometimes the path is fenced in so the dog is sure to pull in a straight line.

To begin the race, the dog stands at the starting line and waits while the handler goes to the finish line. If the dog crosses the start line before he is called, it is a false start. Two false starts and the dog is disqualified. Any dog can compete if they are fit and enjoy the challenge. There are 12 different weight classes, so the competition is between dogs of similar weights, if not breeds. Dogs as diverse as mastiffs and poodles eagerly compete.

The sport was first organized in 1984. Since then it has spread to ten regions across Canada and the United States. Dogs compete against each other and themselves. There are three certificates available: Working Dog (WD), in which the dog pulls 12 times their weight (five times if they pull on snow) at four different events; Working Dog Excellent (WDX), in which the dog pulls 18 times their weight (10 times on snow) at four different events, and Working Dog Superior (WDS), in which the dog pulls 23 times their weight (15 times if on snow) at three different events.

Dogs that are successful at this sport are true athletes. They must be physically fit and have great stamina and the determination to pull as much as 2,000 pounds across the finish line. No food rewards or handling are allowed. The winning dogs have a strong desire to please their trainer, straining on the harness, struggling to pull the sled or cart just to hear the happiness in the human's voice. It is the natural ability, genetic makeup, and determination that allow these athletes to cross the finish line.


Perhaps on the other extreme of weight pulling is the canine competitive sport of Musical Canine Freestyle. The World Canine Freestyle Association defines canine freestyle as "A choreographed musical program performed by handlers and their dogs. The object of musical freestyle is to display the dog and handler in a creative, innovative, and original dance, using music and intricate movements to showcase teamwork, artistry, costuming, athleticism, and style in interpreting the theme of the music." The sport expands the scope of training by adding an artistic element. It is creative and extremely entertaining for an audience.

As a team, human and dog create a masterpiece of movement and entertainment. They must be able to understand one another and be proficient in obedience training. The dog probably does not help with the costumes or the selection of the music, but the human must have a sense of what he and his canine partner can accomplish together.

Very much akin to freestyle is Heelwork-to-Music. This art form incorporates the art of dressage with traditional dog obedience, dance, and costuming with an emphasis on nonstandard obedience movements. Both Heelwork-to-Music and musical freestyle should create a visually exciting display that is enjoyable for the person and dog as well as the audience.

It could well be that people have danced with their dogs throughout history. Dogs following their handlers as they practiced dance steps or ice skating forms, children joined by their pet dogs as they danced about in their own revelry. Who knows? But formally it was in Canada in 1989 that Val Culp in British Columbia developed the sport. Soon after, the sport caught on in England and then soon followed in the United States. The idea was to have fun and promote responsible pet ownership through obedience training. By 1995, there were two different styles--in Canada, the routines were very theatrical with ostentatious costumes, and in the United States, the performance and demonstrations were more controlled with most of the attention to the dog and little to costuming. There are different levels of competition: starters, novice, intermediate, and advanced. Performances last from two and one-half minutes to four minutes and should cover the entire 40-foot-by-50-foot rink.

The sport has continued to grow, with competitions around the world. By the year 2000, two new divisions were added for testing: Sassy Seniors for dogs over 9 and handlers over 65 and Handi-Dandi Dancers for the creatively challenged dogs and/or handlers. The sport is especially nice because both senior humans and dogs can continue to compete as they age. Only the steps become slower and there are not so many athletic moves, but the joy and bond remains for both partners.

The Canine Freestyle Federation, Inc. (CFF) is an international organization dedicated to defining and developing the sport and providing the structure for demonstrations and competitions. Another organization, the Musical Dog Sport Association, also seeks to advance canine freestyle and to "Share the joy of the canine/human bond achieved through positive training, enhanced by the artistry of music and choreography."

There are probably more activities waiting to be formalized into competitive sports, just as throwing a Frisbee for a pet dog has developed into the competitive sport of Disc Dog. And who was the water-loving retriever that raced off a dock into the water after a stick, causing some humans to create Dock Jumping. The next time you are playing with your dog and he invents a new game with a ball, behavior, or instinct, perhaps you will create a new canine competition.


The Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) currently recognizes 37 breeds in the championship class in its shows, along with three provisional breeds and one miscellaneous. Similar to dogs, each breed is judged against a standard that is maintained by each breed council (<>). Cats entered in the Championship Class must be pedigreed, unaltered cats over eight months of age. In addition to the championship class, cat shows may often have several other classes:

* Kitten--unaltered or altered, pedigreed kittens between the ages of four and eight months

* Premiership--altered, pedigreed cats over the age of eight months

* Provisional--breeds that have not yet achieved championship status

* Miscellaneous--breeds not yet accepted for Provisional status, but accepted for registration and showing in the Miscellaneous class

* Veteran--any male or female, altered or unaltered, not younger than seven years on the opening day of the show that if chosen to could otherwise be shown in the championship or premiership classes

* Household Pet--all random bred or non-predigreed cats


The household pet class is of particular interest since it gives anyone with a companion cat an opportunity to participate in a cat show. The class is open to any cat over four months of age. Any cat over the age of eight months must be either spayed or neutered, and entries cannot be declawed. Since there can be no standard for this class, the cats are judged for their uniqueness, pleasing appearance, unusual markings, and sweet dispositions. Each household cat that exhibits good health and vitality receives a Merit Award (Figure 7-6).


The American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association (AFRMA) was founded in 1983 to promote and encourage the breeding and exhibition of fancy rats and mice for shows and pets (<>; March 14, 2007). For shows, rats and mice are divided into various classes based on coat types, color, and color patterns. Rats should have a long racy body in good weight, with large bold eyes, a long, clean head showing breadth and length, large ears, a long, tapering tail, and an average body length of 8-10 inches. Mice should have a long, slim, racy body, large bold eyes, a long, clean head showing breadth and length, large expressive ears, a long tapering tail, and an average length from nose to tail tip of 8-9 inches. Both rats and mice must be tractable and easy to handle, with no evidence of physical defects or unsteady temperament. It is interesting that the AFRMA makes a point of not having a position on culling, reptile keeping, or feeding of rats and mice to reptiles, nor does it have a position on animal rights.


1. What are the seven breed groups recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC)?

2. What is a breed standard? How is it assessed in a conformation competition?

3. How do agility and conformation competitions differ in terms of athleticism and the types of dogs allowed to participate?

4. Which breed types are most likely to be involved in the following competitions? How does the associated activity relate to the dogs' original working roles? Lure coursing, Iditarod, Earthdog events.

5. What is the purpose of the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program?

6. Is it more likely to find neutered animals competing in a Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) cat show or an AKC conformation competition?


Show Golden Retriever Club of America

The American Kennel Club. The complete dog book (20th ed.). (2006). New York: Ballantine Books.

Evans, M. (1992). ASPCA pet care guides for kids: Rabbits. New York: DK Publishing.

Searle, N. (1992). Your rabbit: A kid's guide to raising and showing. Pownal, VT: Storey Communications.

Agility American Kennel Club North American Dog Agility Council United States Dog Agility Association

Daniels, J. (1991). Enjoying dog agility: From backyard to competition. Wilsonville, OR:

Doral Publishing.

Simmons, J. (1992). Agility training: The fun sport for all dogs. Somerset, NJ: Howell

Book House.

Hobday, R. Agility fun the Hobday way, Vol. 2. South Hadley, MA: Clean Run.

Earthdog American Working Terrier Association

Flyball North American Flyball Association

Lure Coursing American Kennel Club American Sight Hound Field Association

Herding The American Herding Breed Association,, Australian Shepherd Club of America Working Dogs


Rally Obedience Association for Pet Dog Trainers

Iditarod Iditarod Dog Sled Race--Facts & Figures New Jersey Sled Dog Club

Weight Pulling

Dog Fancy Magazine. (2006). Training secrets for bully breeds. 9.


Jaskiewicz, A. (2005). Getting started with freestyle. Retrieved August 14, 2007, from

Sullivan, M. (2006). New steps for old bones. Retrieved August 14, 2007, from World Canine Freestyle Organization Musical Dog Sport Association
COPYRIGHT 2008 Delmar Learning
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Zawistowski, Stephen
Publication:Companion Animals in Society
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Previous Article:Chapter 6 Pet care industry.
Next Article:Chapter 8 Assistance dogs.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters