Each type or breed of dog has been bred and developed to fill a particular niche for humans. This may be a very general job such as a companion dog's role, or it may be very practical such as a breed that has been developed as a gun or hunting dog, as a working dog or as a herding or flock guardian. Each breed, regardless of its size or abilities, has a special type of event or competition that they could, with work and practice, start to compete in. Some competitions will require that the dog be a registered purebred, while other events, typically the hunting and working trials, will be open to all dogs regardless of registry or lineage. Other events may be sponsored completely by one breed association and may be restricted to dogs that are registered through that group, club or association.
Show events are universally purebred dogs that compete against a breed standard to see which dog is most closely developed to that standard. This is done in a class or competition where the dogs literally compete against the standard, not necessarily against each other. The dogs are judged on several aspects of their temperament and physical appearance and how closely it matches the ideal for that breed. These are some of the most well known competitions with dog shows such as Cruft's and the Westminster Kennel Club show being two of the most famous international annual dog shows. Any breed that is recognized by the hosting club or association is eligible to enter provided the dog is a purebred and has earned a base number of points in applicable shows.
These are special events or trials that are designed to test a dog's ability to herd, pen, manage and work with livestock while following hand signals, verbal cues from handlers as well as their own intelligence. These trials are often open to any dog, including mixed breeds, provided they are able to exhibit the skills needed to complete the events.
In most herding competitions sheep are used as the livestock, although occasionally cattle are also used, especially in the United States. The dogs must complete a set of commands from a handler that is in a particular location, somewhat remote from the dog and livestock. The dog must move the livestock through a pattern or from one area to the other as well as put them in a pen, all without assistance from the handler. The dog must also obey a set of commands that may include specific maneuvers of the herd or flock. For smaller dogs some herding trials used turkeys, goats or even ducks or geese. Dogs progress through various levels depending on the club that is sponsoring the event.
The dogs are scored by judges with regards to ability to follow cues and signals, effectiveness of the dog's behavior with regards to herding as well as a time component. Dogs will lose points for errors or behavior that is not up to the standard determined by the event judges.
Hunting trials will vary based on the type of dog and hunting that is being tested. Retrievers, pointers and setters are judged on their ability to flush game birds, work a field or hunting area, find decoys and use their scent discrimination in retrieving. The events are usually both timed and scored with dogs actually competing against a course score, rather than directly against each other. The dog's ability to listen and respond to the hunter's signals and cues as well as their own hunting, scent and retrieval abilities are tested.
Another type of hunting trial is the earthdog trials. In these trials dogs that are used to find game when it "goes to ground" compete to track, scent and find decoys that are pre-set in underground tunnels. Typically these events are for terrier and terrier crossbreeds, which have been developed for this unique task. In these events rats or rat scent is run through a tunnel that is of various lengths and has dead ends, false dens and lots of other twists and turns. In most cases a live rat is safely caged and protected in some area of the tunnel that the dog must discover as quickly as possible. In some events, especially in the more advanced Senior and Master levels, the dogs must be willing to leave the caged rat and return to the owner on command or after the judge removes the rats from the tunnel. It is important to note, the dogs do bark and growl at the rats but are never in direct contact with the rats at any time in the competition.
One of the most demanding, both physically and mentally of all the events, Schutzhund competition tests a dog to the very limits. This is a high endurance, high intelligence type event that few breeds can actually compete in because of the intense demands. It was developed in Germany to test the German Shepherd breed to ensure they were suitable for various types of police and rescue work. Many of the large protection breeds are now used in Schutzhund competition.
There are three levels of schutzhund training and each level becomes progressively more intense and demanding. The three components of each level include scent and tracking, protection and obedience. The dog must perform very exact commands at each level of training and in each component of the event. It is a very difficult training but one that is highly rewarding for both the owner and the dog. Many police and rescue dogs are second level schutzhund dogs, although few ever reach the esteemed third level of training. All dogs must pass a temperament test before beginning the first level of competition. Aggression, timidness or disobedience in any form in the temperament test will prevent the dog from advancing in the schutzhund events.
Flyball events are terrific for any type of dog, especially those with lots of energy and a natural flair for putting on a show. Flyball is a team sport that is basically a combination of a modified race and a fetch in a relay. The dogs are lined up at the start/finish line, and in front of each team are four jumps with a box at the far end. The dogs race against other teams across their jumps, then jump on the spring loaded box at the far end of the course. The box releases a tennis ball that the dog must catch, run back over the four jumps, then the next dog in line is allowed his or her turn. The first team with all four dogs across the finish line is the winner.
This is a fun, exciting and truly entertaining race and event. There are now flyball clubs and events all over, many which are divided into different categories and even age levels.
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