So many parts of our daily lives have changed because of COVID-19. Even our favorite dog activities — from classes and seminars to shows — have been canceled or postponed for the safety of everyone involved. It can be overwhelming to look around and feel like your daily life is practically unrecognizable from just a few weeks ago, but the good thing is there’s one very important thing that hasn’t changed — your dog! Despite social distancing and the coronavirus pandemic, you and your dog can still have fun training together, working on your favorite sports and activity, and even earning titles!
In response to COVID-19, the AKC has opened up the Trick Dog titling program to be accessible via submission of videos which are reviewed and approved by CGC evaluators. If you don’t know a CGC evaluator you can easily search for one. This time of social distancing is the perfect opportunity to get your dog involved in the Trick Dog program. Under the new rules, AKC trick titles can be observed and earned digitally. Full rules and requirements for video submissions and each level of Trick Dog Titles (Novice through Elite Performer) are available online.
If you are someone who is used to spending multiple nights a week at training classes and every weekend at dog shows, the AKC’s Trick Dog program is a fantastic way to channel your energy by earning titles at home until it’s safe to resume normal training and showing in other sports. Even if you and your dog have never competed at a dog show, Trick Dog titles are a wonderful introduction to dog sports. To keep myself busy, I set the goal of finishing up my youngest dog’s Elite Performer title during the first couple of weeks of social distancing and this week she earned it — becoming only the third Newfoundland to get the title!
Virtual Home Manners
The Virtual Home Manners tests assess ten skills that well-mannered pet dogs need in the home setting. The Virtual Home Manners tests are evaluated online by CGC Evaluators in the same manner that is currently used for Virtual Tricks. There is not an in-person VHM testing process. Virtual Home Manners is a natural lead-in for AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy and Canine Good Citizen (CGC) in-person training.
If you live somewhere where it is safe for you and your dog to get out of the house regularly to walk each day don’t forget about the AKC’s Fit Dog program. Check your local regulations and maintain at least six feet of distance between anyone else you may pass on your walk. For the program you and your dog commit to walking each day either:
- Walked at least 30 minutes 5 times per week for a total of at least 150 minutes per week for at least 3 months. For dogs and people in good shape.
- Walked at least 15 minutes per session at least 10 times per week (e.g., two 15-min walks per day) for at least 3 months. For dogs or people who would benefit from a walk that is a shorter duration, e.g., senior dogs. When you and your dog have achieved either of these benchmarks you fill out the AKC FitDog form and will be sent a free FitDog program magnet!
The AKC Rally Novice Virtual pilot program will provide exhibitors an opportunity to stay-at-home and enter an AKC Rally® event.
This program is designed to have a Rally Novice competitor set up a pre-designed AKC Rally® course in the safety of their own yard, record the performance, and submit it to AKC. In turn, AKC will assign a pre-selected AKC Rally Judge to virtually review and score the team’s Rally performance.
There are five pre-designed official rally courses published on the AKC website to choose from. To participate, follow the setup instructions provided, video record the performance, upload the video to YouTube, set the required YouTube viewing options, and submit the video link with the entry form and fee to AKC.
Agility Course Tests
Now you can get started in Agility Course Test (ACT) from home! During this time of necessary social distancing, the AKC wants to provide those with dogs that are ready to test their agility skills a way to try the sport of ACT Agility locally.
The AKC Agility ACT 1 & 2 Virtual pilot program will provide exhibitors an opportunity to stay-at-home or use their local training site and enter an AKC ACT 1 or ACT 2 event. You can buy equipment online.
The AKC Agility Department is excited to announce the expansion of the virtual ACT program to include the new ACT Jumpers classes. ACT Jumpers will include 2 levels. ACT 1J which will be jumps and possibly a tunnel and ACT 2J which will include 6 weave poles.
Virtual Obedience Test
In the AKC Virtual Obedience Test, two levels of virtual titling obedience classes are offered, with an expansion of the program to be released over time. The first two levels in the Virtual Obedience Test program are Virtual Beginner Novice and Virtual Novice classes. There are five different ring setups for each class from which to choose. You and your dog are judged the same as you would be at a regular trial; however, some of the exercises are different than what you will see at in-person trials.
Virtual Scent Work Test
The Virtual Scent Work Test (VSWT) is a basic way for owners to bond with their dog or to get started in Scent Work. Teams can work incrementally at their own pace while developing skills and confidence. When a team is ready, they can demonstrate basic competency in locating an item based on scent by taking the VSWT. The VSWT consists of three levels – Beginner (VSWB), Intermediate (VSWI) and Experienced (VSWE). Each level has its own set of testing criteria and titles must be earned in order. It takes two passes to earn a title at each level.
Virtual Water Test
Several pointing breeds are required to pass the AKC Water Test in order to be awarded field trial or hunting test titles. The Virtual Water Test will be a convenient option for owners to demonstrate their dog’s ability to retrieve over water. The owner or handler submits a video of a dog performing the water test. The dog’s performance is evaluated by two field trial or hunting test judges. The owner will receive an e-certificate proving their dog passed the test.
At-Home Practice For Every Sport
If you can’t be at your regular training classes right now, there are aspects of nearly every canine sport that can be worked on at home, even if you live in a small house or apartment. Many dog trainers are offering virtual lessons at this time so it’s a good opportunity to support your favorite trainers by booking private sessions with them which can give you homework specifically tailored to your dog. Even if you don’t work directly with a trainer remotely you can create your own training plans and games for whatever sports you are involved in. You might need to get creative, but there’s a way to work aspects of every sport from home. I’ve even seen home videos from fellow Newfoundland owners who are involved in Water Test/Rescue as a sport working on send-outs and line tows on dry land in their backyards while social distancing.
Ideas for Training At Home
For AKC Rally practice, you can print signs online or hand-make your own with notecards — even sticky notes will work! Pick some of your dog’s favorite signs and a few signs you need extra practice on and put together a course in your yard if you have one, or even in your living room to create your own at-home Rally course.
In Obedience, you can practice focus as well as cleaning up any crooked sits or messy positions. You can also work on small heeling patterns in your home or yard. This is also a great opportunity to work on stays and other obedience skills like “Go Outs” and scent articles.
To keep up with agility training, set up one or two jumps using a stack of books and a broomstick and work more technical handling skills like jump wraps. Just make sure to not jump your dogs on slippery or hard flooring. If you have weave poles you can also practice tricky weave pole entries. There are several affordable at-home agility sets you can buy on Amazon.
If you and your dog are experienced in Scent Work, you can set up practice searches in your home and/or yard. If your dog hasn’t tried Scent Work, this can be a fun opportunity to play some introductory indoor scent games together.
Working Toward the Future
With so many uncertainties in the world, it can help to know what to do next, but setting and working towards training goals is a great way to add structure in the day for you and your dog. You can set a goal to teach your dog a new trick each week, to finish up a title, or to practice scent work every day. Whatever sport(s) you and your dog play, try to carve out a few minutes of each day for training. Not only will this give you something to focus on, but it also will help you and your dog stay polished and ready to return to classes and competition when there is no longer a need for social distancing.
If you’re someone who thrives on competition or a sense of comradery in addition to earning trick titles from home, you can connect online or by phone with your friends from your local training club or in groups on Facebook. Challenge each other every day or share course maps for Rally courses, Scent Work exercises, or agility sequences that can be practiced in small spaces. Share videos of your progress and cheer everyone on as we train our dogs and maintain social distancing. For a daily challenge, participate in our Woof From Home activities on Instagram every day and share videos of your dog participating. Staying safe and keeping others safe doesn’t mean we have to let our dogs get bored!
The AKC is here to help dog owners through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Find answers to all your coronavirus concerns, plus at-home activity ideas, training tips, educational resources, and more on our Coping With COVID-19 hub.