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It’s one of the best ways to deeply bond with your dog. It’s great exercise. And it just might be one of the most personally rewarding endeavors of your life.

It’s the world of canine sports and events.

Something special happens between owners and their dogs when they train for an event. As you and your dog develop the skills necessary for each sport – and then demonstrate what you’ve learned – you experience a sense of accomplishment like no other. With your dog beside you at each turn, you become a true team in every sense of the word.

Participating in canine sports is often not just about winning ribbons or trophies, either (although a healthy competitive spirit doesn’t hurt). Most dog owners say it’s the many personal rewards that keep them coming back event after event. And, we often hear that the friendships with other dog owners that are developed at these events are as important as the events themselves.

There are plenty of opportunities to get involved in sports and events, as we hold more than 22,000 events each year. Whether you just train for fun, or actually compete, we guarantee that you’ll feel a sense of pride at seeing your dog in his “happy” place, showing off new skills and accomplishing incredible goals — together.

Important Terms to Know

Before you get too far, it’s important to understand a few key terms that often confuse newcomers but are commonly used in canine sports and events:

  • Trial means “competition”
  • Conformation is the official word for “dog shows”
  • If you get really into canine sports, you might call yourself a “fancier.”
  • Competitors are called “exhibitors”

See the full glossary here.

How to Begin

If you haven’t seen a sporting event in person, go to one, or several, to familiarize yourself with what happens in the ring, and to experience the energy and camaraderie.

Then get involved with your local AKC Club. Not only do they offer invaluable resources and training classes, you’ll meet new people with similar interests who are more than wiling to share their knowledge and lend a hand.

Find the Right Sport

There are many canine sports to choose from, and many people participate in more than one. But when you’re just starting out, it can be hard to decide which one to try first. Start by assessing your dog’s appearance, health and temperament:

  • Think your dog is quite a looker, and a perfect example of his breed? Try showing your dog in Conformation.
  • Is he highly energetic? Does he enjoy running and responding to instruction? If so, Agility could be a great fit.
  • Has your dog mastered basic commands such as sit, stay and heel — and seems eager to learn more? Try Obedience.
  • Does your dog like doing obedience work in a low stress environment? Have you never competed before? Rally is a great place to start.
  • Does your dog have an instinct to chase? Is he speedy? Try training for the Coursing Ability Test.
  • Will your dog follow a scent no matter where it may lead? Does he work well independently? Try Tracking.
  • Is your dog a scent sleuth? Can he find his food or toys by smell alone? Try AKC Scent Work.
  • Think your dog has a natural instinct for herding livestock? Yes, there is a sport for that too: Herding
  • Do you have a small Terrier or Dachshund? Have the vermin in your yard met their match? Earthdog tests might be for you.
  • Is your dog a sighthound? (Afghan Hounds, Basenjis, Borzois, Greyhounds, Ibizan Hounds, Irish Wolfhounds, Italian Greyhounds, Pharaoh Hounds, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Salukis, Scottish Deerhounds, and Whippets)? Does he turn into an Energizer bunny when something small moves fast on the ground? Lure Coursing may be his speed.
  • Is your dog a Pointing Breed, Spaniel, Retriever or Hound? Explore the rich tradition of Field Events.
  • If you have a Coonhound, you probably know it. Does he run whenever given the chance? Is he an explorer? Does he have high bursts of energy, and then crashes? Find a Coonhound event near you.

Need more help finding the right sport for you and your dog? Take this quiz.

What You Need to Compete

Generally speaking, to compete in an AKC sport or event, your dog must have an AKC number via one of the following:

  • AKC Registration Number – This number is provided to a dog owner via a registration certificate received from the previous owner, or via a puppy registration paper given to the new owner by the breeder.
  • Purebred Alternative Listing (PAL) – If a dog is purebred but an AKC Registration Number is not possible, owners can apply for PAL number
  • AKC Canine Partners Number – This number is given to either mixed breed dogs or a purebred.
  • Foundation Stock Service®(FSS) Number – This number is used for breeds whose status is currently in the foundational stage of being recorded into our registry and requires a copy of the dog’s pedigree.

In addition:

  • He must be physically sound and up-to-date on all inoculations and health check-ups.
  • Spayed females and neutered males are eligible to participate (except in Conformation and select Performance events).
  • Females may not be allowed to participate while in season, depending on the sport.

However, each sport has its own rules and regulations, so be sure to familiarize yourself before beginning.